Benefits of Preplanning and Prepaying Your Funeral

 Published October 19, 2012, Pawtucket Times          

            For the past six months, City registrar Kenneth McGill juggled his increased work load preparing for the September primary and upcoming Presidential elections while taking on the role of caregiver to his elder parents.  Dividing his time between his ailing father who was afflicted with lung cancer and a blood clot in his heart, and his frail mother who has COPD, this new role added up to countless hours per day,  taking care of both parents who were recently placed in nursing facilities.   

             With the passing of his 76-year-old father just a little over a week ago, McGill, age 51, who had never planned a funeral, was now forced into an uncomfortable role of making final arrangements.  “Dad had been seriously ill for the past 6 months, and we knew what he wanted but it was never put down in writing,” noted the aging baby boomer, who acknowledged the stress of attempting to balance the cost of the funeral while ensuring that his father’s wishes were being carried out.

             Like many, McGill and his 48-year-old wife Kristen, an employee of Memorial Hospital of Pawtucket, had never made pre-paid funeral plans for their parents.  While he had heard about pre-need funeral agreements, he just never thought about doing it “probably because of denial,” he said.  “You just never think your parents are going to die.”  

             As a result of his father’s recent death, McGill will go next week to Cheetham Funeral Home to now preplan his mother’s funeral.  “This makes a lot of sense because it will ultimately take the stress off my family,” he says.

 Preplanning a Parent’s Funeral

             While my background is in the field of aging, I will admit that I also found it stressful attempting to get my elderly parents to enter pre-need funeral arrangements.  After all, my three siblings and I were only trying to give our parents the opportunity to have a say in the minute details of their final arrangements.

             For years my elderly father took care of my mother with dementia – and after numerous conversations with him about the “what if’s…”, more importantly what if mother outlives him… the day finally came that my father was willing to visit the local Dallas funeral home.   With my confused mother at his side, my father, chose their caskets like he was purchasing a new car. He checked under the lid, thoroughly examined the lining and the wood, trying to make the best decision.    Ultimately, he would not buy the cheaper model, but chose the ‘nicer one’, a littler higher up on the price list.

            Of course, my father instructed the funeral director where their services should be held and who should be presiding over the ceremony. But what type of music, vocal, or instrumental did they want played?  Or would they like a visitation service or would they like to name their pallbearers?  All good questions asked by the director that all needed answers.   These decisions might have been made right then and there on the spot, without the added stress of a loved ones’ death setting the tone, but rather ‘pre-planned’ with careful thought.  But in the end, and unfortunately for us, my father backed out. 

            My father’s experience was not the norm because most aging baby boomers make it through the stressful process of pre-planning and prepaying in advance.

Transient Society Creates Need for Preplanning Funerals

            Ted Wynne, whose family has owned the Pawtucket-based Manning Heffern Funeral Home since 1868, sees a transient society where children are living in different states, fueling the demand for preplanning and prepayment.  “Parents want to take the pressure off their children who live thousands of miles away from making the burial arrangement,” Wynne says.  “Thus, they pay up front or set aside money for future funeral and burial payments”.

            With an aging population, one or both spouses will end up in a nursing or assisted living facility, noted Wynne, a fifth generation funeral director.  Initially, the social worker will educate the prospective residents to the importance of getting an “irrevocable trust contract”, to pay for the funeral in advance.  .

            “It is pretty black and white,” adds Wynne.  “You figure out what you want, the cost, and then determine what you want to put in the contract.” For others, it may take sitting down with the funeral director to help crystallize their funeral plans, he adds. 

Prepaying a Funeral at Today’s Prices

           Bradford Bellows, Funeral director of Bellows Chapel in Lincoln, agrees with Wynne that seniors in nursing facilities are also good candidates for prepaying a funeral.

         “The family watches their parents’ funds dwindle to a point where they are forced to go on Medicaid.”  Prior to being eligible for Medicaid, the older parent or their children should prepay the funeral costs.  Assets given to the funeral home are allowed to be given under Medicaid eligibility guidelines prior to going on Medicaid.

            “Consumers must understand that prearranging a funeral is not the same as prepaying for one,” Bellows adds, whose family has been in the funeral business in the BlackstoneValley for 191 years.

            “By pre-paying a funeral you are actually paying for a funeral at today’s prices, not tomorrow’s”, Bellow says.  “If the funeral occurs in the future, the funds will earn interest which will be used to pay for the cost of the funeral at the time of death.”

            Bellows, a funeral director for 40 years, offers these tips when pre-paying your funeral:

            First, make sure that your Social Security number is indicated on our savings account or insurance policy where the monies are placed to prepay your funeral.  If the funeral home ever goes out of business or goes bankrupt, the funds are still yours and are safe, and can easily be transferred to another funeral home.

            Second, when you enroll in the Medicaid program, all the funds in your prepayment account must be used. Any excess funds will be returned by the funeral home the State of Rhode Island, to defray health costs incurred by the OceanState’s Medicaid program.

            Finally, once the funeral home opens the account or insurance policy, don’t forget to get a copy of the Irrevocable Funeral Trust Agreement, showing the bank or credit union account number or the original insurance policy that was issued.  This will give you proof that your advance payment has been set up for your funeral needs..

Make an Educated Decision

            Life Insurance agent Christine Miller, a preplanning funding specialist at Pawtucket-based Lachapelle Funeral Home and a grief counselor at Beacon Hospice, notes that preplanning and prepayment for a funeral can reduce family stress. “Knowing your loved ones final wishes and not having the financial burden of a funeral can provide relief during a very difficult time, she added.

            According to Miller, it is not uncommon to have individuals to call weekly to preplan their funerals. “Many people are surprised that at Lachapelle Funeral Home they can make small monthly payments rather than one lump sum and still have their funeral guaranteed,” she noted.

            Miller stresses the importance of doing your home work in determining which prepayment option is best for you. “There use to be a loyalty to funeral homes but in these times people should shop around, talk to people with the goal of making an educated decision.”

            For consumer tips on planning and prepaying a funeral, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/products/pro19.shtm.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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Cultual Icons, Celebrities Give Us Cause to Reflect on Our Lives

Published September 7, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

             The death of those celebrities and cultural icons who were familiar to us growing up give us cause to reflect on their lives – and our own, as well as ones’ contributions to society.

             Astronaut Neil Armstrong traveled 250,000 miles from earth to the lunar surface and was the first man to walk on the moon.  At the age of 82, he died last month in Cincinnati, Ohio from complications resulted from cardiovascular procedures.

            With his death on August 25, 2012, hundreds of tributes would come in from all over the world, from world leaders, former astronauts and his family, calling him modest and humble, a “reluctant American hero,” an explorer –  an exceptional test pilot, recognized as a war veteran who flew 78 combat missions during the Korean conflict.

            Not unexpectedly, even President Barack Obama, American’s Commander-in-Chief, recognized Armstrong’s impact on the cultural fabric of the nation.  “When he and his fellow crew members lifted off aboard Apollo 11 in 1969, they carried with them the aspirations of an entire nation,” said Obama in a written statement released by the White House. “They set out to show the world that the American spirit can see beyond what seems unimaginable – that with enough drive and ingenuity, anything is possible. And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time, he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”

 Man on the Moon

          In July 1969, one month after my 15th birthday, as a young man, I was riveted to our television as my family watched the CBS news with Walter Cronkite, as he told a captivated nation that American astronaut Neil Armstrong and  lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, along with command module pilot Mike Collins, had reached the moon four days after being launched from Kennedy Space Center. Cronkite, America’s most trusted newscaster, detailed the landing, noting how the lunar module “Eagle” separated from the command module, making its descent to the moon surface.

           When making that lunar contact, the 38-year-old Armstrong would say, “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”  No aging baby boomer would ever forget the memorable quote of the young commander of Apollo 11 as he climbed down Eagle’s ladder and stepped on to the lunar soil on July 20, 1969 at 10:56 p.m…  “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

         According to NASA, Armstrong would prance around on the lunar surface for two hours and 32 minutes, while Aldrin, who followed him, spent about 15 minutes less than that.

         For years, a small framed replica of the front page of the Dallas Morning News featuring Armstrong’s voyage sat on my old dresser, which served as an inspirational reminder – a  piece of history I witnessed,  now recorded into the nation’s history books.

 Long-time Comedienne Passes Away

          Phyllis Diller, a high-profile stand-up Comedienne who during a 50 year career served as a role model to younger females (including Roseanne Barr, Ellen De Generes, Whoopi Goldberg, and Joan Rivers among others) trying to make a career out of telling jokes, died on August 20, 2012 at the age of 95.    She was one of the first women to break into this male-dominated standup comedian profession, even giving them a run for their money.

       Over her long career, she made dozens of movies, appeared in specials, situational comedy shows on television, recorded comedy LP records and even performed on Broadway, as well as breathing life into animated characters on films and television shows with voice-overs.   

       Keeping my mother company on the couch by watching Johnny Carson after the late night news, as a young child I would lay my head on her lap, watching The Tonight Show “Starring Johnny Carson” in the early 1960s.  Diller appeared on this show, as well as variety shows, hosted by Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Red Skeleton, and Ed Sullivan.  She captivated the nation with her quirky sense of humor and signature laugh.

       As I grew up watching Diller on television I can remember the self-deprecating professional jokester wearing an unkempt wig, wrist-length gloves, and cloth-covered ankle boots, carrying a long fake jeweled cigarette holder (even though she never smoked) and taking lob sharp barbs at her fictional husband, Fang, and her home life during her routines.  She was confident and proud of her place in the world, despite the trials and tribulations of “family life”.

       At age 37, Diller, a mother and homemaker, got her first break in 1955, playing San Francisco’s Purple Onion nightclub.  The two week engagement ultimately ended a year and half later.

       Diller, a longtime resident of the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, California, appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs throughout her career, including What’s My Line? mystery guests.  She also made cameo appearances bringing her unique humor to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Love Boat, Chips, Love American Style, the Drew Carey Show and even appeared on ABC’s Boston Legal.

       Diller, who underwent 15 different plastic surgeries during her life (this noted in her 2005 autobiography), surprisingly was also recognized as an accomplished pianist as well as a painter.

       Archie Bunkers chair went to the Smithsonian.  So did Diller’s jokes, so to speak.  Even the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery at the National Museum of American History, from August 12 to October 28, 2011, displayed Diller’s gag file, a steel cabinet consisting of 48 file drawers holding over 50,000 jokes penned on index cards and costumes that became part of her “comedic persona.”

 The Passing of Cultural Icons and Celebrities

        When we are young, we feel invulnerable and that we will live forever. Unrealistically, we see death as no match for us. In our later year’s as aging baby boomers, we begin to see death close up, through the passing of our older parents, siblings, co-workers, friends and sometimes even our children.  Health conditions continually remind us of our impending mortality. 

        As we look at the passing of Neil Armstrong and Phyllis Diller, their impressive life stories should give us confirmation of their major impact on our culture. Their passing become “mortality markers” subtly giving us the gentle message that “generations come and go” and that we, like them, will not live forever.  Time becomes the most valuable commodity that we carry throughout our lives.

          If we use time wisely, we can better use our remaining days to make a positive difference in our community, whether it be through the professions we chose or simply our outlook on life to those around us.    Armstrong, to take mankind to where it has never has been –  Diller to make us laugh to forget the pains of life.

         Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.
Additional information about Armstrong is available on the Web at:

The Best of…Before ‘Crossing Over,’ Leave a Legacy of Love

           Published May 6, 2002, Pawtucket Times

          Dead men (or women) tell no tales.

          That’s not true for millions of viewers who watch the syndicated hit series “Crossing Over” with John Edward.  The 31-year old internationally acclaimed m medium has touched the hearts and souls of the American public as he uses his uncanny mediumistic ability to connect audiences with their loved ones who have “crossed over.”

         Belive him or not, this show is making waves throughout southern New England, according to Judy Shoemaker, director of promotions for ABC 6.  The dead have something to say and Edward is listening to what they say, she noted.

       Attesting to the popularity of the show, 2,500 tickets costing $45 were sold out in just one hour after being made available for yesterday’s gathering at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

       Edward was the sponsor of the Providence event.  Before Sunday, tickets were sold on E-Bay, prices going for as high as $450 per ticket.

        Edward’s visit to the Renaissance City is the most anticipated promotional event that ABC 6 has sponsored in the last 30 years, noted Shoemaker.  The Providence-based television station on Orms Street – which now airs Edward’s one-hour show on weekdays at 4 p.m. – received hundreds of letters, emails and calls for the last several weeks from frantic fans wanting to go to the event.

        “This show has moved and touched so many people and it makes them feel good,” Shoemaker said, explaining why the show sold out so quickly.

        According to the Sci-Fi Channel, age 50-plus viewers watching “Crossing Over” represents 38 percent of the 503,000 viewers on late Monday-Thursday evenings and 30 percent of the 553,000 viewers of the program at its late Sunday night time slot.

       Rose O. Boucher, 84, a life-long Pawtucket resident, regularly tunes into “Crossing Over” on the Sci-Fi Channel and on ABC 6.  For her, Edward’s show “is educational and relaxing to watch,” she says. Boucher likes how it helps people who have worries and doubts.  Responding to Edward’s skeptics, she said, “There are a lot of things in the world that we don’t know about.”

       According to Edward, at age 15 he tried to debunk a psychic that was doing readings at his grandmother’s house. Going into his reading skeptical, Edward came out impressed with the psychic’s accuracy.

       “The information that came through was factual and not generalities,” Edward said, who noted that she even predicted that he would do the work if he chose to.

        Even with 16 years of studying psychic development and metaphysics, Edward never has forgotten his Catholic upbringing and he believes that it has even enhanced his own religious beliefs.

       While he does not attend church regularly, he is constantly praying with his rosary and doing his spiritual work.  “Using your rosary and saying a repetition of prayers significantly helps you raise your own vibration and frequency,” he says.

        “Everyone is psychic,” Edward said. “Be open to learning about spiritual development.  Go to a metaphysical bookstore or the new age section in a bookstore and let the book pick you.”

       Edward looks at death this way — “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, yet it can change forms.  I just look at death as a transition of the energy of the soul outside of the body.” Over the years, Edward said he has found that his readings have solidified and strengthened the religious beliefs of many people.

        Is there a heaven or hell? No, said Edward.  The other side is made up of different levels and you gravitate to the level appropriate to your spiritual growth.  “The higher more evolved levels might be deemed the heavenly levels while the lower levels are for people who are not so [spiritually advanced].

       Edward urges people to take the opportunity to communicate and validate others in their lives before they “cross over” so that a medium is not required to do it for them.

       Before you greet death, leave your legacy of love behind.  That’s what it is really all about, said the frequently humorous and down-to-earth medium.

       Leaving your legacy of love behind is as simple as looking your loved one in the eyes and saying, “I love you.”

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, healthcare and medical issues.  This article was printed in the May 06, 2002 issue of the Pawtucket Times.