Austin's Blog

 

Keeping Memories Alive

September 30th, 2019    Author:

Keeping memories alive

The flowers have been chosen, the eulogy written and the order of service finalised; once the funeral is over, our thoughts naturally turn to how we are going to keep the memory of our loved one alive. After what probably seems like a very busy and full on few weeks or months, we can start to allow ourselves time to think about the opportunities.

Keeping memories alive is something we’re passionate about here at Austin’s. In fact, the late John Austin – the ninth generation of our family to run Austin’s Funeral Directors – took it upon himself to build and run Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens, because he couldn’t find one crematorium in the country that was truly centred on the needs of the bereaved and their loved ones.

As a result, Harwood Park has become a place of peace, tranquility and reflection where you can come and remember your loved ones within beautiful Hertfordshire countryside. There are various ways you can create a memorial here. You might like to have a seat or bench within the memorial gardens, a dedicated tree or shrub, or a plaque or stone memorial within the rose garden.

Perhaps you shared your own special place with your loved one where you might be able to install a bench, or your could plant a rose in your back garden. Think outside the box; there are a myriad of unique ways to celebrate someone’s life.

 

Creating the perfect memorial

If your loved one has been cremated, there is no rush to decide what to do with their ashes. You may like to have the ashes at home with you for a while, before you choose to bury them at a cemetery or churchyard, or to scatter or bury them in a more personal or private location.

It’s also nice to be able to gather with friends and family in a less formal environment than the funeral, to bury or scatter the ashes at a later date and in the way you want.

Don’t rush your decision; make sure it’s the right one for you and your family. If you want to drive to the coast for a day and scatter the ashes into the sea, you may then want to create a more permanent memorial elsewhere that you can visit. If you decide to bury the ashes, an accompanying stone or plaque will make sure you always have somewhere to go and be with your loved one.

Of course, there are always the more obscure options! Some people have given their loved ones a spectacular exit with an organised fireworks display. The ashes are added to fireworks and fired off into the sky in an ultimate celebration of life!

You can also have ashes made into memorial jewellery. The ashes are added to colourful glass beads, which you can set into pendants for bracelets or necklaces. Moreover, ashes can also be made into a diamond. The carbon is extracted and compressed at a high temperature to enable the molten material to reform to its natural state, before being cut and polished.

For those brave enough to attempt a sky dive, there is a company that can take the ashes and release them into the air at the start of the dive – and you can join them on a tandem dive if you wish!

Something that is becoming more and more popular is a living memorial, or memorial planting. This incorporates ashes into the soil to return a loved one to nature. The plant you choose to grow can also match their personality.

 

Keeping them with you now and always

In the months and years after your loved one’s passing, you’ll find that you develop your own unique ways of keeping their memory alive. You might decide to…

  • Make a keepsake: Cushions or teddy bears made of people’s clothing are popular, as is the idea of framing something that was very special to your loved one, such as a football shirt
  • Wear something of theirs: Whether it’s a piece of jewellery or a much loved watch that you can have repaired and put on a new strap for everyday use
  • Support a cause: Was there a charity close to your loved one’s heart? Could you make a donation in their honour or take part in a fundraising event?
  • Keep talking about them: Share their photos and stories with friends old and new
  • Start a tradition: What would be a great way to continue celebrating their birthday every year? Setting off balloons or going for a family walk around their favourite place will continue to make an event of the important days in your loved one’s life.

There’s an anonymous quote that says: “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.” However you decide to honour the memory of your loved one, know that you will be able to take comfort from that treasure for many years to come.

 

 

How to prepare a eulogy

August 30th, 2019    Author:

A eulogy is a funeral speech prepared and given by someone close to the deceased, about their life, their character and their achievements. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as “a speech, piece of writing, poem, etc. containing great praise…”.

In essence, a eulogy is a celebration of someone’s life. It’s a chance for everyone at the funeral to reflect, remember and even learn something new about the person they have all gathered together to pay their respects to.

There’s a great quote by Doctor Seuss; “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” A eulogy is one of the first times after someone passes that all of these great memories can be retold; the comfort this can bring, and the connections it makes between people in the room, is huge.

While it’s an honour to be asked to give a eulogy at someone’s funeral, it can feel daunting and there’s commonly a fear of having to ‘get it right’. Don’t feel pressured into it, or guilty if you decide to say no.

 

What does a eulogy look like?

Fortunately, there are no real set rules. Just like every life is unique, so is every eulogy. You don’t need to be an amazing writer – a eulogy should come from the heart.

A eulogy can be structured in various ways. It could be:

  • Chronologically – in date order from where they were born, their school life, working life and retirement
  • By characteristics – for instance, you may have four or five characteristics of the person that you wish to talk through with related anecdotes
  • In a certain theme – for example, if the person was a dedicated musician, the eulogy might focus around this and how it impacted the different areas of their life

It’s important to think about both your audience and the deceased. How will the audience feel and what will they want to hear? When was the deceased at their happiest and when did they face their biggest challenges – what would they want people to remember?

However you decide to approach it, you want to create a picture in people’s minds during the eulogy, just like how Kevin Whately talks about fellow actor John Thaw after he passed away; “In between takes, he was like an Irish storyteller in a bar – he wouldn’t tell jokes, just stories and you would find yourself rolling around and crying with laughter.”

 

How to start writing a eulogy

Think about the type of person they were, the times you spent together and what tone your eulogy will take.

  • Do your research – talk to the family and other close friends for stories, or any details of the person’s life that you are not sure of.
  • Write down the key points of their life, plus key words that you feel reflected their personality.
  • Gather together any anecdotes you want to highlight.
  • Once all this is in place, just start writing! Don’t worry about the beginning and end to start with.
  • Make sure you start early enough to give time for editing a few drafts and to ask people for feedback.
  • Find out who else is speaking at the funeral so that you don’t repeat any considerable chunks of information.
  • If you’re still finding it hard to get going, work through a checklist:
    • Their birthplace
    • Their family
    • Their partner
    • Any nicknames, quotes, things they’d typically say
    • Education
    • Work
    • Community or sporting achievements
    • Hobbies, clubs or memberships
    • Favourite poems, songs or quotes

 

How to practice reading the eulogy

A eulogy should be around 3-5 minutes long when read aloud; but certainly no more than 10. A 5 minute speech is equivalent to around 750 words, so about the same length as this blog post.

Read it out loud and practise a few times. Performing a eulogy is public speaking, something which plenty of people struggle with, so it’s ok for it not to be perfect.

Things can sound very different when you read them aloud, compared to in your head, so change anything that sounds awkward or not right when you practise. If you can, write the main points on a card and work off of that, so that you’re not reliant on reading it word for word.

On the day, stand still and calm while you speak; it’s easy to fidget when we’re nervous! Don’t worry about emotion – if you feel overwhelmed at any point, just give yourself some time and then continue. Above all, try and speak slowly. People want to hear what you have to say.

 

Finally…

Remember, a eulogy should come from the heart, so don’t get too worried about the finer details.

“Eulogies never talk about what was on your resume. Be remembered for how you made people feel and your passions”.

Arianna Huffington, Founder of Huffington Post.

Attending a funeral in the summer 

July 31st, 2019    Author:

Attending a funeral in the summer 

Well, what a summer we’re having so far! As we write, we’re in the middle of the end-of-term heatwave and trying to stay cool in the offices here at Austin’s!

We Brits aren’t too accustomed to such hot weather and, when it comes to summer funerals, we can become a bit unsure about traditional customs. So we thought it would be a good idea to put together some thoughts on attending funerals during the balmier months, with some seasonal tips and plenty which are relevant all year round, too.

 

What to wear to a summer funeral

 One of the most common questions people ask is, what should I wear to a summer funeral?

If the weather is anywhere near as hot as it has been recently, then you need to put some planning into your outfit. If you’re in the right clothes on the day, you’ll be able to focus on what matters and the reasons you’re there, rather than worrying about what you’re wearing.

Stay cool: Choose something light, respectful and modest, so make sure shoulders and knees are covered. For men, a smart, short-sleeved shirt is fine and for ladies, skirts and dresses should be at least knee length. There is no need for a full suit in hot weather, but make sure you don’t go too far the other way and appear too casual; avoid flip flops and shorts.

Colour and print: Summer funerals can be tricky because most of our summer clothes tend to be colourful or feature large, summery prints. It may be that the family would like people to wear colour; this is something that is becoming more and more common, [see blog on personalisation] in which case just avoid anything with graphics or slogans, or that is too ‘beachwear’. You don’t want to detract from the focus of the occasion.

If colour has not been specified by the family, it’s not generally expected to wear full black anymore. Go for neutrals that suit lighter materials, such as grey or beige, or possibly white.

Style: Funerals are very personal affairs, so try not to come across in full business attire. Similarly, you don’t want to look like you’re going to a cocktail party, so no off-the-shoulder or body con dresses. Remember, family and close friends can be sensitive on the day, so dress conservatively.  (blog on funeral stress]

 Footwear: There is generally a lot of walking at a funeral. You may need to park a way away from the service, then there may be a walk to the burial or cremation, and to a wake afterwards. Churchyards can have uneven terrain and there will be a lot of standing and talking to people, so choose wisely!

Check the weather forecast a few days in advance and decide on your outfit. Then check for any stains, marks, loose buttons etc, that need attention. And don’t forget your shoes; do they need a clean?

 

What to take to a summer funeral

Once your outfit is sorted, it’s time to make sure you have everything you need with you.

While there are a few things to remember, try not to take a really big bag as it will just get in the way.

You may need:

Tissues – for you and others that you can offer around.

Sunglasses – essential in this weather!

Water – the hot weather can play havoc with tickly coughs, so it’s helpful to have some water at hand, especially during the service.

Cereal bar – funerals can be stressful and emotionally draining that we can forget to eat. Having a small snack in your bag is a good idea in case someone is in need.

Painkillers – we all know a good cry can bring on a headache, but with the hot weather as well, make sure you have something to keep it at bay.

Make-up wipe – Again, tears can play havoc with eye make-up. You or someone near you might be very grateful for a quick wipe!

Money – It’s a good idea to carry some cash in case there is a donation box or collection.

 

What to do on the day of a funeral

Arrive in good time. There is nothing more stressful than being late. You need to factor in finding somewhere to park and traffic depending on the time of day.

Know where to sit. As a general rule, the first few rows are reserved for family and close friends.

Put your phone on silent. Obvious, we know, but so easily forgotten.

Go and see the family. There is usually a lot going on before the funeral starts, but do go and speak to the family afterwards or when you arrive at the wake, to offer your condolences. If you find it hard, talk to them about a memory you have of the person who has passed away, or ask if there is anything you can do for them.

If you’re still unsure about any aspect of the funeral you’re attending, you could always ask a member of the family or someone close to them. They’ll be grateful for your attendance, as a full church is always of great comfort to any family who has lost a loved one. Or speak to the funeral director; we’re always here to help with all of our funerals here at Austin’s.

 

 

Funeral transport: Making your last journey personal

June 28th, 2019    Author:

Funeral transport: Making your last journey personal

There are many sayings in life about journeys and travel. A journey is a common metaphor for life itself and they form the basis of numerous inspirational quotes. But we’re also a generation of physical globetrotters. We plot where we want to go, what we want to do; we have scratch maps to complete, bucket lists to fulfil.

So the final journey we make after we’ve passed away is, surely, just as significant. By choosing a mode of transport and a route to take to the final resting place, which are personal to the deceased, a funeral can feel more about their life than their death. It’s not about going into the dark and unknown, but celebrating life and creating more memories.

Our blog on personalising funerals [link to personalising funerals blog] touched on transport, but here we’ll look at it in more depth.

Why is funeral transport so significant? 

There are two aspects to personalising funeral transport. Firstly, it allows the deceased to travel in a way that is very personal to them, whether this is by their own planning before they pass away, or down to friends and family fulfilling their wishes on their behalf. This might be in a vehicle they owned themselves, something they loved going in, or perhaps even always wanted to experience!

There was a story in the news recently of a man who’s dying wish it was to have his coffin transported in the bucket of the JCB he drove for 30 years. There are some beautiful pictures online of the JCB taking him on the short journey from his home to the funeral, followed by his family and friends on foot. (https://metro.co.uk/2019/04/24/granddad-taken-funeral-bucket-jcb-9294632/)

The second aspect is about those left behind. Depending on the transport chosen, they can walk alongside, drive, or, in the case of a hand pulled bier, even carry their loved one themselves and be beside them right until the end. In some cases, following a traditional black hearse in a funeral car may feel quite distant and unfamiliar for the bereaved, perhaps even a bit stressful. It’s important to see how something as seemingly insignificant as the transport can help our stress and mental attitude at such a difficult time. [link to funeral stress blog]

A study by the Co-op revealed that more and more people want their funerals to be personal and celebratory affairs with Land Rovers and rainbow-hued vehicles to take them to their final resting places – and companies are responding to these wishes up and down the country!

 

What types of transport are available?

At Austin’s, we can arrange various modes of transport and always do our best to make your wishes happen. Aside from our traditional black hearses and limousines, we can offer…

  • A motorbike hearse with a sidecar for the coffin, from the classic style Triumph through to the iconic Harley Davidson
  • A VW campervan, which can also be accompanied by stretched Beetle limousines and a fleet of VW buses
  • A variety of different model Land Rovers
  • A 1950 vintage lorry
  • A hand pulled coffin bier, which has been in the Austin’s family for generations
  • A horse-drawn carriage with black or white horses

Around the world there are all sorts of options available, from New York taxi hearses to hot rod hearses. Another story that made the headlines was about a lady who arranged for a motorcycle hearse and a procession of Harley Davidsons to lead her funeral procession, after having her first ride on a Harley two years prior – aged 97! (https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/staffordshire/cannock/2018/11/03/great-grandmother-taken-to-her-final-resting-place-with-a-harley-davidson-funeral-procession/) You’re never too old to develop a new passion!

The final journey

Aside from the mode of transport, the final journey our loved ones take can also be made very significant by taking a personal route.

Earlier this month, the funeral of a long-serving paramedic and firefighter was reported in a local newspaper. He had a funeral cortege of emergency vehicles, which stopped briefly at the ‘Old Fire Station’ before continuing to the church, and then passing the fire station where he worked one last time before proceeding to the cemetery.  (https://uckfieldnews.com/emergency-vehicles-to-join-funeral-cortege-of-bruce-davy-uckfield/)

Whether your loved one’s wish is for one last tour of their hometown, a final blast down the bypass in a motorbike hearse, or even a brief stop at their favourite pub, you can make their final journey memorable and unique.