How “Day of the Dead” Helps Families Grieve

November marks the beginning of “Day of the Dead,” a national holiday in Mexico where families celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. Today we want to share a touching story from NPR about how the holiday helps families grieve.


The story is from NPR’s Vertamae Grosvenor whose son-in-law Beau was killed in a car accident the day before she was to put her 8-year-old grandson Oscar on a flight to see him. When Oscar asked why his father died, she decided to take him to Oaxaca, Mexico to experience the “Day of the Dead” holiday.

“Shortly after my mother passed in 1993, I went to Oaxaca on assignment during the Days of the Dead celebration,” Grosvenor said. “Death was everywhere. It was impossible to avoid, yet I came away comforted.”

In Oaxaca, Oscar and Vertamae saw murals that displayed death with thousands of different faces. There were altars for the dead in restaurants, homes and hotels. Family reunions were going on all over the cemetery.

“People were talking, eating, and communing with their relatives, living and dead,” Grosvenor said.

Oscar found solace building an altar to his father and seeing others grieving for their ancestors. “They’re feeling what I’m feeling, but in a different way, because somebody else died in their family,” said Oscar. “I think they’re under a lot of stress, too. So, everybody here is even.”

Grosvenor asked Oscar what he meant by being “even.” “Everybody lost a mother or father or aunt. They could die in a car accident like my dad, or they could die from breast cancer like my auntie, or they could just die normally like my great-great grandmother,” said Oscar. “It’s hard to go through. You just gotta go on. You can never give up on your ancestors.”

In their hotel room, “we built an alter for Oscar’s father, made of things we bought at the market and treasured things that we’d carried with us from home. It was Oscar’s first altar,” Grosvenor said.

“I like the altar. I hope my dad will come to eat some candy, and smell all these flowers. I hope my dad can find the altar, wherever he is,” said Oscar.

She asked Oscar if he had felt his Dad’s presence at any point. “When I was asleep, I felt a wet thing on my cheek and I felt something wrap around me. I think it was my dad giving me a hug and a kiss good night,” he said.

In the end, Vertamae and Oscar came to the “Day of the Dead” celebration, “hoping to help Oscar find an answer to why death came for his dad. We left Oaxaca without answers, but we came away comforted,” she said.

Listen to the story here.

Reprinted with permission from


7 Keys to Protecting Your Family’s Future

Guest post for Passare from Anne Elizabeth Denny


Linda’s story broke my heart. Linda’s life was devoted to her family. With great pride, she told me her life’s work and her greatest source of joy was caring for and nurturing her six children. As adults, her children and spouses enjoyed one another’s company.

With 14 grandchildren, holiday celebrations were filled with laughter, great food, and wonderful commotion. After Linda’s husband died unexpectedly at 57, her children rallied around her with tremendous support as she re-invented her life as a new window.

At 62, she received her unexpected diagnosis—stage 4 breast cancer. For a time, she fought valiantly through chemo. As we sat in her hospital room, she described how earlier in the week she could hear her children arguing in the hallway about her treatment choices as she was losing her battle with cancer. Linda’s breathing was labored as she shared her story.

Apparently, her sons and one daughter were debating the merit of allowing the doctors to use a ventilator to assist with her breathing if necessary. “What if CPR is necessary?” asked Tom. “That’s not what Mom wants, “ Sarah choked through her tears. “We should let her die peacefully.” “Mom is still young and she can beat this,” argued John, the eldest son. “After all, the doctor said there was still hope.” With that, John cornered the doctor and demanded, “Do everything you have to do to save Mom.”

Though they thought she didn’t know, Linda was painfully aware and somewhat shocked that her daughters were quarreling with one another over who would inherit Grandma’s heirloom diamond earrings. Meanwhile, Linda had overheard her youngest son, Jim, whisper something about how much this was all costing. Linda knew he’d been squeezed financially after his position was eliminated at work. He seemed more interested in his inheritance than Linda’s care. This was becoming ugly.

Five years ago, Linda would never have imagined hearing these kinds of hushed conversations while she slipped in and out of restless sleep. After a few minutes of quiet, Linda mustered her strength and whispered, “Listening to their bitter arguments is like having them spit in my face. My life’s work—this beautiful family Paul and I created—is being erased because I didn’t prepare them for my death. Our family is a mess. This is more painful than the chemo was.”

Families can—and do—unravel as a parent approaches the end of life, regardless of age. As parents, we have the opportunity—and truly the responsibility—to help our families survive the stress and strain as we move through the end of life journey. You can help your adult children cope with the future reality of your passing by preparing them and by making your wishes clear.

These seven keys can protect your family from disintegrating when you, or your spouse, are nearing the end of life.

  1. Write a meaningful and effective healthcare directive and share it with all your family members. A healthcare directive is the legal document that expresses your healthcare treatment preferences if you are unable to make your own decisions. Clearly communicating your end-of-life medical preferences is instrumental in pre-empting arguments over your care. So too is appointing your healthcare agents—those legally empowered to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make or communicate your own wishes.
  2. Purchase long-term care insurance if at all possible. Yes, it is expensive. But the statistics on the cost of care, and the number of us who will need long-term care, makes a compelling case for this investment for our future, and to spare our children from the financial stress our care will impose on their families.
  3. Establish an estate plan with an elder law attorney or estate attorney. Then make sure your children know there’s an estate plan. Share what you feel is appropriate. Taking the mystery out of what will happen after you are gone might stem the tide of conflict and jockeying for favor or power.
  4. Choose whether you will be buried or cremated. If you will be buried, make your casket selection in advance. Have financial resources set aside that are immediately accessible to cover these expenses. By making your own selection, you might spare your children from the impulse to make purchases spurred on by their own emotions. If you prefer cremation, expressing this intention now can avert emotional battles for your children who might be uncomfortable with the idea. Help them to understand your reasoning so they can accept this choice.
  5. Pre-plan your funeral or memorial service. With just a few minutes of effort, you can share your thoughts on paper regarding the type of music you would request, any favorite readings, and whom you hope will offer the eulogy.
  6. Give family heirlooms as gifts in present time. Tell the story of the heirloom’s significance while you are able. Experience the joy of giving while you are living. Or, write out the story and make the intended recipient of the gift clear so arguments do not ensue.
  7. Hire a professional organizer to help you “thin out” your belongings. Forcing children to sort through forty years of belongings is rife with emotional landmines. As parents, we’ve sacrificed for our children, beginning with all-night vigils through the flu, surviving their teenage years filled with attitude and drama, and on into the adult years as we worry about their life choices.

Preparing our children and grandchildren for the eventual reality of our death is one more act of selfless love. With proper preparation, you have the opportunity to impart peace of mind by ensuring your loved ones understand and can confidently honor your end of life wishes. By earnestly sharing your wishes and telling your children what you’ll need, you can pave the way and set expectations. You can protect your family’s future peace through a graceful end of life journey.

Speaker, author and blogger Anne Elizabeth Denny inspires peace of mind by educating and equipping families to share meaningful conversations about future healthcare choices. Anne graduated from the University of Notre Dame. She has served as a business consultant in the healthcare industry since 1995. Anne’s professional and personal experiences inspired her to write her book My Voice, My Choice: A Practical Guide to Writing a Meaningful Healthcare Directive, create her blog, and develop healthcare directive software for healthcare delivery systems. 

Reprinted with permission from

Have the Talk of a Lifetime

Planning for end of life issues can be a very sensitive subject to bring up with family and close friends. But it’s a talk that can make the difference between having a good goodbye or a tragically complex and difficult road ahead.


The Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC) is an organization dedicated to offering direct and open information regarding death care and memorialization. FAMIC has developed a public awareness campaign urging families to “Have the talk of a lifetime,” and offering helpful resources to get started.

Having the talk of a lifetime means that you not only talk about end of life matters, but also about what matters most to your loved one and how they feel like they’ve made a difference. These discussions can help family members learn what is most important to loved ones, and what they value most in life.

Some questions you could use to start the talk are:

  • What is your proudest achievement?
  • What was the one piece of advice you received from your parents or grandparents that you never forgot?
  • Tell me about the most memorable summer you had growing up.
  • Tell me about your favorite teacher; what did you learn from him or her?
  • If you could spend a day doing anything you like, what would it be?
  • Who has been your greatest inspiration?

You may want to record your conversation so that you have these stories to share with other family members and younger generations. As you talk about the impact of your loved one’s life, end of life topics such as funeral wishes, healthcare preferences, and desires for allocating assets may arise.

Begin to think about assembling an end of life team that can help you and your loved one navigate all of these issues. Your end of life team may include a legal advisor, financial advisor, healthcare team, Veterans service officer, Medicaid specialist, and funeral planning specialist, to name a few.

With the help of these and other professionals, you will be able to create an end of life plan that protects immediate family members and paves the way for a better quality of life for both you and your loved one. For tools and resources for having “the talk,” go to

Reprinted with permission from

Talking with Your Kids About Death

Our friends at Reno Dads Blog recently tackled the complicated topic of how to explain death to our children. Big thanks to Mike McDowell for his words and permission to share them here. 

I remember that day clearly. As I drove my son (then 6 years old) home from school, I came to a stop at a traffic light.
Hey dad,” his little voice snuck to my ear from the back seat.
Yeah, buddy?” I replied, casually.
What happens to us when we die?” he asked me.

Oh no, I wasn’t ready for this conversation yet! I stared straight ahead as we waited there for the light to turn green, and I felt as though my silence was lasting far too long. I needed to reply. As my mind panicked, searching for a way to shape the perfect response to one of mankind’s most profound and eternal questions, I came up with the perfect dad response: “What do you think happens?

Well,” he said, “In school today, we learned that when plants and trees die, they return to the soil and come back as a new plant or tree. I think that’s what happens to us when we die – we come back as a new person.”

My mouth smiled wide and my eyes began to well up a bit. What a simultaneously insightful and beautiful observation coming from my young son, who previously had such astute pronouncements as, “farts are funny.” Proudly, I replied, “There are a lot of people who think that’s exactly what happens to us. But, nobody really knows for sure.

Death is a challenging subject to discuss and accept, for both adults and children. When it comes to introducing the concept to a child, it’s not always easy to know what to say. After all, death can be emotionally painful to deal with, and as parents we instinctively want to protect our children from pain. It’s difficult for us to tell a child that somebody they love is gone forever (be it the death of a family member or beloved pet), especially in a way that their still-developing minds can process.

Before I go any further, I’ll tell you that I’m not a professional grief counselor (far from it). That’s why I chose to speak to Emilio Parga, the Founder and Executive Director of The Solace Tree, a Reno-based non-profit organization that helps children, teens and adults to cope with the death of loved ones. Parga provided me with valuable guidance on this topic, and I’d love to pass it along to you, should you be faced with the seemingly inevitable moment(s) you’ll talk with your children about death.

Click here to read more.


The Art of the Obituary

Obituaries are essentially journalistic profiles that open windows into the recent past. So, how do you distill a life into 68 words?


Writing about a life well lived is an art. You don’t need to be Ernest Hemingway to get it right, but you might want to see how the pros memorialize the lives of public figures to bring some sparkle into summing up the life of your loved one.

Chances are your loved one wasn’t a public figure or a celebrity and they didn’t have a chance to hire a professional writer to sum up their life before passing.

Here are some guidelines to help you craft the perfect story about a life well lived:

  • Think about where you would like to publish your loved one’s obituary. The New York Times or the Poughkeepsie Journal? The audience and writing styles differ from one publication to another.
  • Brainstorm beyond the facts: the marriage, the kids, the job and the location of the services don’t always sum up a life. Include an anecdote or two, like her passion for gardening or his volunteer work in coaching little league.
  • Keep it human, lively, and interesting. Pretend you’re a journalist writing about a great person – almost everyone has something notable to write about.
  • Decide in advance (if placing the obituary is your responsibility) if it’s okay to include the cause of death, this could be a touchy subject with the family.
  • Newspapers charge per word, don’t be cheap with the word count, this is the last message, which will sum up this persons life, and they deserve a good send off.
  • Think beyond the nuclear family unit: yes, immediate family should always be listed, but there is also chosen family which may be very important to your loved one, like a partner, care giver, best friend or roommate.
  • The ‘devils in the details:’ check the time and place, of all associated funeral events, and then check again, (especially if you’re in a state of shock). Have a calm, detached friend look over the obituary as a fail safe.

Below is a cut-and-dry personal bio outline you can use to get started. This type of information is usually included in every obituary.

  • The name of your loved one
  • Date and place of death
  • Birth date, age of death
  • Upbringing (education, hometown, etc)
  • Marriage Info
  • Accomplishments
  • Work history
  • Personal achievements, rewards, community service
  • Unique characteristics
  • Surviving family members
  • Charity donation
  • Funeral service information

Here’s one of our favorite obituaries, its also a great example of how to summarize a life well lived in 32 words.

Elvis Presley, who revolutionized American popular music with his earthy singing style and became a hero to two generations of rock ‘n’ roll fans, died yesterday in Memphis, Tenn. He was 42. Read more.

Reprinted with permission from

Comforting a loved one at the end-of-life

comforting-a-loved-one-at-end-of-lifeFacing the death of a loved one is an incomparable emotional challenge. When your loved one’s End of Life is imminent, allow yourself to be present with them. Focus on the time you have together. This can enrich your relationship and provide meaning, peace and comfort to both of you at this important, inevitable time.

Gather Close Support Resources

Help your loved one gather those who are closest to them. Remember to reach out for support for yourself and your own family too.

Consider gathering these people when a loved one’s End of Life is near:

  • Close family and friends
  • Healthcare proxy and/or Will executor
  • Hospice or palliative care providers
  • Religious or spiritual advisors
  • Therapists, counselors or psychologists
Offer Reassurance and Emotional Support

Each person’s emotional needs differ in the final stages of life. Many worry about loss of control and dignity as their physical abilities decline. Some fear being a burden to their loved ones yet also fear being alone.

Your loved one’s physical strength and cognitive functions may diminish, yet their capacity to feel peaceful and secure may remain. They may no longer recognize you, but may draw comfort from your companionship, touch or the sound of your voice.

Late-stage caregivers can offer emotional comfort in the following ways:

  • Provide company: Talk to your loved one, read to them or simply sit and hold their hand
  • Promote a calm environment: Create a soothing atmosphere; communicating through sensory experiences such as touch or singing
  • Bring small pets: Small pets or trained therapy animals may bring comfort to even very frail patients
  • Offer familiar remembrances: Surround your loved one with pictures and mementos, reading treasured books and playing favorite music
  • Remain attentive: Avoid burdening your loved one with your feelings of fear and sadness; discuss your grief with a supportive, appropriate listener instead
  • Listen without interruption: Let your loved one express their fears about death; communicating their thoughts may help them accept the reality of their End of Life
  • Allow them to reminisce: Remembering life experiences provide perspective. Recalling positive life stories may help promote dignity and comfort.
  • Provide information: If they are still able to comprehend, most patients prefer to be Include patients in discussions that concern them or their care
  • Honor their wishes: Reassure your loved one that you will faithfully honor their wishes, including ADs and wills
  • Respect their requests and privacy: For most, End of Life is about preserving dignity and ending their life as comfortably as possible

Reprinted with permission by

6 Reasons elders inspire innovation


One undeniable fact is once Baby Boomers start retiring, America is going to lose a large part of our workforce. But in a paper recently published by the journal PLOS ONE, a group of researchers believe having a larger aging population could be to our advantage.

Here are six reasons why:

1. More people will have time to innovate

Think about the innovation potential of the tens of millions of retiring Baby Boomers. They are relatively healthy, educated and financially secure and now have the leisure time to tinker and innovate.

2. The education level of our workforce will increase

An overall increase in education level will offset the loss in our labor force. “Think of America’s future workforce in terms of a smaller pool of highly productive workers rather than a shrinking pool of average productivity workers,” writes Dominic Basulto of The Washington Post.

3. More people will be healthier, greener and more productive

“Think of this demographic shift as a net gain of people who are healthier, greener and more productive,” writes Basulto. “These people will care more about innovations in areas ranging from health care (since they are living longer) to renewable energy (since they will be consuming fewer energy-intensive goods.”

4. There will be more “encore entrepreneurs”

The AARP and the Small Business Association (SBA) recently promoted the idea that “encore entrepreneurs” older than 50 might be an unexpected source of innovation activity for the American economy. “Many new entrepreneurs are saving their best acts for their encore performance,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills. “They’re using their decades of expertise and their contacts to start new businesses and to finally pursue that venture that has been stirring their dreams for all these years.”

5. Retired Boomers will fund late stage Venture Capital financing

A renewed focus on encore entrepreneurs might lead to a boost in late-stage venture financing. “With all that extra leisure time on their hands, Baby Boomers might decide to launch new ventures in fields that help them lead better, more productive lives as they age,” writes Basulto. “Who says you can’t launch a new venture at age 65? Or become an angel investor in a new start-up at age 80?” 6. America will be forced to create innovations for an aging society A larger aging population will force us to develop the kind of innovations that cater to their needs. “We need to focus on the quality of life of elderly people and that’s going to require big changes,” writes Basulto. “Perhaps states like Florida with a high concentration of retirees may one day become a hub for the development of technologies devoted to aging Americans.”

Read the story here.

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