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Grief and Funerals

Though grief happens every day, it looks different for everyone. When you lose a loved one, it can feel like your whole earth is shattered. As you process your emotions while handling a funeral, you may feel lost, angry, or numb. Luckily, some commonalities among grieving friends and family members across the board can help you to understand your own grief better and muster up the strength to handle a funeral.  

The Grieving Process:
- Your journey through grief depends on several factors, including your relationship with the deceased, your own history with death, your involvement in post-death tasks, and external factors in your life. The five stages of grief are commonly referred to, yet many people don’t fully understand how these stages work. Though they are typically listed as one through five, they do not necessarily occur chronologically, and many people will move between the stages in a repetitive cycle. There is no timeline to grief, and you may sit in the stages for minutes, days, months, or years.

  1. The first stage of grief is denial. While this is not always the case, denial typically occurs before the other stages. Upon hearing about the death of a loved one, it may be hard to believe that it’s real, or you may feel numbness before you feel sad. Denial is a survival response that allows you to continue functioning with a sense of detachment from the crisis. The days following a person’s death are often laden with “to-dos” and essential tasks. Without this denial response, it is possible that you may be so overcome with emotions that you cannot function. 

  2. The second stage of grief is anger. No crystal ball will reveal who you are going to be angry at. You may feel anger towards the deceased, family members, medical professionals, friends, or even the universe. Regardless of where your anger is directed, it is valid and necessary for healing. Many people return to anger several times throughout the grieving process, and the more you allow yourself to feel angry, the faster it will go away.

  3. The third stage of grief is bargaining. Often confused with guilt, bargaining is the stage of grief that begins when you find yourself thinking of all the “what-ifs.” Your mind will likely start playing scenarios of how you or someone else may have been able to save the person. Bargaining keeps you living in the past and wondering how the death could have been prevented when there is typically no answer.

  4. The fourth stage of grief is depression. Not to be confused with mental illness, depression after death is one of the most common feelings for anyone who has lost a loved one. This deep sadness typically begins once you realize your loved one is truly gone. Like all the stages, this stage can last from days to years.

  5. The fifth and final stage of grief is acceptance. Acceptance comes when the loss no longer consumes your mind and your life. While it is still painful, you have chosen to leave it in the past, and the longer you stay in this stage, the more peace you experience. Throughout this final stage, it is not unusual to revisit the other stages briefly. Remember that grief looks different for everyone, and showing yourself some grace during the grieving process is important. 

Handling a Funeral:
- When planning the funeral for a loved one, it is important to find support. Lean on friends and family members and be reassured that you don’t have to do everything alone. Find a funeral home where you feel comfortable and allow people to help when they offer. No matter who you are, when the day of the funeral comes, you can take a few steps to prepare yourself for a difficult service. Always follow the dress code imposed by the family. While standard attire is semi-formal and dark colors, some families will request that attendees wear bright colors or fun patterns. Remember to take care of your physical needs (eating, sleeping, staying hydrated) before the funeral, and remain mindful of your emotional state throughout the service. Try not to repress any emotions, as this is a safe place to express your feelings. Listen to the stories and memories shared about your loved one and do your best to remember the fond times during their earthly presence. Glance around the room and observe all of the people who are there because they also love the person who has passed. Find comfort in knowing that your loved one is resting peacefully, and take care of yourself in the days and weeks following the funeral by reaching out to friends and family and accepting support when needed.

Headstones for Pets

Pet owners of all types know that our pets are a part of the family. Dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, and everything in between serve as integral members of the family who provide memories, laughs, and snuggles for years. Unfortunately, many people are all too familiar with the pain and devastation that comes with the loss of a beloved pet. When a pet dies, it can be just as painful as losing a human. With their unique personalities and unmatched loyalty, our pets play an important role in our lives, so much so that their sudden absence often leaves us feeling empty and broken. 

In the same way you would have a funeral for a deceased human, you should absolutely pay your respects to your dear furry friend. Headstones serve as a physical marker of the gravesite and offer a place where one can retreat to remember and sit with their lost pet. Gathering at this place of refuge during a small service and any time in the future acknowledges the emotional loss and sadness that comes with losing a pet. No one is ready to say goodbye when it comes time for your furry friend to cross that rainbow bridge, so a headstone is one way to memorialize your pet and bring comfort to the family. 

Many people don’t even know that pet headstones exist. Depending on your circumstances, there are a couple of options that may work best for you regarding the burial and memorial process of your pet. 

  1. Homemade Pet Headstone: If you have young kids in your family, making your own headstone for a beloved pet after it passes may be beneficial. During this process, children can learn about death and feel connected to the pet one last time. Including children in the process of the headstone, creation is a great way to recall fond memories with your pet and make the transition a little bit easier. Depending on your time, supplies, and skill level, there are a few different methods for DIY pet headstones.

- Make A Mosaic -- With a bag of concrete, a concrete mold, and some colorful beads, you have all the supplies necessary to make a lovely headstone mosaic. Pour the wet concrete into the mold and etch the name of your pet, along with any other desired text, in the cement with a stick. While the concrete is still wet, allow children to make a mosaic out of beads, buttons, or rocks. They can incorporate things that remind them of their pet. Once the concrete is dry, you can paint the stone with an outdoor paint or simply place it at the gravesite. 

- Find A Big Rock -- Save yourself the time and effort of creating your own slab. If you live in an area with rocky lakes or rivers, you can probably find a relatively large smooth rock that is perfect for a pet headstone. Once you find a rock, allow the kids to paint it with outdoor paint and write messages in permanent marker. If you have multiple children, let them find their own rocks to decorate individually. Whether your pet’s memorial site has one headstone or ten, it’s sure to be a testament of love.

- Wooden Memorial -- Although headstones are typically made of concrete or stone, a wooden memorial can serve the exact same purpose! Tell your family to think of a shape that reminds them of your furry family member. It could be a cross, a heart, a paw, or anything else! Once you’ve decided on a shape, go to a craft store and see if you can find it. If not, many hardware stores sell slabs of wood that you can carve to your desired shape. Either carve or paint your pet’s name on the wood and allow the children to decorate the rest.

  1. Custom Pet Headstone: If DIYs aren’t your thing, you can order a custom headstone for your pet the same way you would order one for a human. Typically, pet headstones are smaller, but you can still include any information you desire. Add a paw print or a picture of your pet for an extra personal touch. The choices that come with pet headstones are endless so you can pick the color, shape, and style that work best for you.

No matter how you memorialize your pet, remember that losing your companion is never easy. We hope you find refuge in remembering your furry friend every time you visit the headstone that you so lovingly gifted them.

The Importance of Headstones

The original purpose of headstones, after their invention in the distant past, was simply to mark the grave of a deceased person. This usage has become more complex as headstones are now used as an honorary memorial for the deceased and a marked place for loved ones to grieve. A headstone serves as a physically tangible reminder of a loved one even after they have passed. They provide a place for friends and family to reflect on the life of their loved one, and their customizability allows passersby in the cemetery to gain a brief insight into the life of the person that lies below. Headstones endure harsh conditions as permanent parts of the landscape despite time, weather, and earthly elements. The permanence of headstone memorials provides a comforting counterbalance to the impermanence of life and there are numerous reasons why they matter. 

  1. Identification: Going back to the underpinnings of headstones, identification is one of their primary functions. Typically, headstones include information about the deceased, including their name, birth date, death date, and even more personal details like where the person is from, the names of family members, and the person’s occupation. This type of identification sets the person apart from other people in the cemetery and provides crucial details for family and friends to be able to locate their loved one. Especially in large cemeteries, it can be easy to forget the exact resting spot. When future generations visit the grave, they likely rely on directions via word of mouth. It is for these reasons that the inclusion of identifying information is crucial on all headstones. Decades or even centuries down the road, ancestors may use headstones to trace lineage. The words engraved on each stone are essential in identifying and memorializing the deceased for years to come. 

  2. Representation: Among names and other identifying information, one can often find symbols and motifs engraved on headstones. In many religions, an earthly departure is a significant event in a person’s life. In order to ensure that the spirit is prepared to cross over to the afterlife, many loved ones will affirm the deceased’s religious beliefs on their headstone. While some may opt for quotes from their sacred text, others choose symbols to represent different aspects of faith. Popular Christian symbols include a cross, angels, doves, lambs, and other biblical figures. Other religions use symbols from their faith, like fruit, animals, and astrological images. Heritage is another aspect of identity that is also frequently displayed on headstones. Images of flags or clovers represent the culture within which the deceased lived. Symbols on headstones offer a glimpse into the life, personality, and values of the deceased. Whether friends and family are visiting the stone to reflect or strangers are taking a stroll through the cemetery, everyone gets a chance to know the deceased beyond surface-level identifiers. 

  3. History: Beyond comforting loved ones, headstones can be used as historical artifacts that offer insight into the past. As technology improves, headstones are created out of more durable materials that will last longer than ever before. Historians use centuries-old headstones to draw a number of conclusions. Speculations about certain time periods and causes of death have helped uncover information in ways that other artifacts cannot. To researchers and historians, headstones are historic documents that tell meaningful stories. Not only do they get to learn about people who lived hundreds of years before them, but they also collect the information to use for the common societal good. 

  4. Memorial: A headstone is often the last earthly reminder that remains after a person passes. Over time, their worldly possessions will disperse and disappear, yet their headstone will remain a lasting reminder of their important presence on earth. One of the significant purposes of headstones is to provide a place for loved ones to grieve, communicate, and celebrate with their family member or friend. The information on headstones humanizes the deceased and serves as a reminder of their life rather than a statement of their death. The presence of a headstone is a proclamation that there is a person who lies beneath. The headstone honors the person’s name and the importance of their existence on earth. 

There are countless reasons why headstones matter. Headstones communicate that even though their physical body is gone, their spirit remains accessible. Customization and modern technology allow families to create a highly personalized headstone that encapsulates the spirit of their loved one so it can live on for centuries.

The Meaning Behind Common Symbols on Headstones

With the earliest ones dating back thousands of years, headstones carry a long history of commemorating the graves of loved ones through a globally recognized stone of personal identification. In modern times, headstones have become quite customizable, allowing families to include engravings of their deceased loved one’s name, birthday, death day, and even quotes, messages, and the name of other family members, depending on the size of the stone. Ranging from very small to quite large, headstones can provide an interesting walk through a cemetery ridden with history, glimpses of the deceased’s personalities, and generations of stories. 

Walking through a cemetery, you may notice a trend among many headstones. For centuries, symbols and motifs have been used to portray different messages at the gravesite. Though many things have changed regarding headstone production and appearance, traditional symbols have remained consistent and widespread for many years.

While headstones may be pretty, they are more than decoration. For many loved ones, they serve as a final goodbye and resting place for the deceased. Adorning the stones with icons that symbolize the virtues and life of their loved ones serves as a memorial that will withstand the tests of time. 

  1. Anchor -- For decades, the anchor has served as a motif representing multiple things. Military graves with anchors often pay homage to sailors and men who died at sea. Pay close attention to the details of the anchor because they can uncover further information. Anchors with a severed chain often represent premature death, while an intact anchor symbolizes hope. Occasionally, the anchor is accompanied by a cross that guides the way to secret meeting places.

  2. Book -- Whether the person was a writer, teacher, or another kind of scholar, their headstone may incorporate the image of an open or closed book. This symbol pays homage to the knowledge, wisdom, or faith the deceased possessed during their lifetime. If the headstone remains in pristine condition, you may even see the type of book engraved on the stone. Blank books often represent academia, while religious books represent a lifetime of faithful devotion.

  3. Dove -- The presence of doves on a headstone represents peace and purity. A symbol of hope as Noah released the dove off the Ark, an ascending dove guides the spirit safely to heaven, while a descending dove represents Jesus’ descent from heaven. The religious connotations of doves are often taken further, including a cross or twig in the dove’s beak. This symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith often makes its way onto the headstones of people who practiced religion during their lifetime.

  4. Lamb -- Representing purity, innocence, and gentleness, lambs, often sit atop the gravesites of children. Usually, the lamb is lying down and resting. Sometimes it is accompanied by a cross to illustrate the connection between the animal and the “lamb of God.” Lambs can be found in unfortunate abundance in many older graveyards. Centuries ago, the death of children from illness was common, so the high population of lambs in a given cemetery is a solemn reminder that childhood was not always carefree.

  5. Clover -- Some symbols, like the clover, can have multiple meanings. Though the four-leaf clover is a less common marking on gravesites, the three-leaf clover commonly represents two separate things. The three leaves can serve as a Christian symbol of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which also incorporates life from the natural world. It is also possible that a gravesite marked with a three-leaf clover is the final resting place of someone of Irish heritage. 

  6. Harps -- Considered the instrument of angels, harps exemplify heavenly music. Sometimes harps and lyres are interchangeably used on headstones but are typically found on the stones of people who practiced or enjoyed music during their lifetime. This small instrumental dedication on the deceased’s headstone is often an earthly hope that the person is continuing to enjoy music in the heavens. 

  7. Fruit -- While certain fruits, like pineapples, represent individual traits of hospitality and celebration, groups of fruit on a headstone symbolize eternal abundance. This image serves as a well-wishing to the deceased from their loved ones on earth as they hope for heavenly feasts and fulfillment in the afterlife. 

  8. Obelisks -- Often appearing quite obviously in the headstone shape, obelisks became a popular way of memorializing loved ones during the 19th century. Still widely used today, obelisks form the shape of petrified rays of sunlight that symbolize greatness and a connection between heaven and earth.

Next time you walk through a cemetery, pay attention to the symbols on headstones! You will likely recognize some of these common motifs and be able to learn about the fascinating lives of the deceased. Every headstone marks the final resting place of an individual who lived a life rich with unique experiences and virtues. 

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