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Sacred Spaces

Planning to scatter their ashes? Give it a second thought.

Cremation has been steadily rising in popularity in the United States, particularly on both coasts. As this form of disposition (which the Catholic Church approved in 1963) expands in the Midwest, Catholic churches are seeing proper disposition of the ashes at Catholic cemeteries become less and less popular. What is behind this falling away from doctrinally correct disposition? Several reasons exist, including the following:

  • Rising funeral costs that leave little money for disposition
  • Increasing interest in “scattering ashes” rather than leaving them intact in an urn (a practice strictly forbidden by the Catholic Church)
  • A desire to keep the deceased loved one close by keeping the ashes in the home or a nearby location to the living family
  • The practice of dividing up the ashes between family members or preserving them in jewelry or other objects

What problems are associated with these developing practices? Aside from the simple fact that it is against Church teaching, several problems arise when ashes are not properly interred.

Consider this scenario:

An urn with ashes of a departed husband are kept on the mantle by the surviving wife. A few years pass, and the surviving spouse dies or moves to a nursing home. The urn containing her husband’s ashes is packed into a box with her other special items. This box makes its way to her daughter’s basement, where it is stored until the family decides what to do with these items. Several years pass. The ashes are forgotten, and the boxes are moved, put in storage, thrown away or sent to a resale charity. Meanwhile, no one is exactly sure where the ashes wound up. Is this the disposition a loving father/husband/son desired for his remains? Most likely not.

Another scenario:

Ashes of a dear friend are taken to the beach to be scattered. Family and friends attend, read prayers, share memories. As a sea breeze rises, the ashes are opened and shaken out. As pieces fly in different directions, some of the larger pieces fall to the ground. The family and friends realize they’ve essentially dumped their loved one’s ashes in a pile on the sand. Slowly, they walk away, leaving with a feeling of dissatisfaction upon realizing that the idea of “scattering the ashes” has been romanticized in the entertainment media.

A third possibility:

The ashes of a beloved mother are honored in a funeral mass at her longtime parish. Afterward, family and friends share a meal together in the church’s social room along with talk of their favorite stories and memories, followed by a procession of cars to a nearby cemetery. As the urn containing her ashes is placed into a bench that serves a double purpose as a columbarium, prayers are said and flowers are placed. A plaque displays her name with a bronze cross memorial alongside. As family and friends slowly drift away, they know they can visit this space anytime: to grieve, remember, share special news and keep her memory close.

Those who have lost a loved one know that grief is a process, and mourning can take many forms. Knowing that a loved one has been interred in a sacred space, according to their Catholic beliefs and tradition, can help with the healing process and bring comfort.

There are many ways to keep the memory of a deceased loved one alive instead of keeping an urn in the home. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create a memory box with photo of the loved one on top and special items inside. Take a look at the personalized keepsake boxes available from Mpix: https://www.mpix.com/products/funstuff/keepsakebox
  • Choose a special paper and color of crayon and make a crayon or oil pastel rubbing of the memorial marker. Let small children sit with clipboards near the columbarium or mausoleum and make their own sketches or paintings of the area—also an appropriate activity for artistic grown-ups.
  • Hire a local artist or talented friend to create an artist’s rendering of a special photo of your loved one.
  • Create your own shadow box to collect mementos of your loved one and revisit them whenever you wish. Keep it on display or in a convenient cabinet or dresser so you can spend time with it whenever you desire.

Do you have other memorialization ideas that you’d like to share? Send me an email, and I will share them with readers through a follow-up blog.

Funerals: The Benefits for the Living

Our last blog discussed ways a funeral benefits the deceased. A common saying is that funerals are for the living. In this blog post, we will consider some of the ways funerals benefit the living.

Grieving loved ones receive consolation and peace of mind from end-of-life rituals: Both the visitation and the mass give the grieving an opportunity to process loss, consider our own mortality, express our condolences, share stories and memories, honor the life of the deceased and witness the impact that person had in their community.

A funeral mass reaches beyond earthly life into the true hope of heaven: The funeral mass nourishes our faith and reminds us that the true hope of heaven lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. The readings, music, homily and prayers of the mass provide meaning for the living. In commending the soul of our loved one to the mercy of God, we find consolation in the peace and comfort of a faith woven into the life of the deceased as well as that of the grieving. Additionally, the ritual commendation of the deceased reaches beyond life on earth and into the realm of the eternity to which they are commended, reminding loved ones of the true hope that comes from Jesus, who opened the gates of heaven. Rituals bestowed by our faith provide a context for considering our own mortality and further engaging our hope of eternal life with God.

By gathering with our community, we receive assurance that our own lives will be remembered when we die: As we pray for the deceased at their funeral mass, we can be assured that when we die, our gathered community will pray for us through a funeral mass as we are brought into the fullness of life with God.

A funeral mass and Catholic burial provides a witness of faith to others: Our act of having a funeral mass and burial in sacred ground provides witness to the world of our faith and our belief that there is more than just our earthly life—that life and death, in context, are part of God’s plan for our eternal salvation. It is this witness that provides a foundation for others who are seeking, hurting or estranged to heal, process and even experience conversion.

In conclusion: Mass is imperative, comforting, soulful, spiritual and has the power to bring other people back to the church that have since fallen away. There is beauty in the funeral mass, that reflects the beauty of the life of the deceased as well as of the community gathered in prayer. For more reflection on this topic, see Archbishop Naumann’s video on our website.

Funerals: The Benefits for the Deceased

I’ve heard it said many times the funerals are for the living. But that’s not true. Funerals are obviously for the deceased as well. Here are a few reasons from our faith teaching that funerals are for the benefit of the deceased.

Funerals honor the deceased’s practice of faith and belief in eternal life in Christ: A Catholic funeral honors the faith that soul has nurtured throughout a person’s life and honors the teachings of the faith regarding belief in a life in God, perpetual light, and the eternal salvation that we profess every time we pray the creed. When the deceased has practiced their faith through life, knowing that at their death their soul will be commend to the mercy of God brings comfort and peace. After their death, they deserve to have the living ensure their wishes are fulfilled, regardless of the faith beliefs of their living loved ones.

A funeral gathers the community for the intention of remembering and praying for the deceased: The mass is an act of mercy that the gathered community provides for the intention of the deceased. The readings, music, homily and prayers provide a ritual way of commending the deceased into eternity. it goes beyond our earthly home and the life that was lived here and reaches toward the deceased’s eternal life.

The funeral provides a final opportunity for the deceased to appear at the altar before burial or interment: For a faithful Catholic, the funeral mass is desirable because it is the final time that person is laid before the altar and prayers are said for them. Additionally, burying the deceased in a Catholic cemetery or interring their body in a Catholic mausoleum or their ashes in a columbarium gives reassurance that they will be remembered by their family and the Christian community, preventing them from being forgotten and ensuring they will be remembered in prayer and through masses for those buried in the cemetery. Through this disposition, their remains are shown respect and the Church teaching that they will rise to new life in Christ is observed.

An additional note about cremation and our faith: Reverence in the case of cremation is particularly concerning, as society begins to normalize practices such as keeping the urn containing the ashes within a personal home, distributing them between family members or scattering them outdoors, such as in the ocean, at a park or on the family’s land. Catholic teaching provides that cremated remains must yet be kept together and must have a final disposition at a Catholic cemetery or burial space in consecrated ground or in a designated, consecrated niche where a traditional marker memorializes them.​

Is a “Celebration of Life” Enough?

st joseph shawneeNot long ago, I attended a celebration of life. It was a very nice event with an opportunity to extend condolences to the family and listen to loved ones share the joy that the deceased’s life had given. It was nice to celebrate a life well lived, and yet it left me feeling a little bit empty. In addition to celebrating, there was cause for mourning. Certainly, life is something to be celebrated, but how do we mourn the loss of someone from our lives? In the Catholic faith, it is more than a nice custom to have a funeral mass, burial service, even a rosary at the visitation. It is a blessing and a responsibility as people of faith.

Increasingly in our culture, we turn our eye away from the sacredness and the sorrow of death, being led to feel like the appropriate response is to focus on the positive. Accentuate the good things, find peace that someone is now in a “better place.” But we must also process the sorrow, the inevitable sadness, grief that can’t be extinguished, the spectrum of feelings that are a part of our humanity. We share the divinity and grace of our Lord who gives us peace through prayer, compassion, sharing. We take time to not only reflect on a loved one’s life well lived, but also to console each other and experience together the sacredness in death as well as life, impacting us not only bodily but spiritually. In light of your faith, is a celebration of the highlights enough?

A Word About Trust and Your Planning Options

It goes without saying that you put your trust in your doctor. You put your trust in your dentist, your financial advisor, your home builder. You have time to build a trust relationship with them, to get to know them, and to change your mind if you withdraw that trust. Trust is important in business and personal matters. Those to whom you extend your trust can have a great impact on your life.

But in the case of funeral and burial planning, there often isn’t time to develop an understanding and build a trust relationship. Often, the choice is based on intuition, convenience, or recommendations from friends. A critical decision, funeral and burial arrangement is a one-time experience—particularly if it has been left until the time of need. How can you mitigate any issue or extra expense that might be incurred when trying to choose your funeral and burial planning needs?

Although it’s not required by law for funeral homes to post their prices online, funeral homes are required to give you a general price list when pricing information is requested. If you can’t find pricing online, you may find yourself spending extra time and attention to collect details from various options. Even then you may find yourself comparing apples to oranges because of the way services and products are marketed.

Our counselors can help you sort through these options and understand each component. At Catholic Cemeteries, we are committed to making sure you understand the arrangements you are paying for. By simplifying the expenses and ensuring you understand them, our counselors carry out our mission of transparency in helping the faithful afford arrangements that include dispensation in sacred ground. Additionally, we provide a listing of costs for cemetery and burial needs on our website. Our pricing is not only upfront, but it is fair. Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas is not a commercial business but instead is a non-profit ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

In the case of at-need planning, how do you know which funeral home or cemetery you can trust? You may have heard the phrase, “Always, always, always question the source.” The same can be said in the end-of-life planning business. Always question the source before trusting them with your business. Here are some things to consider when look for these signs of integrity and deciding where to place your trust:

Are they clear about the cost of services and products? If a company does not list its prices online, you have less opportunity to shop around and compare prices before making definite plans. Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas has always published its prices online.

Do they publish their price list and make it easily accessible? One thing to look for is whether an organization publishes its price list on their website. The website is one platform you can look to for help in comparing prices and setting your own expectations about what you may need to spend. A funeral home that doesn’t publish its prices on its website doesn’t give you an opportunity to compare costs ahead of time or prepare questions to ask about pricing. Some providers will tell you it’s too hard to make comparisons. Sometimes because of lingo and specifics, you might have difficulty with comparisons. But once you understand the process, you’ll find the basic services are very similar. Price differences, however, could indicate a difference in quality, different options on specifics, or a provider simply choosing to charge what the market will bear.

Talk to friends and relatives about experiences. Read reviews and follow up on responses that make you feel uncomfortable. Different services, such as cosmetology, may have a range in price, but if you feel comfortable that the work done by a less expensive funeral provider will be appropriate, you might not want to spend the extra money on someone top-notch.

Talk to a family services consultant at Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas. As a nonprofit ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, our primary mission and responsibility is to help ensure that Catholics are buried in sacred ground. We want to help you plan the most affordable and appropriate arrangements for funeral and burial needs and ensure that the deceased is cared for with the respect and dignity essential to our faith. If you already have funeral arrangements, we are also happy to review these with you at no cost to ensure you understand what you have purchased and have all aspects in order so there are no surprises later.

Our office can be reached at 913-344-7527 or by filling out the information at this link. We look forward to serving you in your planning needs.

Facebook and End-of-life Planning: Steps to ensure your accounts are handled according to your wishes

Shortly after its meteoric rise in popularity, Facebook found itself facing issues with accounts of people who had passed away. Keeping outsiders from posting on the pages, removing the pages entirely, and granting access to loved ones who wished to manage the pages was a tricky business. Now, Facebook has procedures in place so its members can designate a legacy contact, request that their account be permanently deleted, or memorialize the account after their death.

A legacy contact is allowed to monitor and manage an account after the death of its owner. The legacy contact can also request that the account be removed. Why would you want to designate a legacy contact? Your legacy contact may want to pin a post on your page to with a final message to friends and family or to disseminate information about the memorial service. Also, family and friends who join Facebook after your death may find comfort in reading your memorialized account—it’s sort of an online scrapbook. Your legacy contact must accept these friend requests for those people to gain access.

To get to the Legacy settings, open Facebook, click on the drop-down arrow in the top right corner, and choose Settings near the bottom of the menu (just above Log Out). The last choice under General Account Settings is Manage Account. Click anywhere on that line, and you will see choices called “Your Legacy Contact,” “Data Archive Permission,” “Request Account Deletion” and “Deactivate Account.” The first three sections are related to the account after you pass away. However, the last (Deactivate Account) should only be selected if you want to deactivate your account immediately rather than after your death. To have Facebook delete your account after your death, click on “Request Account Deletion” in the third section and follow the instructions there. A legacy contact should still be designated so that someone will be able to help manage your account’s activity and/or deletion in the event of your death.

If you’re still unsure what to do, follow this link to see Facebook’s help instructions for managing legacy and deactivation decisions:

https://www.facebook.com/help/1070665206293088?helpref=faq_content

Pre-planning: The Benefits Outweigh the Hurdles

Why do we assume that planning for our funeral should be someone else’s responsibility? Too often, we don’t want to deal with thoughts of our own death. We avoid it—putting it off for “some other time.” But, regardless of our reluctance to deal with it, our eventual demise isn’t an “if;” it’s a “when.” And leaving end-of-life planning off our to-do list just leaves a burden on loved ones and family, weighing on them at time already filled with grief and stress.

Answering hard questions and putting planning into understandable terms is just what the counselors at Catholic Cemeteries do. If you’re looking for someone to help you sort out the decisions, these are the people to turn to. Let’s break the considerations into three categories: spiritual, emotional and financial.

Spiritual

Our life is a gift from God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, St. Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The body, the vessel within which the Holy Spirit has dwelled, should be treated properly in death as well as life. When someone we love passes away, our Catholic faith guides us in honoring their body with respect and care. If you want to ensure that your beliefs and values are the top priority at your funeral and burial, pre-planning is the best way to do that. Even with cremation, the Church provides for proper care and respect of the ashes. More thorough instruction regarding treatment of the body when cremation is chosen (as well as insight regarding the choice of burial) can be found in the bulletin Ad Resurgendum cum Christo, released by the Holy See Press Office in October 2016.

Emotional

When you are planning your funeral and burial, keep in mind that you are giving others an opportunity to remember and celebrate your life. Planning for end-of-life needs can be stressful regardless of whether it is done well in advance or at the time of need. However, when the deceased has pre-planned, grieving family members are spared the pressure of making tough decisions at a stressful time, giving them an added measure of comfort. Mourners also receive the gift of knowing the deceased prepared the funeral and burial with the mourners in mind. When pre-planning, one can give careful thought to their own funeral mass, a celebration which does not simply support the grieving but gives loved ones an opportunity to lift up prayers for the repose of the soul of the departed.

Financial

It is wise to first plan the disposition of the body or ashes and then plan the funeral. Why? Sacred ground, the Catholic cemetery, is the destination, the end goal. Expenses associated with disposition, while less extensive than funeral costs, are more concrete. The funeral is the journey. It is the celebration of life, the offering of a mass, the opportunity for mourners to share memories. Because funeral planning has so many variables, the associated expenses are more malleable. Once you know what you will be spending on the cemetery expenses, you have a better idea what you can budget for the funeral.

Additionally, Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas can offer interest-free payment plans for almost all burial/interment expenses. Paying over time reduces the financial burden and settles an issue that is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Occasionally, families desire to circumvent the cemetery by taking ashes home. The point should be made here again that Catholic Church teaching requires that ashes be properly interred. They may not be separated, scattered, or kept in any location other than a consecrated space in a cemetery. The body is awaiting resurrection in Christ at the second coming, and respect for the remains must be ensured in perpetuity.

Whether the spiritual, emotional or financial benefits of pre-planning appeal most to you, I hope that this blog has given you more clarity on the benefits of pre-planning. Please reach out to me at [email protected] if I can help answer your questions. Or, if you would like more information from one of our experienced counselors, click this link.

Where do I start? Practical considerations for Catholics faced with the loss of a loved one

“Where do I start?” Faced with the loss of a loved one, family members often grapple with taking the first steps. Families want to know that their loved one will be respectfully cared for, even after death, by ensuring dignified treatment of all arrangements that takes into account Catholic beliefs, expectations and traditions.

When confronted with the question of where to start, consider whether the deceased has already made burial and funeral arrangements. If not, Catholic Cemeteries is one of the first calls to make. Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, provides experienced guidance, planning and support for families facing the unknown of funeral and burial planning. The counselors at Catholic Cemeteries can help with making decisions that are less costly (for example, choices related to entombment and to caskets or urns). The counselors also give families an understanding of all the decisions that go into preparing a Catholic funeral and burial and personally walk the family through the multitude of considerations that must be addressed.

After contacting Catholic Cemeteries, a family member should contact a licensed funeral director to arrange the funeral. The funeral director will arrange such necessities as transporting the body, obtaining a death certificate, preparing the obituary, and arranging the visitation, funeral mass and committal service. Both Catholic Cemeteries and the funeral director can offer helpful grief support resources for the bereaved.

Follow up with the employer of the deceased. The employer can apprise the family of the deceased’s benefits, any pay due, insurance eligibility for dependents, and steps related to life insurance policies. If the deceased had a life insurance policy aside from work (such as through a union, professional service organization, or private insurance), follow up with the insurance agent or company to file a claim. Additionally, the Social Security Administration should be notified of the death, and benefits eligibility for dependents can be addressed at this time.

A variety of important paperwork, including the will or trust, should be gathered and processed once funeral and burial arrangements are begun. Settling the estate, executing the will, filing a final tax return, closing bank accounts, and reconciling any loans such as mortgage or vehicle all will be important tasks to consider within the process.

The emotional stress of losing a loved one is often compounded by the financial and legal stress of making arrangements and settling private affairs. Grief counselors and clergy can support family and friends during this difficult time. Pre-planning for the funeral and burial can also help alleviate stress by reducing the myriad of decisions and ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are understood and carried out. Catholic Cemeteries counselors help many families before their time of need. Those who want to plan their own funeral and burial and make the decisions for themselves can find beneficial resources and counselors at Catholic Cemeteries.

Would you like to share a comment, question or experience regarding pre-planning? Visit our Facebook page, @cathcemks, to join the conversation. Or, send me an email at [email protected]

Growing up? Growing old? Discussions about dying are tough but necessary

Have you found yourself “adulting”? Or, do you respond to the phrase “millennial”? Maybe you think of yourself as “middle-aged”? If you fall into one of these categories, you may have also noticed that your parents are getting older. They realize it, you realize it, but often nobody wants to talk about it. It seems weird. Awkward. Vulnerable.

It’s possible your parents want to open up to you about it. You don’t have to listen—you can deflect. You’re too old to listen “just because they said so.” But you’re also old enough to recognize that they are in the planning stages and engage in a gentle, mature discussion about their wishes and feelings.

They’re not planning like when you went to college, nor is it like planning a weekend with the grandchildren. They’re planning for their end-of-life needs, and even if you feel uncomfortable talking—or just thinking—about it, it may be time to listen. Otherwise, how will you honor their wishes, and their life, when they are gone? As people age, they grow in wisdom. Parents gain lots of wisdom raising children, but once their children are adults, they don’t stop growing in wisdom.

They are processing, thinking about the big questions, deciding some of the most important questions of their life—and their eternal life. They are facing a part of their heritage that will remain for the generations. Their burial could be one of the most important long-term decisions they make. They are vulnerable. And so are you. Now is the time to open up to them, allow yourself to be vulnerable with your parents (even though it’s hard), and really honor them by listening to their wishes.

This is your chance to respond honestly to the questions they have for you—the questions that will help them determine how to best honor you when you celebrate their life and their passing—and make a plan for burial. Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas, a nonprofit ministry that is part of the Archdiocese of Kansas, can help with this journey and ensure that the most important considerations are included in these decisions. Catholic Cemeteries’ experienced counselors provide their own wisdom, support you in your vulnerability, and create a plan that establishes an appropriate celebration of life and opportunity to mourn for a loved one so you don’t find yourself emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted in the rush of decisions that comes when families put off tough decisions for another day.

If you don’t know how to approach the subject, chances are your parents are feeling the same way. Maybe they have brought it up before. Skirted the issue. Hinted about it. Watch for these opportunities, and engage with them. Better yet, share this blog with them. If they’re not tech savvy, print it out and leave it in the kitchen or by the recliner. Highlight a couple of phrases. Let them know you’re there for them. Face the unknown, and walk away with a strengthened bond. Don’t wait until your loved ones are gone to wonder how they might have liked to be remembered.

Would you like to share a comment, question or experience regarding pre-planning? Visit our Facebook page, @cathcemks, to join the conversation. Or, send me an email at [email protected]

Looking for something special to do for Lent?

Consider these five ways to remember your loved ones during this time of preparation.

Burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy. If this Lent has you thinking about how to extend corporal and spiritual works of mercy into your life, here are five ideas that are simple but rewarding.

1. Offer a mass for a deceased loved one. Many people contact their parish to have a daily or Sunday mass said for their loved one. This is a beautiful way to remember a special day, such as their birthday or date of passing. However, you don’t need a special day to offer a mass. Any day is a good day to offer a mass for the deceased. If your parish doesn’t offer a daily mass time that fits your schedule, consider noon mass at one of several parishes in the archdiocese, an evening mass, or Saturday morning mass.

2. Visit the cemetery with family members and share memories about the deceased. Take along a blanket to sit on and/or flowers to leave at the gravesite (for rules regarding memorializations at different types of interment spaces, click here). Share memories, special stories, photograph albums or songs that have a special place in the remembrance of your loved one.

3. Attend a funeral for someone who doesn’t have many family or friends to attend. This mass is offered for the repose of the soul of the deceased. Your parish priest or receptionist can give you guidance about funerals where attendance may be low due to age or distance. Don’t feel shy about attending, as your prayers for the deceased are invaluable.

4. Be open to listening to the funeral and burial plan arrangements your elderly loved ones may have. Help reassure them that you understand their wishes. Engage gently in a discussion with family members. Even those who are not anticipating an approaching death may have ideas they want to communicate about their funeral and burial ideas.

5. At prayer time at home, light a candle for family members you have lost. Encouraging children to create their own special prayer for deceased loved ones can create a lasting tradition in your family. Or, share a prayer such as this well-known one: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.”

These scripture readings on the topic of death and dying are recommended by the USCCB and may help facilitate a family discussion regarding the topic, which is particularly appropriate during Lent.

Job 19:23-27

Psalms 23, 91 and 121

1 John 4:16

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 25:1-13

Luke 22:39-46

Luke 23:44-49

Luke 24:1-8

John 6:37-40

John 14:16, 23, 27

Would you like to share a comment, question or experience regarding pre-planning? Visit our Facebook page, @cathcemks, to join the conversation. Or, send me an email at [email protected].

 

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