Austin's Blog

 

Small but beautiful funerals

April 14th, 2021    Author:

Since the start of the pandemic many families have had to limit the number of mourners that can attend their loved ones’ funerals due to strict Covid rules.

Last week we heard the very sad news of the passing of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The funeral will be televised and, as expected, only 30 people will be able to attend in person. There will be no processions, no streets lined with wellwishers; that’s quite the change from any other royal funeral where hundreds would usually be invited.

It’s been reported that Prince Philip did not want a big state funeral, which got us thinking about all the positives of smaller, more personal funerals that have the deceased at the very heart of them.

On the day of his funeral, the Duke’s coffin will be transported in a specially-adapted Land Rover hearse that he helped design himself. Prince Philip always had a special love for Land Rovers and so it is very fitting that he chose for his final journey to be made inside of one.

Being closer to death

If there can be anything good to come out of this pandemic, it has to be that it has helped us talk more about death and hopefully become slightly more comfortable around it. As we’ve said in many of our blogs before now, it is good to talk about death. While it can be hard to start with, there is no escaping it and talking and planning is a very good way to reduce stress and anxiety.

The fact that Prince Philip thought about how the Land Rover would carry his coffin is a wonderful example of this. These sorts of actions take a lot of stress off of those left behind and make funerals extra special on the day. Funerals can be scary things but having personal touches help to make them less daunting.

Smaller than expected

Some people might actually find it easier with restricted numbers at funerals. It can help reduce social anxiety on the day and worries about making sure you’ve told everyone who may wish to attend. There are many parts of a funeral that can cause anxiety from having lots of people waiting to speak to you on the day, to the pressure of hosting a big wake or planning a faultless service. Sometimes just you and your loved ones is all that is needed.

If you are, however, struggling with the restrictions then there are lots of things you can do to make sure the funeral is just as special as it would be in more normal times:

  • Get creative – if you find local restrictions have caused disruptions to services then try and be creative. For example, instead of relying on a florist you could pick some flowers from your own or a friend’s garden. Although not as grand, this will give the ceremony a very personal feel.
  • Record messages to be played out at the funeral – just as you would have a poem or something similar read during the service, this can be pre-recorded by a loved one who may not be able to attend for that extra personal touch. One review we recently received from a customer showed how powerful online can be: “The celebrant Robby Evans expertly delivered the tribute and the service with reverence, enabling the emotion of the occasion to be captured not only in the Chapel but also for those joining online.”
  • Create your own memorial at home – light a candle next to a photograph of them to bring you closer together, or why not play their favourite music?
  • Create a virtual memorial online – this is a lovely idea for people to post pictures and memories of the person who has passed in a central place for everyone to see, like a virtual book of remembrance. There are lots of ways to do this online.
  • Plan an event for the future – when restrictions ease why not host a memorial service or simply enjoy a meal with friends at your loved one’s favourite restaurant
  • Scatter the ashes at a later date – this doesn’t have to be done at the same time as the funeral. While funerals are time-dependent, you can wait to scatter the ashes at a time when more of you can get together or even travel to a special place.

Let us help you to create the funeral your loved one deserves. We’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – https://www.austins.co.uk/contact.html

We can’t fly without you: Essex and Herts Air Ambulance is our 2021 charity of the year

March 20th, 2021    Author:

As the daffodils are shooting up, days are getting longer and the promise of warmer weather draws nearer, we’re delighted to announce our new charity of the year for 2021 – Essex and Herts Air Ambulance.

We’ve all heard awe-inspiring stories of successful air rescue missions in the news, but how much do we really know about the Air Ambulance and the service it provides locally?

Introducing the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance

Here are some key points that you may not know about this fantastic charity…

  • The charity aims to save lives by delivering a first class pre-hospital emergency medical service
  • They are not part of the NHS and are funded entirely by public donations and National Lottery funding, with very limited financial support from the government
  • They are based in Colchester, Essex
  • Thanks to charitable donations they were able to welcome their first purchased helicopter, the Agusta Westland 169, to the fleet
  • They attend calls both by air in the helicopters and by road in rapid response vehicles

 And in numbers…

  • 2,366 missions in 2020 of which 479 were road traffic collisions
  • 1,239 missions by air and 1,127 by road
  • 1,626 patients treated by their critical care team

Our MD Claire Austin says: “We chose Herts Air Ambulance as our 2021 charity because they provide an amazing, but largely unseen, lifesaving service to our community and are funded purely by charitable giving.”

Charities during Covid

Austin’s charitable fund was set up in 2002 and we have raised over £130,000 for community-based and local charities including the Samaritans, Stevenage Haven, Cancer Hair Care, Tracks Autism and, over the last couple of years, the Butterfly Volunteers at the Lister Hospital and Cruse Bereavement Care.

When we announced Cruse as our 2020 charity of the year last March, we had no idea how difficult things would become for charities nationwide.

Back in June it was predicted by independent charity Pro Bono Economics that the UK’s 170,000 charities would lose £6.4 billion of income over the six months to December 2020, leaving one in 10 potentially facing bankruptcy.

This was a particular threat for smaller, local charities struggling with reduced income and fundraising paused, but increased outgoings on extra costs for things like food, medication and PPE.

The Air Ambulance, like so many others, have had to get creative with their fundraising. They’ve set up online giving platforms, virtual fundraising platforms and even come up with all sorts of ideas for ‘at home fundraising’ including baking challenges (bring back the banana bread from lockdown 1.0!) to Netflix parties!

Onwards and upwards

We’re very grateful to everyone who has helped to raise money for all of our nominated charities so far. Your support really does make a difference, particularly during these most challenging times.

To find out more about the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance, visit: https://www.ehaat.org/

 In the meantime, we’ll be posting updates about the work they do throughout the year on our website and social media channels.

Arranging funerals in Covid times

March 7th, 2021    Author:

At the end of January, the UK marked the loss of more than 100,000 people to have died within 28 days of an infection with COVID-19. This was a terrible milestone that none of us could have imagined we would reach even just a year ago.

The pandemic has hit everyone hard and every one of us has had our own battles to face. Our thoughts go out to you all and to everyone who has lost a loved one to this awful disease.

Here at Austin’s we continue to do our best to give those in our care the farewell that they deserve, while also supporting their families. Our staff work hard with care and compassion despite the added pressure that we, as so many other essential services, have experienced over the last year.

What has changed for the funeral sector?

The National Association of Funeral Directors has carried out some research, which paints a picture of the increased pressure on our industry.

Across our UK workforce of 20,000 people, we have seen a 30% increase in our services compared to what we would usually expect in a typical January.

Some areas of the UK have a wait of up to five weeks between someone passing away and their funeral taking place. Similarly, some crematoriums have a three week wait and mortuary space is also at full capacity in some areas.

Of course, none of this comes without increased emotional and mental stress for funeral staff, but we’re pleased that this has been recognised and that specialist helpline support is available should staff need it. We are, after all, only human and deeply affected by seeing the scale of this pandemic first hand – both on those who have lost their lives and those left behind.

The importance of funerals

Unlike other life events, such as weddings or christenings, funerals can’t be delayed or repeated in the future. It is for this reason, as well as the inevitable burden on people’s mental health and wellbeing, that the government has allowed funerals to continue, albeit with restrictions in place. It is so important that people are able to grieve properly and a funeral is pivotal to this.

As with all essential services at this time, it’s crucial to get the balance right so that mourners have their opportunity to say goodbye, while keeping themselves and those working in the sector safe.

 

What has stayed the same with funerals?

 

When a loved one dies, you can still select your funeral director as usual and talk through all the funeral plans with them either over the phone, or in some cases in person. We currently have some of our branches open by appointment only.

You can still have beautiful flowers and an order of service, you can choose the coffin, have pre-recorded music play during the service and travel in a Covid-safe way to the ceremony in funeral cars.

And even though numbers are obviously limited, you can still invite everyone who would have attended the service in person to watch it live through a streaming service. We have found that more families are now streaming the service to family and friends.  Although it’s not the same as paying your respects in person, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the life of your loved one with as many people involved as possible.

How can you help to play your part?

You can help to ensure funerals continue to take place safely by making sure you remember a few key points.

Firstly, please only attend a funeral if you have been invited directly by an immediate family member. If you are not invited, ask if they are streaming the service. Please don’t gather outside the church as this will still cause public health issues.

On a similar note, if you are organising the funeral, do be careful around how you advertise the details such as the date and venue. People turning up unexpectedly will cause problems and no one wants to be turned away at the door. You could consider other alternatives such as an online condolence page that people can add their messages to.

If you are attending a funeral, please follow the guidance of your funeral director carefully. This includes wearing a facemask, limiting your numbers to the required amount and staying socially distanced.

Lastly, if you are having a charitable collection on behalf of your loved one then this should be done online only so that no cash has to be handled, therefore reducing the risk of transmission.

Those who represent funeral workers say we too are providers of care, but the very final care. We are here for you throughout the pandemic and beyond, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions or concerns you may have.

Coffin History

January 23rd, 2021    Author:

If you think about funerals, one of the first things that comes to mind is no doubt a coffin. Coffins have been around for thousands of years and nowadays they are available in various different materials and styles – from the traditional wood to the more eco-friendly willow or even cardboard. In fact, coffins have had a very interesting history from the start.

Where does the word ‘coffin’ come from?

The Old French word ‘cofin’ (meaning ‘basket’) officially entered the English language as ‘coffin’ in 1380. There is also a Modern French form ‘couffin’, which translates as ‘casket’. Whilst any box holding the deceased is called a coffin, a casket was originally a box used to store jewellery. It is thought that ‘casket’ was originally used as a euphemism by undertakers to steer away from the unpleasant images of a coffin.

When were coffins first used?

The earliest evidence of coffin remains ever found date back to 5000BC in China.  Among the remains were said to be a coffin belonging to a child and as many as 10 other wooden coffins at another site. Back then, the thickness of the coffin illustrated the level of nobility of the person inside; the double coffin consisted of an outer and inner coffin and the triple coffin had two outer and one inner coffins.

How were coffins originally made?

Traditionally, coffins were made as and when required by the village carpenter. So, the way it looked and how it was made would depend on his skills, as well as what materials were available at the time. If a poor person’s funeral had to be paid for by the parish then typically cheaper pine would be used, whereas someone very wealthy might have a yew or mahogany coffin finished with extravagant linings and decorations.

Victorian coffins

As you may well know, the Victorians were rather ‘obsessed’ with death. Funerals were big events and so there would be no expense spared on the coffin for wealthy Victorians – brass handles and luxurious burial shrouds were common. If a coffin was to be placed in a burial vault then they would usually consist of three layers, one of which would be lead, making the coffins extremely heavy.

In fact, back in 2014, a former Victorian coffin factory in Birmingham was reopened as a museum. The Newman Brothers made Winston Churchill’s coffin and when the factory was rediscovered in the last decade it was like a time warp with vintage tools and old newspapers still lying around.

More unusual coffins

Last year we blogged about ‘funeral customs from around the world’ and talked about the unusual coffins made in Ghana. Out there, funerals are often a much more colourful affair, a celebration of life rather than sorrow, and this is reflected in their coffin designs. They aspire to be buried in coffins that represent something special in their life – a hobby, their work or something symbolic to them.

Ghanaian artist Paa Joe says: “As humans, death is part of our life and everyone must go in style.” One of his coffins, modelled on a Mercedes Benz, is housed at The National Museum of Scotland. Carved from wood and painted white with silver, black and orange details, the coffin (made in 1998) features silver headlights, wing mirrors, an aerial and the trademark Mercedes-Benz badge.

Here in the UK, cardboard coffins are becoming increasingly popular and some follow a similar theme to the Ghanaian sense of humour. You can get ones with ‘return to sender’ stickers on, ones with your own photos on and themed ones from James Bond to Halloween!

The coffins we know today

Nowadays, most coffins are mass-produced, which does mean there are lots of options available to suit individual requirements. Here at Austin’s our Hertingfordbury, Kimpton and Amwell coffins are all worked on by hand by highly skilled craftsmen and we can provide beautiful ornaments too, including a: Gothic Cross, Sacred Heart, Crucifix, Masonic, Rose and Scottish Tassel.

For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin for their loved one we have a choice of two coffins. The Datchworth is handmade from English willow gathered in Lancashire. It is expertly fashioned by craftsmen using traditional skills and weaving techniques passed down through generations. The Bramfield is made with sturdy recycled paper in a green finish with natural rope handles.

To see our full range of coffins please visit: http://www.austins.co.uk/coffins.html