Losing a loved one is very traumatic. When a deceased loved one’s identity is stolen, that trauma is intensified.It is extremely unfortunate that people would do this to anyone, let alone to someone who has passed on, and to their grieving family.There is so much going on following the death of a loved one, that family members don’t often think about having to protect the deceased’s name and reputation. However, it is becoming increasingly important that these preventative measures are one of the steps taken immediately following someone’s death.
The easiest way to protect online credit, bank and investment accounts is to request a “deceased alert” be placed on the person’s credit report.This should be done as soon as possible after someone dies and can be done by sending a letter to the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian).The letter should include their name, social security number, last known address, date of birth and date of death.This alert prevents an identity thief from obtaining a credit card or any type of account in the deceased’s name.Once the “deceased alert” is part of the national credit database, a company would be notified if any attempt is being made in the deceased’s name and will deny the attempt.
Additionally, a family member should cancel the deceased’s driver’s license and notify the social security office (if this isn’t already handled by the funeral home), credit card companies, banks, loan holders, insurance companies and stockbrokers of the deceased.You will need an original copy of the death certificate for each of the entities you contact.
Coping with a loved one’s death is a stressful and overwhelming time.However, taking the appropriate steps can prevent unnecessary issues from arising.
This week, headlines all over the world were publicizing the resistance that was encountered in the search for a cemetery to bury the remains of accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which were released by the state medical examiner on May 1st, and, up until yesterday, were in a Worcester Funeral Home with nowhere to go. The funeral director struggled to find a grave site, as cemeteries near and far refused, with those city and town officials stating that they didn’t want the body in their community.
This near-unanimous opposition of his burial within Massachusetts borders is unprecedented. Usually the public shows little interest in where the criminal ends up. In fact, there are a lot of evil people buried in marked graves in the United States. Typically, it is publicly accepted that the deceased, no matter who the person is or what they did, need a final resting place. Perhaps the pushback was due to this accused criminal being categorized as a terrorist. Entombment of a terrorism suspect is rare on American soil and this would be the first circumstance in Massachusetts.
As a funeral director myself, I find myself considering what I would do if approached to bury a suspected terrorist. My instinct is typically that we have an ethical responsibility to bury the dead. However, this is certainly a tough situation and unchartered territory.
I can say that I am glad that there is finally some resolution to this matter. The dilemma over his burial drew attention away from the stories of hope and bravery that the people of Massachusetts need to hear, in order to mourn and heal at this time.
This week, the New Hampshire Senate rejected House Bill 316 that would have allowed alkaline hydrolysis, a process for the disposal of human remains, by which bodies are dissolved into a liquid. Proponents of the bill argued that the process is more environmentally safe in comparison to earth burials and traditional cremation. However, the Senate had concerns about the disposal of the remaining liquid, saying that they believe it may end up in groundwater or aquifers.
I imagine that eventually we will see this bill reappear, as advocates will try again at some point. As I have mentioned before, I believe that people should have the right to choose and are entitled to options. Furthermore, I am a proponent for options that are environmentally sound. As with anything, regulation is of utmost importance. If the bill is presented again, my main concern would still be that the process is regulated appropriately to prevent any issues. However, we do not have current or future plans to be involved with this process even if it does pass.
In January, we announced our exclusive agreement with New England Burials at Sea, LLC, to have the company handle all sea scattering and full body burials for our clients. Sea Burials are a service that we have been providing for over 10 years, and this partnership was established to enhance our offerings to the growing number of people that choose the ocean as their loved one’s final resting place.
Sea Burials are considered a peaceful and honorable option. Another other benefit is conservation of land space. This is particularly an issue in China where land is extremely scarce and prices for graves are skyrocketing as a result. It is expected that most Chinese provinces will completely run out of room for earth burials within the next ten years and in some areas, in fewer than five years. The government has already made cremation mandatory in many cities and they are planning to shrink grave sizes to help stretch their reserves. However, the primary answer to the severe and growing problem is sea burials. Officials in China are urging families to utilize this option and are even offering families financial incentives for choosing this option and in some cases will also fund the transportation for the memorial service.
The issue of diminishing space for graves is by no means limited to China, as many countries including our own, are already addressing their concerns. Many major U.S. cities have reported that they have run out of, or are on the verge of running out of space in their cemeteries. New York, for example, has no active cemeteries in Manhattan and graves in Brooklyn and Queens are becoming very scarce. New York residents are being forced to send their loved ones to New Jersey if they would like a traditional earth burial.
New Hampshire residents, however, still have the option of choosing sea burials based purely on preference or emotional reasons – as this luckily doesn’t appear to be an issue we will be dealing with any time soon.
On Monday, April 15, 2013, the finish line of the Boston Marathon was struck with two bombs, killing three people and injuring hundreds more. It is a senseless and terrifying act that brings insecurity and fear to the people of Boston and Americans all over the country. I am deeply saddened by these tragic events, as is everyone. It leaves many with anxiety and asking whether we are safe. In fact, disasters that occur at the hands of another human are much more difficult to cope with. However, we must go about our daily lives, but we can’t internalize our fear and feelings of uncertainty. Here you will find what I feel is a great resource of information for coping with traumatic events. http://www.portagepath.org/shlibbu/CopingWithTragedy.pdf
Like their parents and teachers, children also experience anxiety and stress when such events occur, whether it’s down the street or across the nation. The most important thing parents can do in the coming hours and days ahead is to talk to children and reassure them that they are safe. According to various school and child mental health websites, it’s best to keep things factual and simple, and to turn off or limit TV and Internet. It is important for us to be mindful of how we speak of the events around our children and not use language of vengeance, hate or anger. Experts also advise parents to be watchful for behavioral changes – kids who are behaving differently, such as not sleeping at night or wanting to sleep with you, feel frightened or don’t want mom or dad to go to work, may need more reassurance, time and talking or perhaps even counseling in extreme cases.
A new day brings renewed hope. Even though this act is an example of the worst of humanity, it also highlights the best of our fellow citizens. We can take pride in the heroic efforts of the many men and women who rose to the occasion. Whether it was the first responders and law enforcement officials who took control of the situation quickly (disregarding their own safety), the exhausted marathon runners who rushed to help others, or those in the medical tent that who instead of treating exhaustion and muscle cramps were treating far worse. We should be proud of our fellow Americans and the remarkable work of the Boston safety officials.
Earlier this week, the New Hampshire Legislature voted to allow alkaline hydrolysis, a process for the disposal of human remains, by which bodies are dissolved into a liquid. The technique, sometimes referred to as bio-cremation or resomation, uses a mixture of water and sodium hydroxide (lye), and involves heating the body at a high temperature, as well as at a high pressure, which allows the body to effectively be broken down into its chemical components. The result is a thick liquid substance and fine bone fragments which can be turned into ashes and returned to the family. The sterile liquid remains are then flushed into the sewer system or used a fertilizer. A bit graphic to think of, but that’s how it works.
The process is another method of disposition (like earth burial or cremation), although there are very few similarities to traditional cremation. The Legislature voted to allow the process back in 2006, but reversed itself the next year and banned it. In 2009, the bill was brought to the table again, but failed.
Those in favor of alkaline hydrolysis argue that it is an earth-friendly alternative to burial or traditional cremation, with fewer greenhouse emissions. Proponents say it is sterile and in most cases can be safely poured down the drain. While opponents consider it to be “undignified” and have an issue with these remains being sent to the sewer treatment plant. Those challenging the bill also want to make sure that the process is regulated properly by the state.
I believe that people should have the right to choose and it’s good to have options. I, however, am eager to see what parameters are put in place to ensure that the state is regulating the process appropriately to prevent any issues.
To my knowledge there are no funeral homes in the state, including ours, that are considering or planning to install an alkaline hydrolysis system anytime soon. Nationwide there is very little demand for this process (less than half of 1% of the population chose this option last year) and due to the high investment in the technology, the cost generally exceeds the price for a traditional cremation.
Many have been in a position where they are saying goodbye to a friend or relative who is facing their mortality. It’s a traumatic situation in and of itself. However, finding the right words to say in an effort to offer comfort can be just as stressful. Feeling comfortable in knowing what to talk about and when and how to say it doesn’t come naturally to most adults. Over the years, from both professional feedback and research, as well as my own personal experiences, I have learned what feels right and perhaps what many wish they had done differently.
It’s hard to say goodbye, however it’s a very important step for the terminally ill, as well as for you. It is believed by many that dying people need closure by hearing specific messages of “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” or “Please forgive me.” Whether you are given hours, days or months notice of their impending death, be sure to not to wait until the last minute to say what you would like to say. Putting off meaningful conversations is possibly the main source of regret. Be sure to ask yourself if there is anything else that should not be left unsaid. Take the opportunity to share funny stories or important moments in your relationship. If they are not in a state to talk, don’t be afraid to talk to them, even if it seems as though you’re not being heard.
Typically a dying person knows what is happening. Don’t let it be the elephant in the room by avoiding the topic. It is often ok to comfort them by discussing what they are going through, what they are feeling and what their fears may be. It’s a good time to not only discuss their fears and final wishes, but also their joys, memories and regrets. However, it’s important to follow their lead. If they talk about their impeding death (whether directly or indirectly), follow along. It may seem as though they are not making sense to you, and may be speaking in metaphors that don’t resonate with you, but be sure to not correct them. Simply let them to talk and go along with them, providing reassurance. Allow them to guide conversations.
It’s best to avoid clichés, such as “It’s God’s will” or “Everything happens for a reason,” as this can lead them to feel that this is somehow their fault. Some people’s natural response is to tell a person that they will be ok, or they will get through this. This can be hurtful, as they know this is not realistic. Allow them to be afraid and understand that their fears are a part of the process.
The greatest gift you can give is the gift of time. The most important thing is to simply be there. Understand that you can speak volumes, even when you aren’t saying a word. Offer as much emotional support as they need and let them know that you are available to help as best as you can, to make their final days as easy and comfortable as possible.
This week, an obituary written by the daughter of Harry Weatherby Stamps has gone viral across social media and is receiving national attention. For good reason, as it was a moving, entertaining and out of the ordinary obituary. What I realized, however, is that this type of heartfelt account of someone’s life − that is written in a way that truly personifies the individual, with traces of humor or quirkiness − shouldn’t be out of the ordinary.
If you’ve ever needed to write an obituary, you would know that, although it is an honor, it is no easy task. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult types of writing to do, even for professionals. But perhaps it would be just a little easier, if you didn’t feel pressure to write something formal or that fit into a specific format. Some may be more comfortable simply “filling in the blanks,” but others may appreciate the liberty to showcase the descendant’s personality. Reminiscing about what made this person who they were can certainly help in the healing process. It can actually be therapeutic.
However you would like to approach the obituary of a loved one −whether you allow the funeral home or newspaper to write it for you, or if you choose to write it yourself – the key is to be writing about life, rather than their death. Make sure to ask yourself “how would they like to be remembered?” It should be a celebration of your loved one’s accomplishments and help to paint a portrait of their life. Honor this person for who they were and what they meant, to you and everyone whose lives they touched.
With social networking becoming the primary means for many Americans to keep in touch, friends and family are now wondering what happens to these accounts when a loved one passes. Right now, there’s no simple answer to the question of how someone’s online accounts are handled after they pass. There is currently a bill with Legislature that would create a legal right for the executor or administrator of the descendant’s estate to take control of their social media and other digital accounts. However, until such a law is passed, services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Gmail are all governed by their terms of service – each having different language and procedures.
Facebook has an option to “memorialize” an account, where a friend or family member can report the person has died. According to the policy, the account holder’s death has to be proven with a link to an obituary and a Memorialization Request Form must be completed. Once the account has been memorialized, Facebook locks down the account to protect the user’s privacy. Memorializing a profile allows friends and family to view the profile, post photos, express thoughts and feelings and share memories as they grieve a loss. People who might not otherwise hear of the passing may learn of it through the profile page. Verified family members can also request the removal of the account, but Facebook does not release content without a court order.
Twitter offers loved ones the ability to delete the account of the deceased. They work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate, or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased, to have an account deactivated. Twitter requires several documents to be mailed or faxed, including the user’s death certificate.
LinkedIn will deactivate a profile when a family member completes a Verification of Death form, along with the descendants email address and place of most recent employment.
Gmail limits any account access to “an authorized representative of the deceased user” following a formal review process. Google also requires a court order for content requests.
There is so much to think about and cope with following the death of a loved one. That is why it is becoming increasingly important for funeral care providers to evolve and provide clients with guidance and support for all necessary arrangements, including protecting the online identity of your loved one.