How a nontraditional funeral helped this mom process her daughter's tragic death.

Lucia Maya remembers getting a phone call from her 21-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. She was in agony.

A creative writing student at the University of Arizona, Elizabeth had been dealing with intense pain in her chest for weeks, along with swelling in her neck and face. The student health clinic told her it was probably bad allergies.

"She called me one day in tears because she was in a lot of pain," Lucia said. "She wasn't one to cry or complain. I said, 'OK, something is clearly wrong.'"


Elizabeth was rushed to the emergency room, where an X-ray revealed a tumor in her chest the size of a baseball. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Lucia (right) and her daughter, Elizabeth. Photo by Jade Beall, used with permission.

Six rounds of chemotherapy initially beat the cancer back, but soon it had spread to Elizabeth's brain. Not even a year after first discovering the pain, Elizabeth was placed in hospice care. She'd spend her final days in her mother's home.

There was nothing more the doctors could do.

Lucia was suddenly in the strange and tragic position of having to plan a funeral for her daughter while she was still alive.

The first step for many people who are grieving is to make arrangements with a funeral home. But there's another option gaining popularity with many families: home funerals.

Joanne Cacciatore, a research professor at Arizona State University who studies traumatic death, wants people to remember that caring for our own dead used to be, well, just the way things were done. It was around the Victorian Era (the mid- to late 1800s) that both birth and death were institutionalized, or shopped out to experts who had special tools and training.

She said more and more people are now bucking that norm and skipping the mortician altogether.

Photo by Jade Beall, used with permission.

A home funeral often involves bypassing the usual embalming process, instead opting for more gentle methods of preserving the body: keeping it cool with dry ice and bathing it, for example. Some families will hold a viewing at home before sending the body off to be prepared for a traditional burial or cremated. Others, depending on local laws, bury their loved ones on family land instead of in a cemetery.

While home funerals are often much less expensive then traditional ceremonies, Cacciatore said this choice isn't usually about money. For many people, it's about healing.

"I think it has a therapeutic effect, in that when the person you love has died, and they're at home, you can check in with that reality as often as you need," she said. "You can go in that room, you can sit in that room 24 hours a day for three or four days, and you can watch their body, and see that they're not there."

For other people, they wouldn't dream of doing things any other way.

"Who better to take care of someone you love so much than you?" Cacciatore said.

After two months of being cared for by her mother, Elizabeth passed away on a Sunday in late 2012.

Elizabeth's body was kept at home for two days and covered in silks and fabrics. Photo by Lucia Maya, used with permission.

Elizabeth hadn't eaten for weeks. Her mother woke up at 4 a.m. the day she passed away, sensing the moment was about to arrive. Lucia held her daughter's hand as she took her last breath.

By this point, Lucia, her partner, Elizabeth's father, and even Elizabeth herself had decided a home funeral was right for them, though Elizabeth didn't like talking about it much. She was at peace with whatever was going to happen.

"What was so lovely was that we knew there was no rush to call the funeral home to come pick up her body," Lucia said. "We knew that we had time."

Lucia and her sister bathed Elizabeth. Anointed her body with oils. Laid her on a table with dry ice packed underneath. Wrapped her in beautiful silks and cloths, with rose petals sprinkled on top.

Photo by Lucia Maya, used with permission.

On Monday, family and friends came and went, saying their goodbyes in the place Elizabeth called home. A friend brought a cardboard box that would later be used to transport Elizabeth's body, and visitors decorated it and filled it with notes of love.

On Tuesday, Lucia and close family members placed Elizabeth in the box and drove her to the crematory. They watched as her body entered the cremation chamber. Lucia thought it might be too difficult to watch, but she said when the moment came, she was ready.

By then, she felt her daughter's body was nothing but an empty vessel.

"It felt so healing to be able to do those last things to take care of her," Lucia said.

"To be the one to bathe her, gently, to be the last one to dress her, to cover her with these beautiful silks that I know she would have loved — it would have felt very, very strange to send her body off and have some strangers doing those things for her, no matter how loving and caring they might have been."

She knows a home funeral isn't the right choice for everybody, but she shared her story because she wants people to at least know that it is a choice.

For Lucia, being able to make that choice means she gets to live without a single regret about how she spent her final days with her daughter.

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

When the COVID-19 pandemic socially distanced the world and pushed off the 2020 Olympics, we knew the games weren't going to be the same. The fact that they're even happening this year is a miracle, but without spectators and the usual hustle and bustle surrounding the events, it definitely feels different.

But it's not just the games themselves that have changed. The coverage of the Olympics has changed as well, including the unexpected addition of un-expert, uncensored commentary from comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg on NBC's Peacock.

In the topsy-turvy world we're currently living in, it's both a refreshing and hilarious addition to the Olympic lineup.

Just watch this clip of them narrating an equestrian event. (Language warning if you've got kiddos nearby. The first video is bleeped, but the others aren't.)

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