Confronting Death: Thanatology Café

Dying, Death and all subjects, fact, myth, fiction, You name it! associated with the Grim Reaper have at the same time been terrifying, plaguing, and obsessing human beings since Day One. Now we at Compassionate Care Associates and Chaplain p.r.n. are planning to organize our first Thanatology Café event in the Albany, New York, area for mid-January 2016.

Thanatology Café

Thanatology is the scientific study of death. It investigates the mechanisms and physical aspects of death, such as bodily changes that accompany the dying process, actual physical death and the post-mortem period, as well as wider psychological, cultural, social, and spiritual aspects related to death, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families.

Death Cappucino

Dying, death, and grief are fundamental and significant aspects of the human experience. Anyone who has had the privilege of accompanying a loved one — or anyone, for that matter — through the dying process knows that numerous professional roles intersect with the complex and sensitive domains of acknowledging death, witnessing and accompanying dying, cultural aspects of dying, death, and post-mortem rites, rituals, ceremonies, but few of us receive specific education or an opportunity to explore this aspect of life, to allow one to effectively address and communicate about these issues. Some of us have received advanced education and continuing education and training and practical training in dying, death, grief and mourning, and can enhance the public’s comfort level, competence, and confidence in personal, interpersonal, spiritual and professional contexts. The overall goal of this unique opportunity to meet and share about death, dying, grief and mourning, the academic field of thanatology, is to restore our culture’s intimacy and comfort with the dying, the dead, the care of those who are actively experiencing death and bereavement. We’d like to offer persons who would like to know more about this fascinating subject that has been the subject of fear, anxiety, taboo, and denial, with the goal of facilitating the necessary steps aimed at easing the stress, confusion, and vulnerability that most persons experience when confronted with the death of a loved one and what necessarily follows. In addition, we’d like to offer a forum, where persons with a serious interest in thanatology can find opportunities for expert discussion, and which will become a source of guidance for education and training in this fascinating field.

In the coming month, we’ll be planning the program for Thanatology Café, and we hope to put together a number of formal presentations that will be followed by informal discussion and sharing in smaller groups or even one-on-on. We’ll be inviting local mortuary service providers who will be able to share their knowledge, expertise, and tips on how to pre-plan and negotiate pre-arrangements, how to navigate the sometimes daunting waters of last-minute funeral arranging, and managing the costs involved.

We’ll also be exploring the history of death and disposal of mortal remains, including aspects of embalming, waking, burial, , cremation, and newer trends such as the not-so-new so-called “green burial”, body alkaline hydrolysis [a.k.a. resomation, “liquid cremation” or dissolving the dead body], composting, and some of the more bizarre notions of the final disposition of the deceased.

We’ll also offer opportunities for exploring the spirituality of dying, death and bereavement, and how important spirituality is in meaning-making in the face of death and bereavement. Believe it or not, you may not belong to a church or consider yourself “practicing” or religious but even an atheist is spiritual. You will need spiritual support and only an experienced bereavement chaplain can provide that. If your funeral home does not have a chaplain, run away — fast.

digital age death

For better or for worse, technology has transformed how people grieve and mourn, and memorialize our dead. So, oOf course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer something about technological advances in grieving and mourning, both the blessings and the curses. We’ll be discussing social media and the pitfalls and advantages of streaming, Facebook, Twitter,  online obituaries, online books (for example, Legacy).

And finally, we hope to persuade you that your independent — as opposed to the cut-rate factory body disposal specialists posing as funeral homes, a.k.a. factory funeral homes — is there to answer your questions and to guide you through some of the most difficult moments in life with integrity, compassion and dignity. There are questions you can and should ask, and questions your “family”funeral home director and staff — and you should have a family funeral home — (not necessarily the one that has been burying relatives for decades; shop around!) want to ask and to answer. (You may want to start of with Ask a Mortician Anything.)

If you’d be interested in joining us at Thanatology Café, and would like to receive more detailed information on the locales and the program, please drop us a couple of lines telling us about your interest, who you are, why you are interested, and what you’d like to see on the discussion program. You can send your confidential e-mail to us at or leave a comment using the comment feature below. Your e-mails will be kept confidential but your comments, if appropriate, will be published for our readers to view.

Thanatology Café will be facilitated by a professional bereavement chaplain, who will be pleased to respond to your personal questions in confidence, or to guide you through the thanatology process. You can contact a Chaplain p.r.n. at any time at If you wish your inquiries to be kept confidential and private, please let us know in your correspondence or e-mail.

Who knows? Perhaps you may want to earn a certificate in thanatology with the NCDE (National Center for Death Education, Mount Ida College, Newton, MA) or with the ADEC (Association for Death Education and Counseling), or you may want to work in a funeral home as a funeral service associate or even a funeral planner.

We’ll be looking forward to hearing from you and to welcoming you at our inaugural Thanatology Café event.

No Joke! Chaplain Harold Editor
No Joke!
Chaplain Harold

Brooklyn: Finding an Interfaith Officiant

It seems that it’s very difficult to find a competent, experienced, professional interfaith officiant in the New York Metropolitan Area. Even the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn reports that they frequently cannot fill the need for officiants at funerals and memorials.

The beautiful historic chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
The interior of the Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel. A beautiful venue for a beautiful service.

The family of a victim of violent death was searching in vain for an officiant for the memorial service and ennichement of their loved one and finally found Chaplain Harold Vadney, who initially deviated from protocol to compassionately provide a memorial service program for the family. The family was so impressed with the program and with the service and support they received from Chaplain Harold that they insisted he travel to Brooklyn’s historic Greenwood Cemetery to officiate the memorial service and the ennichement.

Chaplain Harold initially encouraged the family to take some time to think about their request and to consider the cost involved to bring him from Albany, New York, to Brooklyn. The family made their decision: they wanted Chaplain Harold.

Although the family insisted on the chaplain’s comfort when traveling and wanted to bring him in by train, the chaplain suggested rather that he travel by bus at less than a third of the cost of a train ticket and, noting Amtrak’s reputation for unreliability, suggested its was the most reliable mode of transport. Chaplain Harold’s slogan is: “I don’t waste my resources and I won’t waste yours.

Chaplain Harold made the trip and had the privilege of celebrating the memorial service,a special Christian-Muslim hybrid ceremony, and ennichement rites in the beautiful and historic Green-Wood Chapel to the family’s complete satisfaction.

For more information on the beautiful national historic site, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, please click this link: Green-Wood

“The administrative and support staff at Green-Wood couldn’t have done more to accommodate the family and the celebration; they were some of the most compassionate and helpful cemetery staff I have ever experienced!”, says Chaplain Harold.

Chaplain Harold Vadney is a professional bereavement chaplain and provides interfaith, non-denominational, and humanistic (non-religious) pastoral care services and funeral/memorial services in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy-Greene county region in central New York state, and travels to other areas to provide services to families in need. Chaplain Harold can be reached at or through your comment on this blog.

Another Beautiful Service! Thank you! Chaplain Harold
Another Beautiful Service!
Thank you! Chaplain Harold

The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain: an essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

New Article

(To download the complete article click this link: Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain-An Essential Asset)

Unity SymboldThe professional interfaith bereavement chaplain: an essential asset to the mortuary services provider and to the consumer

A straight – from – the – hip discussion of the state of affairs, solutions and recommendations by an experienced provider of professional interfaith bereavement services.

Abstract. This article presents an uncosmetized impression of the deterioration in quality of death services, and based on firsthand observations makes practical recommendations for improving the services provided to and requested by the bereaved and supportive of mourners. This article makes recommendations to the consumer as well as to the mortuary services provider, that include among other things: sensitivity to the spiritual needs of the mourner, addressing those needs with appropriate sensitivity, providing for those needs through the services of a competent professional bereavement chaplain. This article highlights not only the human-spirit aspects of dignified and personalized funeral and memorial services but also points out the considerable economies to be realized by both the consumer and the service provider by enlisting the support of an on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain. With the holistic interdisciplinary team approach advocated in this article, the insidious deterioration in care and support services can be deterred if not prevented by the mortuary services provider partnered with the on – call professional interfaith bereavement chaplain, and the necessary grief work, healing and transformation effectively nurtured.

While this article focuses in specific terms on providers and consumers of mortuary services, its principles and applications, and recommendations can be extended and generalized to any of the helping professions.

While this article attempts to address a number of points, which are high in priority to both the consumer and service provider, many points must necessarily remain unmentioned. With that in mind, we do encourage feedback and comment from our readers, and we invite you to provide your thoughts either by private e – mail to or by using the comment feature on this blog.

Keywords: Funeral, memorial, mortuary services, funeral director, funeral home, grief, mourning, chaplain, pastoral care, spiritual care, officiant, helping profession

“Death is psychologically as important as birth. Shrinking away from it is both unhealthy and abnormal … because it robs the second half of life of its meaning and purpose.”
Ernest Becker

Here are some of the subtitles in the article:

  • The Funeral Director And The Funeral Home Staff Are In A Helping Profession: It’s Time You Realized That.
  • The Funeral Director And His Or Her Staff Has Mutated To That Of Disposal Specialist
  • We No Longer Have The Appreciation Of The Intimacy With Life’s Stages Such As The Closeness And Appreciation Of Death That The Victorians Shared
  • Churches And Clergy Are Not Much Better And Fall Far Short Of The Barest Minimum Of Ministry To The Bereaved
  • Sensitively Executed Memorial Or Funeral Service Should Be Even More Important Because Each And Every Mourner Carries Home The Healthy Effects When They Leave The Funeral Home Or Graveside
  • Spiritual Religious Concerns Are High On The List Of Priorities Of The Bereaved
  • Regret The Poor Performance Of Clergy And Their Impersonal And Rushed Approach To The Spiritual Needs Of The Bereaved
  • Spiritual Care Must Be A Part Of The Physical Care; It’s More Durable… It Lasts Lifetimes
  • In Mortuary Practice No One Gives Much Thought To The Living, The Survivors, Life To Be Lived
  • A True Professional Knows The Trade, Anticipates The Client’s Needs, Recognizes Knows His Or Her Personal And Professional Boundaries
  • Most People Are Guilty Of The Arch-Sin Of Fear Or Ignorance, Each Of Which Is A Form Of Laziness
  • Costs Can Be Minimized If The Funeral Home Has An On-Call Officiant / Chaplain
  • The On-Call Or P.R.N. Officiant / Chaplain Forms A Therapeutic And Pastoral Alliance With The Family
  • The Functionary-Spectator Model Is Not Only Antiquated And Obsolete, It’s Downright Unhealthy
  • The Family Is Assured Of A Service Tailored To The Family’s Culture, Beliefs, Practices, Composition, And Specific expectations
  • More Often Than Not The Family Will Work Hard To Provide Any Support They Can
  • They Appreciate The Fact That Someone Knows That They Still Hurt
  • The Chaplain, In Virtue Of His Or Her Education, Training, Experience, Vocation Has A Certain Authority
  • The Lines Between Faiths And Belief Systems Are Quite Blurred At Times
  • The Professional Bereavement Chaplain Will Know How To Incorporate The Bizarre With The Traditional
  • It’s A Vocation, Not A Job.


The professional interfaith bereavement chaplain is an important but frequently overlooked professional support person available to the funeral home as well as to mourners. As a professional member of the funeral home team the on-call or p.r.n. chaplain assumes the responsibility for the funeral and memorial service design, organization, coordination, execution, and follow-up, freeing the funeral home staff to concern itself with other important matters. As a highly trained, empathetic, authentic, facilitator and support person, the professional interfaith chaplain provides essential and necessary support to the bereaved and mourners, and forms a de facto therapeutic alliance with them, facilitating the grief work necessary to the healing and transformation process.

The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads

On the more mundane side, the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a cost-saving model for both the mortuary services provider and for the consumer of mortuary services. The on-call or p.r.n. chaplain virtually eliminates personnel, equipment and logistics overheads by being available for effective liturgical, spiritual, religious or humanistic services on site at the funeral home or mortuary services facility, practically eliminating the need for organizing and coordinating resources for complicated and costly movements of staff, equipment, remains, and mourners. The funeral liturgical service, the memorial service or other rites are done right at the funeral home. The chaplain processes then with the cortège directly to the cemetery or crematorium for the graveside, cremation, or columbarium rites.

The Funeral Home Staff Should Bear In Mind The Importance Of Spiritual And Religious Or Pastoral Care Support

In the context of the 21st century death and bereavement culture, the professional interfaith chaplain plays an enormously important role both to the funeral home or mortuary services provider and to the bereaved and mourners. Wherever possible, the funeral home staff should bear in mind the importance of spiritual and religious or pastoral care support to the bereaved and should impress the importance of such support to families when making funeral arrangements. Even if the bereaved do not list a religious or faith preference, even if they do not belong to or actively participate with a faith or belief community, they may have a significant religious commitment without even realizing it, and will benefit from the meaning-making and closure effects of a well-designed funeral or memorial service. It would be a disservice if funeral home staff and mortuary service providers were to ignore this important element of mortuary services.



  • Discuss The Benefits Of A Spiritual, Religious Or Humanistic Funeral Or Memorial Service With The Bereaved
  • The Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain Will Be Compassionately Present For You
  • The Interfaith Chaplain Be Non – Judgmental And Tolerant Of The Family’s Unique Systems

Empirical observation supports the medical, psychiatric, psychological, pastoral care literature and the growing consensus that spiritual care, whether religious or non – religious, plays a significant role in the health and well-being of all sufferers, including the bereaved. Spiritual care supports the mourner in myriad ways both in the acute grief period into the grief work and mourning stages and well beyond. Spiritual care as offered by the professional interfaith bereavement chaplain represents a significant added value to the funeral home’s product offerings and further represents substantial tangible and intangible benefits to the insightful funeral services manager and his or her establishment.

Corresponding author:
Chaplain Harold W. Vadney BA, [MA], MDiv
Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain
P.O. 422
New Baltimore, New York 12124 – 0422

Click here to view or to download the entire article: Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain-An Essential Asset.

Chaplain-on-Call at Riverview Funeral Home, Troy, New York

We are very pleased to announce that Harold W. Vadney III, B.A., [M.A.], M.Div. has been added to the professional staff at the
Riverview Funeral Home in Troy New York.

The Riverview Funeral Home, Troy, New York

Chaplain Harold has been working with Riverview director Mr Roy Bordeau and the staff of Riverview on a regular basis, providing compassionate and professional funeral and memorial services to bereaved families from far and wide.

Chaplain Harold provides interfaith funeral officiation in English and several foreign languages, and has officiated at funeral services with Hindu/Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Orthodox and Humanist themes. All of the services are individually prepared to honor and memorialize the life and meaning of the deceased and to reflect the traditions, values, and needs of the family and survivors.

Please visit our page at Thank you! That Was a Beautiful Service to read some of the funeral and memorial service programs, Harold’s homilies, and other elements of past services at Riverview and other Captial District funeral homes.

To learn more about the Riverview Funeral Home cliick this link: Riverview.

To read about the staff at Riverview, click this link: Riverview Staff.

sympathy flowers

Remembering Suffering

“There is a time for everything…under the heavens a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecc 3:1a,7b)

The Suffering in the World and the Heaviness of Grief Drag the Soul Down and Weight it With Despair…But It Is Better to Light A Single Candle than to Curse the Darkness Around Us.

animated candle small

All religious and spiritual traditions teach that man lives in horizontal time or chronos; the Divine time is vertical, kairos. In Divine time there is no past or future, it is all here and now. Unlike humankind, the Divine does not look to the past nor to the future, they are simply unnecessary because the Divine is perfect and that perfection embraces unchangingness and allknowingness. Perfection does not have to learn from the past nor hope for the future.

Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!
Rachel Weeps for All Her Children!

But we exist in a different dimension, if you will. We can either despair of the past or hope for the future; resent the past and despise the future; or as Ecclesiastes teaches, we can accept that the Divine plan provides for “a time for everything…a time to be born and a time to die..a time for scattering stones and a time to gather them…a time to embrace…a time to search…a time to mend…a time to be silent and a time to speak…a time to love…and a time for peace.”

The Divine plan is Perfection and Immutable. It keeps us on schedule and on plan always, whether we like it or not, and whether we understand it or not. The world is full of pain and suffering, most of it so far away from us that we almost take it for granted and go on with our own lives without considering that human beings and other creatures are suffering immensely but we don’t see their tears or hear their cries…so they’re easy to pass by and cast our eyes away. Until it strikes close to home. But the Divine plan includes us always and when Perfection sees its creatures becoming callous to the lessons of suffering, Perfection brings it closer to home so that we, too, can face the challenge and become humbled by it. When we see suffering we can appreciate the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: There is a time to be born and the fact of being born brings with it the fact of death.

gathering togetherWe are made of fragile materials and we break, sometimes very badly, and we die. It’s when we are humbled by challenge, moments in the Divine Plan that we are incapable of comprehending, that it becomes time to gather stones to rebuild, a time to embrace our universal humanity as the kin-dom of the Divine, a time to search for meaning in the challenge. But above all and essential to the purpose of the Divine Plan is that a time of challenge is a time for love, a time for God, because as John teaches “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8). Gathering together in love, we are in a time of mending, of healing; in that time of healing we find a time to be silent, present, and a time to speak. As stones gathered searching for meaning in the challenge, and embraced by the power of perfect love, we heal in silence and sometimes speak silently in prayer…we seek peace.

The events in the world that cause suffering and despair, confusion and anger, anxiety and hate are in our time, not Divine time, we can move into Divine time by staying in the moment, no past no future, for but a breath’s time and find peace in the moment we occupy now.

blue tear

Let’s stop for a moment being stones scattered and be stones gathered, remembering in this moment the suffering around us. Let’s stop for a moment to heal, to love, to be silent. Let’s stop for a moment to be peaceful and to grant peace to all of Creation. It’s in the Divine Plan. Let’s stop for a moment and remember we are created in the image of a God who is Love.

Remembering in this Divine moment of love, healing, and peace, the suffering in the world of all Creation, and remembering the acute pain we now suffer with the events closer to us. In your own, personal way remember the suffering in New Town, Connecticut.