Austin's Blog


Releasing white doves at a funeral

April 29th, 2016    Author:


Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest (Psalm 55:6)

For centuries doves have symbolized peace and love, and releasing a white dove at a funeral has become increasingly popular. It can bring comfort to mourners seeing doves rise into the sky as if transporting the soul of their loved one to heaven. It’s why Austin’s offer this service either at the funeral service, cremation at Harwood Park, burial or memorial service.

Last month it was reported that the trend for releasing doves could lead to a rise in the birds being left in the wild, with the RSPB saying that domesticated doves that haven’t been properly trained to return home are increasingly being sighted. For our dove release service we always use a reputable company, with homing doves that are trained to navigate their way home from distances of up to 60 miles.

At funerals, many people like to release a single white dove to symbolize the deceased’s journey onward. Others may choose a pair of doves – this marks the deceased taking their journey either with their guardian angel or with an already departed loved one, reuniting their souls in eternity. And then there are those who find comfort in releasing three doves – signifying the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – followed by a fourth dove, for the parting spirit. Customers may also wish to release a flock of doves to represent the age of the deceased (up to 100 doves can be released).

With our dove release service, doves are placed ready in a white basket and an experienced dove handler will be there to help if you want to release the dove by hand yourself. Personal messages can be attached to the doves before they are set free into the sky.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but releasing a dove can offer a moving and memorable tribute to a loved one, and can be a peaceful and symbolic way of letting go.

* If you’d like more information about Austins dove release service, please get in touch on at any of our branches or Harwood Park Crematorium on 01438 815555.

Photo courtesy of The White Dove Company

Claire Finds Out More About Vietnamese burial rituals

February 29th, 2016    Author:

Last October, Austin’s managing director Claire Austin, travelled to Vietnam to work on a community project to help build a dam in Hanoi. While taking a break from mixing concrete and moving rocks she had a look around the local villages and came across some wooden coffins. When she asked about them, she was told that families handcraft their own coffins and store them under their house until they are needed.

In Vietnam, after someone has passed away the body is kept at the house for three days so people have time to say their final goodbyes. It’s common for gifts such as grains of rice or – for wealthier families – gold coins to be placed in the mouth of the deceased. The funeral ceremony involves a big feast and musicians playing traditional music. As for the burial, to avoid bad luck the body is laid to rest according to the position of the sun.

While chatting about the coffins, Claire was interested to learn that three years after burial, the body is exhumed so that the bones can be cleaned. This may be done by a special gravedigger, who digs up the bones and carefully washes them while relatives chant Buddhist prayers and burn incense. Once the bones have been cleaned they are placed in a small casket in an order that resembles the human skeleton then re-buried. The Vietnamese do this because they believe that by now the soul will have passed onto the next life, and so am empty coffin is no longer needed.

For Claire, it was a fascinating insight into how different cultures have their own customs and rituals to deal with the death of a loved one.

Vietnamese Coffins2Vietnamese Coffins

Austin’s charity donations continue

February 3rd, 2016    Author:
MD Claire Austin hands over cheque for £5,972.15 to North Herts Samaritans

MD Claire Austin hands over cheque for £5,972.15 to North Herts Samaritans

Since Austin’s Charitable Fund was set up in 2002, it has raised over £125,000 for community-based and local charities. This month, Austin’s managing director Claire Austin was delighted to hand over a cheque for £5,972.15 to North Herts Samaritans, the nominated charity for 2015.

Says Claire: We are delighted to have been able to help the SAMARITANS who provide an invaluable service by supporting people in our community.”

Other charities that have benefitted from Austin’s Charitable Foundation include Cancer Hair Care, Tracks Autism, The Living Room and Homestart. This year’s charity is Stevenage Haven which provides shelter and support for single homeless people.

Every year, a percentage of Austin’s profits goes towards a chosen charity. Austin’s are also able to donate money from their annual Christmas Carol Service at Harwood Park Crematorium as well as the sale of funeral service CDs. Money is also kindly raised through the generosity of bereaved families who donate to the charity in memory of a loved one.

Austin’s would like to thank everyone who has helped to raise money for their nominated charities over the years and look forward to continuing to raise money in 2016.

Pictured – Alan Chaney, Chair of Samaritans Friends, Claire Austin Managing Director of Austins Funeral Services, Leigh Grigson, Branch Director North Herts & Stevenage Samaritans, Janet Moss Deputy Director of Outreach at North Herts & Stevenage Samaritans.

The History of the Victorian Mute

January 18th, 2016    Author:
Claire Austin acts as Conductor at colleagues funeral

Claire Austin acts as Conductor at colleagues funeral

During the Victorian era, when funerals were an extravagant business, the family of the deceased would often hire a mute for the occasion. A mute was basically a paid mourner, whose job was to keep vigil outside the house then lead the funeral procession.

A mute dressed in sombre clothes with a black top hat. If it was an adult’s funeral he’d wear a black sash and carry a black crepe-covered staff. For a child’s funeral, the sash and staff would be white.

Most commonly, men took on the role of mutes but there were some child mutes, including Charles Dickens’ famous character, Oliver Twist, who was taken on by the undertaker Mr Sowerberry for children’s funerals. Sowerberry told his wife:  ‘There’s an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear, which is very interesting. He would make a delightful mute, my love… I don’t mean a regular mute to attend grown-up people, my dear, but only for children’s practice. It would be very new to have a mute in proportion, my dear.’

Dickens liked to mock the Victorian’s obsession with mutes, believing them to be an unnecessary expense, particularly for the lower classes who could least afford them. In another of his books, Martin Chuzzlewit, he wrote: ‘Two mutes were at the house-door, looking as mournful as could reasonably be expected of men with such a thriving job in hand.’

Most mutes were day-labourers who took on funeral work as a bit of extra money. It was irregular work so they made the most of it – not least in the amount they drank! It was traditional to gives mutes gin to keep them warm while they stood outside, so drunkenness was prevalent. This is exemplified in a quote from the secretary of an English burial society, printed in the illustrated magazine, Leisure Hour, in 1862: ‘The men who stand as mutes at the door are supposed to require most drink. I have seen these men reel about the road, and after the burial, we have been obliged to put these mutes into the interior of the hearse and drive them home, as they were incapable of walking.’

Not surprisingly, the use of mutes began to decrease and by the turn of the 20th century these professional mourners had disappeared altogether.