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My family isn't religious so a traditional funeral or memorial service isn't right for us. What are our options?

More and more, people are expressing their spiritual beliefs in less traditional ways. However, the point of a funeral or memorial service is to celebrate a life lived. This can be done any way your family chooses and the possibilities are endless. Perhaps a party in your loved one's honor, with videos, photos, memorabilia, food and drink is more your style. We can help you achieve a celebration that is a perfect fit for your family.

My father always said he didn't want a funeral, but I feel like we need to do something to acknowledge his life. Is it wrong for me to go against his wishes?

This can be a difficult and emotional situation for a family. Many times when someone says they don't want a funeral, the funeral itself is not the issue. They may be trying to spare their family the sadness and expense people associate with a funeral. They may not think they are "special" enough to warrant an event in their honor. Or maybe they had a bad experience and don't want it repeated. Whatever the reason, one fact remains: funerals and memorial services are not for the dead but for the living. Ultimately, this is a decision your family has to make, and there isn't a wrong choice if you do what you feel is best.

Should young children be allowed to view a dead body?

This is entirely up to the child's parents. It is our instinct to protect our children from anything that might seem harmful or uncomfortable and death is certainly a sad event. But death is also a part of life. Some parents absolutely forbid their children to view while others turn it into a teachable moment. In our efforts to shield our children from anything we consider bad, many of us lose sight that young people have ideas and needs of their own and are often very capable of making their own decisions. Surprisingly, children often cope with seeing the body of a loved one better than we think they will.

I want to pre-plan my funeral so my children won't have to worry about it. Is this wise?

It is always a good idea to make your wishes known so there is little confusion or unnecessary stress put on your family. Whether you want to be buried or cremated and where your remains will be buried or scattered are important decisions that you should share with your loved ones, as these two issues are often points of contention between family members. As for the memorial service, it perfectly fine to let others know what you would prefer. However, keep in mind that planning a memorial service can be extremely therapeutic for those who grieve. It is wise to make firm decisions on the important things but remain flexible on choices that others might benefit from by making themselves.

What do I say to someone who has recently lost a loved one?

Most of us have been in the uncomfortable situation of coming face to face with a friend who has experienced a loss. We want to say something, but it's hard to know what. Many times people will avoid the subject, or even avoid the grieving person altogether in order to spare ourselves the discomfort. Though our intentions are good, this silence or avoidance can often amplify their sense of loneliness. They certainly haven't forgotten their loved one and they don't want to think others have either. Any kind words of encouragement, no matter how futile they seem, are usually appreciated. Your support lets your friend know you remember his or her loss and acknowledge the significant impact it has had in their life.