Informative Articles

Talking to Children about Death

When we lose a loved one, it is often hard to comfort others – even our children. Parents often avoid talking to their children about death because they think it will upset them. But talking about death can help children deal with their fears.

Children react to death in different ways than adults, and sometimes they say things that seem odd or inappropriate. It is important to remember that your child is simply trying to understand and accept what has happened.

How to Explain Death to Children:

  • Explain what happened in a way they can understand.
  • Encourage them to talk. Listen and accept their feelings, no matter how difficult it may be.
  • Give clear, simple answers to their questions. Also, it’s okay to not have all the answers.
  • Help them understand that they will still be loved and looked after.
  • Show affection, support, and consistency. Let them know you will be there to help.
  • Share your feelings in a way they can understand and not be overwhelmed. It’s okay to let them
    know you hurt too.

Sonny, Janet and John

* Taken from “Coping with Loss” written by National Funeral Directors Association

Take Good Care of the Earth

Article prepared for The Jewish Funeral Directors of America
written by David M. Techner

“Take Good Care of the Earth”. This was the bumper sticker that found its way to the rear of many of the cars my friends and I drove in college. I would be less than honest if I did not admit that even though the message was subtle, 40 years ago my friends and I were unaware of the environmental challenges that would confront our generation as we entered the 21st century.

I can however state with pride the passion I see daily from my 3 adult children and their significant others as they confront the effects of generations whose indifference to the effects of their careless and clueless treatment of the earth that we we inhabit but claim our love for. From the current political climate, an economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression, it is impossible to watch the news, read the paper or surf the net without being confronted with talk of cleaning up the environment and teaching and learning “Green”.

As I entered the funeral profession in 1974, the two big issues confronting the funeral profession were the effects of Jessica Midford’s, “The American Way of Death”, a book slamming the funeral industry’s excess’s of over priced products and services, many of which she deemed as unnecessary. The second issue was seen as the challenge to the sacred “traditional funeral” which included embalming, a day or two of visitation with elaborate metal or wood caskets, concrete burial vaults, and flowers adorning chapels and churches and an almost certain ground burial. The issue was the growing acceptance of cremation as an alternative to ground burial, sometimes with a service taking place at a funeral home, but often with a memorial service taking place with arrangements handled by family and friends absent the funeral director.

The environmentalists spoke of the wasted land occupied by the dead and cemeteries while giving little consideration for the toxic chemicals released in the cremation process. Questions were asked how long before land no longer existed for ground burial and what, if any, was our plan B.

At a recent meeting attended by funeral directors, the speaker, a PHD in Ecology stated when the concept starts with burning ANYTHING, the environment is soon to become the loser. He spoke of the concept of “Green Burial” or “Natural Burial”. What is Green Burial.? Simple and natural, according to the website, greenburials.org. “Green burial, or natural burial, ensure the burial site remains as natural as possible in all respects. Interment is done in a bio-degradable casket, a shroud or a favorite blanket. No embalming fluid, no concrete vaults”.

As a Jewish Funeral Director and member of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America(JFDA), I can imagine the previous paragraph included with slight variations on every JFDA member’s website nationwide. A favorite blanket might accompany a shroud but not replace a shroud, and concrete vaults are often a cemetery requirement, but the intent is virtually the same . The terms “Jewish Burial”, “Green Burial” and “Natural Burial” are synonymous, for essentially they all mean the same thing. What’s notable is not that organizations like the Green Burial Council are relatively new, but that the sages of Judaism adopted these practices thousands of years ago.

“And thus we give back to the earth, that which was of the earth”, a prayer recited at a Jewish burial was not written with the environment in mind. It was so practical and sound in its roots, it has stood the test of time-some two to three thousand years. Although a common misunderstood fact that a plain pine box is a requirement, there is nothing written about any type of box or container to be used in a Jewish burial. It could be said that many of the edicts found in the green burial movement today are the adaptations of Jewish funerals in a modern day world. In Israel today, the body, or “Met” is brought to the cemetery in a container, removed and buried in the ground with friends, family and the community completing the task of burial. No casket, no vault, only the shroud.

As the movement in the funeral industry may be debated between green burials and cremations as it relates to the environment, JFDA members can sit this debate out, knowing that the sages of our tradition were not only scholars of their time, but in their wisdom were thousands of years ahead of their time as “protectors of the earth”. Their wisdom of “we come from the earth as so to the earth we shall return”, is not a convenient environmental debate, but what Tevya famously declared in “Fiddler on the Roof”, “TRADITION, TRADITION”!

For The Jewish Funeral Directors of America

Written by David M. Techner
The Ira Kaufman Chapel, Inc.
Southfield, MI

Sonny, Janet and John

What is a “Green Funeral”?

According to the Green Burial Council, “Green burial is burial that can take place without the use of formaldehyde-based embalming, metal caskets, and concrete burial vaults. It’s essentially the way most of humanity has cared for its dead for thousands of years up until the late 19th century.”

According to Mark Harris, author of “Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial,” “It’s a lot more than just about the environment. It’s a return to tradition. It speaks to the idea of dust to dust,” Harris said. “This is the way we used to bury people, in the first hundred years of our country’s history.”

This is exactly what a Jewish funeral entails. We do not use embalming, but instead use refrigeration. Not only are the caskets used in Jewish funerals constructed of wood, but they are assembled without the use of any metal or non-biodegradable fasteners. The caskets are assembled using glue and wooden dowels. Therefore, in accordance with Jewish Law, our caskets do not delay the “dust to dust” requirements.

Sonny, Janet and John

How to Comfort a
Bereaved Friend or Relative

“Thirty years after her son’s death, my friend still smarts when she remembers all the people who pointed out how lucky she was to have two other children. Another friend, whose brother recently died, grumbles that everyone keeps telling her it will get better with time. Having received my share of insensitive, even hurtful, comments after my son, Michael died 13 years ago, I certainly understand. Even people with good intentions often say and do the wrong thing.

If you want to comfort a grieving friend or relative, your primary task is to validate his/her feelings. Don’t say anything that minimizes those feelings – which, in effect, “de-legitimizes” them.


I’ve found that “de-legitimizers” can be divided into six categories…
Babblers These people chatter on about the weather, a friend who had a heart attack and so on. But ignoring the elephant in the room just makes it bigger.

Advice-givers People often give advice, such as, “Start dating again”…”take a long vacation”…”concentrate on your other children”…”it’s time to get over it”…”remember the good times.” But when we hear this advice, we may interpret it as, “What’s wrong with you? If only you would take my wise counsel, you’d feel better.” I remember that people advised me to take a sedative, but somehow I knew that I needed to shed a certain number of tears (more than I could ever have imagined) and that it would be counterproductive to try to mask my pain with medication.

Platitude-offerers When you spout clichés, such as, “God must have wanted him…he’s in a better place,” the bereaved may feel offended. You may prefer to believe God mush have wanted him, but the bereaved person may hate God at the moment and thus feel de-legitimized for feeling what he feels.

Pseudo-empathizers It’s particularly distressing for those experiencing “high grief” – for example, from the loss of a child – to hear, ” I know just how you feel.” If you haven’t experienced the same loss, you have no idea how a person feels – and maybe not even then.

Lesson-learners There may be profound lessons to be learned from tragedy, but it’s best to let others learn them in their own time and ways. Don’t say, “Everything happens for a reason”…”We must learn to appreciate our lives”…or “Life is short.”

Abandoners Whatever the conscious or unconscious rationalizations – such as fear of saying the wrong thing or feeling uncomfortable in the face of grief – if you walk away from a friend who needs you, you’re probably walking away from the friendship permanently.


Take your cues from the bereaved person. If he’s sitting quietly, sit quietly beside him. If he’s using humor to cope, laugh a little.

Let the grieving person tell his/her story in as much detail as he chooses to, even if he repeats it and it’s hard to hear. It helps the bereaved to tell and retell the story. If you’re not sure how to respond, try simply, “I’m so sorry” or even, “I don’t know what to say.”

Read a book on grief. You honor your bereaved friend by learning all you can. Good books include A Good Friend for Bad Times (Augsburg Fortress) by Deborah Bowen and Susan Strickler, and I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye (Sourcebooks) by Pamela Blair and Brook Noel. Or search on-line for information about grief under “grief” or “bereavement.”

Acknowledge the deceased person. Tell a wonderful anecdote about him. Even now, I am grateful when someone mentions my son, Michael. Just saying his name aloud brings him back into the world.

Contact the bereaved on significant days — birthdays, death days, anniversaries. These are difficult, especially “firsts.” Don’t avoid, ignore or forget them.

Offer practical and specific support. Pick up the kids from school… cook a meal… mow the lawn. Don’t say, “Is there anything I can do?” or “Call me if you need me.” Decide what you can do, and then do it.

Stay in touch. Remember that when the formal mourning period is over and the last casserole is gone, the bereaved is still grieving. Continue to call and get together.

Banish the word “closure” from your vocabulary. There is no such thing, and who would want it anyway? We incorporate our losses into our lives. Psychologists have proposed many ways to describe how we find a way to live with loss, but the one I find most useful is that we must “reinvest” in a new reality.

In memory of my son, I eventually wrote a novel. Also, my husband and I established an educational program for toddlers with special needs. But reinvestment can be private, too, revealed in a change in priorities, attitudes, interests or goals.

Meet us where we are. Don’t have expectations. Don’t compare one grief to another. Remember that grief may take years to work through. Be prepared for tears, moaning, sighing, wailing, trembling, even screaming.

Don’t take anger personally. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s classic five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — come not in stages but in circles and waves like a roller coaster. The best definition of compassion I’ve ever found is a Buddhist one — “Compassion is willingness to be close to suffering.”

Grief support takes work, stamina and commitment. Be present. Be humble. Be patient. Observe. Reflect. Allow silence. Don’t judge. Accept. Listen.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Fran Dorf, author of the novels Saving Elijah (Putnam), inspired by the loss of her son, Michael, and Flight (Vivisphere). She holds a master’s degree in psychology and conducts “writing for healing” workshops to help people cope with their losses, Stamford, Connecticut. www.frandorf.com.

Sonny, Janet and John

* Taken from the BOTTOM LINE, June 1, 2008