Post-mortem wishes, personal info under ‘one roof’
A new booklet created by New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries enables individuals to comprehensively compile information related to their funeral, burial and estate wishes, in the hope of lessening the burden on loved ones following their death.
The “Family Records Guide,” published last summer, takes the drudgery out of addressing important questions many people either dodge or do not consider during life, conveniently placing the answers in a single location. The booklet is offered free of charge to anyone who requests one from the Cemeteries office.
“So many times a parent will pass away and the children do not know what their wishes are: Do they want to be cremated? Have they already bought a mausoleum crypt in a cemetery? Were they drawing a pension?” said Sherri Peppo, executive director of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries and the booklet’s creator.
“I think older generations are at an age where they know they have to make their (end-of-life) wishes known, and then you have many younger people who don’t want to talk about it,” Peppo said. “Hopefully, this guide can open up that communication, get families talking about it – not only listing their information, but talking to their loved ones about what their plans are, what their wishes are.”
An invaluable resource
The guide is exhaustive in its mission to take the guesswork out of sensitive, post-mortem issues.
One section allows individuals to instruct their survivors on the location of important documents such as insurance policies, tax returns, property deeds, birth and marriage certificates, while another page lists the names and phone numbers of those the individual wants notified upon his or her death.
Another helpful section allows individuals to inform their loved ones about their funeral wishes, including those related to difficult, sometimes awkward topics such as their preferred casket type; burial clothing and jewelry; if they want to forego a visitation; and whether they want a closed or open casket. A whole page is devoted to the decedent’s desired funeral presider, hymns, readings and pall bearers.
“We thought that the booklet would be helpful not only for families to have a place to put all their personal information, but to be able to look at their options for their arrangements – to get them thinking about the funeral home; the cemetery; if they want cremation or casket burial,” Peppo said.
The booklet also gets military veterans and their families thinking ahead. For example, if a veteran chooses to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, one of the benefits includes receiving a government-issued marker at no charge inscribed with his or her name, military branch, rank and service dates.
“There are certain benefits that the government offers through the VA, and there may be some people who are not aware that their parent or sibling – whoever they are making the arrangements for – is entitled to some of these benefits,” Peppo said.
Peppo said readers of the booklet also might be surprised by the sheer variety of local burial options.
“In our cemeteries, we not only offer mausoleum crypts; we also have tombs, coping burials (in which the grave site is marked by a low structure and the casket buried underground), and columbaria with niches for cremated remains,” she said.
Those tapped to write the obituary of a loved one will appreciate another section that pulls together the names of all deceased and living relatives, and the decedent’s work and club affiliations.
Peppo had seen versions of the guide produced by various funeral homes and cemeteries, “but I thought it was important for our Catholic cemeteries to do one, especially to get people talking about cremation,” Peppo said. “If that’s the choice they want, then they need to make a decision about what takes place after the cremation: Are the cremated remains going to a cemetery, or is somebody going to forget to make plans and then the family doesn’t know what to do with them, and they end up sitting on somebody’s private shelf?”
The guide is one component of New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries’ complimentary pre-planning folder offered to families who inquire about purchasing properties in one of the six cemeteries operated by the office: St. Joseph Nos. 1 and 2 on Washington Avenue; St. Louis No. 1 (Basin Street); No. 2 (Claiborne Avenue); and No. 3 (Esplanade Avenue); St. Patrick Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on City Park Avenue; St. Roch Nos. 1 and 2 on St. Roch Avenue; St. Vincent de Paul Nos. 1 and 2 on Soniat Street; and St. Charles Cemetery, located on Paul Maillard Road in Luling.
The folder, which can be picked up, mailed or requested on the website, www.nolacatholiccemeteries.org, also includes a brochure listing the office’s services, a pen and two bookmarks from the Catholic Cemeteries Conference: one answering the question “Why Choose a Catholic Cemetery?”; the other entitled, “When Should You Choose Your Family Burial Place?”
For more information, call 596-3050 or visit www.nola catholiccemeteries.org.
In other Cemeteries office news:
Spanish speakers in the Archdiocese of New Orleans now have a bi-lingual contact in New Orleans Catholic Cemeteries to whom they can address questions related to burial options and property availability in the city’s sacred cemeteries.
Paul Longa, who joined the Cemeteries office staff last June as its manager of sales, is available to speak to any English- or Spanish-speaking individual or family seeking guidance in obtaining property at any of the six cemeteries operated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
A comforting voice
“When (Spanish speakers find out that I speak Spanish, they’re very happy to see that there’s an American here who speaks their idiom,” Longa said, crediting his foreign language proficiency to classes at St. John Prep, Redemptorist High, the University of New Orleans and his Mexican-born wife, Celeste.
“Hispanics are shocked when hear me speaking Spanish fluently,” Longa said, smiling. “They always ask me, ‘Where did you learn your Spanish?’”
Longa meets with families, on either a pre-need or at-need basis, to apprise them of their burial options and complete their purchase. He typically meets clients in the business office at St. Patrick Cemetery No. 3 on City Park Avenue, but also ushers interested parties to the cemetery sites themselves, and takes informational materials, such as maps, photos and price lists, to those who are homebound.
Longa, whose past work experience includes helping American funeral homes communicate with their counterparts in Spanish-speaking countries, said that in his four months on the job, his Spanish skills have only been called on twice.
“It may just be that (our area’s Spanish-speaking residents) are not aware that we have affordable, sacred space in our New Orleans Catholic cemeteries,” Longa said. “Many folks (both English-speaking and others) are under the impression that we don’t have a lot to offer,” added
Longa, who acquaints prospective buyers with the many burial options: tombs, coping burials, mausoleum crypts and columbarium niches.
“When I inform them, for example, that our mausoleums have very good availability – especially the one we just built (at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3) – they are pleasantly surprised to hear that, to find out that they have options,” he said. “They don’t just have to take what’s ‘left over.’”