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.

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.

No Regrets, Please

- Friday, June 20, 2014

Regret. It’s one of life’s most uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, emotions. When we wish we had done something differently, but can’t go back and change it, we are likely to feel regret. In my position here at Fairhaven, I frequently encounter people that feel regretful. Perhaps most common is the feeling that they have not spent enough time with a loved one.

But another whole category of regret involves decisions people wish they had made earlier in life. For example, I encounter widows who wish they had taken time to understand their finances before their husbands passed away. I meet widowers who regret putting off trips they always talked about, but never found time to take before their wives became ill.  For some, the regret involves not moving to a retirement community, or just downsizing into a smaller, more manageable home. The list goes on and on.

The lesson learned here is that we should not wait too long to make decisions that will shape the last years of our lives. Perhaps the best time to evaluate these decisions is when retirement is looming. This is the time when questions need to be raised about what you -- as a couple or an individual -- want to do in the years ahead. Where will you live? Is your estate plan set? Will your heirs have a huge tax burden because you didn’t do enough estate planning? Are there trips on your bucket list? Are you working with advisors to guide your decisions -- an attorney, CPA and financial advisor?

Of course, I also hear regret related to not planning ahead for funerals.  People who take the time to talk among themselves, including with their adult children, are usually much less stressed when the time comes for the arrangements. Naturally, they are grieving, but much of the stress is gone.

Many people find it difficult to talk about death, especially their own. I’ve found that conversations about funeral pre-planning are naturally prompted by attending a funeral. Actually, any ceremony, even a wedding, can lead to these kinds of conversations. And these conversations are so useful, resolving issues such as do I want to have a ground burial, entombment or cremation? Do I want a large or intimate ceremony? Do I have a passion or hobby that can be added to the arrangements that fits my own personality? For example, I have a collection of fine wines and I’ve made it known I’d like the collection to be opened and enjoyed at my funeral. Without my planning in advance, I doubt anyone would know this was my intention. But now that I’ve planned, I’m sure my farewell will be the kind of party that I, personally, would enjoy – with friends and family swapping stories and fabulous wines  flowing. 

Whenever you are ready to consider funeral pre-planning, feel free to visit our website for a little help: http://www.fairhavenmemorial.com/learn/advance-planning.htm 

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. 

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



Day of the Dead Celebration Coming!

- Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary will host its Dia de los Muertos Service this Saturday, November 2nd at 4:00 pm at the North Gardens Pavilion.

Dia de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead) is a celebration of the lives of those who have passed, honoring the dead with art, music, altars, and plenty of smiles. It is held on the 2nd of November when tradition says the souls of departed loved ones return to partake of the offerings (flowers, candles, food and drink) set out for them on ofrendas by families and friends. The Day of the Dead is considered a day of celebration, instead of mourning. 

Unlike, Halloween, there’s nothing ghoulish or macabre about this holiday. It is, above all, a thanksgiving of family ties and togetherness, as well as an experience of the seamless continuity of life and death. Often families spend the entire night together, enjoying their loved ones’ favorite foods and drinks and most importantly, remembering.

We look forward to many of our families joining us for this event. Our Remembrance and Celebration will include a memorial service conducted by Deacon Jerry de Santos & Deacon Gallardo from Our Lady of Pillar Catholic Church,  ofrendas, live music, and no Dia de los Muertos celebration is complete without the sharing of pan de muerto. Come join us on this memorable occasion to celebrate those we have lost and will never be forgotten.


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

First Recipient of the Oliver Halsell Caregiver Awards

- Thursday, May 24, 2012


Dr. Debra Holland recognized for trauma, grief and crisis counseling, helping others in time of greatest need


Dr. Debra Holland, a noted author, psychotherapist and grief counselor, has volunteered time and again to help people find comfort in the wake of extreme chaos. For her dedication to helping others in their greatest time of need, Dr. Holland has been announced as the first recipient of Fairhaven’s Oliver Halsell Caregiver Award.

Fairhaven announced the recognition program last month, which pays tribute to local caregivers who have had an indelible impact on both their community and the individuals they serve.

“When a tragedy occurs, the presence of a compassionate and knowledgeable counselor is imperative to the healing process for those affected,” said Marla Noel, President of Fairhaven. “Dr. Holland has been a support system, sounding board and resource, courageously helping individuals recover from traumatic events.”

Author of The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving, Dr. Holland counsels people who are traumatized and grieving after having experienced some kind of critical incident, such as experiencing the death of a colleague, being witness to an accident, or being the victim of a robbery.

Dr. Holland has counseled the American Airlines flight crews and other personnel at LAX in the weeks following the attacks of 9/11. In 2005, she spent two weeks in Louisiana, volunteering as a mental health relief worker for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. She also volunteered as a counselor for victims of the Southern California wildfires. Most recently, she was one of several counselors who provided trauma and grief counseling for the staff and victims of the Edison shooting in Irwindale.

The Fullerton resident holds a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy, and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

“Grief is a unique, complex and often misunderstood experience. By providing a safe place to talk and by helping people understand how the trauma is impacting them, people start to feel better and begin healing. That makes all the difference to me,” said Dr. Holland of her work. “I’ve counseled many people in dramatic and painful situations, which is important work, yet I’ve also received just as much satisfaction in quietly reaching out to grieving individuals who are in need of comfort.”

Dr. Holland will be honored at Fairhaven’s Oliver Halsell Caregiver Awards banquet on November 1 at Fairhaven’s Mission Viejo location. The banquet will coincide with National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and will honor a year’s worth of achievements among the local caregiver community. Additionally, Fairhaven will make a donation to CurePSP on behalf of Dr. Holland to support the fund her family established in the name of her father, who died of the disease.

About the Oliver Halsell Caregiver Award

Fairhaven’s Oliver Halsell Caregiver Award pays tribute to Orange County caregivers whose kindness and dedication to serving others is inspirational. These courageous individuals go above and beyond their job description to serve with the utmost care and compassion. Fairhaven’s Oliver Halsell Caregiver Award winners come from many fields including private care, hospice, social work, counseling, assisted living, nursing, therapy and volunteer work.

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