New York has always taken fashion very seriously and twice a year the city is pleasantly hijacked by the fashion industry. Tents go up around Manhattan, designers showcase their brilliant (often outlandish) creations, and thousands watch to see not only the fashion forecast but also who gets the coveted front row seats.

Having grown up in NYC, most of my family and friends are in this industry and everyone thought I would follow in their footsteps. Since my title at Everplans is “Funeral Guru” it’s clear I opted for a slightly different field. Although I no longer feel the need to get dolled up and shuffle from one venue to another, I still love the parties!

At one of these soirees, my contrasting career became a topic of conversation. Not surprisingly, the discussion quickly became focused on: What would your FINAL outfit be? My friends came up with some very creative ideas and wishes, but unfortunately, I had to point out there were a few things they should keep in mind before settling on their last looks.

First, if you’re religious, you need to consider the appropriate ritual dress.  For example, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Baha’i people traditionally are buried in shrouds. These are plain white natural fabrics (either linen or cotton depending on the religion) that are hand-sewn together (no zippers or other fasteners are used.) The thought behind this uniformly inexpensive burial garb is that at the end of life, all are equal in the eyes of God. The lack of pockets is meant to remind the living that you cannot take your possessions with you.

If you’re not bound by religious rituals, there are still a few guidelines to keep in mind. Traditionally, people were buried in their best outfits, such a suit for a man and a dress for a woman. If you opt to go this route, keep in mind that the outfit of choice should be freshly laundered, arms should be covered, and don’t forget to include all pieces of the outfits.  By this, I mean that socks or stockings and undergarments are a must, and you might consider including a handkerchief, scarf, belt, glasses, and even jewelry. 

Something To Consider

There might be possessions of yours that your loved ones will want to cherish. Although you might think no outfit is complete without your trademark watch, ring, or tie, that item might serve as a valued keepsake or heirloom to someone else. Also, if you're tasked with choosing the clothes for a recently departed loved one, our How To Choose Clothing For The Deceased article is a helpful resource.

I’ve always supported straying from the norm and choosing an outfit that is special to you. For example, if you want to support your favorite team for eternity, choose a team jersey. Proud of the time you served your country? Select your military uniform. Maybe, you just want to dress appropriately for the “long slumber” by wearing your favorite pajamas. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that is you, because unlike the trendy ensembles I saw this week, this is also how your family and friends might remember you forever.


Most episodes of A&E’s Storage Wars are pretty much the same. A bunch of sassy characters bid and overpay for storage lockers, they dig through boxes and other garbage, and just when all hope is lost..."WAIT A MINUTE!!!!" Something of value is uncovered.

Well, former-Storage Wars contestant Steve Monetti got the shock of a lifetime when he purchased a locker at Harlem Self-Storage and found 31 urns complete with ashes, according to the New York Post.

While it’s definitely unsettling, nothing illegal occurred. Apparently the ashes were returned from crematoriums to the M. Marshall Blake Funeral Parlor, which went unclaimed and were stored in the locker. When they fell behind on the monthly payments the storage locker went up for auction.

It might seem strange to think a person would opt for cremation, purchase an ornate urn and not claim it. But, according to our Funeral Guru Elizabeth Meyer, it’s not uncommon.

“Funeral homes will keep ashes for a set period of time and continually attempt to contact the next of kin to get them picked up,” she said. “But some people can’t emotionally deal with the situation, or don’t know what to do with the ashes after they take them.”

Funeral homes will store unclaimed ashes for a set period of time. If no one claims them they’ll be returned to the crematory, who will also attempt to find them a home. If no one claims them after their set period of time they will eventually bury or scatter them, depending on the state laws. The LA Times wrote a story about the growing problem of unclaimed ashes in 2008 and as the popularity in cremation rises--as of 2010 the national number is at 41-percent and on the rise--what can be done to help eliminate the problem? If you're planning to be cremated after you shuffle off this mortal coil let your family and friends know what you want done with your ashes.

Since it’s a difficult and emotional situation, we wrote some articles that can prepare you in advance...or help if you’re currently wrestling with this issue:

What You Need To Know About Scattering Ashes

How To Scatter Ashes

Where To Scatter Ashes

As for the Harlem storage locker, it appears that it’s up to Monetti to try and locate relatives so the ashes can be at peace. Now that’s an A&E show we’d love to watch.

Via New York Post

According to a new study, hospital mistakes are the third leading cause of death in America, right behind heart disease (#1) and cancer (#2). The estimated number: between 210,000 to 440,000 a year.

Before you panic and refuse to ever go to a hospital again, let’s see how we got to these massive numbers.

NPR reports that the accepted industry figure has always been around 98,000 a year stemming from a 1999 report called “To Err Is Human.” In 2010, the Office of Inspector said bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 in Medicare alone. Now, a study by a NASA toxicologist in the Journal of Patient Safety claims the number has grown to the massive number we listed above.

Study author John T. James, who began his advocacy work after attributing the death of his 19-year-old son to hospital negligence, based his estimates on four recent studies identifying preventable harm suffered by patients. After lots of number crunching he concluded that preventable errors could be attributed to around half a million hospital patients deaths each year.

Via NPR:

“An estimate of 440,000 deaths from care in hospitals 'is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year,' James wrote in his study. He also cited other research that's shown hospital reporting systems and peer-review capture only a fraction of patient harm or negligent care.”

Since hospitals aren’t completely transparent when they make mistakes, there’s no way of knowing an exact number, but other experts haven’t disputed James’ findings. One of the reasons for the upswing in these sorts of deaths include more complex medical procedures as well as “unintended consequences when doctors perform procedure and tests.”

Regardless of whether these numbers are true or a wild estimate, you need to advocate for yourself at all times when taking a trip to the hospital or any other major medical appointment. If you’re not in the best of health or you’re not up for asking a doctor a lot of questions, bring someone along to help you out. This is also the perfect time to sharpen the skills of your Health Care Proxy. If you haven’t named a Proxy yet, or don’t even know what one is, click here to learn all you need to know about naming a health care proxy.

Check out the full story at NPR.org


#CorpseSelfie

Tasteless, right? For those unfamiliar with what I just posted above, that’s a hashtag used on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to categorize photos, tweets and blog posts to identify messages on a specific topic. How specific? As specific as you’d like it to be. And while the “#CorpseSelfie” isn’t by any means the norm, it might as well be after reading this horrible story about a high school student posting a photo of herself with a cadaver.

While on the senior class trip to the University of Alabama’s Anatomical Donation Center, one high school student did what many high school students do… she took a selfie. (For those non-web savvy readers, a “selfie” is when someone takes a photo of themselves with their phone.)

The issue here is that she opted to include a cadaver in this picture. Thus, this deceased man, who had the goodness to donate his body to science, was completely exposed on Instagram. The photo was deleted, and all subsequent ones have blurred the body and student, but the beast had been released.

The point of the Internet is to get attention at all costs. The more shocking and bizarre the more popular it becomes. Then other people come along and either emulate the trend or make fun of it until they get bored and move on to something else.

Mostly, it’s just harmless, and often clever, fun. When something truly horrible surfaces, like racist Halloween costumes or fast food workers grossly tampering with food, the Internet and mainstream media comes together to shame it out of existence. However, every year there’s always another racist Halloween costume or rogue fast food employee and the cycle starts all over again. Ideally, taking photos with cadavers won’t happen often, but with hundreds of millions of people online, some of whom will do anything to gain more “likes” and re-tweets, odds are it will happen again.

This also opens up the conversation about decorum when confronted with death. Remember when President Obama took a selfie at Nelson Mendela’s funeral? The general consensus, and look on Michelle Obama’s face, was that funerals are not the place to whip out the camera phone.

But this isn’t really about politics. We’ve seen our politicians posting worse selfies than smiles at a funeral. (I still can’t erase those Anthony Weiner images from my mind.) But it seems like we’re transforming what were once selfless acts of remembrance (funerals) and medical research (donating a body to science) into an opportunity to get selfish attention. You want your funeral to be remembered as a way to honor your life, not as a sideshow where some bored attendee you barely knew made it about them. You want your death to be able to help the living, but not if some teen is using your body as a background prop.

With technology being so easy to use and share with millions, this isn’t much of a shock. Teens are looking to outdo one another with craziness of photos, but my concern is that we have become a society that cares more about social admiration than we do about respecting a deceased human. While some may say "What's the big deal?" or brush it off as stupid teenage behavior, I ask: What if this were your father, husband or brother? What if an entire life that mattered so much to you was reduced to a quick gag?

I strongly support donating all or parts of our body at the point when we no longer need them, and no one should feel otherwise because of this story. I've done plenty of research and studying and wholeheartedly believe legitimate medical institutions like University of Alabama treat bodies with the utmost respect. While I feel sorry for the gentleman who was exposed and his family, I hope all future high school trips to their donation center, and all donation centers looking to educate people, immediately start doing what most institutions housing sensitive information and research do: Take away everyone's damn cell phone the moment they arrive and don’t give it back until they’re walking out the door.

Your dog or cat loves you, often more than you can ever love him or her in return. You are that pet’s world. Now imagine if you weren’t around to take care of them anymore and didn’t make arrangements for their care. Unless a friend or family member takes ownership, we’re talking shelters...or worse. (Those stories out of the Sochi Olympics where stray dogs were being shot have made us ill.)

Don’t get sad because there’s something you can do to protect your fluffy companion that’s starting to gain in popularity. It's called a Pet Trust.

On ABC's hit TV show Modern Family, Claire and Phil Dunphy (Julie Bowden and Ty Burrell) take their daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland) out to nice, booze-fueled dinner to find out her plans for the future. Haley knows something’s up and refuses to drink, waiting patiently and staying sharp. After some awkward exchanges, their role as concerned parents hits a snag when they find out she’s been doing a fashion blog and intends to take business classes to monetize it.

Then the tables are turned.

“You know what I’m pretty sure is ironic?” Haley asks. “You guys spend all this time worrying what I’m going to do when maybe you should start thinking about what you’re going to do.”

If you’re a proponent for ending your life in the event of a terminal illness, the Breaking Bad state has some good news.

A New Mexico judge said terminally ill, mentally competent patients can choose to have a doctor end their life, according to CNN. Stemming from a lawsuit filed on behalf of a terminally ill cancer patient by the ACLU and Compassion & Choices, the judge had to consider if doctors could precribe a fatal dose of drugs if a patient wanted it. Here's an excerpt of Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash's response:

This Court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying. If decisions made in the shadow of one's imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, than what decisions are?



Legendary actress/comedienne Carol Burnett made a guest appearance on a very special (and sad) Thanksgiving episode of CBS’ Hawaii Five-0. (We’re aware Thanksgiving was a few months ago but we’re a little behind on our TV shows). She plays the lively Aunt Deb who travels to the tropical paradise unannounced with sad news: She’s dying of a brain tumor and wants to depart this earth peacefully.

Her rowdy nephew is Lt. Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin), who spends his days chasing down bad guys, jovially arguing with his partner Danno (Scott Caan) and refusing to take no for an answer. At first he thinks his aunt is in town to just say hello for the holidays, but when she’s arrested for buying pot to alleviate some of her symptoms he learns she’s there to say goodbye.

“What’s the plan?” McGarrett asks. “What’s the course of treatment?”


Source: Flickr/Gerald Pereira

When I tell people that I worked in the funeral industry, I’m always asked if it’s as sketchy as they think. Then they’ll tell me about an article they read where a consumer was ripped off, or a news blurb they watched about a body being buried in the wrong grave. It’s almost always anecdotal, but the stories pile up.

Although there were major funeral industry issues in the past, since 1984 the Federal Trade Commission has regulated it to curb many horrible practices.  But since employees performing their job properly isn’t interesting, the public only sees the negative scandalous stuff. Thus, people believe the funeral industry, which is already mysterious to begin with, is full of scandal.


The popular financial site LearnVest has jumped on the Death Over Dinner train with this recent article "Death Dinners: Why Dying Is a Supper Topic Du Jour":

For many people these days, one effective way to share their very personal end-of-life decisions and desires with friends and family is to host “death dinners.” The hope is that gathering over a meal will make discussing the topic of dying a little more palatable, while also sparing loved ones from fighting over financial and medical issues down the road.