Fairhaven Blog

Things of interest around Fairhaven.

Pets Are Family, Too!

- Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Fairhaven Memorial Park President Marla Noel“It came to me that every time I lose a dog, they take a piece of my heart with them; and every new dog that comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all of the components of my heart will be dog and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

- Anonymous

This saying rings true for any pet – they not only claim a piece of our hearts but become a part of our families. This makes losing a pet as difficult as losing a human loved one.

I was reminded of this just last week when one of our Fairhaven families lost their eight-year-old dog, Buck. He died unexpectedly, throwing the family into an emotional tailspin. At first they discussed getting a “new Buck.” However, once the shock wore off, they realized just how painful their loss truly was. When they opened the freezer to get ice, Buck always came running to snag a piece – but no happy canine came running now. When they returned home from a full day of running errands, he greeted them at the door with a toy clenched in his teeth – but now they come home to an empty house. The reality of his loss bit them hard and they couldn’t imagine getting another dog so soon. It would literally be like replacing a member of the family.

Eventually, the pain of loss subsides and time fosters healing. It can be difficult to tell children or adults grieving over a lost pet that it is healthy to grieve and everything will be better in time, but that is the truth. And actually, losing a pet can teach a family how to grieve. Our world today promotes strength and stoicism – showing emotion is often viewed as being weak. However, it is only when you allow yourself to feel sorrow that you can truly appreciate joy. Accepting the pain that comes with loss helps to relieve it. Some families are fortunate in that they don’t experience the loss of a beloved family member until later in life, so losing a family pet can prepare the entire family for the inevitable grieving process that is a necessary part of life.

We tell our families that part of the grieving process is commemorating a loved one’s life. Buck’s family plans to display photos of him in their home, which will help them feel his presence and remember their love for him. Another family I know assembled their favorite photos in a photo book, using the currently popular digital process, and made books for several grieving family members. And while animal funeral ceremonies are not very common, oftentimes families want to remain close to their pets that have passed – some keep their pet’s ashes in an urn or wooden box in a place of honor in the home, others bury them in their backyard.

However you choose to memorialize your pet and grieve – know that you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid to acknowledge the pain you feel. It’s understandable to feel and experience pain after losing a loved one – furry or not – who will forever have a place in your heart.

A Movie is Worth a Million Words

- Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A picture is worth a thousand words, and in this day of technology, a movie is worth so much more. With the New Year upon us, creating a movie of your loved one may be the perfect way to commemorate his or her life, and a great way to capture memories that can be replayed for years to come.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to be able to have a professional company videotape my parents. Initially, Mom and Dad were uncomfortable with this process. However, the woman, Mary Ann Osness from CorElAnn Video Productions spoke gently as she interviewed my parents, helping them to relax. She asked about where they grew up, how they met and many other questions.

During my father’s funeral service, we played the movie; my nephew read a eulogy; and my sister, niece and a few close friends spoke. I couldn’t have talked without sobbing, and didn’t try. After the service, many commented on how much they appreciated seeing the movie. The video of my father brought tears to everyone’s eyes and even a few chuckles when my father made humorous comments.

On the recording, my father talked about how he met – and courted – my mother. Few people in the audience knew what a true romantic my father was. He talked about a vacation we’d experienced and many other memories. My father talked for maybe ten wonderful minutes, which we shared with those who attended his funeral.

We will have this video of my father to show great-great-grandchildren someday, along with the pictures, of which there are many. But a movie with my father talking, his mannerisms, his voice, the way he used his hands to emphasize what he was saying and his sense of humor, is so much more meaningful. This movie is a precious memory.

I have suggested this type of movie to others. One of my friends who had just months to live came to me to pre-arrange her funeral. She followed my suggestion and made a movie with Mary Ann. In her video, she talked about so many things; about her vacations, her community involvement, and the many aspects of her life of which her children weren’t aware. She started several organizations and helped so many people. She was truly an inspiring woman. She did not brag or boast, but talked about the things she enjoyed.

The woman’s children were in their early twenties, too young for children of their own. They will be able to share her with their children and those who follow, because she knew how precious a movie would be for them. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a movie, so much more.

Always in Our Hearts

- Friday, December 19, 2014

For the past two evenings Waverley Chapel was filled with families who came together to remember loved ones they lost throughout the year. “Always in Our Hearts”, is our annual holiday remembrance program dedicated to our families who experienced the loss of a loved one. We invite all families to join us at this special service for a time to honor and cherish the special people no longer with us this holiday season. It is also a wonderful opportunity to connect with others who have experienced loss and who understand that the holidays can be a difficult time.


Chaplain Randy Hill shared some “Hope for the Holidays”, reminding us that even though the holidays can be sad after a loss, there is still always something to celebrate. The names of the loved ones that people came to honor were read and a member of their family came forward to accept a memorial ornament. The program concluded with the singing of holiday songs, lead by Tim Ringgold. Joy to the World was the last song of the evening.


Our goal is to provide our families with a special event where they can find comfort and support and leave filled with compassion and hope. It is an evening to remember those who will be Always in Our Hearts. Before our families left Chaplain Hill read a poem by Wanda Bencke, My First Christmas in Heaven.

I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below

with tiny lights, like Heaven's stars, reflecting on the snow.

The sight is so spectacular, please wipe away the tear,

for I am spending Christmas with God this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear

but the sounds of music can't compare,

with the Christmas choir up here.

I have no words to tell you, the joy their voices bring,

for it is beyond description, to hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me, I see the pain inside your heart

but I am not so far away, we really aren't apart.

So be happy for me, dear ones, you know I hold you dear.

And be glad I'm spending Christmas with God this year.

I send you each a special gift, from my heavenly home above.

I send you each a memory of my undying love.

So have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear.

Remember, I am spending Christmas with God this year.


Touching Lives

- Friday, October 10, 2014

Last week, in my Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) meeting, we had the opportunity to tour the Make-A-Wish Foundation office in Irvine. During our tour, one of my fellow members noticed I was very quiet and asked me if I felt okay. I didn’t know how to react but then realized I had very conflicting feelings about the work this organization does.

As a mortuary, one of the saddest situations we witness is the loss of a child. It’s heartbreaking for all of our staff and I can’t imagine how the parents must feel. I guess this is what I was thinking as we toured the office of an organization whose purpose is to provide enrichment to a life that may end soon. People frequently ask me how I’m able to work in a mortuary – after my tour, I wondered how a person can sit with a child who may have months to live and figure out how to grant a wish. My job is easy in comparison; I don’t know how I would handle helping so many little ones face the reality of death.

There are many angels out there; those who work with sickness, those who work in hospice, and those who work in organizations like Make-A-Wish. We’re lucky there are people among us who have found their calling. I feel fortunate to know about the angels who work at the Make-A-Wish Foundation – they add so much hope, strength and joy to such young lives.

Celebrating Our Melting Pot

- Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Death is a part of all our lives. Whether we like it or not, it is bound to happen. Instead of avoiding thinking about it, it is better to understand its meaning. If from the beginning your attitude is 'Yes, death is part of our lives,' then it may be easier to face.” – Dalai Lama

As president of Fairhaven, I have the opportunity to witness funeral rituals from all around the world. Recently, one of our families held a Buddhist funeral here that touched me. I’d like to share my experience with you, to show how important it is for every family to celebrate a loved one in their own way.

It was a warm summer day and family members dressed in beautiful white cloth – symbolizing grief and seriousness – gathered around the body of their loved one. Guests dressed in black joined in to pay their respect. The family invited a monk who chanted to encourage the good energy to be released from the deceased, to allow the soul to detach itself from this life. The room filled with positive energy and a moving feeling of love. The family expressed their gratitude to guests in attendance with a red envelope containing a gift.

Although I’m not Buddhist, this experience stayed with me, as do many others. Families come to Fairhaven with heritages from a variety of cultures and religions with Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist and Hindu the most frequent. All of us at Fairhaven have learned about the beliefs of each culture and religion as this helps us serve each family with sensitivity during a very stressful time.


No matter what culture or religion a person associates with, I can see from first-hand observations here how important it is to memorialize a loved one and honor the life they’ve lived. Expressing grief is a difficult process, but doing so in your own way can help you and your loved ones find comfort in the rituals and traditions of your culture. I do appreciate the cultural melting pot we see here at Fairhaven and I’m honored I get to observe so many interesting and loving tributes.

Helping Save Young Lives

- Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The loss of a child is one of the most devastating experiences a parent can ever face. Feelings of anger, depression and guilt can be long-lasting – and all are normal emotions during the grieving process. Many parents feel they have a hole in their heart that will never heal, because they’ve lost a piece of themselves and their future is forever changed.

Unfortunately, each year, prom season brings up the painful issue of teens driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the unfortunate likelihood that this can cause unnecessary – and preventable – death. Deaths that result from drunk driving happen regularly, not just during prom season. But at this time of year, we see more occurrences and we are reminded of the dangers of drunk and distracted driving, and the tragic deaths that can result from lack of focus behind the wheel.

That’s why high-risk prom season is an important time to raise awareness. Recently, Fairhaven took part in a public service program – and formed a partnership with the California Highway Patrol and Cornelia Connelly High School in Anaheim for the “Every 15 Minutes” program. The prevention and education campaign includes high school students reenacting a crashed car scene, a highly visual and shocking staged event with local law enforcement and emergency medical responders “treating” the injured as a crowd of students witnesses the dangers and consequences of driving impaired or distracted. Fairhaven assisted by transporting “fatalities” to our mortuary for identification by parents.

During the assembly that followed the mock crash scene and its aftermath, letters were shared from the “walking dead” students – emotional goodbye letters to their parents. One speaker also shared a special poem about the dangers of drinking and driving. Grief-stricken attendees watched in silence – moved by this life-changing and life-saving experience.   We can only hope the message was heard loud and clear – and that at least some tragic accidents, and deaths, were prevented.

Public service programs like this are powerful and are so important – we need to join together as a community to save lives this year, and every year. Unnecessary deaths can be prevented. At Fairhaven, we help families during their time of need. We hope public service programs, such as this one, can help prevent families from needing our services far too soon.  If you’re a parent of a teen, one way to help keep your child safe is by proactively opening a conversation about the dangers of distracted driving. Please, join us in spreading this important message. 

Beyond The Casket: Why Mass-Market Planning May Not Be the Best Option

- Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When the time comes to say goodbye and honor a loved one, it’s never easy, especially when a death is unexpected. In such situations, families are often thrust into the harsh reality of having to make arrangements while still overwhelmed with the grief and sadness that accompany mourning the loss of a loved one.

At times, the emotional stress family members feel can be virtually unbearable, and the search for peace can be challenging. I’ve been in the funeral business for many years, and remain convinced that grief is a process people go through at various rates. It’s my belief that the grieving process is not something that can be sped up, but it can be eased, allowing the therapeutic effects of real healing to emerge with greater impact.

One way to deal with grief is to allow it to run its natural course. Family members should be fair to themselves and to one another.  They should allow for mourning. Far too often, however, I’ve seen families scurrying to make burial and other arrangements – logistical concerns that may be necessary and understandable, but don’t allow for much in the way of needed time for healing.

It may be wise to give some thought to funeral planning before the immediate need arises. Not only will you be able to address a challenging topic with great sensitivity, but you’ll do so free of the emotional turmoil that so often permeates the death of a loved one.

Clearly, planning a funeral is a complicated process – but it doesn’t have to be. Mortuaries strive to help families with the decisions and arrangements that make for a unique and meaningful remembrance. Every family’s budget and cultural traditions are different, and a trustworthy and reputable professional will make a world of difference during the grieving process. Be open with and trust your funeral director to help you make the right choice for your family, so you can focus on what’s important: reflecting and honoring the life of a loved one – as well as your own healing.

One of the many ways to honor a loved one is with an appropriate casket. I’ve noticed that some “big box” stores are suggesting the separation of a casket purchase from the rest of the funeral planning. They advertise this as some kind of cost-saver but it may actually complicate the funeral planning process. 

The casket is just one piece of a delicate puzzle and when chosen in isolation, it’s rarely a smart decision. And, contrary to the opinions of some, it’s not a more cost-effective option.

The biggest problem in buying a casket from a retail store is that the seller is not a funeral director knowledgeable about the care, preparation and burial or cremation of the deceased. He/she likely is not experienced in working with families to create the overall funeral experience. Often, retailers are not licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs, which means less consumer protection for the purchase of these caskets.

I caution families about “ordering” funerals from a la carte menus. Each part of the process – from the casket and preparation, to the service and burial or cremation – needs to be developed together. It’s ideal when the process is pre-planned. But even families who must make decisions suddenly and quickly will do best by viewing the process holistically, not individual components to piece together.

In the end, saying goodbye is never easy. A meaningful service can help bring closure and comfort to a grieving family. Seek a warm and caring funeral director to help you create a perfect service. He or she understands the complexities of the funeral-planning process, which, when done correctly, can allow family and friends to celebrate and honor a loved one’s life.

Always in Our Hearts

- Friday, December 13, 2013

Always in Our Hearts…

For the past two evenings Fairhaven held their annual holiday memorial service, Always in Our Hearts, a remembrance program dedicated to families who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Every year we invite all our families to join us at this special service for a time of reflection to honor and cherish those they love. It is also an opportunity to connect with others who experienced a loss and understand that the holidays can be a difficult time for the bereaved.

“Isn’t it sad?" a friend asked me. 

Yes, the reason people attend is sad because it means they have lost someone they loved. However, the event itself is not sad, but touching and festive. It brings our emotions to the fore when we watch an entire family, a spouse, or a group of friends stand as they hear the name of their loved one read aloud. It  creates a sense of community rather than the loneliness that usually accompanies grief when the attendees watch the photo montage and see the pictures of those who are missed but never forgotten.  I think the bereaved find it encouraging to be reminded that they are not alone, that others have lost loved ones too and are facing the holiday without that special someone.

Randy Hill delivered a wonderful talk on having “Hope for the Holidays”, reminding us that even though the holidays can be sad after a loss, there is always something to celebrate. The names of the loved ones that people came to honor were read and a member of their family came forward to accept a memorial ornament. The program concluded with the singing of holiday songs, lead by guitarist Tim Ringgold. “Joy to the World” was the last song of the evening.

Our goal is to give each visitor a special time and place where they can find comfort and support. And so, my answer to my friend was, "No, it is not a sad event. It is filled with compassion and hope and is an evening to remember those who will be Always in Our Hearts."

Pastor Randy Hill concluded the evening with the poem "My First Christmas in Heaven" by Wanda Bencke.

I see the countless Christmas Trees around the world below
with tiny lights like Heaven's Stars reflecting on the snow.
The sight is so spectacular please wipe away that tear
for I am spending Christ with God this year.

I hear the many Christmas Songs that people hold so dear
but the sound of music can't compare with the Christmas Choir up here.
I have no words to tell you of the joy their voices bring
for it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me.
I see the pain inside your heart, but I am not so far away.
We are really not apart. So, be happy for me loved ones.
You know I hold you dear. Be glad I am spending Christmas
with God this year. I send you a special gift
from my heavenly home above. I send you each a memory of my undying love.

So have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear.
Remember, I am spending Christmas with God this year.

~ by Wanda Bencke
© Copyright 1999



Grief Books: What's Fresh on Amazon?

- Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Today, we’re taking a look at grief books on Amazon. If you got a Kindle for Christmas this is a great look at some of the grief books available online. Even if you don’t have an e-reader, most of these are available in paperback and some even in hardback. They are little gifts you can give yourself that can help you cope with your grief.

A search on grief books that are available on Kindle brings up a lot of stuff. There’s a publication from October 2012 called The Grief Book and the iconic On Grief and Grieving that was written by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross just prior to her death. There’s The Grief Recovery Handbook which has been around for more than twenty years. There’s books that use buzz words, A New Normal: Learning to Live with Grief and Loss. Then there’s the books broken down by the type of loss: Getting to the Other Side of Grief: Overcoming the Loss of a Spouse, Inside the Broken Heart: Grief Understanding for Widows and Widowers, Transforming Traumatic Grief: Six Steps to Move from Grief to Peace after the Sudden or Violent Death of a Loved One, When a Daughter Dies, When Mommas Cry, Grieving the Death of a Mother, Grief After Suicide, and others. There are grief books broken down by religion, by whether they are for adults, teens or children, by ethnicity and more. There are books in every conceivable sub-genre you can imagine. Finding what fits you can be daunting.

Now that you’ve decided to read up on grief support on your own, you head over to Amazon and get caught up looking at their never ending lists. You try to puzzle out which books to buy and put on the Kindle you got for Christmas, but how do you know what’s worth reading?

When we took a look at the categories on Amazon, we found it pretty difficult to find only non-fiction books about grief when doing just a search on the terms “grief” and “loss.” However, if you click on Best Sellers and then the Health, Fitness and Dieting category, under that category you will find the sub-category of Death & Grief. Under that, the category is broken down further by Grief & Bereavement, Hospice Care, Pet Loss, and Suicide. There’s still a few fiction books mixed in, but it’s a lot easier to weed them out now.

On the list that’s left we find Pat Schweibert’s Tear Soup, Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg, Kulber-Ross’s On Grief and Grieving, Zig Ziglar’s Confessions of a Grieving Christian, Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul, and numerous memoirs by people who lost a loved one. There’s some duplication too as some books are on the list as ebooks, paperbacks, hardbacks and audio books.

So how do you know what to buy? First, use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. This usually shows you the front and back cover, copyright info, table of contents and the first half dozen pages or so. There’s enough there for you to read and get a sense of the writer’s voice and style and the content of the book. Second, you can sort the books by bestselling and then check out the most popular ones omitting, of course, genre specific ones that don’t apply to you. (ie you’re a grieving widow so you don’t need the books pertaining to suicide unless that is how your spouse died.) Third, read the customer reviews to see what other readers have to say about the book.

Now, just remember that reader reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. They are subjective and your mileage may vary when reading a book. Still, the reviews can give you a sense of the book even if the reviewer didn’t like it. They may say something in their review that sparks something inside you and makes the book a good prospect for you even though that reviewer trashed it.

So what books are we reading? Here’s a list of the books we’ve read and liked, have on our shelves or have on our “to buy” list. There’s a mix of self-help, informational, and memoirs. They are all worth checking out on Amazon to see if they would suit your particular needs.

The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving by Dr. Debra Holland

Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright

Healing During Loss: The Rainbows of Memories Method by Barbara Warren

Stunned by Grief: Remapping Your Life When Loss Changes Everything by Judy Brizendine

Baby Boomers Face Grief by Jane Galbraith

On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back by Kelly Farley

No Time for Tears: Surviving Grief in America by Judy Heath

The Letter: My Journey Through Love, Loss and Life by Marie Tillman

The Long Goodbye by Megan O’Rourke

And don’t forget, Amazon also has programs where some books are free and/or can be borrowed. So don’t be afraid to try some of these books using those features.

In the wake of 9/11 and more recent tragedies like Sandy Hook, more people than ever are reading grief related books. Such tragic loss of life leaves everyone feeling shaken and asking “Why?” Books like the ones listed as well as books about the specific tragedy can help us sort out our emotions and make us feel better.

If you know of other helpful books on grieving please feel free to leave the title and author in comments for other readers. And for more information and support on Grief, be sure to check out our Grief Blog

Fairhaven’s Hope for the Holidays Remembrance Programs

- Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fourteen years ago, Fairhaven started Hope for the Holidays, an annual remembrance program to honor the families we serve and to recognize that the holidays are an especially difficult time after the loss of a loved one. Fairhaven’s two locations, Santa Ana and Mission Viejo, will be hosting Hope for the Holidays Remembrance Programs in December. Families are encouraged to submit photos of their loved ones for Fairhaven’s Memory Tree (either by mail or in-person), and each family will receive a beautiful keepsake ornament during the ceremony.

Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana is hosting remembrance services on December 12 and December 13 at 7pm in Waverley Chapel. The theme is “Always in our Hearts” and the evenings will include Pastor Randy Hill from Hope for Healing Hearts Ministries, music by harpist Toni Destro and a video montage. For more information about the Santa Ana services, please visit our Community Events Calendar.

Fairhaven Memorial Services in Mission Viejo is hosting its remembrance service on December 11 at 7pm in the Chapel. The theme is “Cherished Memories” and the evening will include Pastor Mike Foell from Mission Hills Community Church, music by Ernesto Ale and a video montage. For more information about the Santa Ana services, please visit our Community Events Calendar

Recent Posts



    Recent Tweets