Austin's Blog

 

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.

 

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.

Attending a funeral in the summer 

July 31st, 2019    Author:

Attending a funeral in the summer 

Well, what a summer we’re having so far! As we write, we’re in the middle of the end-of-term heatwave and trying to stay cool in the offices here at Austin’s!

We Brits aren’t too accustomed to such hot weather and, when it comes to summer funerals, we can become a bit unsure about traditional customs. So we thought it would be a good idea to put together some thoughts on attending funerals during the balmier months, with some seasonal tips and plenty which are relevant all year round, too.

 

What to wear to a summer funeral

 One of the most common questions people ask is, what should I wear to a summer funeral?

If the weather is anywhere near as hot as it has been recently, then you need to put some planning into your outfit. If you’re in the right clothes on the day, you’ll be able to focus on what matters and the reasons you’re there, rather than worrying about what you’re wearing.

Stay cool: Choose something light, respectful and modest, so make sure shoulders and knees are covered. For men, a smart, short-sleeved shirt is fine and for ladies, skirts and dresses should be at least knee length. There is no need for a full suit in hot weather, but make sure you don’t go too far the other way and appear too casual; avoid flip flops and shorts.

Colour and print: Summer funerals can be tricky because most of our summer clothes tend to be colourful or feature large, summery prints. It may be that the family would like people to wear colour; this is something that is becoming more and more common, [see blog on personalisation] in which case just avoid anything with graphics or slogans, or that is too ‘beachwear’. You don’t want to detract from the focus of the occasion.

If colour has not been specified by the family, it’s not generally expected to wear full black anymore. Go for neutrals that suit lighter materials, such as grey or beige, or possibly white.

Style: Funerals are very personal affairs, so try not to come across in full business attire. Similarly, you don’t want to look like you’re going to a cocktail party, so no off-the-shoulder or body con dresses. Remember, family and close friends can be sensitive on the day, so dress conservatively.  (blog on funeral stress]

 Footwear: There is generally a lot of walking at a funeral. You may need to park a way away from the service, then there may be a walk to the burial or cremation, and to a wake afterwards. Churchyards can have uneven terrain and there will be a lot of standing and talking to people, so choose wisely!

Check the weather forecast a few days in advance and decide on your outfit. Then check for any stains, marks, loose buttons etc, that need attention. And don’t forget your shoes; do they need a clean?

 

What to take to a summer funeral

Once your outfit is sorted, it’s time to make sure you have everything you need with you.

While there are a few things to remember, try not to take a really big bag as it will just get in the way.

You may need:

Tissues – for you and others that you can offer around.

Sunglasses – essential in this weather!

Water – the hot weather can play havoc with tickly coughs, so it’s helpful to have some water at hand, especially during the service.

Cereal bar – funerals can be stressful and emotionally draining that we can forget to eat. Having a small snack in your bag is a good idea in case someone is in need.

Painkillers – we all know a good cry can bring on a headache, but with the hot weather as well, make sure you have something to keep it at bay.

Make-up wipe – Again, tears can play havoc with eye make-up. You or someone near you might be very grateful for a quick wipe!

Money – It’s a good idea to carry some cash in case there is a donation box or collection.

 

What to do on the day of a funeral

Arrive in good time. There is nothing more stressful than being late. You need to factor in finding somewhere to park and traffic depending on the time of day.

Know where to sit. As a general rule, the first few rows are reserved for family and close friends.

Put your phone on silent. Obvious, we know, but so easily forgotten.

Go and see the family. There is usually a lot going on before the funeral starts, but do go and speak to the family afterwards or when you arrive at the wake, to offer your condolences. If you find it hard, talk to them about a memory you have of the person who has passed away, or ask if there is anything you can do for them.

If you’re still unsure about any aspect of the funeral you’re attending, you could always ask a member of the family or someone close to them. They’ll be grateful for your attendance, as a full church is always of great comfort to any family who has lost a loved one. Or speak to the funeral director; we’re always here to help with all of our funerals here at Austin’s.