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How to write a condolence message

August 25th, 2020    Author:

We’ve all had to get used to different methods of communication during the pandemic. Apparently, the art of letter writing has quickly come back into fashion, as many more people have taken to pen and paper to check in with loved ones.

Do you find writing comes naturally? Or are you always searching for the right words?  Some people find the words just flow, while others struggle and choose to buy a card with the words already in it. Neither is right or wrong, but when it comes to offering your condolences to someone who has recently lost a loved one, it’s important to make that communication, especially while we can’t see each other as easily or attend funerals.

 

Choosing the right words

Words can be extremely powerful. Using the right words in a condolence message can help comfort, heal and even change perspectives for the positive. Take these quotes for example:

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” From a headstone in Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell

We’re sure you’ll agree these two quotes sound very comforting. The words focus, not on what we’ve lost, but what we still have and will never lose.

“While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.” John Taylor

While this quote is also very comforting, it also has the power to change our perspective; the deceased is no longer with us, but it is hoped they are now reunited with other loved ones.

Of course, you don’t have to be a famous poet or literary genius to write a thoughtful message. Below are some top tips on writing a message that you’ll want to send. And remember, writing a message can also be an opportunity to offer help and support, as well as share happy memories of the person who has passed away.

 

What should the message include?

While there is no set structure for a condolence message, there are typical elements that you may want to include if you’re having difficulty getting started.

Top tip! Don’t write straight into your card. Draft some words on a scrap piece of paper until you’re happy with how it sounds. That way you won’t end up reaching for the Tipp-Ex or dashing out to buy another card!

  • Address the card or letter to every member of the family, if you know their names. It’s much more personal than to say, “Mike and family”.
  • Start by telling them how sorry you are for their loss.
  • Then tell them some good qualities of their loved one. It might be how funny they were, or how kind they were when you needed help. Hearing these qualities will help the family to know how much their loved one was appreciated by others.
  • You can then go a bit further, if you want to, and share a story or memory you have of the deceased; something short but that really sticks in your mind and again, will bring much comfort to the family.
  • Finish your note by offering some kind of support. This can be anything from a listening ear, to something more practical such as looking after the dog or doing their shopping; whatever is relevant and appropriate to the situation.

What should I avoid in the message?

We mentioned earlier how powerful words can be. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy for the written word to be wrongly interpreted because there are no facial expressions, or voice, to confirm the tone in which something’s being said. You can minimise any risk by carefully avoiding certain types of language. Here are some examples:

“You should…” In any situation, this can be quite a negative phrase. The bereaved don’t always want to hear your opinions. Advice and support, yes, but not strongly worded opinions of what you think they ‘should’ be doing, thinking or feeling.

“You will…” Similar to the above, saying ‘you will’ can seem as if you know exactly how they are feeling or what is going to happen. Remember, every situation is unique.

Also, try and avoid certain cliche sentences such as, “What a terrible waste of life” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Although your intentions are good, phrases like these can be hurtful and cause distress.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t say something because it sounds cliche. If it’s appropriate – and true – then you should say it. For instance, something like, “I was so sorry to hear about Laura’s passing”, while commonly used, is true. You were very sorry and can empathise with the person you are writing to.

 

Final thoughts

Take your time over your message and don’t rush it. Also, don’t be afraid to express your feelings. You might really miss the person who has passed, be in shock that they’ve gone, or be struggling with your own grief. It’s ok to share this; empathy and understanding are a huge part of the healing process and kind, loving words can only help bring more comfort.

Coping with grief around anniversaries

July 28th, 2020    Author:

While there are certain recognised stages of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one; everyone is different. There are lots of resources online for bereavement support, which some of us may reach for soon after losing a loved one. However, we can of course experience feelings of loss many months down the line – and for years to come. Grief never really leaves us, but we find ways of accepting and coping.

Feelings of grief can be triggered by events and anniversaries, such as Christmas, birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but also by things we might not so readily expect – a piece of music being played, a TV programme or even a particular type of food. We can see anniversaries and events coming, which means we can prepare ourselves for how we might feel. The smaller triggers tend to come over us when we least suspect it.

 

Triggers for grief

Last month the country celebrated Father’s Day. It’s events like this that can cause both dread and pain for those who have lost a loved one. For weeks before they might avoid card shops, switch off adverts on TV and spam the ill-timed marketing emails. These are all things that can help them cope.

There are also plenty of positive actions we can take in this situation. You might like to:

  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one
  • Visit their grave or memorial place and lay some flowers
  • Spend the day going through old photos or videos and sharing memories with other members of your family
  • Continue to write them a card telling them how you’re feeling
  • Do something for the day that takes our mind off of it entirely

Other days like this are, of course, Mother’s Day and Christmas. At Christmas time you might find yourself thinking about what presents he/she would like, picturing where they would sit around the table, or what special role they’d have on the day and who is doing that now.

Birthdays and wedding anniversaries aren’t as commercialised, but friends and family may find it difficult to know how to react around you or how best to help, which can also trigger different emotions.

And then of course, there is the anniversary of their death to cope with. Here you might find yourself reflecting on what happened, how and why.

 

Reactions to reawakened grief

The reactions we can feel on anniversaries can feel very similar to when we first lose our loved one – whether that was months or years ago. They include;

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Disbelief
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Pain
  • Sadness
  • Tears
  • Trouble sleeping

Let’s take guilt as an example. Coco Chanel once said: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death”.

Guilt is something that can be suppressed around the time of a loved one’s death, as it can be a very painful emotion. Later down the line, anniversaries can throw up feelings of guilt about things that were said, guilt that life’s events are continuing without the deceased, or guilt that the bereaved haven’t thought about the deceased for a while.

It’s important to talk to someone about guilt. Talking really helps us to address our feelings and get them out in the open so that we can start to heal.

 

Moving on

Gradually, these anniversaries and events can become happier times showered in wonderful memories. Here are five ways to cope with your grief around these times and start to turn them into something more positive.

  • Accept how you feel: It’s normal for anniversaries to throw up lots of old emotions. Accepting this and knowing your triggers can help you to stay in control, lessening any anxiety and stress, and enable you to make sense of them and let them help with the healing process.
  • Plan something: If you’ve got a birthday anniversary coming up, for example, why not organise something nice to do with friends or family so you won’t feel alone?
  • Create a memory: You could mark an anniversary by donating to charity or planting a new rose in your garden. It can help to do something physical to mark the occasion – perhaps something that you can repeat each year?
  • Keep talking: Despite things getting much better in recent years, we know death and grief are sometimes still thought of as taboo subjects, which is why it’s even more important to draw upon your support network. Keep talking and open up about how you’re feeling at regular intervals. Don’t let things get bottled up from one anniversary to the next.
  • Feel your emotions: As we said earlier, it’s normal and natural to feel a range of different emotions at different times. Don’t feel guilty for laughing and joking, and don’t feel as if you shouldn’t have a good cry. Feel your emotions and let yourself heal.

Our Charity of the Year, Cruse Bereavement Care, has lots of information to help with all the various stages of grief. Visit: https://www.cruse.org.uk/

How nature can help us in difficult times

June 21st, 2020    Author:

Tranquil setting of Harwood Park Crematorium

 

It’s a well known fact that spending time outdoors has major health benefits, both physically and mentally. Getting back to nature can improve your mood, reduce stress, help you be more active and even increase your self-esteem.

During the early stages of lockdown, government guidelines restricted us to just one form of exercise outside a day. Thankfully, we can now spend unlimited time outdoors – and the benefits are clear.

Getting back to nature

According to research by the National Trust, 79% of adults infrequently or never smelled wild flowers and 62% either infrequently or never listened to birdsong. We wonder how these figures have changed since lockdown?

Nature is restorative and one of the gifts lockdown has brought us is the time to notice it. Having been blessed with good weather for the majority of lockdown, our gardens, parks and commons have become saving graces for families up and down the country.

We’ve seen many more people walking, cycling, jogging, picnicking and meeting (socially-distanced) outdoors. Weekends and days off have been spent at nature reserves, rivers, parks, fields and any other outdoor beauty spots people can find.

Perhaps ironically in a time of ‘lockdown’, we are re-establishing our connection with nature and the wider world.

Nature and grief

Outside of lockdown and Covid, there are also many stories of nature helping in people’s grieving processes after losing a loved one. A beautiful quote from Angie Weiland-Crosby says: “Nature is the kind of friend that never leaves my side. Even in grief-stricken times, in her soul I can confide.”

Nature reminds us that death is a part of life and that life goes on; we watch the seasons change before us and without fail, from Spring through to Winter each year. Nature also gives us time to reflect because it doesn’t demand anything back from us. And nature encourages us to see outside of our ever-circling thoughts of grief and to reconnect with others. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” the wise words of Naturalist, John Muir.

Harwood Park

During lockdown, our own Harwood Park Memorial Gardens has remained open for families to reflect on their loved ones. With 25 acres, there is plenty of space for quiet contemplation. The memorial gardens serve both as a final resting place for loved ones and also a peaceful retreat for family and friends to visit. From the carefully pruned roses, to the pretty line of cherry trees and the immaculately planted topiary crescent, it’s a lovely place to enjoy the beauty of nature.

When John Austin (Claire’s father) took over the business in 1965, his vision was to provide a crematorium to serve the local community. After failing to get council backing to build on municipal land, John decided to source a plot of private land in the village of Datchworth and 10 years later, in February 1997, Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens was finally opened. John thought of all the little touches when planning Harwood Park, including a large window in the chapel overlooking the countryside and raised areas to make it easier for wheelchair users to view the floral tributes. It wasn’t just a crematorium, John had created a beautiful outside space for many people to benefit from.

Natural memorials

Natural and ‘living’ memorials continue to grow in popularity.  We have chestnut, birch and woodland trees, all planted as saplings, so you can watch them grow and mature. There are memorial trees throughout our grounds and woodlands, all accompanied by a memorial tablet or plaque, and ashes can be scattered or buried by the tree.

Our memorials also include benches and seats, with an inscription dedicated to the person who has passed. Located by the pond and within our woodland areas, among other places, these make wonderful places to sit and quietly gather your thoughts.

Nature can help us through life’s toughest questions, so find time to take that walk or to just sit and watch the world go by. You won’t regret it.

Find out more about Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens at www.crematorium.co.uk

What the month of May has taught us about mental health and talking about death

May 22nd, 2020    Author:

May is the month of both Dying Matters Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Week. While we acknowledge these important events every year, this year, of course, is quite different.

Are we closer to talking about death now that we are living through a global pandemic and faced with devastating figures every day? Are we more aware of our mental health now that we are separated from our friends and family? From the way we feel every day to drastic changes such as not being able to attend funerals and not scattering ashes once in a while, how is this all affecting us both now and in the months and years to come?

Awareness is key to helping ourselves and others, so let’s take a look at what both the Dying Matters and Mental Health Awareness campaigns can teach us.

 

Mental Health Awareness – #KindnessMatters

This year’s awareness week has been all about kindness. Here at Austin’s we are very community-focussed and have tried to do as much as we can to support others over recent weeks, including:

  • Supporting ‘The Stevenage Community Food Bank’ by collecting donations of non-perishable food items at our head office for those struggling to feed themselves and their families during the pandemic.
  • Delivering 1,500 face shields to funeral service colleagues throughout the UK thanks to Relton Herron of Avacare in Stevenage.
  • Helping the ‘Stevenage Helps’ appeal to attract donations of over £30,000.

 

How can we all be kinder?

According to YouGov research carried out for ITV, people have been more concerned about their mental health since lockdown began, but 37% have got back in touch with old friends or family and 60% say they’re talking more often to family and friends on the phone than before the lockdown.

These are both really positive things to happen – and many acts of kindness have come out of lockdown too. You only have to take a brief look at social media to see lots of feel-good stories; from people delivering home-cooked meals to neighbours, to Colonel Tom raising millions for the NHS!

Research on the Mental Health Awareness Week website says that “kindness can  help reduce stress and improve our emotional wellbeing.” It really does have genuine health benefits. They also say “kindness is choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings.”

Here are some of our favourite ideas on how to show kindness. You can get more inspiration at mentalhealth.org.uk…

  • Volunteer for a local community organisation - charities are crying out for a helping hand right now, from support with online fundraisers to collecting donations from the local community
  • Check in safely with a neighbour who is isolated or shielding
  • See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories by video, for example
  • Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects - if you’ve got to know your neighbours better during the Thursday night ‘clap for carers’ then why not get together and make a difference where you live?
  • Post a card or letter to someone you are out of touch with  – a handwritten note can make someone’s day
  • Smile and say hello to people you may pass every day, but have never spoken to – social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t still interact with people (at a safe distance!)

 Dying Matters – #DyingtobeHeard

How can we talk about death more openly, but also make sure we are listening to others? This year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week theme was ‘Dying To Be Heard’. In other words, how many people want to talk about death, but feel they have no one to talk to about it?

Hospice UK recently released new research findings, showing that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% said that one of the top three most useful things someone could do was to just sit and listen to them.

The fact that we are connecting with people more during lockdown is a good start – but active listening is key. It’s important to ask the other person, ‘what’s important to you?’

 

How can we become better listeners?

Here are some tips from dyingmatters.org on how to be a good listener :

  • Let them know you want to listen – there will probably be a lot going on in the mind of the person speaking, let them know it’s ok to think things through and take their time.
  • Don’t try to be the expert – you don’t need to have answers to their questions – in fact, they’ll probably prefer it if you don’t! Nine times out of 10 they just want to unload their thoughts.
  • Don’t try and steer the conversation – let them work through things in their own way.
  • Do pay attention – it’s really obvious, and off-putting, when the person you are confiding in has their mind elsewhere.
  • Practise your own self care – some of what they say might be upsetting for you to hear. Make sure you have some means to process everything afterwards and have someone to listen to you too.