Austin's Blog

 

Overcoming your fear of funerals

September 22nd, 2020    Author:

If you’ve ever felt anxious at a funeral, you’re not alone. There are many different reasons why people might feel stressed or nervous in the lead up to the funeral of a loved one, friend or acquaintance.

Necrophobia is a specific phobia of death, or things associated with it, such as funerals, coffins and graveyards. Most of the time, however, our worries and nerves are linked to other things such as social anxiety or difficulty expressing emotion. It’s important to remember that anxiety is among the many emotional and physical symptoms of grief, and nothing to be ashamed of.


Why do I feel anxious about funerals? 

Any one of the below reasons could apply to you. By understanding what it is that is making you feel anxious, you can find ways to help yourself feel better.

The feeling of sadness: Attending a funeral is like facing your grief head-on. Whether it takes place days or weeks after the person has passed away, it is always on your mind as you move through the early stages of the grieving process. You may feel anxious about being surrounded by sadness and mourning on the day and worry how you’ll cope. Or you may be concerned about feeling awkward around other people’s sadness and not knowing how to react to them.

Fear of death: You may be worried about specific elements of the funeral, such as an open coffin (not particularly common in the UK) or the coffin being lowered into the ground or taken to the crematorium.

Public speaking: If you have been asked to do a reading at a funeral, or are putting pressure on yourself to read the eulogy, then your stress levels might be quite high. Funerals can (in normal times) have hundreds of mourners, so it’s no mean feat if you’re not a confident speaker.

Social anxieties: They say some families only meet up for weddings and funerals, so it’s possible people you haven’t seen for quite some years will be at the funeral. Knowing how to approach them, what to say and how to keep the conversation going can all be reasonable fears after time apart.

Fear of regret: Of course there’s also the worry that we avoid things to reduce anxiety on the day and then regret it later. Many people choose not to speak at a loved one’s funeral and then wish they had a few months down the line. Try not to be hard on yourself and never feel that you are letting anyone down.

Saying goodbye (again): If someone’s death has been quite long due to illness, or you’ve had to wait a long time for the funeral, it can feel like you’re saying goodbye all over again. Attending the funeral can feel like digging up lots of emotion for a second time.

Ways to cope with funeral anxiety

If any of the above sound familiar to you then there are things you can do to help combat the anxiety.

First off it may help to remember that everyone at the funeral is in the same boat, and many will probably have similar emotions and concerns. This also means that they’re going to be preoccupied with their own grief and not, as your anxieties may lead you to believe, focused on others’ and how they’re coping with the day.

Here are some simple steps to stop your anxiety taking over:

  1. Find someone to support you – Having a shoulder to cry on really does do the world of good. Try and sit with someone who you can share your feelings with and let them help support you through the day.
  2. Don’t pile the pressure on – Even if you have a role on the day, such as reading the eulogy or a pallbearer, remember that it’s OK not to be OK. Everyone will completely understand if you have a few tears, or need to pause for a bit to collect your thoughts.
  3. Break the day down in your mind – If you’re struggling to see through all the ‘brain fog’ then think through what the day might look like in your head and see yourself moving through each of the parts. If you notice something feels particularly uncomfortable then pause for a bit until you feel calmer about the situation. This will help to have a clearer mind and make your anxieties feel more manageable.
  4. Look after yourself – Practice mindfulness techniques to help you soothe your thoughts and breathing. Run a hot bath or light a candle and try and relieve the stress and tension you have been feeling.
  5. Do what works for you – There’s no ‘one size fits all’ here. Do what you need to do to understand and accept your feelings and find coping strategies that work for you.

You needn’t let nerves and fear stop you from paying your respects or saying goodbye to someone who’s played an important part in your life. Open up to people, talk about your anxiety and let them help you find ways to cope.

Coping with grief around anniversaries

July 28th, 2020    Author:

While there are certain recognised stages of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one; everyone is different. There are lots of resources online for bereavement support, which some of us may reach for soon after losing a loved one. However, we can of course experience feelings of loss many months down the line – and for years to come. Grief never really leaves us, but we find ways of accepting and coping.

Feelings of grief can be triggered by events and anniversaries, such as Christmas, birthdays and wedding anniversaries, but also by things we might not so readily expect – a piece of music being played, a TV programme or even a particular type of food. We can see anniversaries and events coming, which means we can prepare ourselves for how we might feel. The smaller triggers tend to come over us when we least suspect it.

 

Triggers for grief

Last month the country celebrated Father’s Day. It’s events like this that can cause both dread and pain for those who have lost a loved one. For weeks before they might avoid card shops, switch off adverts on TV and spam the ill-timed marketing emails. These are all things that can help them cope.

There are also plenty of positive actions we can take in this situation. You might like to:

  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one
  • Visit their grave or memorial place and lay some flowers
  • Spend the day going through old photos or videos and sharing memories with other members of your family
  • Continue to write them a card telling them how you’re feeling
  • Do something for the day that takes our mind off of it entirely

Other days like this are, of course, Mother’s Day and Christmas. At Christmas time you might find yourself thinking about what presents he/she would like, picturing where they would sit around the table, or what special role they’d have on the day and who is doing that now.

Birthdays and wedding anniversaries aren’t as commercialised, but friends and family may find it difficult to know how to react around you or how best to help, which can also trigger different emotions.

And then of course, there is the anniversary of their death to cope with. Here you might find yourself reflecting on what happened, how and why.

 

Reactions to reawakened grief

The reactions we can feel on anniversaries can feel very similar to when we first lose our loved one – whether that was months or years ago. They include;

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Disbelief
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Pain
  • Sadness
  • Tears
  • Trouble sleeping

Let’s take guilt as an example. Coco Chanel once said: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death”.

Guilt is something that can be suppressed around the time of a loved one’s death, as it can be a very painful emotion. Later down the line, anniversaries can throw up feelings of guilt about things that were said, guilt that life’s events are continuing without the deceased, or guilt that the bereaved haven’t thought about the deceased for a while.

It’s important to talk to someone about guilt. Talking really helps us to address our feelings and get them out in the open so that we can start to heal.

 

Moving on

Gradually, these anniversaries and events can become happier times showered in wonderful memories. Here are five ways to cope with your grief around these times and start to turn them into something more positive.

  • Accept how you feel: It’s normal for anniversaries to throw up lots of old emotions. Accepting this and knowing your triggers can help you to stay in control, lessening any anxiety and stress, and enable you to make sense of them and let them help with the healing process.
  • Plan something: If you’ve got a birthday anniversary coming up, for example, why not organise something nice to do with friends or family so you won’t feel alone?
  • Create a memory: You could mark an anniversary by donating to charity or planting a new rose in your garden. It can help to do something physical to mark the occasion – perhaps something that you can repeat each year?
  • Keep talking: Despite things getting much better in recent years, we know death and grief are sometimes still thought of as taboo subjects, which is why it’s even more important to draw upon your support network. Keep talking and open up about how you’re feeling at regular intervals. Don’t let things get bottled up from one anniversary to the next.
  • Feel your emotions: As we said earlier, it’s normal and natural to feel a range of different emotions at different times. Don’t feel guilty for laughing and joking, and don’t feel as if you shouldn’t have a good cry. Feel your emotions and let yourself heal.

Our Charity of the Year, Cruse Bereavement Care, has lots of information to help with all the various stages of grief. Visit: https://www.cruse.org.uk/

How nature can help us in difficult times

June 21st, 2020    Author:

Tranquil setting of Harwood Park Crematorium

 

It’s a well known fact that spending time outdoors has major health benefits, both physically and mentally. Getting back to nature can improve your mood, reduce stress, help you be more active and even increase your self-esteem.

During the early stages of lockdown, government guidelines restricted us to just one form of exercise outside a day. Thankfully, we can now spend unlimited time outdoors – and the benefits are clear.

Getting back to nature

According to research by the National Trust, 79% of adults infrequently or never smelled wild flowers and 62% either infrequently or never listened to birdsong. We wonder how these figures have changed since lockdown?

Nature is restorative and one of the gifts lockdown has brought us is the time to notice it. Having been blessed with good weather for the majority of lockdown, our gardens, parks and commons have become saving graces for families up and down the country.

We’ve seen many more people walking, cycling, jogging, picnicking and meeting (socially-distanced) outdoors. Weekends and days off have been spent at nature reserves, rivers, parks, fields and any other outdoor beauty spots people can find.

Perhaps ironically in a time of ‘lockdown’, we are re-establishing our connection with nature and the wider world.

Nature and grief

Outside of lockdown and Covid, there are also many stories of nature helping in people’s grieving processes after losing a loved one. A beautiful quote from Angie Weiland-Crosby says: “Nature is the kind of friend that never leaves my side. Even in grief-stricken times, in her soul I can confide.”

Nature reminds us that death is a part of life and that life goes on; we watch the seasons change before us and without fail, from Spring through to Winter each year. Nature also gives us time to reflect because it doesn’t demand anything back from us. And nature encourages us to see outside of our ever-circling thoughts of grief and to reconnect with others. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks,” the wise words of Naturalist, John Muir.

Harwood Park

During lockdown, our own Harwood Park Memorial Gardens has remained open for families to reflect on their loved ones. With 25 acres, there is plenty of space for quiet contemplation. The memorial gardens serve both as a final resting place for loved ones and also a peaceful retreat for family and friends to visit. From the carefully pruned roses, to the pretty line of cherry trees and the immaculately planted topiary crescent, it’s a lovely place to enjoy the beauty of nature.

When John Austin (Claire’s father) took over the business in 1965, his vision was to provide a crematorium to serve the local community. After failing to get council backing to build on municipal land, John decided to source a plot of private land in the village of Datchworth and 10 years later, in February 1997, Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens was finally opened. John thought of all the little touches when planning Harwood Park, including a large window in the chapel overlooking the countryside and raised areas to make it easier for wheelchair users to view the floral tributes. It wasn’t just a crematorium, John had created a beautiful outside space for many people to benefit from.

Natural memorials

Natural and ‘living’ memorials continue to grow in popularity.  We have chestnut, birch and woodland trees, all planted as saplings, so you can watch them grow and mature. There are memorial trees throughout our grounds and woodlands, all accompanied by a memorial tablet or plaque, and ashes can be scattered or buried by the tree.

Our memorials also include benches and seats, with an inscription dedicated to the person who has passed. Located by the pond and within our woodland areas, among other places, these make wonderful places to sit and quietly gather your thoughts.

Nature can help us through life’s toughest questions, so find time to take that walk or to just sit and watch the world go by. You won’t regret it.

Find out more about Harwood Park Crematorium and Memorial Gardens at www.crematorium.co.uk

Coronavirus: Losing a loved one in difficult times

April 29th, 2020    Author:

Losing someone at any time is hard but, in our current situation, attending funerals and coping with grief have become even harder. Life in lockdown is presenting so many challenges, but whether we are recently bereaved and trying to cope in isolation or dealing with the death of a loved one at this time, there are things we can do to help ourselves and those close to us.

Coronavirus has changed funerals beyond recognition. Where we would usually invite friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to gather together to celebrate the life of a friend or family member, government guidelines now outline some very strict rules:

  • Only a very limited number of mourners are able to attend – close family only
  • Mourners must stay six feet apart at all times, if they are not from the same household
  • No one showing Coronavirus symptoms can attend

While these restrictions can cause anxiety for the recently bereaved, here at Austin’s all funeral arrangements are continuing to be made by telephone and we can assure you of our ongoing support and compassion.

 

A personal farewell

While we can’t make things completely ‘normal’ right now, we’re dedicated to giving your loved ones the funerals they deserve and you the level of support we would at any other time. One of our customers recently sent us this message: “It was different, special and intimate with just the Revd and myself. Nevertheless, it was a special service and I was able to say a very personal farewell, which I am certain would not have been possible with a large congregation. I will treasure this always.”

 

Support when you need it

Cruse Bereavement Care, our charity of the year, says: “The current restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic mean many people are unable to attend funerals, cremations and wakes. This is a very distressing reality for thousands of people at this time. Each month in the UK there are around 50,000 deaths, so many people, maybe like yourself, are unable to say goodbye in the way they expected.”

Cruse have trained experts ready to help you; whether you need support coping with grief during isolation or need advice in another area.

How to make things easier

It’s so hard seeing families not being able to give each other a hug in times of sadness, and for others having to stay away completely. But amongst all the uncertainty, there are things we can do to make life a little easier.

You can:

  • Livestream the ceremony – to allow more friends and family to pay their respects.  We offer this service and can help people feel part of the funeral if they cannot attend in person.
  • Record a message to be played out at the funeral – for those close to the deceased who are unable to attend. Just as you would have a poem or something similar read during the service, this can be pre-recorded by a loved one for that extra personal touch.
  • Create your own memorial at home – both while the funeral is going on and for as long as you would like to in the days following the death. Light a candle next to a photograph of them to bring you closer together, or why not play their favourite music?
  • “Keep talking” – say Cruse Bereavement Care. This is more important than ever during isolation. Utilise technology and connect with friends and family, multiple times a day if you want to. If you have elderly relatives, you could have a rota with family and friends to make sure someone is in contact with them every day.
  • Focus on the life of your loved one – rather than your loss. These are very different times and when we can’t physically be together, or have the funeral services we might have imagined, what we can do is put our energy into focusing on the life of our loved one and the kind of person they were.
  • Plan a memorial event for the future – where more people can join you to celebrate your loved one’s life, share stories and reflect.

Technology has been a lifeline to so many during this pandemic to maintain connections with loved ones, but it is also a crucial link to the numerous support networks for those experiencing loss or grief.

Our phone lines are open as usual if you need any help around funeral planning. You may also find this great resource from Cruse of interest: https://www.cruse.org.uk/get-help/coronavirus-dealing-bereavement-and-grief

 And don’t forget we all still have the beautiful world we are in. Our memorial gardens at Harwood Park Crematorium are still open for families to come and reflect upon their loved ones. We look forward to welcoming you.