Austin's Blog


Claire Receives Outstanding Contribution to Charity Award

June 17th, 2019    Author:

Inspiring Hertfordshire Awards 2019 “Outstanding Contribution to Charity” Award

Claire Austin receiving her Award

On Thursday evening (13th June 2019), I had the great pleasure of attending the Inspiring Hertfordshire Awards held at St Albans Cathedral. Austin’s Funeral Service has been involved as a sponsor and a judge for these  awards for several years.

This particular evening, however, I had not anticipated being the recipient of an award.  It was a great surprise and privilege to receive the chamber’s award for Outstanding Contribution to Charity and to be presented with this accolade by the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Robert Voss CBE. I have undertaken a number of challenges to raise funds for local causes, including running the London Marathon, building a dam in Vietnam, a skydive and having my head shaved. In my role as Managing Director of Austin’s Funeral Service and Harwood Park Crematorium, I have become fully aware of the needs of our local community. My endeavours have provided funds to assist many local charities and I have found many of these activities personally rewarding. To be recognised, in this way, by the Hertfordshire Chamber is a great  honour.


Talking About Death

May 14th, 2019    Author:

Talking about death

Hands up, how many of us have had a conversation about death? If not, you’re not alone. It’s a tough thing to talk about. We avoid the enormity of the subject with phrases such as ‘kick the bucket’ and ‘pop your clogs’. And if we do happen to mention in passing that we’d like to be buried, not cremated, it’s usually followed up very quickly with a change of subject!

In fact, 55% of people prefer to say ‘passed’ or ‘passing’, while only 29% will say ‘dead’ or ‘dying’. If it’s hard to even say the word, how can we expect to have a conversation?

Unfortunately the simplicity of the language we tend to use to talk about death reflects the basic nature of the conversations we are having with our loved ones.

Why don’t we talk about death?

It is said that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, so why is the latter talked about so much more? You can’t scroll through social media these days without seeing a tax reminder or an advert for bookkeeping software!

One reason we don’t talk about death is because we’re all living longer. Even though death is a natural part of life, many of us don’t experience the loss of someone close to us until later on in our lives. Illnesses and diseases that would claim the lives of our ancestors are no longer a threat, and so we are not as close to death as they were; hence it’s a fear of the unknown.

Another reason is that it is seen as a taboo subject; people think they might jinx themselves for bringing it up. Trust us, you won’t!

Dying Matters Awareness Week

The Dying Matters Coalition aims to raise awareness of the importance of talking more openly to friends and family about dying, death and bereavement. Their annual awareness week runs from 13-19 May 2019 and the theme is ‘Are We Ready?’ []

They’ve put together some quite astonishing facts, which show how ready we really are:

  • Just 35% of adults said they had made a will
  • Just 30% had let someone know their funeral wishes
  • Just 7% had written down wishes or preferences about the care they would want if they couldn’t make decisions
  • Just 25% had asked a family member about their end of life wishes
  • Just 33% had registered to be an organ donor

Why is it important to talk about death?

These figures speak for themselves and highlight just how much we need to start talking about death – for everyone’s benefit. Here are four more good reasons to start a conversation:

  1. A ‘good death’: Talking about dying and your wishes makes it more likely that you – or your loved one – will die as you wanted to (for example, at home) because plans can be made in advance. This will bring comfort to those left behind, knowing the deceased had a ‘good death’ and that it was as they wanted.
  2. The grieving process: Once we start being more open about death, we can help others through the grieving process by having a conversation with them.
  3. A time to reflect: By choosing to talk about death, it can help us to reflect on our own life and goals we still wish to fulfil. From here, we might want to create a bucket list, or start to make plans for our own funeral. It’s not as morbid as it seems; we plan for every other stage of life!
  4. Reduce stress: As we spoke about in last month’s blog, talking can greatly reduce stress and avoid family disputes when someone passes away. Have the conversations with your loved ones early on, such as the type of funeral you want and whether you want to be buried or cremated.

How can we talk more about death and dying?

There are so many books and resources out there that can be a good starting point, as well as some brilliant TED talks that really get you thinking about death as a natural process.

Death cafes are a way to get out and talk to others about it. They allow people to meet up in a relaxed setting and talk over tea and cake, share their thoughts and learn about other people’s experiences. They’re all over the country. Take a look at:

There has also recently been a ‘Departure Lounge’ set up in Lewisham shopping centre to get people talking about death. It’s done up just like an airport lounge and features a pile of suitcases with messages and questions about the final journey we all face. More will be rolling out across the country this summer.

And of course, we are here for you too. We’re committed to the continued provision of a caring, sympathetic and sensitive service to the bereaved and their loved ones for many years to come.

Finally, for all you Harry Potter fans out there – a few words from the mighty Albus Dumbledore: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” So start a conversation today and let’s get talking about death.

Dealing with Funeral Stress

April 25th, 2019    Author:

Stress Awareness Month: Dealing with stress and grief

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed. Stress can be emotional (like feeling overwhelmed or anxious), mental (such as struggling to make decisions or stop worrying) and/or physical (suffering from headaches or having problems sleeping). When you combine stress with grieving for a loved one, things can become even more difficult and we can struggle to find a way forward.

If you’ve been watching After Life on Netflix, you’ll know how Ricky Gervais’ character, Tony, takes on a completely opposite persona to his former ‘happy go lucky’ attitude, in an attempt to push away those trying to help him after losing his wife to cancer. He goes through all sorts of emotions as his grief takes hold, which also affects those around him.

Stress Awareness Month

As April is Stress Awareness Month, we thought it would be helpful to put something together on dealing with stress around death, and specifically, funerals. On the back of more and more campaigns around opening up about mental health (Time to Talk – and talking about death (Dying Matters –, we hope we can help to make the process just that little bit more manageable for everyone.

Take the pressure off

When a loved one dies, things can move fast. The first couple of weeks are when you’re feeling all sorts of emotions, but this is also the time that a few things need sorting. The important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself to get everything organised immediately; prioritise what needs doing straight away and don’t worry about anything else.

It’s quite usual for the family to contact a funeral director immediately after a death. A medical certificate, which will give the cause of death, is required in order for the death to be registered and once all the required documents are processed, the deceased can be taken into our care. You can then take your time to start organising the funeral, knowing your loved one is safe with us.

Your loved one may have spoken to you about their wishes for the funeral, but if not, we’re here to talk through all of the options with you. Take your time to reflect and think things through.

Causes of stress

There are many things, alongside time pressures, that can cause stress at this difficult time. Recognising them early on will enable you to get help where it’s needed.

  • Family disagreements – it can be very hard when everyone has different ideas of what they want to happen. The best way to avoid any dispute is by having the conversations with your loved ones early on, such as the type of funeral you want and whether you want to be buried or cremated.
  • Money worries – funerals can be expensive and money troubles are a great source of stress. Funeral plans enable you to pay towards your own funeral so that your family don’t have to worry.
  • Bottling things up – as we said at the start, we can feel all sorts of emotions when we lose someone; from anger to isolation. Make sure you talk to someone, whether that be a vicar, a friend or someone independent, such as a counsellor.
  • Feeling out of control – it can be very daunting to try and get everything right. The best way to feel in control is to understand the funeral process in advance, so you know what to expect.
  • Meeting family/everyday demands – if you’ve got a family, your own business or other responsibilities in life, it can be even more difficult to juggle everything. Always ask for help if things get too much.

How to reduce the stress of organising a funeral

Here are some simple ways to keep your stress at a manageable level when things get tough:

  • Look after yourself – try and get some sleep and eat well-balanced, regular meals
  • Ask for help where you need it, such as with completing legal documents or making decisions
  • Keep in touch with your funeral director who will help you to prioritise what needs to be done
  • Take your time with the planning
  • And, most importantly, keep talking

Coping at the funeral

The funeral itself can be stressful, but by seeking help to plan everything in advance you can allow yourself time to take everything in without unnecessary stress.

Make sure you surround yourself with a good support network on the day and don’t try to make everything perfect. What you say and do will come from the heart and you’ll have plenty of people around you to share memories with. Take the day one step at a time and be kind to yourself.

 Talking about death with your family will reduce stress for everyone when the time comes. We’ll talk more about this next month during Dying Matters Awareness Week (13-19 May). In the meantime, if you need any help or assistance don’t hesitate to contact us. 


Personalising Your Own Funeral

March 18th, 2019    Author:

Personalising your own funeral

There are lots of initiatives around to help people start talking about death, and part of that conversation is funerals. Most people know whether they want to be buried or cremated, but some have whole sections of their funeral planned out; from the music they want played to what they want people to wear.

Who remembers the scene from Love Actually where Liam Neeson’s character is talking about his late wife’s funeral requests, one of which was he should take Claudia Schiffer as his date?! She also chose photos of herself to be shown on screen while ‘Bye bye baby’ by the Bay City Rollers played out as her coffin left the church.


Your wishes

We fully support people wanting to have a say in their own funeral. It’s a way to let your loved ones know how you want to be remembered on the day; perhaps by planning things they wouldn’t think to do in their time of grief.

Personalising a funeral doesn’t have to cost the earth – there are lots of little things you can do, even just having your photo displayed on top of the coffin.

Just remember, while a bit of pre-planning can take a lot of pressure off your loved ones when the time comes, it’s nice for them to be able to add their own touches to express how much you meant to them, so perhaps don’t try and plan every last detail.

Our Little Green Book could be a good starting point for you to think about the various decisions that need to be made. You can find it at:


First things first

Typically you would put big decisions about your death in your will. When it comes to your funeral, the most important questions your loved ones should know the answers to are:

  • Do you wish to be buried or cremated?
  • Where do you want to be buried or your ashes scattered?
  • Do you want a religious ceremony, or one at a crematorium or woodland site etc.?


Personal touches

Flowers or donations: Do you want a particular type of flower, or perhaps a special arrangement for your coffin? If you have been in a trade, you might want an arrangement made out of tools instead. Alternatively, do you have a charity close to your heart that you wish people to donate to rather than bring flowers?

Coffin: There are many different types of coffin from traditional wood to wicker, but it’s not all about the material. Did you see in the news recently that one dedicated primary teacher from Bath had her coffin decorated in her pupils’ drawings?

Transport: While it can sometimes be overlooked, the transport you choose can be hugely symbolic of your life. For instance, the families of bikers often ask for fellow bikers to accompany the coffin in a motorcycle procession. Other symbolic modes of transport include VW campervans, vintage lorries and traditional horse and carriage.

Eulogy: You can write your own eulogy in a traditional style, or perhaps as a poem. You could also select your own readings and even ask someone close to you to read them, if they are comfortable doing so.

Music: For some people, music is a huge influencer in their lives. If you have a special song, or an artist you love, or have come across something that sums up you and your life, then the music you choose can add a very special touch.

Photos: You may want to choose some photos of yourself for the order of service, or to be on display at the church or crematorium. We are the only funeral director in the UK to create unique films and photo slideshows that can be played during a service and kept by friends and family afterwards.


Funeral plans

Of course, we can’t overlook cost. The average funeral costs around £4,000 and there are many funeral plans available to pre pay for your funeral. Our Hertfordshire Funeral Plan is exclusive to us and, unlike many other plans available, customised specifically to your requirements. Find out more at:

How to tell your loved ones what you want

If you, or those close to you, don’t feel ready to talk about your wishes, then you can always write everything down in a book and make sure they know where to find it after you pass away.