Teenager Watches Her Own Funeral Being Planned

2:38 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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CENTREVILLE, Maryland (WUSA)--At the funeral home doorway, 17-year-old Samantha hands her baby over to her father, Justin. For the next hour, the teenager will be considered dead. Samantha will watch as her father plans her funeral. 

It's part of a program called RESET.  A unique program that's serving as a deterrent for troubled teenagers, some of whom have fallen into a trap of alcohol and drugs.


With the help of Fellows, Helfenbein and Newnam's funeral director Tom Helfenbein, Justin must plan a final goodbye for his daughter, and care for his four month-old granddaughter.

"If you would be able to, just tell me a little bit about your daughter," asks Helfenbein.

"I'm not as close with her as I should have been or wish I was," says Justin fighting back tears.  "Especially looking back now when we can't go back. It's hard to talk about right now."

Samantha is in the room, invisible.  A virtual ghost, witnessing her father's pain.

"You say she had a lot of friends?" asks Helfenbein.

"Yes sir," says Justin, cradling Samantha's daughter.

"Perhaps we can get a casket that's white and maybe we can get people to sign the casket," says Helfenbein.

"She might like that," answers Justin.

The funeral director gives Justin a teddy bear to give to his granddaughter; a matching one will go in Samantha's casket.

"She'll be able to know that it was with her Mom at one time," says Helfenbein.

"Okay?  Very nice," says Justin through his tears. "I don't think she'd remember anything about her Mom. But she'd have that teddy bear to hold onto."

Sitting behind Justin is Samantha, tears streaming down her face.

A father's pain is about to deepen as he walks through the room with the selection of caskets.

"There are really several kinds of caskets," says Helfenbein.

"First thing he showed me was the price sheet," says Justin. "And that doesn't really matter. We all want the best for her. But just talking about the teddy bears and the location of where to bury her, that's probably the worst part. Is to decide where she's going to be from now on, forever."

As a parent herself, Samantha feels the heartbreak.

'And she'll see how much her Mom was loved," says Helfenbein of Samantha's infant daughter.  "Later on, we'll talk about getting a monument and how we can make that more personal."  Then the 2 men, Justin holding Samantha's baby, walk right past Samantha totally ignoring her.

"It's interesting, you get two years to plan a wedding. You get three days to plan a funeral," Helfenbein tells Justin. "You take care. We'll help you all the way through this process."

The exercise is designed to make teenagers see how their families would be affected by their premature death. But in the case of Justin and Samantha, it could lead to their being closer in life.  

"I feel like we do have a second chance," says Justin. "That we need to spend more time together."

"I couldn't imagine not being there for her," says Samantha about her young daughter. 


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