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Japanese memorials

August 29th, 2017    Author:

We’re always fascinated to learn about other cultures and how they honour their dead, so this month we thought we’d focus on Japan…

Each year the Japanese honour their ancestors’ spirits with a Buddhist tradition known as ‘Obon’. Also known as the Feast of Lanterns and the Festival of the Dead, Obon is held at different times of the year depending on the region but most Japanese celebrate it in August. It lasts for three days and although it’s not a public holiday everyone is allowed to take time off work.

Obon begins by setting out electrified paper lanterns inside the house to guide the spirits of relatives back home. If it’s the first Obon memorial since the loved one’s death, a small fire is lit outside to help them find their way back. Next comes the ritual of sharing food with the deceased, which is known as ‘ozen’. This can be a main meal or offerings of fruit, rice, sake, green tea and sweets shaped like lotus leaves that are left at the family’s Buddhist altar.

While the spirits are back at home, the family will visit the deceased’s burial place to perform a ritual cleaning of the gravestone.

A major part of Obon is the traditional bon dances, or ‘bonodori’. This is a vibrant affair with colourfully-dressed dancers performing alongside a singer and musicians playing taiko drums, lutes and bells. In Tokushima on the island of Shikoku, as the dancers take to the street the special Bon dance known as Awa Odori attracts over a million tourists every year.

Finally, when Obon is over it’s time to say goodbye to the deceased and let them return again to their resting place. To see off the spirits, families light a fire or, if they’re near the river or sea, they help the deceased on their way with lanterns placed on the water. Other sending-off ceremonies include Kyoto’s spectacular ‘Daimonji Gozan Okuribi’, when fires are lit on the mountain slopes.

It may seem like a strange tradition to us in the Western world, but for the Japanese this annual memorial celebration is obviously a wonderful way to unite family members and share memories of loved ones that have passed.

 

* For help and support planning a funeral or cremation, please contact us on 01438 316623

 

 

How to choose a headstone

July 25th, 2017    Author:

How to choose a headstone

Taking your time

Choosing a headstone can feel like a daunting task when you’re newly bereaved. The first thing you should know is that there’s no rush to make a decision. A headstone serves as a timeless tribute to the deceased and while you’re still in the early stages of the grieving process your thoughts are bound to be clouded by sadness. It’s often better to allow some time to pass – even if that’s several years – so you can think more clearly about how you’d like your loved one to be remembered.

 Church or cemetery burial?

When you’re ready to think about a headstone, bear in mind that your choice may be restricted according to whether the burial was in a church or cemetery. Generally you’ll find that cemeteries don’t have hard-and-fast rules and regulations. However, with churchyards there will be limitations. These will be dependent on the branch of the church and the local parish, but commonly include only allowing inscriptions that refer to Christianity, avoiding any reflective materials and finishes and not using bold colouring.

Deciding on a design

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is on the style of headstone. The most traditional design is the upright headstone, which is usually made from granite, limestone or marble. A smaller upright version is called a ‘desk tablet’ – also known as a DVT (Desk Vase Tablet). You can also have a ground-level flat headstone in granite or bronze or a ‘kerbed’ or ‘ledger slab’, which is a full-length, ground-level headstone.

Selecting the stone

Headstones come in a range of materials including slate, granite and limestone. There’s also white marble and bronze, though neither of these are permitted in churchyards. As well as the overall look, you’ll need to consider things such as durability, how clearly it will show an inscription, weather resistance and what kind of cleaning and maintenance it will require. And of course cost will be a factor. Granite is a popular choice as it’s a cheap option, highly durable and comes in different colours and finishes.

Finding the right finish

As well as the material, you’ll also need to choose a finish – and with this there are three options. A polished finish looks beautifully smooth and shiny, but the downsides are that it won’t be allowed by most churches and it will also need regular cleaning. Another choice is part-polished, where only the base and inscription is polished.  Then there’s honed, a church-friendly smooth but unreflective finish.

Composing a lasting inscription

The inscription includes the name of the deceased and their date of birth and death, along with an epitaph. Finding the right words can be the hardest part, which is another good reason not to rush things. Engraving tends to be charged per letter or per word, so an epitaph will usually be fairly short and concise. You might want to choose something simple, such as ‘Gone but not forgotten’ or ‘Until we meet again’. Some people prefer a Bible passage, the verse of a poem or a memorable quote.

* We’re here to help you with all aspects of burial or cremation. Please contact us on 01438 316623.  You can see more examples of stone designs on our memorial page.

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Funeral attendance – a handy checklist

July 4th, 2017    Author:

Going to a funeral can be a daunting experience, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to guide you through the day

The day before

It’s a good idea to get your outfit ready the day before so you’re not scrambling around in your wardrobe at the last minute. It also means you can check that your clothes are fit to wear – there’s nothing worse than having an outfit in mind then discovering it’s got a stain on it. You could also check for missing buttons, loose threads or a hanging hemline and that your shoes are clean and polished. These are all little things but looking presentable is a mark of respect.

Choosing your outfit

There are no hard-and-fast rules about what to wear at a funeral. If the family haven’t specified a dress code – perhaps to not wear black or to come dressed in something bright – then aim for a smart outfit in a dark colour such as grey, burgundy or navy. In the summer months, choose light, cool fabrics and ensure that if you’ll be removing a jacket or cardigan what you’re wearing underneath is appropriate.

What to take with you

It’s useful to check the weather forecast before going so that if rain is forecast you can take an umbrella. Remember that you might be spending quite a bit of time outside, particularly if it’s a burial. You might also want to take a spare umbrella so you can offer one to another mourner who has forgotten theirs. Other useful items are a packet of tissues and some throat sweets or mints. Even if you don’t use them, being able to offer them to someone else is a kind gesture that will be much appreciated.

Being phone aware

It can be easy to forget about turning off your mobile phone until it’s too late and it’s ringing mid-service or when you’re in the middle of talking to the deceased’s family. When you arrive, before getting out of the car turn off your phone and keep it switched off until you’re back in the car again to go home.

Arrival time

Leave plenty of time for your journey to the funeral to allow for traffic or getting lost. If you do arrive late then quietly take a seat at the back. You should also sit at the back if you need to leave early so your departure doesn’t distract from the service.

Taking your seat

Priority seats in the first couple of rows should always go to the deceased’s family but other than this there’s no specific seating plan to follow. Where you sit may depend on the size of the venue and how many people are attending. If there are empty seats towards the front you may want to sit there to fill the gap and help create an atmosphere of togetherness. When a venue is quickly filling up, you might want to stand at the side or back of the room to leave seats vacant for others. And of course it’s always polite to offer a seat to another mourner if they look more in need of one than you do.

Speaking to the family

It can feel daunting introducing yourself to the family of the deceased but do make the effort – this is not a day when they’ll feel strong enough to make the introductions themselves. A short explanation of how you knew the deceased followed by your condolences will be enough, but do stay and chat longer if you feel they want you to.

Talking with guests

Kind words go a long way at a funeral, so you might want to introduce yourself to other guests and talk to them about how important the deceased was to you. Again, start with a brief introduction of who you are and how you knew them. Remember that although this is a sad occasion it’s wonderful to be able to unite with others who can share their happy memories of the deceased.

 

* For help and support planning any aspect of a funeral, please contact us on 01438 316623.

 

Saying Goodbye with Cremation Ashes

May 30th, 2017    Author:

With cremation a popular choice, we look at some unique and special ways to celebrate with your loved one’s ashes

Going out with a bang

Some people are giving their loved ones a spectacular exit with an organized fireworks display. Cremation ashes – cremains – are added to fireworks, which are then fired off into the sky in a beautiful display. One UK company, Heavens Above Fireworks, can arrange a dramatic display synchronized with music or something a bit quieter using reduced-noise fireworks. They also provide self-fired rockets if you want to have your own fireworks ceremony at home.

Memorial jewellery

If you want to keep your loved one close to you after they’ve passed, you can have their ashes made into memorial jewellery. Cremains can be added to colourful glass beads as a charm bracelet, included in a locket or set into silver for pendants and necklaces.

Up, up and away

When space fan Chester Mojay-Sinclare lost his grandmother he came up with a special way of seeing her off. He placed her ashes in a biodegradable urn and sent them up into the air attached to an environmentally-friendly meteorological balloon. Once it reached 100,000ft, a special mechanism opened the urn, releasing his beloved gran’s ashes into the stratosphere. Chester has since set up Stardust Ashes, which offers this service nationwide.

Diamonds are forever

An expensive but unique way to hold on to a deceased ashes is to have them made into a diamond. Created in a laboratory, a hi-tech process extracts the carbon from the ashes and compresses it at a high temperature, after which the molten material reforms into its natural state. It’s then cut and polished into a genuine diamond.

Space odyssey

If your loved one always had a hankering to travel into space, you can make their dream come true even after death. Cremains are put into a capsule and launched into space, where they float in the zero gravity environment before returning to Earth. The capsule is then mounted in a plaque with a launch photo and flight message, leaving the family with a novel keepsake. Other space options include launching the cremains into Earth orbit, where they could remain for up to 240 years before vaporizing like a blazing shooting star, or sending them to the Moon!

A memorable skydive

If sending your loved one’s ashes into orbit seems like a galaxy too far, you could have them scattered into the atmosphere as part of a skydive instead. British company Your Wings offers filmed skydives where they’ll take the ashes and release them into the air, letting the wind carry them far and away.  If you’re feeling brave, the company also arranges tandem skydives so you can be there to witness the amazing moment the ashes are released.

* We’re here to help. If you’d like to talk to us about a cremation or burial, please contact us on 01438 316623.