Austin's Blog

 

Attending a Winter Funeral

November 13th, 2019    Author:

The clocks have gone back, Halloween is over for another year and Christmas is just a few short weeks away. Yes, winter is here!

A few months ago, back during that wonderful heat wave, we blogged about attending funerals in the height of summer. Now, we thought it would be helpful to write a few tips on winter funerals and some of the things you might want to think about; whether it’s a funeral you’re planning for a loved one, or attending to pay your respects.

Your outfit

Unfortunately, winter always sees a spike in deaths – and funerals don’t often come with much advance notice. It’s a good idea to keep a few items of more formal winter wear in your wardrobe, which may come in handy during the colder months.

A smart, dark-coloured winter coat will keep you warm and go over any outfit you decide to wear. Wool coats are very smart, although not the best in wet weather, so make sure you always have an umbrella handy.

Keeping warm will be a key factor in your choice of outfit for a funeral, as you will probably spend a fair bit of time outside viewing the flowers and talking to people after the service. Layers are really important as you will be moving from inside for the service (which might not be a particularly warm church), to the outside and then back inside for the wake.

Accessories, such as jewellery, which would normally add a little colour to your outfit, don’t really get seen when you’re wearing a coat, but your winter accessories – hats, scarves, and gloves, can still bring the colour if that’s what you want.

Make sure you have smart dress shoes that will stand up to walking across wet or frozen grass. If it’s really cold, the little reusable hand warmers, which you can buy online or from many shops, are a great idea to slip inside your gloves.

The flowers

While you may think there is not as big a choice of flowers available in the winter months, as opposed to summer, winter flowers can bring all sorts of colour and texture to help your arrangements reflect the personality of your loved one.

Evergreens are your typical winter flowers. These are plants that have leaves throughout the year – and you can do so much with them. Branches and twigs can add texture, while bright red berries add a splash of uplifting colour. Leaves add both texture and colour and some types, such as pine, also give a lovely scent to an arrangement.

Carnations, roses and tulips are in season throughout the winter, so you’ll have no trouble getting hold of these. And, of course, they come in a variety of colours to suit your arrangements. Lilies also bloom throughout winter and are the most iconic funeral flower. They’re stunning to look at.

If you’re working with a florist, they will also be able to source some more exotic blooms for you to bring in even more colour, should you wish to.

The wake

No one expects to be fed a whole meal after the funeral. A wake is a time to catch up with friends or family, have a drink and perhaps a small bite to eat, and share memories of the deceased.

It can be tricky to know what to serve at a wake, but in cold weather, soup and a roll is likely to be more appreciated than the traditional cold buffet – or even just a hot option such as warmed sausage rolls.

You could even add a personal touch if your loved one had their own recipe that you can easily recreate. Make sure there are plenty of hot drinks available too.

It’s a well known fact that food can comfort us in times of need; it’s often something people naturally bring to the home of a family when someone passes away. The practice of feasting after a funeral dates back to Egyptian times and the Jewish custom of Seudat Havra’ah actually translates to ‘meal of consolation’, a meal that is prepared for the mourners by their community.

Winter memorials

Winter weather often makes things more challenging. After the funeral or memorial service is over, it might be too cold or wet to spend time at your loved one’s grave or memorial having a ‘chat’ with them or just sitting quietly.

The weather can also make it trickier to visit their grave as regularly, but there are plants and flowers that will be hardier in harsher weather, and can be left for longer. Your local garden centre will have plenty of options that will keep the grave looking vibrant no matter how bad the weather gets.

As well as its challenges, winter also brings lots of opportunities for memorial ideas. You could:

  • Have a special bauble made to go on your Christmas tree in memory of your loved one.
  • Plant a memorial rose – winter is the best time to do it.
  • Spend the long winter nights sorting photos and putting together a memory box for yourself or for members of your family to remember your loved one.

Dealing with Death in a Digital Age

October 28th, 2019    Author:

The way we deal with death in 2019 is very different from even just a decade ago. Today, our physical lives run parallel with our online presence and, for many of us, everything is documented online from our baby’s 12 week scan to our death.

While we’re creating these digital footprints, we’re also faced daily with other people’s milestones, their news, as well as charity campaigns and awareness events – such as Baby Loss Awareness Week last week – which keep all of life’s hurdles at the forefront of our minds, now more than ever.

This will no doubt help to lessen the taboo around talking about death – many terminally ill people now choose to keep blogs, which are widely read. But our digital lives also bring challenges when we lose a loved one. How do we communicate online about a death? What is expected of us? Is it ok for online messages to replace more traditional forms of communication?

 

The research

The Coop conducted some interesting research into social etiquette in the event of a death. They found that:

  • 1 in 8 adults have posted online to notify others about the death of a loved one
  • 1 in 5 adults want loved ones to post online to notify others about their own death
  • 1 in 3 agree that with the rise of social media less people send sympathy cards

So in a world of social media, how do we cope with a death and what positives can we draw from it?

 

Reacting to a death on social media

If you find out that someone has passed away via social media, it can be difficult to know what to say. Messages and emails are increasingly replacing traditional cards, but of course, there is this sense of immediacy to everything online.

It’s important not to bombard the family of the deceased with messages and, if you do post something publicly, then be very mindful of what you’re posting. Think about how your words will affect others at such an emotional time. While expressing your emotions is a healthy part of grief, always remember that your posts will potentially be seen by a very wide audience and some conversations are better had offline.

It’s said that 50% of Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2010) spend 10 hours a day connected online, however, when it comes to death, even those who have grown up in a digital world find grieving in the internet age a bit strange. Some worry that they will look like they are attention seeking if they post about a friend or loved one’s death. For a generation who post almost everything online, surely not ‘talking’ about it would be odd, but yet these questions still arise for many of us when anniversaries and birthdays come around every year.

 

Sharing the news of the death of a loved one online

If you have lost someone, you may wish to put a notice online to let your wider circle of connections aware of the death, once you have spoken to close friends and family. You may also wish to post details of the funeral, which can be shared to anyone who may like to attend.

If you’re unsure what to do with their social media and online accounts, check that they didn’t leave any wishes or instructions. You can:

  • Memorialise their accounts (only some platforms will allow you to do this). This will enable you to still visit their profiles and see photos etc. but will stop birthday notifications or similar being sent, which can be very distressing for everyone involved
  • Delete their accounts (you will have to contact the individual platforms and will generally need a copy of the death certificate)
  • Leave their accounts open

 

A modern day memory book

Thanks to our online presence, those who have passed away are no longer hidden away in dusty photo albums, they are carried around with us, as the background photo on our phone, or in our profile pictures. Some of us also upload old family photos to our social accounts to share with friends, creating a digital legacy.

This can help with the grieving process; scrolling through photos and memories as you would have done a photo album, but with the deceased’s own words and emotions to accompany them.

People are also starting to request digital memorials when they die; a virtual space online for remembrance, as opposed to the traditional headstone or plaque.

 

Appointing a ‘digital heir’

Not many people have heard of the ‘legacy contact’ on Facebook. It’s someone who you appoint to look after your Facebook account after you die. That person cannot read the deceased person’s messages, but can change their profile photo and archive posts and photos. Other platforms have various methods to close or memorialise accounts, but planning ahead where you can and choosing a ‘digital heir’ will make things easier for those left behind.

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.