Religion/Faith/Beliefs: The Decline in Funeral Services

I do believe that every person has a right to whatever is best for them concerning religion, faith or beliefs.  Or, whatever keeps them moving forward through this life.  I hope not to offend anyone with topic.  Keep reading and you will know why I thought about this subject.

In my career as a funeral director I have done services for many different religions, faiths and beliefs (examples: Jewish, Catholic, Methodist, Southern Baptist).

I learned a lot from every service.  I am definitely not one to tell anyone what is right and what is wrong.  I have a unique job in which I get exposed to many different religions and/or religious beliefs.

I think it is important to get some definitions to some words (according to Webster Dictionary):

RELIGION: the belief in God or in a group of Gods; an organized systems of beliefs; ceremonies and rules used to worship a God or a group of Gods; an interest, a belief or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

FAITH: a strong belief or trust in someone or something or something; belief in existence of God, strong religious feelings or beliefs; firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

BELIEFS: a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true; a feeling that something is good, right or valuable; a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone.

Over the past 10 years, I have had people ask for a service with no religious content.  I have heard many times, “Well, Dad was not much for religion” or “We quit going to church”.  As a funeral director, you do what the family wants.  We do what we can to make the service personalized to all the families liking to move them forward in the grieving process.  But, sometimes remind them if you have a clergy or any religious leader (i.e., lay leader, chaplain) there will be some form of religious content.  Unless you get a family friend or relative to lead the service, which is getting more and more common.

I believe there is another word we need to define (according to Webster Dictionary):

SPIRITUAL: of or relating to a person’s spirit, of or relating to religion or religious beliefs; having similar values and ideas: related or join in spirit.

The reason for writing about the matter of religion, faith, belief or spirituality was of some statistics of a recent survey in one of our trade magazines.  I truly kind of sat me back in my chair and think.  I hope it does the same for you.  The survey statistics are below:

The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service conducted a survey among 2,201 Americans between July 27 and August 9, 2016. The results:

*The Survey found that 25% of Americans are now identified as religiously unaffiliated. This has grown by 3 times since the 1990’s.

*The most common reason of the religiously unaffiliated for leaving their childhood religion:
1. 65% said they just stopped believing in their childhood religion.
2. 32% said they their family was not that religious growing up.
3. 29% cited negative teachings about or the treatment of gay people by religious organization.

The Survey showed that 72% said they spend little time in their day-to-day lives thinking about God and religion.

In this survey it identified three distinct groups among unaffiliated:

1. Rejectionists: 58 % say religion is not personally important in the their lives and believes that religion as a whole does                                      more damage then good.

2. Apatheists: 22% say religion is not pernally important to them but believe that it’s generally more socially helpfu then harmful.

3. Unattached Believers: 18% say religion is important to them personally.

**The Dodge Magazine, December 2016, “Survey Finds “Unaffiliated” Leaving Religion Early; Few Looking to Reconnect

I sent this information to some minister and clergy that have been in the situation with family and arranging a service where they does not want any religious content.  Just to give me some input with this topic of conversation.

One minister replied, “One thing I have found is that a lot of folks will tell you that they are spiritual but not religious, meaning that they believe in God but don’t have or don’t want to be part of a “church.” I think we are finding that so many have been affected by the ’60’s movement against established institutions and believe the church to fall into that category.

That is one of the reasons we see such a decline in the mainline churches today and some increase in the “non-denominational” churches. Older churches are buried in traditions that can not be let go of and it is threatening to many people.”

I believe a lot people believe in something greater then themselves to deal with life.  We all have different ways of expressing it as a individual or with a group.  What keeps you or helps you move forward???  

Holiday Grief

Grief and any feelings of loss about someone we love is the toughest during the holiday season.   Grief and the grieving process are different for every individual.  Here are some helpful suggestions that may just help you get through the holidays and may help you move forward in the grieving process of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

-Do things to remember your loved one.  Make a donation to a meaningful charity, volunteer your time or talents in either your loved one’s or your favorite organization or charity in their memory.

-Make time for yourself.  Taking care of yourself (physically and emotionally) is very important.  Some days will be tough so take time to recharge yourself.  Take a day away in reflection while you do something that brings you relaxation (i.e.: take a walk, get a manicure and pedicure, go to the library, get a massage, go to movie).  Take time for yourself when you need it, but don’t isolate yourself from everyone that cares.  Isolation may cause cause the feelings of grief to intensify.  

-Give yourself permission to say “no”.  People try to help by inviting you to events or dinners, which is thoughtful. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything – make sure you do what is right for you.  Some people wear themselves out by staying busy to avoid or ignore the feelings about the loss.  If you need rest – rest.

-Change some holiday traditions.  Don’t change everything all at once, but give yourself permission to make new traditions.  Some ideas may be to attend Christmas services or go to Christmas events you have not attended before, prepare new dishes for dinners, or add new decorations.

-Do something for others.  Help a family in need of gifts or food or help serve dinners at a church or shelter.  Giving to others is a great way to get out of ourselves and improve our emotional state.

– Express your feelings.  Talk to a religious leader or therapist or write in a journal.  There are some Grief Support Groups you can attend online or in person that will remind you that you are not alone when it comes to the feelings of loss and grief.  If you express and talk about your feelings or things that help you to cope with loss, you may find yourself helping someone else move forward in their grief or you may learn something to help you.

Death of a loved one is never easy no matter the time of year.  All we can do is take steps forward to take care of ourselves for our family and friends.

Model T to Lamborghini: Today’s way of dodging emotions 

Emotions and feelings -some wear them on their sleeves and communicate how they are feeling while others run as fast they can away from any type of uncomfortable feelings or from communicating about it.

This is so true!  I am one of the runners.  I believe that for me it was due to not having a parents or supportive environment to show me or talk about the importance of dealing with emotions.  I was raised by foster parents and guardians where I was to be seen but never heard.  No one ever asked me to share how I felt and I didn’t want to trouble them with my problems.  I dealt with emotions by keep them locked up deep inside.  My thought was that I would try to forget the emotion or feeling and deal with it later.  My way to deal with emotions and feelings as a kid and a young adult was to play basketball – I mean hours and hours of shooting basketballs by myself.  As I got older, graduated college, established a career, got married and had children I did not have time to spend hours and hours shooting hoops to work through my emotions or feelings anymore.  Not having a way to dealing with emotions can lead into ways of coping that are not healthy.

I admire people who can say how they feel.  It is a great honor for me when someone shares their feelings with me.  Sometimes just having someone there to listen is all they need to make them feel better.  Although I am not good with communicating how I feel, it has made me a better listener and has helped me learn to help others with emotions and feelings as they work through the grieving process.  We learn something from everyone we meet whether we recognize it at the time or not.

Every family I meet with will tell me stories about the kind of person their loved one was. Taking the time to enjoy listening to these stories provides me, as a funeral director, the ability provide a more personalized, one of kind service for the family.  These personalized services will make us cry and sometimes laugh.  If you can help a family and friends attend a service and let them cry, laugh and feel a range of emotions it can help with the acceptance of the death and coping with the grief.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  There is no time-frame to follow.  What is important is that we recognize that grief is a natural response to loss and our journey is our own. The journey may start with creating a personal tribute to the person we’ve lost to honor the life he or she lived. Knowing, as community members, friends, family, and other loved ones arrive to share in the tribute to his or her memory, that we are truly not alone in our grief.  It is shared by those who love us and who loved our loved one.

Finding support is important in a time of grief.  Whether it is with a family member, friend, therapist or minister take time to communicate your feelings and work though the process of healing.  Time may not heal all wounds, but it can make it less intense.



CHANGE: Personalized or Old Fashioned Service  

Some funerals are just the typical “old fashioned” service – nothing fancy.  Many times families are not offered different options or ways of making a service memorable or the funeral home just does not want to change the way they typically handle services.  Sometimes during the service we are attending we don’t hear personal stories about who we are there to respect.

Since entering the funeral service industry, I have always tried different things or ways of doing services to make the death, grief, and funeral process better for families.  I have worked in several different funeral homes throughout my career and it was difficult at times to introduce different options for a family because the firm was so comfortable doing the same type of service that they were afraid of CHANGE.  The “Good Ole’ Fashion” way of doing things was what they were comfortable with and when I added something different it was frowned upon even if the family appreciated it.

At VanArsdale Funeral Services, we have made it a goal as funeral directors to try to make each and every service a personal service to be as memorable as the person we are there to pay respects to.  For us, it about listening to the family and offer suggestions and options for them to decide if it is right for their family.

Some families don’t know what they want but they do know what they don’t want.  It is up to the funeral director to help the family to get the service they want with the right options and experience for that loved one.

Over the years we have done many things or gave families options to make a service service one of a kind.  Below are some examples of options we have to provided to make a loved one’s service and the family experience with the funeral one of a kind:

It could be a simple ride to cemetery in a hearse:

It could be burning a families cow brand into a of a Barnwood casket,  

It is about what makes all the family and friends feel as they are part of the service for there loved one or friend.  It is just the little things the funeral home and funeral director can do that does not cost you any more money but memories.  Children sometimes are the most willing  participates to help and usually is the ones that make the most memories.  Little things to help them remember and give them a sense of purpose during the service of their loved one.  Examples: give them a piece of paper and let them draw a picture or write a letter and have them place it in casket or have them watch you place letter.  You can have them help with casket with being a casketbearer or escort the casket.  

As a funeral director the most important thing is to listen to the family and find out the things that brought their loved one and them the best memories.  To make a meaningful and rememberable service, is to share stories, hobbies, and anything they loved to do with the funeral director and hopefully they can give you their experience of what they can do that is right for all the family and friends.

Stories of a Funeral Director- Story 2

I believe strongly in the power of laughter.  I have been through a lot in my life, like most of us, but it has been my sense of humor that has kept me sane.  

When meeting with a family it is my goal to get the family to discuss funny stories of their loved one.  Sometimes the funny stories are about me and what I did at another service.  This story has not come up in a while but here it is for you to enjoy.

I had a meeting with a very talented woman at her house to make her funeral arrangements.  It was a sad situation, as you would expect.   This woman had written books and done a lot of things that people didn’t know about, such as using a pen name for her books.  It was a good meeting.

A few weeks later she passed away. I met with her next of kin to discuss what they wanted for her funeral.  We talked about the songs to play at her service.  The family said she liked, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin.  Kind of an unusual song for a funeral but it was good for them and personal to her.  I have played many songs for funerals that are out of the norm.  Whatever the family wants and the minister agrees with, we can make happen.

The day of service I had everything ready at the church and was just waiting for the family to arrive to park their cars. I had placed the memorial folders for the service to have them readily available for everyone.  The minister came by, picked up a folder, and then said, “Jamie, I have never heard of a song called “Me and Boobie McGee”.   In horror, I said, “No Way!!”  Sure enough, there it was — the song title, “Me and Boobie McGee”.  The family would be arriving in a few minutes and I did not have time to reprint all the folders.  We compromised and took our black pens out of our pockets and started correcting the “O” and making it into a “B”.  The minister found it quite funny, and of course she told the family.  Thank goodness the family had a great sense of humor.

No matter how perfect we (especially I) want things to go, there are things that happen. If you can grin or even sometimes laugh about it, it will turn out the way it was supposed to be in end. Usually with a little help from a Higher Power than us.


The Shell of a Life

When watching television,  it is amazing how many times there is a scene where a person visits a cemetery filled with beautiful trees and scenery and talks to the well manicured grave of a loved one.  It is very sentimental and it seems to help the character move forward from any problem they may have or just they fact they miss them.  

When we have someone we care about die, we see that the soul, life, sparks or character (whatever you believe it is) of that person disappear and there is just the body or shell, as some people call it.  

The Ancient Romans held that the soul of man, although separated at death from the body, hovered around the place of burial for its continued peace and happiness, and required constant attention from the descendants in the form of offerings of food and drink.  Should the offerings be discontinued, the Romans thought that the soul would cease to be happy, and even become a spirit of evil to bring harm upon those who had neglected the proper rites.  This is from the book, “The History Of American Funeral Directing”.

There was once a stubborn, out spoken, military minded elder man who’s wife had died and he visited her grave everyday till his death.  If fact, maybe more then once, cause you could see where he parked his car and a perfect walking path to her grave.  You could even tell the exact spot where he would stand.  Even though it was just her body or shell, he would honor her everyday by going to her grave.  Did it help him or did he never get through the grief process??  That is only for him to know.  We all handle a death or loss in different ways.  It is up to us to figure out what is best.

I have only observed this very few times in recent years.  But, most of the time it is people who grew up in a different generation or a family who has lost a child.  I do believe it also boils down to a families faith.  

Today, in today’s society, we honor or celebrate the spirit or life of a individual but we just don’t have concern for the body or shell that held that spirit and life.  What I mean by this, that more families are choosing cremation and scattering ashes.  They don’t bury ashes in a cemetery.  Lot of the time it is cost of the service or family is separated across the globe that decides what the family choose for services of their loved one.  Today, there are ways and option when working in between funeral home and a family when it comes to cost.

Don’t get me wrong, if a individual request for you to scatter their remains in desired spots, that is great.  Scatter a little bit of ashes and either bury or keep the remainder of the ashes.  But, when it comes to families, does or does it not help them that there is no permanent place or permanent stone to visit or honor their loved one ever now and again.  

As for me, my mother died a couple years ago, I had her cremated after shipping her body to Kansas from California to be able to say my final goodbyes.  As in other posts, I have mentioned that my mother was in a nursing home for 30 years.  I knew the time was coming that I would no longer be able to see her.  I had her cremated with intentions of take her back to Nevada to bury her with her family.  But, I still have her ashes and not ready to take her all the way across the country and not be able to visit her grave very often.  My mother was already gone to a lot people cause she was in the nursing home for so long.  But, not to me, so I do want to give her a permanent place and monument to know that my mother will never be forgotten and that she was a important part in the world to me.  That is me, believe me I know that everybody has different beliefs and thoughts.

Perfect example is memorial day, hundred of people go out to cemeteries of loved ones and place flowers or just visit.  Some families spend hours just telling stories and remember the times they had together.  But, there are more and more people not going to cemeteries because there is not a place to go and know that your loved one’s shell is in that permanent place they can go honor them and reflect on the great memories with other family members.    

With scattering cremated remains, that person really does disappear from our lives and are forgotten by many.  I see families at the cemetery after service going to other family member’s graves and tell stories and share memories.  Sometimes, they laugh and sometimes they cry.   Either sad or happy, you get a family together and can reflect.  For just a short time you remember how that person made you feel either happy or sad.

When I conduct a service and if we go to the cemetery, I walk around and look at monuments of people.  Lot of times, I see people I knew or helped.  It sometimes brings back good and some times not so good memories of the individual that I had forgotten or it makes me think about the family of the deceased and wonder how they are doing.  Sometimes, I give them a call or when I see them tell them I was thinking about them when I was visiting their loved one at cemetery.  It makes that person feel good that someone was thinking of them.  In today’s fast past world we don’t take time to stop, reflect or visit with people.  Believe me I know how time just flies bye.

The next time you are in a cemetery take sometime and pay your respect to grave of a family member or a friend.  Maybe, give the family or a friend a call to just visit and see how they are doing.  Showing care to another person has been lost.


I believe the American Flag is absolutely beautiful.

Before a funeral director can get a flag of a deceased veteran, they need to have the veteran’s DD-214 papers.  In other words, the document verifying the the discharge, if it was honorable and service record.   

Over the years, I have folded many flags.  But, to be honest, I never truly learned what each fold meant.  I knew there was a meaning for each but never studied it till now.  Starting this blog has helped me to start learning again and I hope you learned something also.  Sometimes we have just enough time to get all phones call made for military services and things done for a meaningful funeral that we just get the flag and either drape or fold it depending on type of service.  Truly, depends on family on what they would like.

After finding these facts about each fold, from now on I will start taking more time and try to remember what each fold represent.   

Cremation and Families Options 

Cremation has been on the rise for many years.  Some families choose cremation because of cost and some because family can not get together to have a service for their loved one right away due to living in another state or country.  Cremation can take place and then the family chooses a time to get together for a service and burial at a later date.

Today there are many different reasons for a family or a individual to choose cremation.  I have heard many people say, “Just cremate me.”  Many times they are thinking it would be easier for their family and not of the grief processing and sense of closure that a service can bring. Sometimes it is a financial factor or a simplicity factor for the family.

The first cremation option for the family is to have a chance to say goodbye if they are not with their loved one when he or she passes. Sometimes families are scattered across the country and there is not enough time after death to say goodbye unless viewing takes place within a 24 hour period. After 24 hours, state law dictates the body will either need to be refrigerated or embalming will have to be done.

Another cremation option is to have a full service first and then cremation. There are caskets specifically designed for cremation and there is also a casket that can be used and the interior of casket is a cremation container that is replaced. It looks like a regular casket and you will not be able to tell that the interior is removable. This may be the best option when a loved one requests cremation but family wants a chance to celebrate their life. After cremation the family can plan a private burial of remains at a later time.  Ashes can be scattered as long as permission has been granted by the land owner. The only regulation is that scattered remains are not permitted in any water source or body of water.  Some families decide to keep the ashes at home, it is all up to the family and what they think will help them through the grief process.  Please read the previous blog I wrote about grief.

When planning for a funeral service (with the body present) or a memorial service (without the body present) it is important to bring in personal items to add to the service and to create a display of pictures.  When having any type of funeral, memorial, or celebration of life service, it is important for a family to discuss ideas of how to personalize the service for their loved one.  If family doesn’t have ideas of what they can do, I hope the funeral director brings up ideas for the family.  Over the years I have done many different things to make a service personalized for the deceased and the family.  It may be to play the deceased’s favorite song, display collectibles, or even have a procession of tractor trailers to the cemetery.  It can be anything that the family feels best represents the life lived when it comes to honoring the one they love.
Not only are there all kinds of options with cremation and personalization but also many different products and merchandise that have been introduced to help families take a step forward in the grief process.

When it comes to urns, it is unimaginable what products for families are out there.  Some families bring in there own form of a urn, tackle box, cookie jar and even a basketball.
Occasionally people I meet with say, “This might be a stupid question.”  Believe me, there is never a stupid question.  Please make sure if you have a question that you ask.  The service you are planning is for you to celebrate a life you loved; it is my job to help you in any way that I can.

Stories of Funeral Director- Story 1

There are so many stories and things that have happened at funerals.  Some are funny and inspirational and others sad and depressing.  But, let start story #1 with a funny story.

I had just became a manager of a corporate owned funeral home in Kansas.  I will not say where, to protect the innocent.  Here I was a 20 something year old and was just left with managing a funeral home.  Corporation had fired the previous managers.

I was excited but yet very scared.  I could just imagine hearing people I am was trying to service in the worst times of their lives say, “This snot nose kid doesn’t know anything!”   That went through my mind all the time.  It was important to me that everything I did was perfect.  Of course, it did not always go perfect.  Here is a example:

It was a beautiful day, people were arriving to funeral home.  I was handing out folders for service and sitting people.

The family wanted “Amazing Grace” and “Old Rugged Cross” for songs at service.  I remembered we had some Merrill Womack recorded music.  So, an hour before service, I get the music out and see if it worked.  Of course I heard, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound……”.  Ok, checked other song, sounded great.  Perfect, I was ready to go.  Well, I just listen to the first verse.

So, all the friends and family arrived.  It was a full chapel, which was wonderful.  Preacher started service and I had a order of service so I would know when to play the songs.  So, minister sits down and now a song,  I pushed play and Amazing Grace started playing, perfect.  I adjusted the sound a little and then went to the back of the chapel to hear if the volume was good for everyone.  As the beautiful song was playing and me standing in the back, all of a sudden over the speakers, I heard, a door open and close and then a voice, “It’s me!!”.  Horrified, everyone in the chapel turned and looked at the back of the chapel, here I was standing there and everyone looking at me.  I calmly walked back to the music room and waited for the song to be over.

After, the service the minister came up to me and was questioning me about the music.  I said, “I don’t know”.  Minister said, “I should have said when that happened, “Jesus is here”.  We chuckled together.  But, I was still so worried about what the family would say.  Thank goodness they  were a great family and they chuckled about it.

So, after everything was over, I stormed into the music room and played “Amazing Grace” again.  It did it again.  Well come to find out the previous managers of the firm re-recorded the song from another tape or cd.  Well, why they were doing that the microphone was on and recorded the individual coming in the back door of funeral home.  Still don’t know who the voice of individual belong too.  Maybe it was Jesus!!!!


It is still amazing to me even after 20 years of conducting funerals for veterans how the playing of TAPS still gets me choked up.  How can a song have such a effect to honor a deceased veteran?  As TAPS is played at Veteran’s funeral, if you don’t get choked up, then that is very sad.  I have seen medals received by veteran’s that the families bring to funeral home, sometimes if medal is still in the box, there is a description of why and how this medal was earned.  Absolute amazement what some Veterans did and survived for their fellow comrades and the country.

I believe that people don’t really think about history of things.  Below is The Story of Taps as provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  I hope you read and get a greater understanding and appreciation of the history of TAPS and at the next veteran service you attend.   

The Story of Taps

The 24-note melancholy bugle call known as “taps” is thought to be a revision of a
French bugle signal, called “tattoo,” that notified soldiers to cease an evening’s drinking
and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end
the day by extinguishing fires and lights. The last five measures of the tattoo resemble

The word “taps” is an alteration of the obsolete word “taptoo,” derived from the Dutch
“taptoe.” Taptoe was the command — “Tap toe!” — to shut (“toe to”) the “tap” of a keg.
The revision that gave us present-day taps was made during America’s Civil War by
Union Gen. Daniel Adams Butterfield, heading a brigade camped at Harrison Landing,
Va., near Richmond. Up to that time, the U.S. Army’s infantry call to end the day was
the French final call, “L’Extinction des feux.” Gen. Butterfield decided the “lights out”
music was too formal to signal the day’s end. One day in July 1862 he recalled the
tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music.
Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes and, after
listening, lengthened and shortened them while keeping his original melody.
He ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day thereafter, instead of the
regulation call. The music was heard and appreciated by other brigades, who asked for
copies and adopted this bugle call. It was even adopted by Confederate buglers.
This music was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but not given the name
“taps” until 1874.

The first time taps was played at a military funeral may also have been in Virginia soon
after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John Tidball, head of an artillery battery,
ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the
battery’s position in the woods to the enemy nearby, Tidball substituted taps for the
traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave. Taps was played at the funeral of
Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson 10 months after it was composed. Army infantry
regulations by 1891 required taps to be played at military funeral ceremonies.
Taps now is played by the military at burial and memorial services, to accompany the
lowering of the flag and to signal the “lights out” command at day’s end.

US Department of Veteran’s Affair, Washington, D.C.