Marcus Daly is a former wooden boat builder who took his skills and became a casket maker. Daly crafts exceptionally personalized and beautiful caskets, but what separates them most from others is the love and respect that he puts into each and every casket he makes.

This soft-spoken craftsman preaches the importance of carrying the casket and physically “shouldering the burden.” He feels that by making burial “too convenient...we’re depriving ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on.” Daly notes that by physically holding the deceased and committing them to the ground you are not only offering a final helping hand to the person who died, but also helping yourself to move past the loss.

My takeaway from this video, and a strong belief that I've held for years, is that we as a culture should take a more active role in funeral rites and rituals. I agree with Marcus Daly: by bringing ourselves closer to the people we love who've died we may find inner peace and strength.

via The Awesomer

A viewer of my videos wrote in: "I'm going to a Catholic wake for the first time. Will there be an open casket? What if I'm too nervous to look at the body?"

The death of a celebrity is often a complicated emotional experience for many people. Though we didn't really "know" the person, many of us feel strong connections to our favorite stars. And for young people, these feelings of attachment may be even stronger.

Glee star Cory Monteith was found dead this weekend in a Vancouver hotel room. There are lots of rumors online about the cause of death (possibly drug-related) and many poeple are mourning him on Twitter. If you have kids—young children, tweens, or teens—who are Glee fans, there's a good chance they've already heard the news, and might be taking it hard. Here are three tips for how to help your kids deal with the death of a celebrity:

1. Acknowledge what your kids are feeling. Anger, sadness, confusion, fear, and frustration (among many others) are all natural emotional responses to a death. Even though you may not feel affected by the loss, acknowledge that your kid does. This will let your kid know that it's okay to feel these ways, and will create a space where your child will feel comfortable expressing his or her feelings.

2. Make sure they understand who died. Depending on how young your kids are, there may be some confusion over who died: Cory Monteith, the actor, or Finn Hudson, the character he played on Glee. You might explain to your kids that even though the actor is gone, they'll always be able to watch the character he played.

3. Participate in your kids' mourning. Some kids may want to watch a marathon of Glee episodes, others may want to comb the Internet for pictures of the actor, and others may want not to think about the loss at all. However your child is expressing his or her feelings, try to be there with your kid. You might not have the stamina for 3 hours of Glee reruns, but letting your child know that you're interested in participating in his or her experience can go a long way to making your kid feel safe and comfortable.

For more info on how to talk to kids about death, see our article Children and Grief. If you're looking for grief resources for kids, see our guide Grief Support for Children.

As the Muslim holiday of Ramadan arrived this week, I found myself thinking about Ramadan and funerals. Ramadan, which falls every year on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month-long observance during which Muslims fast and pray during the day in an effort to increase their focus on the teachings of Islam. Because Muslims have many rules around funerals and caring for the dead, and because there are so many rules around how one should behave during Ramadan, I wondered what happens when death and Ramadan intersect. Fortunately, I have many Muslim friends who were willing to (patiently!) answer my questions.

Question: Is it more holy to die during Ramadan than at other times?
Answer: No.

My Internet searches temporarily convinced me that if a person dies during Ramadan it’s considered to be very holy. But when I spoke to my friend Mohammad he informed me that this is just a myth. He explained that according to Muslim belief, Allah doesn’t favor any of his followers, and so he wouldn’t make some holier than others by allowing them to die as more holy than others.

Question: Can a Muslim funeral be held during Ramadan?
Answer: Yes.

Muslims believe that the body should be buried as soon as possible after the death has occurred. This holds true even if the death happens during Ramadan.

Question: Could a Muslim travel to attend a funeral during Ramadan?
Answer: Yes.

Muslims are expected to attend services at a mosque every day during Ramadan, which can seemingly make traveling difficult. But Muslims may in fact travel, so long as they pray five times a day as they normally would at home. And if a person is traveling during Ramadan, he’s actually exempt from the daily fasting (though he should fast for the number of days he missed after Ramadan is over to make up those days).

Question: Can a Muslim attend the funeral of a non-Muslim?
Answer: Yes.

Some strident believers may feel that simply entering a place of worship that is not a mosque is sinful, and that showing respect for one who didn’t follow The Prophet Muhammad would be wrong. My friends, many of who are devout Muslims, unanimously disagreed with this attitude. All said that they would show respect for their friend by attending the funeral, and don’t believe in any way that attending the funeral of a non-Muslim would displease Allah.

Question: So, is there any difference in funeral rituals if the death occurs during Ramadan or if it happens any other time of the year?
Answer: Yes, but it’s a small one.

After the person who died is buried, the family gathers at the home of the deceased (or a close family relative) for the next three days. Typically friends and family visit the home between roughly 8:30am and 10:00pm. In that time, the guests are usually served food and drink while they pray for the person who died. During Ramadan, however, guests arrive at the home hours later and stay much later (sometimes even until 2:00 am). And because Muslims fast during the day during Ramadan, guests will not be offered food or drink until after sundown.

For more on Muslim funeral traditions, please check out our article Muslim Funeral Traditions. And Ramadan Mubarak to everyone!

More and more, we (as a culture) are concerned with the impact that we (as individuals) have on the earth. We're trading in SUVs for hybrid cars, eating organic and locally produced foods, and turning off our air conditioning in favor of fans (or at least we're trying to). And so it's only natural that these values for how we live life would carry over into the choices we make for how we want to be in death.

The green burial movement has been active for some time now, and people are interested in green burial and green funerals for a variety of reasons:

  • Green funerals and green burials can be a final eco-friendly act, one last effort to lessen our impact on the earth and reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Green burial can be seen as the traditional way of being buried—a return to the way people were buried before the industrialization and commercialization of funerals.
  • For people observing religious traditions—specifically Jewish funeral traditions or Muslim funeral traditions—green burial can be a way to honor those customs.

Everplans now has a suite of articles and tools to help you learn about green funerals and green burial, and to help you find all the green resources you'll need:

We hope that these new articles and tools will help you learn about green burial and provide you with the resources you need to plan a green burial, if you're so inclined. If you have any feedback, suggestions, or comments, we'd love to hear from you in the section below.

As I headed down to DC for work the other day, my cab driver pointed out something I’d never seen. “See that limo over there?” he said, pointing to a white stretch Towncar emblazoned with a green logo. “It’s from a cancer treatment center. They bring their patients to and from the train station in a limo. Isn’t that nice?” As he spoke, a tall frail woman struggled out of the car, assisted by the driver and an older female companion. She carried the telltale oxygen tank of a lung cancer patient. As she and her companion moved slowly toward the door of the train station, I was instantly thrown back into my mother’s last weeks. The woman bent over and reached for the doorframe, gasping for breath. As she sucked in air as best she could, I could hear the same raspy rattle my mother would make as she struggled to open every square inch of lung capacity in a desperate effort to catch her breath.

Shortly after my mother reached this point, her doctor told her that there was nothing left that he could do. She was too weak for chemo, he said, and so he sent her home with home-hospice care. Having home-hospice care was probably the best decision we made in the course of my mom’s illness, and my only regret is that we didn’t get that type of support sooner.

In an article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande that came out right around my mother’s diagnosis, he explains that most people don’t access hospice care until their last weeks of life, when actually hospice is available to patients with six months left to live. But there’s the rub: who wants to admit that they’ve got only six months left to live? Certainly not my mother.

That’s where palliative care can come in. Palliative care, which has been scientifically demonstrated to extend life when engaged with early, is an option for anyone facing serious illness. What most people don’t know is that palliative care is available to patients regardless of where they are in their treatment and whether or not they have a terminal illness. You don’t need to “give up” on treatment to access the support of a palliative care specialist; palliative care is often delivered in conjunction with regular medical treatments, such as chemo or dialysis.

Think of palliative care as a team effort: the oncologist treats the cancer, and the palliative care specialist treats the symptoms and side effects. Doctors are busy people, I explained to my mom. Why not have a team of experts working to help you stay as healthy and as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible?

She never responded to my suggestions, but the more I learned about palliation, the more clearly I understood its value. So much of our experience with a disease happens outside of the fifteen minute doctor’s visit, and when things get complicated—as they invariably do with life-threatening diseases—it is always better to have as many knowledgeable people working together as possible.

While my mom never did pursue palliative care, our whole family saw the benefit of hospice. Our hospice nurse provided the perfect combination of gentle support and stern management of care. She cleared out unnecessary medications, set up pill boxes to help us stay organized, and established a medication schedule so that we all knew what mom needed, and when. She had all of us working together to care for my mom, and she did all this with a sweet Southern accent and a calm demeanor. She provided tremendous support for our family. She helped us understand what the last few weeks would be like. And when my mom finally slipped away, she tended to her gently and beautifully. 

The level of care and support our hospice nurse provided made me acutely understand what good-quality palliative care could have given my mother and our whole family.  And maybe we could have gotten just a little more time with her if we’d started out with palliative support.

When a person is buried in a cemetery, the family will often visit the gravesite to pay tribute to the person who died. In some ways, this final resting place becomes a new home for their loved one, and many people decorate headstones and gravesites to make the place feel as special as possible. In addition, decorating the grave can help make being at the cemetery a bit less painful, and can be a way to cope with grief. If you want to do something special at the gravesite of someone you love, here are a few ideas for how to decorate a headstone.

Many cemeteries have very strict rules about how headstones and gravesites can be decorated, so it’s a good idea to check with the cemetery about their rules before you decorate the grave.

Small stones

Placing small stones on a headstone is traditional for those of the Jewish faith, and dates back to the times when people were buried in the desert. This tradition has spread beyond Judaism, though, and it’s now common to see small stones on the graves of people of all faiths.

Flags

On holidays (such as Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day) you’ll often see small American flags placed by the headstones of veterans. But flags can be placed on anyone’s grave, and at any time of the year.

Seasonal decorations

Why not place a pumpkin next to the grave around Halloween? During the Christmas season you could put a wreath, poinsettia plant, or even ornaments near the headstone. Or on Valentine’s Day you could leave a bunch of roses and a card (though you might not want to leave any chocolates).

Solar lights

Many companies have created solar lights that can be attached to the headstone to illuminate the grave at night. These lights come in a variety of shapes, from a candle to a cross to spotlights that light up the entire grave. (Industrial designer Lauren Von Dehsen created a prototype "Grave Lights," pictured above.) Grave and Garden, Memorials.com, and Thompson Monuments all offer solar grave lights.

Flowers

While flowers are a common decoration, you shouldn’t feel confined to a bunch of traditional carnations. Feel free to bring an arrangement of your (or the deceased’s) favorite flowers, colors, or scents. Many flat grave markers have vases built in, where you can place the flowers, of you can put them on top of the headstone or on top of the grave. Some cemeteries even allow you to place a small plant in the area.

Blankets

If the cemetery is in a part of the country that gets cold in the winter, some people find comfort in placing a “blanket” on top of the grave to protect from the snow. This blanket could be an actual blanket, or can be made from Styrofoam covered in Evergreen branches. If you’re interested in “blanketing” the grave, be sure to get the measurements of the space so that your blanket will be the right size.

Toys and stuffed animals

Visiting the grave of a child can be particularly painful. Placing a toy or a stuffed animal at the headstone can be a real comfort. 

“How would you define a ‘successful’ life? Have you achieved it? Does ‘success’ even matter?”

This was a question posed on the question-and-answer website Quora. And I think it's a great question. If we accept that each day might be our last, how does that change the way we view our lives?

Here are some of my favorite answers, which illustrate the range of responses to the question:

What do you think? If you died today, would you die happy? We’d love to hear your response in the comments section below.

If you've even been on the receiving end of a terminal diagnosis or watched someone struggle with a serious illness, then you know about the identity crisis that strikes when someone becomes sick. Like patients, caregivers too must cope with forces that put pressure on their identities.

A serious diagnosis ushers in a tidal wave of new responsibilities, limitations, and priorities for a patient as well as a patient's caregiver. Caregivers are forced to bend and adapt in unfamiliar ways—ways that often force them to change their very natures.

I'll never forget the day when the figurative baton of power and decision-making passed from my mother to me. She was hospitalized at Georgetown University Medical Center due to a chemo-induced infection. Up to that point, my mother still made final decisions for our single-parent household. She was my mother, and that was her job. As her daughter, it was my responsibility to listen and do what she said.

Friends and family called and wanted to visit us in the hospital, but my mother rejected all overtures. She didn't want anyone to see her dressed as a patient in a hospital bed, hairless and pale. So we sat there—day in and day out, in what I'm convinced is the most depressing room in the entire world—preserving her dignity.

But I ached to let people in. As if having my mother in the hospital wasn't bad enough, the feelings of utter isolation and loneliness were enough to threaten my resolve. They were enough to break me. After several days, I couldn't take it anymore. I decided then and there that I wouldn't allow my mother to push people away when things were at their worst anymore.

"We have to let our friends in," I said to her, tears streaming down my face. "It's too much for just us. It's too much for me if it's just us."

And that was the first day of my reign as Executive Decision-Maker. It officially marked the start of my role as caregiver blurring with my role as daughter. In some ways, I assumed the role of parent, not because it felt right or was comfortable in any way, but because I had no other choice.

I made many important decisions after that, some my mother didn't agree with and most she didn't even know about at all. I decided when to call her doctors or 911, when to prioritize pain relief over chemo treatment, when to hire a full-time nurse, and when to let hospice enter our home.

I was 27 years old when I became my mother's caregiver. My old roles as daughter and child were suddenly gone and replaced by new ones—nurse, financial manager, and decision-maker. I felt overburdened and under-qualified. But when you're pushed into the deep end and panic washes over you, you quickly learn how to get your head above water, even if your stroke is more gawky than graceful, because sinking just isn't an option.

My mother died in January of 2010, and I am no longer a caregiver. In fact, I have reclaimed my role as daughter. Even though my mother is no longer around, I'm still her daughter. And when I wish she were here to advise or support me, I think back to a time before our roles reversed, to a time when she was my caregiver. I know her well enough to guess how she might advise me today.

So again, I'm listening and letting her weigh in, preserving the roles that make us both who we are, inherently and to each other, even though she is not physically present. And I can't think of a better way to preserve her dignity—the dignity that she fought so hard to keep during her final months.

In addition to writing about my experiences on the Everplans blog, I'm also sharing my story over at The Huffington Post. Please check it out!