Showing posts with label Funeral. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Funeral. Show all posts

March 26, 2020

Funerals Must Wait A Very Long GoodBye, Until When?

                            Image result for a funeral today on Coronavirus

SEATTLE — After Mary Flo Werner died last week of cancer, her nine grandchildren filed in through the big white doors of their Catholic church in Janesville, Wis., for the funeral Mass. Nine plus the priest made 10, the maximum number allowed to gather these days, since a widening coronavirus outbreak led to strict limits on public gatherings.

Left to grieve in the church parking lot were Ms. Werner’s four adult children. They sat in their cars and watched their 74-year-old mother’s service on their phones and tablets.

In Staten Island, N.Y., the family of Arnold Obey, 73, a retired school principal, does not know when or how his funeral might occur. Mr. Obey died Sunday night while vacationing in Puerto Rico, and his wife is in isolation in a San Juan hotel room, awaiting coronavirus test results.

Meri Dreyfuss, a tech worker in the San Francisco area whose older sister, Barbara Dreyfuss, died in Seattle this month of the coronavirus, has put off a funeral until the fall. 

“We can’t properly bury our dead because of the situation,” she said. “We can’t mourn together, we can’t share memories together, we can’t get together and hug each other.”

The rituals of honoring and saying goodbye to the dead run deep. Reaching out to touch in sympathy and condolence feels instinctive. But the coronavirus, in its confounding and confining effects — stay-at-home orders, bans on large gatherings and fears of travel and exposure — is blowing those traditions apart, no matter the cause of death.

Postponement and uncertainty, and for many families a painful triage of who can physically attend a service and who cannot, are becoming part of the language of obituaries and family discussions even as people grieve. 

“In light of Covid-19, a family funeral will be held,” is how the loved ones put it in the obituary for Ivan Brenko, a 98-year-old man who died near Toronto. The obituary for James Anthony Michael, 91, who died on March 18 in a suburb of Detroit, said that “due to health concerns, the family has chosen to do a memorial mass at a later date.”

Reba McEntire, the country music star, announced that the memorial service for her 93-year-old mother, Jacqueline McEntire, who died of cancer last week, would be held at some indefinite point the future, “when it is safe for everyone to attend.” 

It has become a time of frantic improvisation and adaptation as families and funeral providers scramble and relatives mourn as best they can.

GRIEVING IN QUARANTINE With large gatherings banned, families of mass shooting victims are mourning alone. “We can’t pick just 10 people.”

The family of 86-year-old Norman Merkur gathered on Tuesday afternoon to participate in his funeral service via Zoom, the cloud meeting app. Mr. Merkur, a Korean War veteran, died over the weekend as his health deteriorated from lymphoma. The burial was observed by a rabbi at the gravesite in Palm Bay, Fla. — along with 45 family members and friends who watched online from New York, California, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. It was brief and traditional, despite the nontraditional webcast, and there were few references to the pandemic, until the end.

“May all of you stay healthy, may all of you stay safe,” Rabbi Craig Mayers said as the ceremony closed. “And may we come together in the future to properly celebrate Norman’s life at a time when it is safe for all of us to gather.”

Ahead of the Werner family observance last week, Neal J. Schneider, owner of Schneider Funeral Directors, posted a video of himself on YouTube. With only a few days to go before the ceremony for Ms. Werner, Mr. Schneider wanted to get a YouTube channel up and running so that extended family members and friends could attend, at least virtually. He needed 1,000 subscribers to make it happen.

“Please help us,” he said into the camera.

By Tuesday morning at 5 a.m., Mr. Schneider said, he had his first 246 subscribers. By 11 a.m. he had 1,500. The service on Friday for Ms. Werner, webcast by a camera set up at the back of the church, was the Schneider YouTube channel’s first funeral. 
“Obviously, it was a difficult situation,” said Ms. Werner’s oldest son, Steve Werner Jr., a lawyer who watched the service in the parking lot on his cellphone. As for who got in and who did not, Mr. Werner said, the decision was obvious: Flo, as she was known, doted on her grandchildren.

“Kind of an odd situation, obviously, nine of them sitting there in an empty church,” said Mr. Werner, 50. “But I think they appreciated having that opportunity, and knowing that if given her choice under the circumstances, she would have probably wanted this as well. The accommodation was the best we could do.”

Some families are grieving in shifts.

At Bradshaw-Carter Memorial and Funeral Services in Houston, a family came in last week saying they expected 25 immediate family mourners to attend an upcoming service. “What we offered was 10 at one time,” said Michael Carter, the company’s co-founder. “Ten at, say, 2 o’clock, a maximum of 10, and then we could schedule another 10 for another time, 3 o’clock, which would give us time — we needed a certain amount of time to sterilize the facility,” he said.

Even though some families are making do, others continue to fret about when things might allow a traditional service — the kind where family and friends show up to say goodbye.

Nancy Moncrief, who had to postpone the funeral for her brother, Henry Wray Eversole Jr., 76, when he died recently of lymphoma, said she was worried more now about her 95-year-old mother.

“This is taking a toll on her,” Ms. Moncrief said. “It would at any time, but it’s just doubling now — nobody can come up and give her a hug and tell her how sorry they are that she’s lost her son.”
Elisabeth Claire Avery, 21, learned this month that her mother’s body had been found in one of Georgia’s largest lakes. The next unsettling news was that there would be no traditional funeral, at least not for a while.

“She had friends in every city in Georgia, I swear,” Ms. Avery said. “She loved art and music, and that’s how you can celebrate her in isolation.” Ms. Avery has had the difficult task of responding to the many people who have been reaching out, asking what they can do. “Listen to rock ’n’ roll, which she would’ve liked,” she tells them.

Funeral directors are stressed, too.

A board member of the National Funeral Directors Association, Chris Robinson, a fourth-generation funeral director and managing owner of Robinson Funeral Home in Easley, S.C., said members of his trade association were getting swamped with questions and requests, and scrambling to find answers. Video companies are installing cameras. Mortuaries are deciding how much room they have to store bodies for weeks or months in refrigeration. He said he thinks some of the technological innovations will stay when the crisis eventually lifts, but he also expects an emotional swing back to simpler services.

“I think this isolation by everybody is going to make them step back and really appreciate this person-to-person contact, just the basic social interaction that most of us yearn for,” he said.

Mortuaries, meanwhile, like hospitals, are running low on masks and gloves that funeral workers need to protect themselves from not only the coronavirus, but other infectious diseases as well.

“It’s usually two persons at a cremation, and normally we would both be there hands-on,” said Clay Dippel, a provisional funeral director and embalmer at the Bradshaw-Carter home in Houston. Now, he said, only one person gets gloved up and touches a body. “Instead of using two sets of gloves, now it’s one person does the lifting, the other is there to observe,” he said. “Yesterday, I was the employee who wore the gloves,” he added.

Meri Dreyfuss, the San Francisco tech worker who lost her sister to the coronavirus, went with another sister, Hillary Dreyfuss, up into California’s majestic redwood forests and walked through the ancient groves, trying to make sense of everything that was happening in their lives, and the world around them.

“Hillary said, ‘I want to be around something bigger than me,’” Meri said. “It helped.”

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting from New York; Frances Robles from Key West, Fla.; and Patricia Mazzei from Miami.

Kirk Johnson is a national correspondent who has covered the American West for more than a decade. Born and raised in Utah and currently based in Seattle, he has written extensively about public lands, rural economics and the environment. @kljohnso • Facebook

January 25, 2020

Many Millennials See Death in a Different Way and Are Planning Death Differently

Simon Sotelo was 27 when she donated her body to science.
The Portland, Oregon-based graphic designer is still very much alive — and presumably will be for decades to come. She doesn’t have any life-threatening afflictions or high-risk hobbies. But, Sotelo says, signing a contract that grants medical students in the distant future the right to study her body gives her a sense of peace in the present. 
“My goal from the beginning was, how can I just make this as cheap as possible for the people who have to deal with it?” Sotelo, now 31, says. “When I was first planning it, I was like, I have no savings, I have no money.” Oregon Health & Science University seemed to offer the perfect solution: When its research is complete — typically after two years — the college will pay to cremate the remains of its donors and return it to the family. At that point, Sotelo says, she hopes her loved ones will hold a celebration of her life, not a mournful wake. She’d like “The End of the Tour” by They Might Be Giants to play.
The National Funeral Directors Association has found that 15.8 percent of Americans age 18 to 39 think people should plan their funerals before they’re 40. Among them is Sotelo, seen in a Portland cemetery. Amanda Lucier for Vox
Most Americans don’t plan for their deaths in their 20s — or maybe ever. A 2017 study in the journal Health Affairs found only one in three US adults have an advance directive, including a living will with end-of-life medical instructions, power of attorney naming a person responsible for last affairs, or both. Fewer have planned their actual funeral arrangements: Only 21 percent of Americans have even spoken to their loved ones about their wishes, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. 
But “the American way of death,” as journalist Jessica Mitford called it in her 1963 classic book on the funeral industry, is changing. When Mitford first penned her investigation, she found anxiety, aversion, and few real options. Most consumers only interacted with the funeral industry on average every 14 years — and then, only under duress — so they weren’t likely to compare prices or make informed choices. As a result, Mitford argued, funeral directors could convince their hapless customers to spend more money than they had, on things they never wanted. 
Today, the internet grants us instant access to lots of information and seemingly infinite options. “Embalm and bury” used to be the only way Americans processed human remains — funeral directors were resistant to cremation (it was much cheaper than burial), and consumers thought to burn a body sounded awful and un-Christian. Now, a YouTube channel called “Ask a Mortician” has almost a million subscribers, and we can turn our dead into diamonds.  
In many cases, younger people are leading this black-bannered parade of cultural change. Mortician Caitlin Doughty in 2011 founded the Order of the Good Death, an organization that promotes death positivity when she was 27. Now she runs her own funeral home in Los Angeles. Hansa Bergwall was 35 when he created the app WeCroak, a digital-age memento mori that reminds its 30,000 monthly users that they are going to die five times a day — presumably to help them live in the moment. And Katrina Spade began developing the idea that would become Recompose, a company that plans to turn human remains into the soil, when she was 30.

 Mortician Caitlin Doughty founded the Order of the Good Death, an organization that promotes death positivity when she was 27. “We know that not talking about death can lead to a less self-aware life,” she says. Courtesy of Mara Zehler
This same demographic is also the consumer of certain relevant services: The Dinner Party, a boozier take on the old-fashioned support group, caters to 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one. Some British 25- to 35-year-olds are flocking to Deadhappy, a pay-as-you-go life insurance start-up. And though they don’t necessarily all follow through like Sotelo, the National Funeral Directors Association found that 15.8 percent of Americans age 18 to 39 think people should pre-plan their funerals before they’re 40 — something only 7.9 percent of people over age 60 believed.
Why, those older adults must be asking, do people in the prime of their lives seem to be preparing for their demise? The answers vary widely, from eminently practical concerns, such as crushing debt and climate change, to social factors, like wellness culture, diverse spiritual practices, and the desire of some millennials to “curate their afterlives.” 
“We are a generation that is less willing to be shamed for our interests in difficult topics,” Doughty says. “We know that not talking about money has put us in a very difficult financial position, especially those that graduated around the time of the [September 2008 stock market] crash,” she adds. “And we know that not talking about death can lead to a less self-aware life.”

Liz Eddy was 27 when she got the call that her grandmother was dead. “I was met by two police officers, a nurse, and her body, and they said, ‘What do you want to do?’” Eddy recalls. “I did what most people do these days and pulled out my phone and Googled, ‘What do you do when someone dies?’” 
She found little guidance and spiraled into what she calls “logistical chaos.” Eddy had to move everything out of her grandmother’s assisted living facility within a month, sort through a lifetime of belongings, and close all of her grandmother’s accounts. She spent a year trying to resolve an unpaid Verizon bill with a debt collector. The trauma eventually inspired her to start a new business: Lantern, a digital end-of-life planning tool. 
The venture capital-backed site (Lantern has so far raised $890,000 in funding) offers checklists for every aspect of death, all delivered in a soothing seafoam green color palette and with dozens of conceptual illustrations. Still in the early planning phase? Sort out your organ donor status. A week has passed since the funeral? Be sure to notify the post office. 
The New York-based company is still new, but Eddy and her co-founder, Alyssa Ruderman, hope Lantern will work for people of all ages, whether they’re planning their own funeral or grappling with the loss of a loved one. They tested the product on people ages 18 to 92, to ensure accessibility. But, Ruderman says, “We absolutely built it with the millennial in mind.” 
This strategy, however counterintuitive, could pay off. In 2017, Nathan Gerard, an assistant professor of health care administration at California State University Long Beach, published a study of 84 millennials and their ability to talk about death. “There’s been a long-held assumption that the young are somehow uninterested — or worse, ill-equipped — to talk about death, let alone work with the dying,” Gerard said in an email. But he found the majority “had already engaged in a conversation about end-of-life care with a family member, and furthermore, a majority perceived themselves just as willing, if not more willing, like their parents to talk about end-of-life care options.” 
Whether the Grim Reaper is at the door or decades away, consumers will find a growing number of funeral-planning resources at their disposal. Sites like Funeralocity provide comparative pricing for funeral home services by zip code. Memorials can be arranged digitally on GatheringUs. You can even draft important legal documents online.

Before the internet, people hoping to get their affairs in order had to find financial planners, lawyers, and local funeral directors in the phone book then set up in-person consultations. But people have an “aversion to talking to strangers about important things,” says Patrick Schmitt, the co-founder of FreeWill, a site that streamlines the process of generating a will, healthcare directives, and powers of attorney. Technology means they no longer have to. With sites like Schmitt’s, it’s possible to generate a legal will in 20 minutes, no human interaction required.
Since these essential forms used to be made on paper and in private, there’s little historical data about who had a will and who didn’t. But for the team at FreeWill, that information is readily available. Among its users, the number of people age 18 to 24 crafting wills is low, but shoots up among 25- to 44-year-olds, Schmitt says.
“Younger people are less likely to have assets. People make the joke, ‘I don’t know who to pass my debt onto,’” Schmitt says. But “you’ve got big shifts around religiosity, home ownership, overall wealth at this age, marriage rates, birth rates, and these things are really going to shape views on estate planning and death.” 

In The American Way of Death, Mitford described a funeral industry that operated like an autocracy. The all-knowing funeral director guided the guileless consumer to the most expensive burial options — the most luxurious casket, the hardiest burial vault. Some things about dying haven’t changed, including the expense: The average cost today is $6,500. 
But the death industry has diversified since 1963. Approximately 60 percent of students in mortuary science programs today are female, up from 5 percent in 1971. And new trends, like the home funeral movement, are led by “an assemblage of different groups of people, different beliefs, different practices,” says Phil Olson, a technology ethicist at Virginia Tech specializing in death studies. 
Church membership is declining, and the number of Americans who say they are atheists is on the rise. (Right now, it’s hovering around 10 percent.) Though young people today may diverge from their parents’ or grandparents’ approach to death and the afterlife, many find other philosophies to guide them. 
Bergwall co-founded WeCroak — the death reminder app — in 2017 as part of his own meditation practice. He quotes a Bhutanese folk saying that states, “To be a truly happy person, one must contemplate death five times daily.” The practice, which Buddhists call “maraṇasati,” or death awareness, is supposed to help people embrace uncertainty and feel the spiritual urgency required to change your life for the better. Monks in some parts of Asia meditate over dead bodies to accomplish this. Bergwall thought an app would be easier. 

Users of WeCroak, which recently surpassed 100,000 downloads, skew male. Sixty-four percent are under the age of 44. Five times a day, the app sends them a push notification that reads, “Don’t forget, you are going to die. Open for a quote…” In the app, they’ll find words of wisdom culled from a range of texts, from the philosophical to the literary. 
While wills and advance directives are important, Bergwall thinks his app attracts people with a broader definition of “death preparedness.” Instead of who will get what, “the conversation is more about, how can we have our affairs in order — emotionally, spiritually, relationship-wise — so we can enjoy our life now,” he says. If it sounds like we’re in the midst of a wellnessification of death, well, we probably are, Bergwall adds. In lieu of crystals and green drinks, you’ll find memento mori, “grief retreats,” and green funerals
Anna Swenson is the communications manager for Recompose, the Seattle-based company that developed a method for human composting — and got it legalized by the Washington state legislature. She suggests that many of the changes in the death industry, and the speed at which they’re unfolding, could be driven by climate anxiety. As ecosystems collapse and the future no longer feels guaranteed, some people may feel more conscious of their own mortality. They may also feel more conscious about their impact on the planet, alive and dead.
In the United States, more than 90 percent of people are buried or cremated. But both methods have their downsides. Along with our dead, Americans also bury 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete each year, according to the New York Times. Cremation, once marketed as an eco-conscious alternative, releases approximately 534 pounds of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — per person. But newer, greener methods are emerging, from human composting to the “mushroom death suit” — available in human and pet sizes — that uses fungi to aid in decomposition. 
If conventional burial all but ensured your last act on Earth was a destructive one, these green efforts often capitalize on the belief that your body can become “nutritive,” Olson, the Virginia Tech ethicist, says. People see “having a tree made out of them or turning them into compost [as a way of] giving them a new life,” he says. But there’s another, darker way to read this: We want to be productive even when we’re dead. We’re taking our #riseandgrind capitalistic mentality to the grave. 
Olson sees end-of-life consumerism evolving in other ways, too. “Millennials want their uniqueness or their quirkiness to come out in their final act,” he says. While much has been made about millennials and an assumed preference for “Instagram-worthy funerals,” Olson thinks this emphasis on individualism may reflect more profound social and personal angst: “It’s a way of exercising control over death,” he says. “It’s a way of coming to grips with your own mortality — to think about it and plan for it and try to make it your own.” 

Marisha Mukerjee began planning her death in 2015. 
Every month, the 35-year-old TV writer and producer meet with other women in the entertainment industry to talk about the ups and downs of creative projects. At one gathering a few years back, Amy Pickard, founder of the advance planning company Good To Go!, spoke to the group about death preparation. Pickard, who lost her mother, father, and grandmother in three successive years, developed a 50-page “departure file,” which, for $60, “covers everything a will doesn’t cover,” from social media passwords to how you hope to be remembered.
Inspired by Pickard’s talk, Mukerjee began filling out the booklet. She organized her passwords, made plans for her pet, and decided who would get what jewelry. “I literally update it monthly with a pencil if something needs to be put on there,” Mukerjee tells me. She also planned her funeral, which ended up being one of the trickier parts of the process.

“I grew up in a household with two religions: We were raised Catholic, and my father’s Hindu,” she says. Instead of planning what she called a “cookie-cutter” funeral, like what you’d expect for your parents or grandparents, Mukerjee started from scratch. “I do want to be cremated,” she concluded, “and I would want a ceremony that would invite all religions. I know my mother would probably be like, ‘What?’ But that’s what I want to do.” She hopes her loved ones will scatter her ashes in a few of the cities she’s lived in, and in India’s Ganges River. 

The Ganges River in India is a sacred site for Hindus, who come from around the world to perform last rites in the city of Varanasi, on the banks of the river.
 Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

The possibility that other people would make the wrong decisions for her is, in part, why Sotelo, the graphic designer in Oregon, turned her interest in death planning into actual end-of-life arrangements. “When I told my mom that I was going to donate my body, she said, ‘That’s weird but okay,’” Sotelo recalls. But Sotelo’s father, who sees burial as a tenet of his Christian faith, objected. 
“It is important that there are safety nets for myself in place so that he can’t make my decisions,” Sotelo says. 
Still, plans change. While Sotelo is certain she wants to eventually become a medical cadaver, she’s no longer sure she wants Oregon Health & Science University to cremate her body when they’re done with their research. She’s looking into human composting, and hopes Recompose will be nationwide by the time she dies.
Her own end-of-life plans are “an evolving process,” she says — much like the death industry itself. 

Eleanor Cummins reports on the intersection of science and popular culture. She’s a former assistant editor at Popular Science and writes a newsletter about death.
Amanda Lucier is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon.

March 25, 2019

He Died and Within Hours He Was Released to us "washed, dressed, Laid on a Table" Overlooking The Garden

Rich Stewart, 77, and wife Sharon, 78. Rich died last month and his funeral was held at their home, a practice that turns out to be an old American tradition. (Ann Wasserman)
 Washington Post
My wife’s brother Rich died the last week in February. They were very close. Shortly after he passed, in the emergency room of a hospital in Washington state, his body came home. There it was wrapped in a Stewart tartan blanket (his family name) and placed on a table in a window alcove facing Mount Baker. He remained there for the next three days clad in a favorite red plaid Pendleton shirt, jeans, moccasins, and a much-worn woolen cap, On the second day, his wife, Sharon, put binoculars around his neck, a reminder of his many hours watching the snow geese, hawks, trumpeter swans and bald eagles surrounding his beloved farm.
Sharon was connecting to a movement that had arisen in the 1990s for families to take back responsibility from hired professionals for the caring and mourning of loved ones in the privacy of their homes. It turns out to be an old American tradition.
Before the Civil War, funerals were a family affair. With help from their church and community, family members would wash, display the body and dig the grave for their dead. But, as Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust writes in her book “This Republic of Suffering,” the huge numbers of young men dying in the war far from home overwhelmed the personal home funeral. Instead, there was embalming, mass-marketed coffins and transporting bodies long distances. President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, followed by the public display of his embalmed body, became a major moment in the national marketing of this new death trade. 
By the 20th century, undertakers were elevated to a professional class of funeral directors, bodies were seen as a risk to public health and the false narrative spread that families no longer had the right to care for their own. The practice of dying at home and family caring for the dead remained common only in rural areas.
Like most of us, Rich and Sharon hadn’t planned their funeral. Unlike us, they had talked and read about death and attended a class on alternatives to standard funerals. These included arrangements for green burials, where bodies in the ground decompose in compostable caskets. Sharon also had talked with a friend who, with the help of a local home funeral group, had kept her husband’s body at home for three days for visits and prayers.
Rich’s death had been unexpected. A retired ophthalmologist, he had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and had his first chemotherapy treatment the week before. He developed sepsis, which can happen after chemo, and died the following day. He was 77. Sepsis is fast-moving and deadly. Here are the symptoms to recognize
At the hospital’s ER, Sharon explained to two chaplains who sat with her that she wanted to bring Rich home. They put her in touch with A Sacred Moment, a local funeral home that is part of a national network reviving and supporting family-managed funerals.
A “very kind” man, as Sharon put it, from the group took the body to the house in a van. He gave Sharon information on keeping it cold with packs of dry ice and instructions to replace them every 12 to 18 hours. Sharon and her daughter washed and clothed the body.
Rich had passed away at 11 a.m. and by 1 p.m. his body was home.
For the next three days, family and friends came by to see Rich. Some talked to him; one shared the beat of an ancient drum; some read poems. Sharon thought that many friends wouldn’t have attended a funeral parlor for a restrained viewing in a limited time. Here they could arrive individually or as a family, whenever they wanted, stay as long or little as they could bring photos or food or prayers or babies or guitars. 
Our son Daniel arrived in the middle of the night to sit alone with the uncle who helped raise him.
Sharon found it all incredibly comforting. Rich’s men’s support group of 30 years gathered for a morning of stories of kayaking in Alaska and tales of salmon fishing, hiking, and climbing in the North Cascades. The second morning the couple’s Buddhist Sangha meditation group chanted prayed together and held Sharon as they wept.
Many of the visitors seemed shocked that this was possible, that a body could be brought home for people to mourn however they wanted.
For the family, it provided the last chance to talk with Rich, to be with him in a place he loved. Sharon remarked that so many people worried that they “never had a chance to say goodbye.” Now they could, and they didn’t have to look back and regret not saying the right thing. 
In their own unplanned way, people could grieve.
At times there was a crowd, at others a solitary friend. A family member lit a vaporizer full of essential oils. Others placed flowers on his body. A table nearby had his notes written when he couldn’t talk because of mouth sores from the chemo and a guest book that soon filled with photos and letters and mementos.
Not everyone showed up — there were no solemn strangers in dark suits timing the starched formalities of yet another ceremony. Rich’s death was wrapped in the life that continued around it. Often there were kids playing, dogs wrestling, women cooking.
At 2 p.m. of the third day, the kindly man from A Sacred Moment returned to take the body. As they carried it out, Sharon played on the piano “It Had To Be You,” which she and Rich had often sung together. This time, she sang it with her daughter, Jo.
Washington state does not allow bodies to be buried outside a cemetery, so he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in his garden. A memorial service will be held when the tulips bloom in early spring.
Gary Wasserman is a former professor of government at Georgetown University and author of The Doha Experiment.

December 19, 2018

At 18 A Promising Football Player Kills Himself, Priest At The Funeral Goes After Him for Breaking The Suicide Rule

Image result for Maison Hullibarger
Maison Hullibarger 
On an average, there are 128 suicides in the U.S every day. 

Maison Hullibarger took his own life, and his parents say their grief was made worse by a homily at his funeral that repeatedly addressed the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on suicide.CreditCreditvia Jeffrey Hullibarger

By Mihir Zaveri and Jacey Fortin/ Adam Gonzalez Introduction


I know the feeling when you give a religious leader the responsibility to say some words or to give a eulogy on the loved that's passed away. My mom's kids (old people but I'll just be nice and called them kids) took care of the eulogy at the funeral home. We all said something about mom and celebrated her life and how she was. I did not want it to be a religious funeral and even though I had three religious sisters they went along with my feelings. After all, I was the only that never got married, the youngest, so the care of my mom as she got older fell on my hands. The pastor of someone in the family was there and I assumed he was there like everybody else to say goodbye.

 He was not invited to say anything at the funeral home but at the cemetery, I and my sisters were too distraught that we did not want to say anything else being so close to the internment time. It was a  military burial because we were a national cemetery since my dad was a veteran and had already passed on but the wife has the right to be buried with him or where ever she lives.  My mom loved New York and was a lot closer to New York city than where my dad was buried in Puerto Rico. 
Besides the last thing, I would do to my mom was to bury her with the man she fought so much for 3 or 4 decades. In the end, they gave us 5 or 10 minutes in which we had nothing prepared so I asked someone if the pastor wanted to say something as long as it was about my mom and not to have a Billy Graham moment inviting those presents to repent. It was awful.  It was just what he did but his words were all about sins and redemption. I did not stop this preacher because I did not want to make it about me but I was offended that he went on with his call to repent and invite any sinner to come to the front so he could pray for them. 

I know this behavior because I'm a seminarian who does not believe in religions. I've studied enough to know how they started and their dogma and the add-on rules which are just that is just their words obviously not God's words. I understand their religion call for us to go by faith and I agree But faith is supposed to be built on a strong foundation. Jesus in the bible compared to building on a rock instead of the sand which when the wind comes it blows it down and is washed away by the waters.

 Faith needs to be built on something solid not word of mouth from people who have not experienced things that happened thousands of years ago. The Catholic Church has their dogma about suicide that goes beyond anything that the bible mentions. They treat the family of the person who has killed themselves as the family of someone who cannot be buried in a church cemetery (unless the family is wealthy and powerful) or any blessed soil. The bible does mention that god can be made to change his mind and it says no man knows the mind of God. Who is the pastor on my mom's funeral or this Catholic Priest on Maison Hullibarger funeral who knows the mind of Maison and knows the mind of God? How does God feel for the reasons Maison felt that suicide was the only road.  This is a teaching moment but it has nothing to do with heaven or hell. or a Church's own rules.

For some of us, 100 years is not enough for others 10 years is too much. Life is something given without the ask and no one is gone to the other side to study and talk to god to clarify about rules and regulations every religion is added on whatever is written like any social club, which to me that is just what they are.

 I'm glad the family decided to come out with this experience. There is much to learn about suicide. But one thing I wish we knew is not to judge others by their experience because everyone roads are different from each other. 

Days before the funeral for their son, who at the age of 18 took his own life, Jeff and Linda Hullibarger met with their parish priest to discuss the homily to be given.

The Hullibargers wanted it to be about the life of their son, Maison, not the manner of his death. They wanted to focus on a teenager who was opinionated and passionate and who they knew was a source of comfort to friends dealing with their own adversity.

They recalled the priest, the Rev. Don LaCuesta, taking notes. They anticipated uplifting words for the friends and relatives attending the funeral at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, where all six of their children were baptized and confirmed.

The homily that Father LaCuesta delivered at the church in Temperance, Mich., about 10 miles north of Toledo, Ohio, on Dec. 8, four days after Maison died, did not resemble that conversation, the Hullibargers said on Sunday. Instead, the priest spoke about how suicide was “against God who made us and everyone who loves us” but how Maison would still have a chance of salvation. A copy of the remarks he prepared show the word “suicide” appeared six times. 

The family’s grief already seemed unbearable, but the homily’s focus on how he died made it worse. The episode, which gained widespread attention, prompted the Archdiocese of Detroit to say in a statement on Saturday that Father LaCuesta would not preside over funeral services for the foreseeable future and would get help to become a better minister in difficult situations.

The news of what happened also put a spotlight on the tensions between traditionalist stances in the Roman Catholic Church about suicides and more nuanced thinking that has evolved over time about the issue, experts said.

“Maison didn’t deserve this. He basically called him a sinner in front of everybody,” Ms. Hullibarger said. “We were just blindsided.”

The archdiocese apologized and said in its statement that the priest was trying to “offer a message of confidence in salvation.”

“The family wanted a homily based on how their loved one lived, not one addressing how he passed away,” the archdiocese said. “We also know the family was hurt further by Father’s choice to share Church teaching on suicide when the emphasis should have been placed more on God’s closeness to those who mourn.”
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, and editor-at-large at America magazine, which covers news relevant to Catholics, said the homily for Maison was a “pastoral disaster.”

“The purpose of the homily in the funeral rite is to speak about not only the person’s life but the resurrection and the promise of the new life of that person,” he said. “It’s to offer consolation and hope to the family of the deceased.”

Father LaCuesta, who was ordained in 2006 and who joined the parish in 2013, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday. The archdiocese shared the remarks he had prepared.

“If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us — and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives,” the homily reads. “Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth — that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please.”

The homily would go on to say, “Nothing — not even suicide — can separate us from the unconditional love of God.”

For the Roman Catholic Church and other religious institutions in the United States, self-harm is an increasingly pertinent issue. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a steady rise in the national suicide rate, up 25 percent from 1999 to 2016. It is now the 10th-leading cause of death in the country.

Under historical Catholic doctrine, suicide was generally considered a mortal sin and those who took their own lives were denied salvation, experts said.

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But interpretations have changed with time. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a doctrinal text approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992, suicide is an affront to God’s love.

But the document adds that “grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide,” and “we should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives” because God may grant them the opportunity to repent.

The Rev. Ronald Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, said the 1992 catechism essentially formalized changes in the Catholic Church’s thinking that had been occurring for 50 years.

Mathew Schmalz, professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said that there is still a divide within the Catholic Church between traditionalists who take a hard line on suicide, and those with a more nuanced understanding. He said the traditionalist view is more common internationally, and that for example, in India, people have been denied Christian burials if they committed suicide.

“There are all these kinds of clashes that you have in Catholicism now because it’s so ideologically divided,” he said.

The Hullibargers said they had not discussed with Father LaCuesta how Maison had died, and they do not know how he found out. Mr. Hullibarger said at one point he got up and futilely asked Father LaCuesta to stop partway through the homily.

The Hullibargers declined to discuss how Maison died. They said it was not necessarily the content of the Catholic teachings that offended them, but the priest’s actions. 

“Our purpose is to know that no other family, no other parent, nobody ever has to go through this again,” Ms. Hullibarger said.

[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at]

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