Planning ahead helps ensure
how you will be remembered
Deacon Dave Holland
How will you be remembered?
That's among the questions Deacon Dave Holland would like people to think about when he visits their church as the new parish relationship director for Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services.
The goal of the visits, made at the requests of pastors, is to try to get people "to start a conversation," Deacon Holland said.
Deacon Holland, whose home parish is St. Catherine of Siena in Martinez, is no stranger to the cemeteries, having served as general manager of Holy Cross Cemetery in Antioch for a dozen years and as a family service adviser at St. Joseph Cemetery in San Pablo, a position he took on after his ordination to the permanent diaconate in 2003.
In parishes, such as at St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley, where he preached at all the weekend Masses earlier this month and conducted short informational sessions in the hall afterward, he will be asking parishioners to think about something not many people want to contemplate: their own death.
He lets them know their options, and how Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services can help them let their wishes be carried out.
Among the questions: "Do you want a traditional Catholic funeral, like your parents? Do you want cremation?"
Cremation has been an accepted practice for the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Catholic teaching holds that cremated remains be placed in holy ground, not scattered.
Cultural changes, such as children no longer remaining in the Church, is another reason for advanced planning. It may be the way people can assure what happens to their bodies after death is what they want to happen.
"There's a great grace in the rite of the Christian funeral," Deacon Holland said. "By doing this, you're helping people through the grief process."
At the vigil, people come together to pray and share memories. The family is not alone in the loss.
"Next morning, they get up, take the person's body to church, offering it back up to God," he said.
There's finality at the cemetery. "They lay the person to rest," he said. "They have commended the person to God and they go forward."
At the sessions in the parish hall, Deacon Holland is accompanied by representatives of the local Catholic Funeral & Cemetery Services locations, who can set up future appointments for people to discuss options, if they wish.
Those who make advance arrangements, Deacon Holland said, can set up payments, at no interest charge, for the services.
Planning ahead, too, puts the surviving family members at less of a disadvantage: They know what you want, and don't have to guess, or depend on various family members' recollections of snippets of conversations.
While preparing for the diaconate, Deacon Holland had been a mail carrier when he became aware of the position at St. Joseph Cemetery he would come to call "a privilege."
His wife recognize it, telling him, he recalled, "This looks like God is sending you in this direction."
"You have to be able to sit with people on probably the worst day of their life," he said, "to be there to help guide them through it."
At time of need, he said, if people can't afford it, "we're going to help them." With a letter from the pastor, arrangements for payments can be made.
"Whatever we can do to help them" he said.
The headstone is placed on the grave after the final payment is made.
"We take cremated remains free of charge," Deacon Holland said. "We believe everyone should be in a cemetery."
"Through the Holy Angels Remembrance Program, we take them, no matter where they come from, and return them if the family wishes," he said.
A family waiting to repatriate the remains, for example, may entrust them to Catholic Cemeteries to hold them, where they will be prayed for each month, until the time a family member can take the cremated remains to the home country.
The cemeteries also receive cremated remains from the counties. "Some people who were homeless, now in death, they're in Catholic cemetery, prayed for every month, and at rest."
Deacon Holland recalled than when he was working at Holy Cross, an elderly gentleman said his mother had been buried there in 1932. At the time, the family didn't have the money to pay for a headstone.
The man began making payments on a headstone. After the last payment was made, the headstone was placed at the grave.
Deacon Holland led a prayer service.
"She died in 1932, giving birth to me," the man told him afterward. "It was something I've always wanted to do."
To Deacon Holland, it symbolized, "You can always come back. He fulfilled his dream."
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