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The Order of Service – the little part of a funeral with the big impact

January 29th, 2020    Author:

The Order of Service is a small booklet that is given out to all attendees at a funeral. While many would be forgiven for assuming that it is simply an ‘itinerary’ of the service, complete with words to the chosen hymns and prayers, an Order of Service is in fact so much more than this.

It’s something that can be made very special and indeed personal to the deceased – and it’s something that will last for many years to come. In a few years’ time when you’ve cleared out a lot of your loved one’s possessions, this little booklet will no doubt be something you keep. It will also be a unique keepsake for many of the people who attend the funeral, as well as those who are unable to. So, try and take your time over it even when it may seem that the rest of the funeral planning is more urgent.

Emma Freud once wrote in a very frank, yet inspirational, article for the Guardian, ‘How to do a funeral’: “This [the Order of Service] invariably becomes the emotional focus of the week [during funeral planning]. It needs to be a collective effort and is probably the moment when family tensions emerge in that lovely dysfunctional way that only a close death can inspire…”

This is, in many ways, true, for there are lots of elements to consider in an Order of Service, which we’ll go through in this blog. But it’s also a chance for you to come together with your family to search through old photos and retell stories of your loved one whilst you create something that really reflects who they were.

 

Order of Service

What does an Order of Service include?

As a general rule, Order of Service booklets are about eight pages long, but they can of course be longer if you wish.

They include, but are not limited to:

  • Details about the person who has deceased
  • A schedule of the ceremony
  • Details of the wake or gathering afterwards, if there is one
  • Complete words for any hymns, readings or poems
  • Any photos of your loved one which you wish to share
  • Any music you played at the start or end of the ceremony which you wish to name

Make sure when you are putting your Order of Service together that you liaise with the person conducting the service about the schedule of the day. You don’t want to print any incorrect details and cause confusion.

The front cover

  • A photo of the remembered person along with their full name
  • Their birth date and the date of their death
  • An optional short message, quotation or sentiment
  • The location, date and time of the service

 The back cover

  • A closing photo, which could be one of them in a group or showing a different side to their personality compared to the one on the front cover
  • Details of any preferred charities for donations should people wish to give
  • Your thanks to everyone for their support and kindness during this time

Adding personal touches to an Order of Service

Going back to the article in the Guardian, Emma explains how each Order of Service she has created for a loved one has reflected their personalities: “For my mother-in-law, we had photographs. For my father-in-law, we kept it formal. For my hippie friend, it was a party on a page…. For my dad, we had a few jokes (the front page said: “Clement Freud. Born 24.04.24. Best Before 15.04.09”).

Don’t be afraid to create something very personal to your loved one. Use colour to express their personality, devote a whole page to a collage of photos, or include a drawing of them by a younger member of the family. Add in somewhere a phrase they always used to say, or match the design of the booklet to their favourite pastime, such as gardening or baking.

Designing and printing an Order of Service

Once you’ve added your personal touches to the essentials, just make sure that the design is still accessible for all readers and that fonts are clear and at a good size. Here at Austin’s we provide service sheets in a variety of designs, but of course you are welcome to design and print your own. There are plenty of templates available online for inspiration.

If you decide to print your own booklets then there is the option of online printers or local printers. Using a local printer will mean you can go and get a feel for the stock and how your font and text size looks on a physical proof rather than just on screen.

If you need a little more assistance with your booklets, there are people who will write, design and print them while working closely with you to get the desired outcome.

Clearing the Possessions of a Loved One

December 29th, 2019    Author:

When a loved one dies, one of the most difficult tasks you may have to take on is clearing out their home. It can be a difficult and emotional time, but it’s also an important step in the grieving process and there are ways to make it easier to handle. 

 

The art of death cleaning

The first way is to do what you can now to make it easier for your loved ones. In Sweden, there’s a tradition called ‘doestaedning’ or ‘death cleaning’, which involves getting rid of unwanted possessions while you’re still alive.

Decluttering has become big business here in the UK, as many of us strive to live more sustainable and minimalist lives. But decluttering also has a much bigger impact on our families when we pass away, as they will inevitably have less ‘stuff’ to clear.

Death cleaning is described as a ‘gentle art’; it can be very empowering and there is no need to rush the process.

There will be things you realise you don’t need and can donate to a local charity – anything from clothes to excess vases (things you don’t even think about that take up space) – and then items you want to keep in the family and can offer out to people now rather than leaving them to have the discussion after you’ve passed; this could be a piece of furniture, or even jewellery.

You should of course make a will, but can also really help your family out by talking to beneficiaries about the items in your possession. It’s a sad fact that many family feuds stem from arguments over items going missing, or indecision over who should get what. For anything not specifically mentioned in your will, think about having those conversations now with the relevant people to save stress for them later down the line.

 

Emotional attachment

The second way to make this process easier is to consider timing. We all have emotional attachment to inanimate objects; some of us struggle to let anything go, while others are happy to keep one or two things that remind them of the person they have lost.

It’s strange to think that a teacup or everyday watch can embody a loved one once they pass; but items like this can, and do. By waiting until you are emotionally ready, parting with a loved one’s possessions will feel like the right thing to do, rather than a secondary loss.

 

Doing it by the book

The next way is all about making sure everything is kept clear between family members. When someone dies, the distribution of their estate is placed in the hands of the executor.

Assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will, but when it comes to all of the smaller items that aren’t in the will, it’s sensible for the executor to put measures in place to ensure each family member can agree what is happening to each item.

The best way to do this is to go around the property and make an inventory of everything inside. Then you can sort items into categories such as; throw away, donate to charity and keep, ready for everyone to get together and make the final decisions.

If you jointly decide to sell some items, it’s sensible to keep a receipt book of all of the proceeds so that you can refer to it if questions are later raised.

 

The perfect keepsake

Finally, there are some lovely ways of making your loved one’s possessions into perfect keepsakes. For example, you may have a selection of their ties, which can be made into a cushion cover, or a shirt into a teddy bear.

You may want to create a memory box of possessions that you wish to keep, such as photos, certificates, newspaper cuttings and birthday cards.

Sometimes it can be as simple as keeping their old watch on your bedside table next to a photo. Do whatever works for you and, most importantly, take your time.

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.