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Sandwiches ideal food for funerals

Simple and easy to eat, they’re perfect for memorial services

Simple meat and cheese sandwiches are among the best options to serve after a funeral.
Simple meat and cheese sandwiches are among the best options to serve after a funeral.
Rebecca Nappi And Catherine Johnston The Spokesman-Review

Q. I’m on a church committee to help out with meals after the funeral of a church member. I’m on the youngish side, at least compared with the other committee members. Any advice on how to update the funeral buffet table?

A. Keep it simple. Keep it bite-size. Forgo hot or cold dishes.

That’s the advice from Paula Davis, funeral director with Heritage Funeral Homes in Spokane, who has contributed food for hundreds of memorial services.

She applauds your church for keeping this tradition alive. Sharing food after a service is an important part of the bereavement process.

“It’s a breaking of bread with friends,” Davis says. “We need to eat and visit. But it doesn’t have to be elaborate.”

In decades past, casseroles and Jell-O molds dominated funeral buffets.

“How many tuna and noodle casseroles with potato chips on top did one find? It reflected our eating habits,” Davis says.

Eating habits have changed dramatically in the past decade. You never know anymore who might have peanut or wheat allergies. Or who is dieting.

And food poisoning is always a concern. That’s why Davis says don’t contribute foods that have to be kept warm (such as meatballs) or cold (such as potato salad) unless you have a warming dish on the buffet table or you can keep that potato salad refrigerated until it’s served.

Her go-to item? Simple meat and cheese sandwiches cut into four squares. Mayo and mustard on the side.

She said bite-size brownies, or anything chocolate, is always popular.

Remember, too, that bereaved families usually take home some of the remaining food. Often they have lost their appetites and so simple food that won’t spoil – and those bite-size brownies – will be appreciated when they feel hungry again in a day or so.

Q. My friend died in a hospital with a hospital volunteer at her bedside. Do all hospitals have this service?

A. Not all hospitals have the No One Dies Alone (NODA) program. Many Catholic-sponsored hospitals do, citing it as a way they offer compassionate care. The NODA program provides a bedside companion for dying patients who might otherwise be alone at the end of their lives.

NODA was founded by Sandra Clarke, an ICU nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore., after she spent a shift intending to get back to the room of a dying patient, who was alone. After she tended to her other patients, she returned to the dying man’s room. He had already passed away.

Clarke has created an official NODA program, adopted by health care facilities across the country.

While most people would choose to die at home, many people die in hospitals or at inpatient hospice facilities. NODA programs allow health care leaders in hospitals and hospice facilities to meet patients’ emotional and spiritual needs to the very end of their lives.

Frankie Shepherd, NODA coordinator with Providence Health and Services in Olympia, has overseen more than 118 vigils in the last 30 months.

“What keeps NODA strong is the volunteers’ commitment to caring for patients.” Shepherd says.

Compassionate companions are volunteers – often hospital employees – trained to sit in silence, hold a patient’s hand, read quietly or play restful music.

Volunteers learn the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of dying, but they do not provide nursing care.

A coordinator keeps a list of available volunteers. When a patient needs a volunteer, the coordinator immediately contacts and assigns people for bedside presence. Patients may need someone for a few hours or longer. Some vigils extend over a few days.

While patients benefit, so do the volunteers. “Sitting with a patient as they die is an honor and a privilege,” Shepherd says.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at
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