Torch vs. Spade


Cremation vs. burial goes back further than one may think. While modern crematories did not start popping up till the early 1950’s, it was a large part of the ancient world. In 1885, J.A. Tanner M.D. in The Sanitarian, made the argument that cremation has its benefits in regards to health and safety of the public due to the still rampant disease during this time period. In the early 1900’s cremation was partially used as a tool for controlling disease-ridden towns.

While we no longer advocate for cremation based on the necessity of sanitation, cremation has become a popular choice for reasons other than sanitation. The decision to be cremated is more likely to be based on reasons such as, “I’m afraid to be buried,” “I don’t want to leave a carbon footprint,” “I’m afraid of the dark,” “I didn’t want to be a burden to my family,” “It’s just easier this way,” “My faith requires it,” and of course, the ever popular answer of lower price.

While cremation has been around for centuries, there is a growing and relatively overlooked issue, what comes after the cremation? What becomes of the cremated remains?

With burial, the end is inevitable. After the funeral, we know the drill; we are going to bury the remains in a cemetery. Cremation is different; it leaves limitless options. All the same traditional options still exist: burial, entombment, ossuaries, etc., there are a multiple number of new options such as tattooing cremated remains, fireworks, a diamond created out of cremated remains (I suppose carbon is carbon), artwork with painted cremated remains in them, hand blown jewelry with specks of cremated remains in them, and the list keeps going. Google it, I even become surprised sometimes at the things that I am unaware of and this is what I do for a living.

The options that exist are an amazing testament at our attempt to memorialize people. There is, however, another option, one that is sad and disheartening. Nothing.

Cremation is different than burial in that it allows people to do nothing to memorialize their deceased. Did you ever see the movie Meet the Fockers? There is an infamous scene where the urn is knocked off the mantle and the cat proceeds to use the cremated remains as a litter box. It’s funny in the movie, and there isn’t anything wrong with taking an urn home. But, what happens when you pass away and you had four sets of cremated remains on your mantle or in your house? And your kids inherited them, or worse you didn’t have anyone to inherit them? What happens to the four sets of cremated remains on your mantle?

Rick Montgomery with the Kansas City Star published an article on November 3, 2015 that states: “‘Only about 40 percent of the nation’s cremated remains wind up buried at gravesites or placed into formal columbaria at churches and cemeteries,’ said Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America.” So what happens to the remaining 60 percent, the remnants of perhaps 700,000 Americans each year? Kemmis said there is no way of accounting for it. “People take them home, and that’s perfectly legal,” Kemmis stated. “But there’s a lot of urns in closets and on mantels, with no plan for them.”

This is becoming an issue. For instance, last month I was contacted by a local woman who buys storage units at auction. She found cremated remains in one and was kind enough to see if I could help find the owner. We never did. She dropped them off at a church to have them entombed in a niche. Landlords find cremated remains in abandoned apartments. Pawnshops have called us that found grandpa in a box with an assortment of other items that had long since been forgotten.  This is so much of a problem that there is something actually called the international scattering society where they take care of unclaimed cremated remains as well as remains that need to be scattered in various locations around the globe.

For all of the trendy conveniences that come with cremation, there are the obvious drawbacks. My concern, and that of many funeral directors I know, is the

psychological impact that cremation is having on an entire generation. “Some experts say that cremation has made death and loss seem more fleeting than forever.” That sentence was hard to swallow when I first read it, to grasp the depth of its meaning. To lose perspective and reverence of forever is something that we should be hesitating to simply swallow.

Continued from Montgomery’s article:

“The key to avoiding the pitfalls of a cremation culture, experts say, is to discuss   the disposition of remains with family members before death strikes and quick decisions have to be made amid grief. That’s especially important given the many options that nobody considered a half century ago. Area grief counselors and hospice workers say many family members come to regret scattering remains at a faraway site, leaving survivors feeling distanced from their loved ones. Others may wish years after a close death that they’d been able to attend a funeral to view somebody one last time.”

It’s not just grief counselors who see that many families regret scattering ashes.

Funeral directors see it too. Mrs. Jett’s husband, Jim, was only 62 when he died. She insisted that all Jim wanted was direct cremation and she refused to go against his wishes. We of course complied. Mrs. Jett scattered his cremated remains on some wayward trail in the middle of nowhere that apparently they frequented when he was living. Mrs. Jett came to the funeral home and just sat in the back of the chapel at least once a month for as long as I can remember before she passed away herself. She said nearly nothing other than acknowledging us when she walked in. Sometimes she would talk, sometimes she would cry. She had nowhere to grieve. No place to go to memorialize Jim.

Fast forward to the children of Mr. and Mrs. Jett, they came to see me after their mother passed. I should tell you they were both devout. Some people of faith have said the placement of the body or cremated remains does not matter; your family knows where you are. However, these devout children saw the torment that their mother endured in trying to grieve over the loss of her husband of forty years and regretting scattering him. So they chose to inurn their mother’s cremated remains in a mausoleum.

Let’s pose this question though, what if the children’s system of belief differs from their parents? We know this is possible. What if those children do not believe in any type of afterlife? Assuming they scattered the cremated remains of their parents, their parents, based on their own assuming belief, are simply gone. Nowhere. What type of psychological impact does that have on the next generation and the perception of death?

There are literally endless options for cremation and burial. Most people make up their mind before ever asking what their options are or possibly considering the long term ramifications of their actions made in grief, for themselves or their children.

Why are the cremated remains of a loved one treated with less reverence than an actual body just because the form of disposition is different? One of the most prevalent quotes I’ve heard over and over is from Sir William Gladstone, “Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals.”

I wonder what Sir Gladstone would say about forgotten loved ones in a storage unit. It is not a matter of the disposition, it’s a matter of the dignity and the memorialization that each life has earned that really matters.

Torches and Spades is simply how it ends. The decision we are making now is about our grief, for those who survive us. The choices we make are about service and or memorialization of any and every kind. The decision is about celebrating a life, or grieving for it, not about the final disposition.
Excepts from the Montgomery article can be read in full at: the

Which Power of Attorney do you need?

Durable-Power-of-AttorneyWe live in a society that likes to make plans. We plan for various events in life from school, careers, weddings, retirement, vacations, to parties, and the like. Yet, over half of Americans fail to plan for the end of life. As we all know, there are two things no one can escape in life – death and taxes. However, over half of the adult population will die without a will or estate plan in place. Planning for the end stages of life is not just for those who may leave a large estate; it needs to be a priority for everyone.
In planning for the end, there are several types of documents that can be helpful for you and your family. Those include a power of attorney, durable power of attorney, durable power of attorney for health care, a living will, and a last will and testament. Not every document is necessary for each individual; however, it is likely that you would need at least one.
Below, I am going to briefly describe some of the common documents used in estate planning and if it can assist your family in finalizing your funeral arrangements.
• General Power of Attorney
– A general power of attorney (POA) grants an individual (the “agent”) authority to make decisions for you (the principal) when you are unable. A POA can be drafted to be broad or narrow in scope concerning the authority given to the agent. Any authority granted in a general POA ceases once the principal passes away.A general POA can be very helpful to your family in making various decisions while you are living, however, since the authority given in a general POA ceases once the principal passes away, this document would not be helpful to your family in making funeral arrangements.

In planning your funeral, a durable power of attorney for health care is very important. Tennessee law is very specific as to who has the rights to make final arrangements. Tennessee Coda Annotated gives priority to “an attorney in fact designated in a durable power of attorney for health care…” (T.C.A. 62-5-703(1)). If you do not have said attorney in fact or agent, the law gives a descending order of priority: spouse; majority of your children; surviving parents; majority of surviving siblings; and so forth.

Thus if you have an agent stated in the durable power of attorney for health care, only one individual will need to finalize your funeral arrangements.

This is not to say that your loved ones cannot also help in making your funeral arrangements, but it does mean that only one individual will need to sign the legal documents for the funeral home. This is very important for anyone considering cremation as their final disposition. Tennessee requires for the authorizing agent to sign a cremation authorization. So when you pass away, only the durable POA for health care would need to sign the authorization. Also, appointing a durable power of attorney of health care can ease your mind knowing that someone you trust will carry out your last wishes.
NOTE: With any of the above durable power of attorneys, you ask your attorney to draft the durable POA with the language “with rights of final disposition.” This language would indicate to the performing funeral home at your death that the agent listed does in fact have the authority to finalize your funeral arrangements, be it a traditional burial or a cremation service.
• Living Will
– A living will is a medical directive that indicates your wishes for end of life medical decisions. The living will would be used once you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Since the living will states your desires, it takes the burden of having to make the difficult end of life medical decisions off of your family. When you create a living will, make sure your primary care physician is aware of your desires and any agent you have appointed to make medical decisions for you.
– A living will’s authority ends upon death and would not be helpful in making funeral arrangements.
• Last Will and Testament
– A last will and testament devises your estate to those you choose. A last will and testament can be simple or complex in nature. You can draft a last will and testament to devise your entire estate to one individual or divide your estate among many different individuals and/or organizations.
When you pass away your property will be given to someone. If you choose not to write a last will and testament, your state rules for dying without a last will and testament will apply. This could mean individuals you do not want to inherit could take part of your estate, or someone who you wanted to inherit could receive nothing or a smaller portion than you had intended.

– Unlike the other documents, a last will and testament only takes affect once you pass away.
The above list is not comprehensive by any means. There are several other end of life and/or estate planning documents that may suit your particular need. Contact a local estate planning attorney to assist you in deciding what documents you need and setting up an estate plan.

In addition to the above documents, you can also pre-plan your own funeral. While not a legal document, this would take great stress off your family during a time of grief. To find out more about pre-planning or if we could help you with any of these legal documents, please don’t hesitate to call us.

527018_10151431170420136_1604615082_nJennifer Reed is a licensed attorney in both Tennessee and Florida and she currently serves as the in-house attorney at Williams Funeral Home & Crematory.

How the movie inside out offers important lessons for grieving children and adults


Inside Out Offers Important Lessons for Grieving Children and Adults

Originally posted by Whats your grief

If you’re wondering whether Pixar’s newest movie Inside Out will make you cry, the answer is maybe. I know because I saw it a few days ago, thanks to Discount Tuesdays at the local movie theater and two very bored children (we’re on week two of summer vacation people, things are not looking good).

I’m not a particularly weepy person save for the occasional down day, random reminders of my deceased mother in the grocery store, when I get all the way home before realizing I picked up the wrong carry out order, and when watching an especially rousing musical number. So you see, I only cry for the best most important reasons.

Being the tough girl that I am, I didn’t think Inside Out would make me cry. I managed to hold strong for about 95% of the film, but there was this one part….well…I won’t spoil it for you, but it made me very sad. My 5-year-old noticed the tears running down my face and immediately notified her 8-year-old sister. Obviously, they were both horrified. For the remainder of the movie every time something even remotely sad happened my kids would sneak looks at me, making sure I had myself under control. So yes, you too may cry in front of your children and that’s okay.

I typically don’t like writing about movies, but the message of Inside Out is so spot on for anyone who’s experienced a loss or gone through a tough transition that I almost feel like covering this movie is in my job description. Before our adult readers dismiss what I have to say, I want you to know this movie falls among a handful of movies that transcend what you typically expect from animated movies.

On the surface these movies are made for children with their beautiful animation and funny characters, but on a deeper level they really effectively tackle themes and issues around growing up (Inside Out, Toy Story), death, loss, and grief (Up, Big Hero 6), and even existential themes (that’s you again, Toy Story). In doing this, they often allow grown-ups to see these concepts from a younger more innocent perspective in ways that are thought-provoking, disarming, and profound.

I’m horrible at summaries and synopses (that’s the plural of ‘synopsis’, I looked it up), but I want to convey to you why this movie is great for children who’ve experienced losses of any kind. I’ll try not to include many spoilers but proceed with caution if you want to see the movie with completely fresh eyes.
There are different emotions and they have names

Even adults can struggle to name their emotions from time to time. In my experience, children are seldom cognizant of the ebb and flow of their feelings or the idea that they have many different emotions rattling around in their cute little brains. Inside Out is essentially told from the perspective of the main character 11-year-old Riley’s emotions who are personified as the characters Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust.

Of course humans experience a broader range of emotions than just these five, anyone who’s been through grief can attest to that. The director and his team had to identify a few key emotional players so they called in an expert psychologist, Paul Ekman, who helped them hone in on their main characters. These characters represent 5 of the 7 emotions which Ekman says have universal facial signs (the two they excluded were surprise and contempt).

Despite an incomplete line-up of emotions, the movie, which depicts the emotions interacting with one another from a control center in Riley’s mind, helps to frame the emotional juggling act that occurs inside our brains and how emotions can influence our perceptions, actions, and reactions.

Sad is not bad

This is an actual plot line, not some abstract concept that grown-ups pick up on if they’re paying attention. For the majority of Riley’s life, the emotion Joy has been in the driver’s seat. As she grows older and moves away from her childhood home, to the horror of all the other emotions Sad starts coloring some of her memories. Everyone wants Riley to be happy, even Sad, and the emotions all believe they need to protect her from sadness and pain at all costs. So, as they always have in the past, the emotions look to Joy to save the day.

You know the type of person who is always telling you to “be positive!” and “look on the bright side!”? This is the person who is really uncomfortable with things like tears and sorrow and they believe it’s personally their job to take away your pain. Well, that’s Joy and everywhere you look she’s there chasing Sad away. But Joy isn’t able to control things in the way she has in the past and throughout the movie Joy, along with the audience, has to learn that it’s not only okay to feel sad, but sometimes its an important and necessary part of being able to feel joy.

P.S. – For those of you who’ve ever had someone try to comfort you in your grief by minimizing your sadness or by suggesting you find the positive, there’s a scene in here you’re going to love. That’s all I’m going to say, let me know what you think after you’ve seen it.

P.P.S. – In part of the movie both Joy and Sad leave the control center of Riley’s brain and so she can only feel fear, anger, and disgust. I love that they depicted how disconnected, isolated and confused someone can feel due to the absence of certain emotions. This could be an interesting conversational starting point for any child impacted by depression.
Memories can be both happy and sad at the same time

A main crux of this movie is how emotions impact Riley’s memories. Memories are represented by colored balls and the balls are colored depending on the memory. So a happy memory is yellow, a sad memory is blue, a disgusting memory is green, you get the picture. Throughout Riley’s childhood, most of her memories appear to be happy, but then she has to move and say goodbye to her friends and her home and many of the memories turn blue.

This is one of the movie’s most poignant details for children who have experienced a death or other type of loss. One of the most difficult things about losing someone we love is that happy memories we shared with that person become colored with a tinge of sadness. Joyful memories are still happy, but they also become a little painful because the person is gone. The depiction of happy memories becoming a little blue is one that children impacted by loss may be able to relate to.

Conversely, the movie also teaches us that moments which start out a little sad can have positive value in that they lead to moments of love and support, lessons learned, and personal growth. One of the final memories Riley makes in the movie is a mix of both blue and yellow and finally the characters were all able to see the inherent okayness of this.
The beginning of a dialogue

Emotions are really tricky; they defy definition, there’s no consensus on how many there even are, and they constantly change. Also, as adults it’s difficult to remember how our emotions were felt or understood when we were children. Inside Out simplifies this concept and illustrates emotions in a way that makes it really easy for us to talk to kids about their feelings and how their feelings might influence their behavior.

Children won’t always pick up on the more complex and subtle messages of a movie so it’s always helpful for adults to make the most of these teachable moments. Although afterwards it was easy for my children to identify who drives their emotions in different scenarios, when I asked my older daughter why might someone’s memories be both happy and sad she seemed a little unsure. I had to offer the example of my own memories of my mother being both happy because I love her and sad because she’s gone in order for Evelyn to have a little a ha! moment. We wrote a post a while back on making the most of teachable moments in different Disney movies, you may want to check it out.

Lifestyle in the Second Mile

What we do living in the second mile…..

Every company has a motto, a creed or credo…something they believe in. It’s different everywhere. It could be about service, or manufacturing a good/product. When asked what do we believe in recently I knew my answer….Life in the second mile.

What is the second mile? Go the extra mile, it all stems from roman times where a solider could ask you to literally carry his pack for one mile. It was a law that whomever they asked were required to do so. Some compatriots were even known to carry the pack a second mile by choice.

The first mile is what is required of you. This could be at your job, inside your home life, what you must give to have a relationship with some one. The second mile on the other hand is freedom, it is entirely by your own design because it is above and beyond what you were called upon to do. The second mile is your legacy. It is what people will remember you for.

What do we believe? We believe in the lifestyle inside the second mile whether it is inside your home or your office. It does not mean that we don’t fail sometimes but everyday that we have life we are given an opportunity to get up and try again. We are given the opportunity to build your legacy by design.

The second mile is simply being thoughtful. Going above and beyond. It does not have to be grand gestures but simple kind thoughtful moments. This can change your life. Your career.

We believe in this life and I am more than proud to be a part of a family and team that believes in this effort. Happy New Years…here is to life in the second mile in the new year.


Happy New Years! From the Williams Family

Happy New Years! From the Williams Family

“We’re Just Going to Have a Party (Later On)”

Alan Wolfelt Phd How many families have walked through your doors in recent years requesting not a funeral, but a “celebration” or a “party?” Quite a few, if the conversations I regularly have with my friends in funeral service are any indication.

Slow Ride

“How do you work at a funeral home?”

The answer is simple. There is no feeling other than being behind the wheel of a hearse carrying a casket draped with an American flag while being escorted by some of the finest departments in the state. In case you didn’t know, Mt. Pleasant Police Department will lead you through town and then they quickly hop from the vehicle with their hand over their heart for the family/veteran…seeing the city fire department pulled to the end of the drive standing in front of their engine to pay respects….while passing through your hometown of Hampshire, the people at the stores, yard sales, and walking on the sidewalks quickly stop or pull over as a sign of respect.. You will find the answers to that question above.. As we traveled to the cemetery I was most humble for what the American flag represented in my rear view mirror.

These are not horrible places to live, these places are what we call home.
#funeraldirector #confession



New Chapters & Fire Alarms

”  Sometimes Life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going [ after being fired from Apple ] was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it gets better and better as the years roll on.  So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

 – Steve Jobs

Stanford University, 2005


Its easy to quote Steve Jobs because he believed in passionate work.  He created fans of a company and product instead of simply a consumer,  by being passionate about his work. It’s easy to admire him for that. I’m not going to elaborate much more on Steve Jobs even though I feel I could but rather the impact of loving what you do. Here lately more less the impact of loving what I do has had on me and other members of this staff.

Many of you know we endured a horrible fire nearly two years ago this April and spent a full  year rebuilding. That year was more tethering to core values then anything we have ever experienced. We remembered on some level that we are privileged to have each little thing that we have no matter how small. We redefined how we wanted to serve families, and we resided to only keep family  (staff) who truly knew how to serve people the way they should be.  We didn’t settle….we began a new chapter. We continue to look for ways to serve families in a way that best suits each one.

Serving families is the reason we exist however to run a funeral home not corporately owned it often means that the funeral directors and family take true ownership. Those that went through the fire with us especially. So in the middle of the night last week when the fire department notified us to our horror that our alarm was going off. In fear our funeral director Kerry drove here in praying we would not be experiencing this once again. Well obviously we were not…malfunction of an alarm…I arrived a short time later, when they put us on fire watch. Fire watch means your alarm is off so it will not notify the fire dept. so somebody has to stay in the building. So we sat together in the back hallway of the funeral home while we waited on multiple people to show up to fix our malfunctioning fire alarm. My point…..Kerry took ownership of it….he cared. Like any of them would have if they would have answered the phone that evening.

We do what we love, and in order to do that some times it means sitting in a building till 3 am while they fix a fire alarm. It means cleaning bathrooms in between funerals so each time its clean and prepped for a family.  It means often that your day begins at 1 am and may not end till well into the next night. Sometimes there are small things that are necessary in order to truly do “great work”. The life of funeral director is full of change and adaption each day at least for or some may say it is  full of new beginnings and fire alarms.