Misperceptions about selecting cremation arrangements

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

When a family chooses cremation it does not limit their funeral choices.  There are several misperceptions that many families believe, but families can be just as creative as families selecting traditional arrangements.

While advertising makes it seem like direct cremation is the only choice, when you choose cremation you can have any kind of service or any kind of memorial you wish. That means you can have a traditional service and a cremation, direct cremation followed by a memorial service, a scattering and a permanent cemetery niche, or space in a cremation garden. A permanent place to remember loved ones fills an important need that a scattering just can’t.

Many families don’t realize that with a direct cremation, when the body is removed, they can view a loved one again prior to cremation. Many funeral homes require positive identification before cremation occurs, especially when family members are not in attendance at the place of passing. Many states also require 24 hours to pass prior to cremation for any investigative purposes or before a death certificate can be signed by a physician and a cremation permit issued by a coroner’s office.

Many religions also accept cremation as a form of disposition. Today, there are some families that still do not think the Catholic Church allows cremation, but the Cremation Rite has actually been around since the 1960’s. Families should check with their individual clergy or church regarding cremation and religious restrictions.

Cremation also has the connotation as being the “inexpensive” type of funeral. In many ways, cremation can be less expensive than traditional burial expenses, but can also be as equally as expensive if a family selects traditional visitation, selection of a wooden or rental casket, urn selection and burial of the urn or placement in a niche.

Families should consider all options before making hasty decisions when it comes to cremation arrangements, because there are many different options available today to meet the needs of each family.


Steps for developing an obituary

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

Writing an obituary for a loved one can help family and friends communicate the loss to a community, while announcing the visitation, service, burial, entombment and memorial information. Many times the obituary is written prior to the loss to make sure information is accurate and conveys the information suitable to the family’s needs. Here are a few steps to constructing an obituary:

Announcing the Death – Begin with the name, age, and place of passing if the family wishes to tell everyone where the death occurred.  You might want to let others know if it was a short or lengthy illness or if the person was surrounded by family or friends when the passing occurred.

Biographical Information – The obituary is not a biography, but a sketch of the most important events, qualities and accomplishments in a person’s life. This may include – place of birth, parents’ names, educational accomplishments or degrees, employment history, as well as job title, company name and length of employment. Social clubs or organizations may also be included with any hobbies or interests. This section of the obituary is important to allow family and friends to understand the impact the decedent had on others.

Family – This section lists members who may be predeceased and family members that are still living. List a spouse and years of marriage if applicable, children and spouses, siblings and spouses, grandchildren’s names or a number if applicable, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, dear friends or pets.

Service Times – Many times the funeral director will construct this section to convey the proper date, place of service, address and time that service or visitation periods will be held. Sometimes services or visitation periods are held at the funeral home on one day and at a church or place of service on another day. The place of burial, entombment or private cremation may be listed. Following this information you may also list information for memorial donations and a website so family and friends may send on-line condolences.

A photo may be included for an additional expense, but can be a pleasant reminder of the person who has passed.


Developing a eulogy for a loved one

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc. 

Delivering a eulogy for a family member or friend is a wonderful way to participate in a funeral or memorial service. It provides an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of a life once lived, and remind survivors of the memories and legacy left behind.

When writing a eulogy one needs to focus on the life and memories of the deceased and not to focus on the nerves or concerns of the person writing or delivering the eulogy. Spending time with family members and friends and writing down memorable stories and sayings about a loved one will assist in preparing the eulogy. Brainstorming allows the person delivering the eulogy to write down any ideas, information, perspectives, music and food associated with the person to provide mental images of a loved one. Developing a theme for the eulogy allows one to also tie together those stories, facts and images into a unified idea.

Once the eulogist gathers information and has a theme in mind they will need to weave the information into some type of order. Remember not to use fancy or unfamiliar language and keep the information flowing like a normal conversation. This is not the time to ‘set the record straight’ on any unresolved issues or familial problems. Take time to edit the eulogy so it makes sense and sticks to the theme.

Finally, take the time to practice the eulogy in your mind as well as reading it aloud like standing in front of an audience. Be sure not to make it too long or short and gauge the length of the eulogy between 5-10 minutes. Going over a specific period of time may lose the audience and people will not be engaged by the information or stories that are being conveyed. Make sure you have a copy of the eulogy and speak slowly and clearly so everyone may share in a true remembrance of a life once lived.


Why should a family have a viewing?

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc. 

The purpose of a viewing, both public and private, has many benefits for family members. Viewings allow families and friends the opportunity to gather together to see a loved one for one last time prior to final disposition. This allows closure to occur because viewing a loved finalizes the thought that death has taken place, and family members and friends have witnessed a loved one lying in state. 

Many funeral homes offer private viewings for families selecting cremation without embalming so it allows a loved one to be viewed in a positive setting instead of seeing a death occur in an institution or residence.

Features such as the eye and mouth regions are closed and sometimes light makeup and lipstick may be used for a female. Viewings also act as positive identification for families selecting cremation services. This protects everyone from a legal standpoint.

The loved one is positively identified by a family member or friend prior to cremation; the funeral home is protected by securing identification prior to cremation; and the crematory is protected by having the family sign identification authorizations prior to the cremation procedure. 

This also gives comfort to family members by giving them the opportunity to have a brief viewing prior to the cremation procedure. Some form of positive identification must be secured prior to cremation, such as: a recent photograph, body markings or tattoos, or any physical anomalies.

Visitations provide many positive aspects for families. It allows loved ones the opportunity to say a final goodbye to a loved one or friend; it provides positive identification; and many times improves the physical appearance of someone after death occurs with or without the embalming procedure being selected.


Benefits of personalizing a funeral or memorial service

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

Personalizing a funeral or memorial service is not only important when planning a funeral or memorial service, but it can also be healing for immediate family members and friends. As funeral professionals, funeral directors help families to plan, organize, and direct a Celebration of Life Service or Memorial Service that tells the story of a life once lived.

Families have many options when it comes to selecting different colors or materials for a casket or urn selection. Caskets can be personalized with corners or interior panels that are stitched with veteran insignias, religious emblems, nature scenes, sports and outdoor hobbies.

Urns may be personalized with a loved one’s name, date of birth and death, favorite psalm or poem, appliqués or personalized photos. You may also select photos for a memorial DVD or collage board.  Families may begin the DVD with photos from birth and insert photos chronologically until the death occurred.

The memorial DVD is generally played on a flat screen television in the funeral home or place of service with specific musical selections.  Flowers may also be personalized with the decedent’s favorite type of flower(s), color(s), and ribbons with script or terms of endearment may be added. Different styles of baskets, sprays, casket covers, wreaths, hearts or just a simple bouquet or vase of flowers may also be selected. 

If planning a funeral or memorial for a veteran, families can determine selections based upon the branch of service and when and where an honor guard may be present to play taps and provide the presentation of the American flag for the immediate family.

A family may also include a loved one’s favorite foods or desserts when planning the funeral luncheon or repast after a service is concluded. This can take place at a favorite restaurant that was frequented by the decedent throughout life.

There are many details and decisions that need to be made when personalizing a service for a loved one. If families and friends come together to personalize a funeral or memorial it can be beneficial for family and friends as well as aid in the healing and grief process.


Ignorance is not bliss for surviving family members

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

While making pre-arrangements for other family members, many people will leave it up to their children or family members to decide what will be selected for their cremation arrangements. They don’t wish to think about their funeral arrangements or how their final wishes will be fulfilled.

This can lead to many problems from a legal standpoint, since the form of disposition was not mentioned to family members and pre-arrangements were not made in advance. It is also possible that the form of disposition was not mentioned in a Last Will and there may also be familial problems – discourse or estrangement among family members.

Today, many people also outlive their family members and fall under the jurisdiction of the county to care for them, and the county makes decisions regarding their medical care and funeral arrangements. Ignorance on the part of family members may leave surviving family members without a Last Will and Testament to carry out wishes or distribution of assets.

There is also the stress of finding correct vital statistical information to complete a Certified Copy of Death Certificate. Biographical information may be minimal, which does not allow family and friends the opportunity to properly construct an obituary to inform friends about a life once lived.

Many times funeral directors cannot legally carry out cremation arrangements for a decedent unless all children or family members are in agreement and all family members have been found if estranged and given the opportunity to view a loved one prior to cremation. 

Therefore, it is very important to make a Last Will and Testament listing cremation arrangements as a form of disposition. One should also make pre-arrangements to determine the type of cremations arrangements preferred – immediate cremation with memorial service, full-service cremation with visitation, urn selection, floral selection(s), and final disposition of cremated remains.

This can be a burial in a cemetery, placement in a niche, scattering at sea or on land, division among family members, placement in jewelry or an artistic urn that can be constructed with a loved one’s cremains.


Guidelines and funding for pre-arrangements

submitted by Jason “Oz” Oszczakiewicz, Owner/Supervisor, Varcoe-Thomas Funeral Home of Doylestown, Inc.

Today, many families make difficult decisions when a parent or loved one requires continuous care and must be placed in an assisted living or nursing home facility.

When parents or loved ones do not have enough assets to pay for private care they must exhaust their assets and go on to Medicaid assistance.  This means the county in which the person resides determines how much personal assets must be used before being approved for Medicaid.  Social workers and facilities instruct families to open trust accounts in banks to pre-fund the funeral so the personal assets of the patient are sheltered and are made irrevocable.

Irrevocable assets can be used only for the funeral or cremation expenses and cannot be refunded back to the family.

Each county in Pennsylvania determines the maximum amount that can be funded and Bucks County allows up to $14,000 toward a recipient’s funeral.

I caution families to select a funeral home and meet with a funeral professional to determine the cost of a funeral or cremation service.  There are several different types of funding accounts, such as: a trust fund in a bank or financial institution, a death related insurance policy or a death related annuity product.

The advantage of an insurance or annuity product is that the interest grows from the time the policy is funded until the date of death. The interest is also tax-free and a beneficiary may be designated unlike a trust fund.

The interest rate is usually higher and if a person is not going on Medicaid assistance payments may be flexible over three, four, seven, or 10 years. Also, if a recipient passes after half of the policy is paid it acts as a traditional policy and the difference toward the original funeral price is paid up.