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March 2010, Volume 40 Number 3 , p 58 - 59


  • Joy Ufema MS, RN


As the grief coordinator for a small home care hospice, I organize the annual memorial service for our patients. How can I make this special event more meaningful for staff and survivors?—E.R., MONT.Some hospice programs hold a ceremony in which family members write their loved one's name and a message on beautiful papers, then place the papers in a metal bowl burning with incense.Another ceremony I like involves a butterfly release. One hospice I know invites survivors to purchase butterflies in memory of the deceased patient. A family member or a staff person releases the butterfly while whispering the patient's name. (Releasing balloons, once a common practice at memorials, is no longer acceptable because balloons are a menace to wildlife and damage the environment.)Butterflies must be released only in warm weather, so you'd need to plan your memorial service for spring or summer. Twice during burials I attended in June, a butterfly hovered, then lit upon the coffin. The families found it immeasurably comforting.Best wishes to you as you plan the program. If any readers would like to offer other ideas, please let me know.As an educator and thanatology practitioner, do you have any specifications for your own funeral?—T.G., DEL.I think I'll address your question as a mortal, rather than as a professional.When I first began work in death and dying, I attended many patients' funerals. Mostly, those experiences helped define what I didn't want. Embalming and rouge weren't for me but burial was, preferably in jeans and flannel shirt.Instructions were written: My pine coffin would be carried by horse-drawn hay wagon to my grave where, shovels in hand, friends and family would wait to cover it. All quite neat and personal.Years passed. More cemeteries. Acres of wasted land, just to bury bodies. Marble and granite stones guarding bones and dust. I realized my ashes could be scattered across the same field I mowed and skied. I liked the

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