What is VRISM  and how does it affect you? The Tennessee Department of Health has undertaken a project to upgrade the system our state uses to maintain death, birth, marriage, and divorce records.  The project, called (VRISM) stands for Vital Records Information System Management will result in a user-friendly system that allows for electronic communication between the Tennessee Office of Vital Records and those partners who help to register vital events that occur in Tennessee. The new system is a web-based, electronic system and will replace the predominantly manual, paper-based process currently in use.


The new system will significantly reduce the time between the occurrence and registration of vital events.

Via: https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/vital-records/vrism.htmldeath-certificate-state-by-state-default-750_41


This information, of course, is straight from the department of vital records. See article above for the entire explanation. While the system will be of great use to funeral directors and families it is currently going through new launch pains.  State trainers are working hard to train funeral home staff as well as doctors. However, it has been proved to be slow and flawed. While some funeral homes use it, some doctors do not. It has caused an untimely lag in the production of death certificates.

The state has the best of intention for this program and is our hope in the next few months it continues to improve.  As for the moment, however, there is to be some expected downtime between the funeral home submitting a death certificate, and it returned signed.

This can be a problem when preparing paperwork for cremation. While a death certificate does not have to be certified we do have to have signed copies and permits in place to do the cremation.

In the future requesting all vital records forms will not only be more accessible for the funeral homes but also for the families they serve. In the meantime, the transition will continue to take time to be done correctly.



Find Joy – and Healing – in Eating Together

Think about the major life events you’ve celebrated: weddings, births, anniversaries – at the center of it all is usually food that brings comfort and invokes memories.

Despite this, we have found some Columbia families are surprised to learn that in addition to our funeral home facilities, we also have our own reception center – the Blevins Hall Reception Center. When we tell families this is an option for them with a funeral, we often hear the question: Why would a funeral home serve food?

There are a number of reasons why we decided to offer receptions. First of all, we knew it would be a space our community could put to use for many life events. With its resort-like décor, our neighbors in Picture1Columbia use it for family reunions, holiday parties, or professional events. Since we can seat 80 inside and up to 120 people when using our “rain or shine” covered patio with an outdoor fireplace, it’s the perfect space for nearly any event. And if you choose to have a non-funeral related event here, we can make a separate entrance into our reception center available to your guests. Looking to host a larger event like a wedding? We can accommodate up to 300 by utilizing our chapel as well.

But beyond what Blevins Hall Reception Center means for the community, it means so much more for families saying farewell to a loved one. Here are just a few of the reasons why families say they appreciate the convenience of our on-site reception center:

Stress Relief
Since we’re there for families in the first moments after a death, we have seen firsthand the kind of pressure they face during the planning stage. By offering a beautiful and comfortable reception area, we make it easier for them to gather without having to worry about booking a restaurant for a large group or cooking for a crowd. We wanted to be able to handle every detail for families from beginning to end – whether it’s the menu, dishware, set up, linens, and beyond. Having our own reception facility allows us to take care of your family.

There’s something about sharing food that brings people together and provides comfort. It can even change your mood. Having a reception before or after the visitation or service gives you a moment to connect with others who loved your friend or family member and talk, remember, laugh, and even cry together. It also gives you the chance to connect with family and friends that perhaps you have not seen in some time.

Use a Reception to Tell Your Loved One’s Story
Imagine serving your grandfather’s favorite meal – barbecue brisket and slaw– or treating your guests to your grandmother’s famous chess pie, and then passing out recipe cards afterward. Playing a moving video tribute on our 80-inch televisions. And our state-of-the-art A/V system, including microphones, make sharing your thoughts a little bit easier. Want to host a champagne toast? We can help you make that happen. Just a few more ways a funeral reception can help you tell your loved one’s story.

Thank Your Support System
People can come from all over Tennessee, and even the country, to pay their respects to a family member or friend. Sharing a meal is one way to thank them for their support and let them know how much their presence is appreciated.

We have helped thousands of Maury County families plan their funeral service ahead of time, and we always encourage them to consider including reception services in their 2plans. It’s a wonderful gift of love to give to your family – relieving the burden of entertaining their guests as they grieve your loss. It also gives you the chance to express your own personality. Whether you’re the type of person who prefers an elegant, sit-down dinner, or a simple “coffee and cookies” type gathering, the expert hospitality team at Williams Funeral Home & Crematory can make it happen for you and your family.

We invite you to tour our facilities any time by viewing our virtual tour online. But really the best way to see it is in person. Stop by anytime – we always have a fresh pot of Starbucks coffee on, and we’d love to share a cup with you.

Vatican: Don’t Scatter Cremation Ashes, And Don’t Keep Them At Home – By Rebecca Hersher

We will post a follow-up blog about niches, and columbarium burial and why we believe like the Catholic Church does that burial is best even if cremated.

gettyimages-525487949-41962c3b6826a0b070ccdf63a738d4f5ee6f16ba-s800-c85.jpgThe columbarium where cremated remains are kept at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.Godong/UIG via Getty Images

The Vatican has issued new guidelines recommending that the cremated remains of Catholics be buried in cemeteries, rather than scattered or kept at home.

“Following the most ancient Christian tradition, the Church insistently recommends that the bodies of the deceased be buried in cemeteries or other sacred places,” state the guidelines released Tuesday by the Vatican.

The guidelines do not represent a change the church’s overall policy on burial and cremation, but rather underline “the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation” in light of the increasing popularity of cremation in many countries, according to the introduction of the document.

Cremation has been steadily growing in popularity in the United States. According to the Cremation Association of North America, an industry group for cremation-related businesses, nearly half of all people who died in 2015 in the U.S. were cremated, up from about a quarter in 2000.

The newly articulated ash norms include not storing human cremains in the home and refraining from scattering ashes “in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way … in order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided.”

The creation of jewelry and other ash-containing mementos is also explicitly prohibited by the guidelines.

Since its founding, the Roman Catholic Church as an institution has always preferred burial to cremation. For periods, cremation was outlawed entirely. However, since the Second Vatican Council, the official position of the church has been that cremation, while not preferable, is also not banned.

The new recommendations reiterate that policy, quoting the church’s canon law in stating: “The church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, ‘unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine.’ ”

Reasons contrary to Christian doctrine, the church says, include “a denial of Christian dogmas, the animosity of a secret society, or hatred of the Catholic religion and the Church.”

“The Church raises no doctrinal objections to this practice, since cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul,” the guidelines continue, “nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life.”


Reblog: To see the original content  Click Here


The Funeral Crowd. What should you say or not say?

grief pic.jpeg

Reblog from the Coffeelicious by Pratima Sutar

How do you console someone in the time of death? People always seem at a loss of words whenever confronted by these situations. A few of the responses I heard….

“Its okay. You will get over it. Life goes on.”

This is the tried and tested phrase used for all kinds of losses when you are trying to cheer someone up. Somehow, it is horribly inappropriate during a funeral and even imagining that as a way to console someone riles me up. Obviously, death is not okay. And yes, I will get over it in the future but that person is not going to be a part of my or anybody’s future. That’s what I am sad about.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

A downpour of sympathy. This statement evokes only one feeling. Utter helplessness. Facing a sudden loss is like someone slapped you in the face and didn’t even bother to wait and watch how you took it. You are still reeling with the shock of it and simultaneously accepting condolences from everyone. You just nod along to such responses because they don’t really mean anything to you at that moment. But they do help you. They act as a balm for the shock and help the actuality to sink in.

“Be strong. What will happen to xyz if you are so disheartened?”


This is usually being said to the spouse/children of the deceased, in reference to each other. I can understand the whole intent behind this statement and the kind of self sacrifice it demands. In other words, they are asking you to fast-track your grief. A subtle reminder that your responsibilities are doubled now. Come through fast before this horrible reality catches up and starts mutilating other aspects of your life.

The harsh reality either pains the bereaved so much that they are howling for it to stop or has numbed them into silence with a vacant look in their eyes. Something about watching that entire scenario makes me tear up, which has nothing to do with the deceased. After all, it didn’t affect me so when the body was actually laid on the pyre and lit up. It is the state everybody is left in. Some are still in the primitive stage of denial. Some are left wondering, how will life ever go on again? And all this while, a few brave ones are already picking up the pieces of their shattered lives….

Why Do People Send Sympathy Flowers To Funerals?

Reblog from funeralone by Rilee Chastain



It’s a gesture so tried and true that we never even think to question it… When someone loses a loved one, their friends often show love and support by sending flowers. Flowers and funerals have gone hand-in-hand for ages, and the simplest explanation is that it’s tradition—sending sympathy flowers is just a nice thing to do. Flowers add something beautiful to a difficult situation when they decorate the service and casket.

But why do we do this, really? Why flowers instead of, say, warm baked cookies or balloons or nothing at all? What purpose do flowers serve, and do they actually do any good at all when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one?

As it turns out, there’s more to this time-honored tradition than, well… tradition alone. Sharing sympathy and support in the form of flowers actually does go a long way.

The History of Funeral Flowers

It won’t be shocking to hear that gifts and gestures of support are helpful to people in their time of sadness and need. It’s an almost instinctual response to someone else’s grief. As it turns out, this compulsion to send flowers for a funeral dates back longer than the modern calendar. A 1951 cave excavation in Iraq revealed that people have been buried with flowers possibly as long as they’ve been buried at all.

This may very well be because flowers speak a language that the English language can’t always convey. Where words fail us—or we, as humans, fail to find acceptable words—a gesture of giving flowers fills in all the gaps. For example, lilies are most commonly associated with funerals, because of their elegant yet unobtrusive shape and aroma and the symbolism we have come to attach there. White blooms in particular remind us of purity and innocence which we hope for our loved ones after their life is lived.

The Healing Power of Flowers

In more contemporary research, a Rutgers University study found that gifted flowers have an immediate effect on a person’s mood, triggering happiness and feelings of satisfaction. Flowers reduce stress, and help to usher in a period of healing. It’s no wonder they go hand-in-hand with funerals, which are so crucial in the healing process after losing a loved one!

Flowers also represent support, compassion, sympathy and friendship. Sending flowers to a person navigating loss—whether an initial loss or the anniversary of a tragic day—helps them feel supported, know they are cared for by friends or family, and reminds them that their hardship is not theirs to bear alone. Flowers add beauty and elegance to moments of tragedy, and there is little quite as life-affirming as the scent of a fresh bouquet coming into bloom.

But the tradition of sending flowers extends beyond the decoration of the funeral home or memorial site, and beyond the day of the service. Sending flowers to say “I’m thinking of you,” “You’re in my thoughts,” “You are not alone in your grief,” and “I know you’re in need of some support right now” is a gesture that can be made any day of the year, long after burial and healing has begun. Because the truth is, losing a loved one is never forgotten, and support is always helpful in navigating life after loss.

And do you want to hear the most amazing thing? “People who live with flowers report fewer episodes of anxiety and depressed feelings,” according to psychologist Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D. of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. It really is a small, inexpensive gesture that goes so far in aiding the healing process after loss.



When Suffering Ceases To Be Suffering


When Suffering Ceases To Be Suffering

Tom Neal PhD – Jan 19, 2016


I was speaking the other day with man who was sharing with me his recent struggle with serious depression.  He said that the most difficult part of depression is the loss of a sense of meaning in life.  “It’s as if the whole world is suddenly drained of all its color and seems to be just grey, flat,” he said.  “And the future, well it just evaporates.  The word ‘tomorrow’ just seems like fog; like a fantasy that is not real.”  He said that when he finally got help, and found the support he needed, and things got better, he suddenly realized what he had been missing.  “Hope. That’s what I saw I’d lost.  When you don’t believe the next day, or any day, will ever be better, you just don’t have anything to hope in.  So you think, what’s the point?”In his once-popular book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”  One of the greatest gifts faith in God offers is a sense of meaning that transcends the ups and downs of life.  And that meaning gives birth to hope.  For those faith traditions that hold faith in an afterlife, hope can give a sense of trust and peace in knowing there is life beyond death.  But faith can also remind us that the greatest meaning of life is for the here and now, not just for later.  Faith in a provident God laboring to draw good from every evil opens the possibility of hoping against hope when all seems lost; of discovering redemption in the seemingly irredeemable.  Faith in such a just and merciful God defines a meaningful life as one lived for others, making a life of love to be the measure of all things.

Allowing for the welcoming of one’s faith into the dying process, Five Wishes opens up a sacred space for discovering hope-filled meaning at life’s end.  Instead of surrendering to the dark void of meaninglessness, the sufferer can surround herself with the networks of support and sacred symbols that sustain faith in a God who speaks light into the darkness and life into death.

The acquaintance I spoke with of his depression, referring to the role played by his faith, “Even at my darkest point, I had my faith.  I knew God was with me.  For all my Good Fridays, I’ve got just as many Easter Sundays.”

Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.

Re-blogged From 5 Wishes; by Tom Neal, PhD

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 tri-cityherald.com.

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.

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