Every year on Memorial Day we remember the men and women who have died while serving our country in the U.S. Armed Forces. This year, the New York Times has published an interview and a series of photographs by Luke Sharrett, a freelance photographer whose cousin was killed in Iraq.

From the piece:

I lost my cousin Dave—Pfc. David H. Sharrett II, who was in the 101st Airborne Division—when he was killed by friendly fire in Balad, Iraq. That was my introduction to Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery and what it means, the tears that are shed there and the family members and friends who come back to visit those who are buried there.

I started noticing the tops of the tombstones in 2010, as I covered active-duty casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery for The New York Times, when I was an intern in the Washington bureau. It was always a somber assignment, and every time I was there I would notice something different on the headstones. At Christmastime there would be wreaths on almost every headstone, and around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July there would be American flags.

On Memorial Day and Veterans Day there would be a lot more people, families and friends of the military personnel buried there, and there would be more mementos and trinkets left—tokens that would evoke memories that were sentimental to the person buried there or the visitor. They ranged from predictable things like flowers or their unit insignia to the less predictable, like childhood toys, a half-finished bottle of Jack Daniels or a candy bar.

There’s more to these stories than just the names and dates inscribed on the front of the headstones.

To view the entire interview and see all of Luke's photos, click here.

via New York Times

The day someone you love is diagnosed with a terminal disease, the sheer terror that takes over will likely cause you to go into shock. After that, figuring out what to do next—how to put one foot in front of the other and carry on—can be just as perplexing, complicated, and traumatic as the news of the diagnosis. That’s why this week I’m sharing my top five things to do the day someone you love is diagnosed with cancer.

1. Call a best friend (or five). Maybe it’s your college roommate. Your childhood buddy. Your summer camp BFF. Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a private person, I urge you to contact a friend for support. There’s something incredibly comforting about hearing a friend simply listen.  Furthermore, letting a close friend know the news early can help him or her more easily be a consistent source of support for you in the future.

2. Work your network. This might be an over-achieving Day One activity, but at the very least start thinking about the people you know. The secret power of your network is that you never know who you know who knows the sister, brother, cousin, housekeeper (you get the idea) of a top-notch, cutting edge oncologist who can get you an appointment with one quick phone call. If there was ever a time to broadcast your ask, now is the time. Working your network can also help connect you to people who have been through what you’re going through and who can shed light on what’s to come—both for you and for your loved one. Connecting to others who are fighting the same disease can help your loved one prepare for symptoms and learn about the experiences of other people with the same illness.

3. Do something (anything) else. It may seem unnatural (or even wrong) at first, but try to do something unrelated to the distressing news. It doesn’t have to be an activity that lasts a long time; it can be something simple, like watching a TV show or responding to a couple of quick work emails or going to the gym or cooking yourself a meal. Your ability to juggle your loved one’s diagnosis and the normal demands of your everyday life will become more and more important, and the faster you can adapt to this, then the stronger your mental health will be. That said, if you simply don’t feel ready to do this on Day One, there’s always Day Two.

4. Set a schedule for Day Two. The dreadful feeling of waking up “the morning after” is just as horrible as hearing the diagnosis for the first time. On Day One, before you go to sleep, make a plan for Day Two. It doesn’t matter what the schedule is, it simply matters that you have one. Your Day Two schedule will help keep you grounded, so that when you wake up in the morning and the dark reality envelops you all over again, you have something to do. Go out for bagels. Go for a run. Breathe.

5. Just go with it. Everyone grieves, adapts, and comes to terms with trauma differently, and it’s worth figuring out how you are feeling and doing what feels right to you. Listen to yourself, and do what comes naturally.  So cry, hug your newly-diagnosed loved one. Hug everyone. Take a bath, or eat a large bag of Sour Patch Kids (that’s what I did). Whatever makes you feel good, however you know to express yourself—go with it.

Of course, these tips are based on my own experience, and everyone’s experience will be different. But I hope that this list will help you dodge the sting of the shrapnel that comes on diagnosis day. Because you will get through it—one way or another. Day Two will come. 

Judy MacDonald Johnston, creator of Good [End Of] Life, gave a powerful talk at the TED conference this year. It inspired us; we hope it inspires you.

If you've been looking for another platform on which to engage with Everplans, your day has come. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, Everplans is now on Pinterest!

Check it out and let us know what you think! We'll be adding new images all the time.

How much planning have you done? How does it compare to the amount of planning done on average in this country?

via eFuneral

How does a funeral home advertise its services without being crass, creepy, or morbid? A Japanese funeral home, Nishinihon Tenrei, has tried (and succeeded, we think) by creating a beautiful ad featuring a skeleton made from pressed flowers. The agency that created the ad, I&S BBDO, wrote about the challenges of the project: 

The March 11th earthquake and tsunami had a traumatic effect on Japan. Issues of life and death, hope and despair, beauty and tragedy became an all too real part of people's everyday lives.

These images are thoughtful, sensitive, and visually stunning. We'd love to see American funeral homes take a cue from this campaign and develop modern, compelling images that speak to death with this much grace.

via ConnectingDirectors

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to share a tribute to my mother that I read in front of friends and family 3 ½ years ago at her funeral. I sat down to write this eulogy a couple weeks before my mother died. I was in a rocking chair next to her bed, keeping her company as she dozed. Initially, I thought this would be the hardest thing I would ever write. But the truth is, as I watched her sleep, I took comfort in knowing she was lost in a dream-world instead of plagued by her dark reality—and the words poured out of me like I too was lost in a world of dreams. Dreams that brought me back to the imaginary games we played when I was younger, hearing her cheer me on from the sidelines during my soccer games, secrets confided, lessons learned, I loves yous exchanged, her beaming pride, our best friendship, arguments that exhausted both of us, and the reconciliations that always brought us back together. And below you'll find the final result.


When I was little, my mother and I played a game before I went to sleep. The rules were simple. We would take turns saying that we loved each other more than something. For example, she would say, “I love you more than a soccer ball.” And then it was my turn. It was my task to return the sentiment by saying that I loved her more than something larger than a soccer ball. “I love you more than the kitchen table.” And so on. We would continue in this vein until the game was over by default with someone saying the magic words, “Well, I love you more than infinity!” When the game was over, we’d kiss goodnight, and I would sleep.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my mother was teaching me about shapes and sizes and how to use my imagination. The game was about learning to comprehend the magnitude of my mother’s feelings for me as much as it was about being together and laughing about the goofy things we came up with—“I love you more than a tennis racket.” “Well, then I love you more than a gorilla.” And so forth.

My mom was a genius at finding games and activities I enjoyed that would teach me valuable lessons and important skills. I confronted the challenge of comprehending another enormity or type of magnitude later in my childhood when my father died. And again, my mother was there at every step along the way to make sure I was coping with the various emotional phases I went through during the process. For a while, the gravity of his death was too overwhelming and to try to contemplate what my mother went through too much. Years later, it still scared me, but I knew that I wanted to make sense of it and its effect on my mother. And then, when I was a little older, I figured it out. I felt pride.

How incredibly strong was she? Did I know anyone stronger? She never gave up; she put her entire being into raising me, providing for me and finding a home for us at Georgetown Day School where I could learn, grow and stretch as far as I could stretch.

And this is why, when my mother was sick and most concerned about how her willingness to fight would impact me, I tried several times to convince her that those lessons had already been taught, the wisdom imparted. But she continued to worry and concern herself mostly with how I would handle this—how I would move forward after this devastating loss. The toll it would take and the tears I would cry….

Over the last 10 months, I have grown accustomed to having a sick mother and while I was in shock for several weeks after her diagnosis, I learned to be her caretaker while I was in DC, her caretaker while I was in Philadelphia, and although I doubted my strength from the beginning, I learned to have a terminally ill mother, go to class, have fun with friends and live my life.

I am writing this before her death and know that my strength and her strength will get me through this. As my mother always said to me, it’s amazing how strong you can be when you have no other choice.

There are really no words to describe my closeness with my mother. I know this because the slow, agonizing decline of the disease forces even the most optimistic and hopeful to think about and plan for this day. And as such, you start thinking about what you might say during a time like this. And after unsuccessfully putting pen to paper several times, I realized that there really are no words.

There are only feelings, indescribable feelings. Feelings that make my heart burst and my whole being melt. Because my mother was my insides. She is my insides. My guts. My confidence. My bravery and my strength. My sensitivity, my compassion, my loyalty and even my laughter.

She was everything. She was my mother, and she was my father.

If I had to conjure up one life lesson that she would want me to carry for the rest of my life, it is this: Seek advice from others, but always trust myself. She believed in me, and she believed that I always knew what was best for me.

And if I had to conjure up a second lesson or personal desire of hers, it would be a plea for me to have a daughter—and for that daughter to play sports. I’m not sure Mom could’ve been any happier than when she was cheering from the sidelines at my soccer and lacrosse games.

I miss you, Mom. I will trust myself, Mom, and I will be fine. I love you more than infinity.

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This Sunday, as is tradition in the United States on the second Sunday in May, children will celebrate their mothers with cards and flowers and drugstore chocolates—the single day of the year when mothers are supposed to be pampered and recognized for all that they do.

For many of us, the commercialism that has become the "holiday" that is essentially about respecting your mother seems more than a little absurd. If you're in this camp—offended by the price of carnations in May, repelled by a mimosa brunch, and someone who believes that mothers (and fathers...and all the people you love, for that matter) should be appreciated on more than just one day of the year—you're not alone. Anna Jarvis is with you.

In 1905, the mother of a woman named Anna Jarvis died, and the young Ms. Jarvis decided to create a holiday to remember her mother. As she saw it, her mother had done so much for her, and she wanted to carve out time for all Americans to remember their mothers, even after their mothers were gone. Only 9 years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday. And, as the story goes, it was all downhill from there.

When some infidels took it upon themselves to add a “happy” to the sentiment—as in “Happy Mother’s Day!”—Miss Jarvis threatened them with legal action. As far as Anna Jarvis was concerned, there was nothing “happy” about what had happened to a day intended for personal remembrance, and so she spent the rest of her life attempting to dismantle the institution she had created.

The true sentiment behind Mother's Day (which is, for the record, "Mother's Day" and not "Mothers' Day") is a good one. It's important to be thankful, to acknowledge the ways that others have helped us throughout our lives, and to mourn the people we've loved who are gone. This is not a call for an Anna Jarvis-style Mother's Day takeover. But it is a reminder that, behind all the commercialism, Mother's Day is a good reminder to appreciate those we love, not just on the second Sunday in May, but everyday.

via Babble

An obituary that ran in a Portland, Oregon newspaper last week featured some unmistakably familiar names...

Margaret Groening is the mother of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. Her family (or at least their names) clearly served as the inspiration for many of Springfield's most famous characters.

We know it's not the most fun-times subject, but organizing and sharing your online assets (aka your digital assets, aka your digital estate, aka your digital afterlife) is a hugely important, never-before-faced issue that all of us who live on the Internet are going to have to deal with. (If you're reading this blog post, there's a pretty good chance you spend quite a bit of your life online, like we do.)

Everplans is on a mission to make planning easier for you and your family, and digital estate planning and account info organization is a big part of that. The blog TechHive thinks so too, and has included Everplans in an article on "how to get your online assets in order for when you die," along with our friends at Personal.com.

We like Personal because they have a simple system for online storage that allows you to give access to different pieces of information to different people in your family. Plus, it's also available as an iPhone app, which just makes everything easier. Everplans and Personal have created a special page where you can store all the information and documents that are especially relevant to end-of-life planning. Click here to check it out and get started managing your digital estate.

via TechHive