Austin's Blog

 

Going green with eco-friendly funerals

August 31st, 2021    Author:

We live in a world where sustainability and ‘being green’ are finally at the forefront of many conversations and ways of living. But while most of us do what we can to live our lives in the most environmentally friendly way possible, how many of us have thought about continuing to be green even after we have passed away?

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it is estimated that by 2040 there will be 80 million deaths a year across the globe, and by 2060 this will be as high as 102 million per year. Unfortunately, funerals, burials and cremations, as they currently stand, are not very environmentally friendly affairs.

It’s hard to compute the scale of just how many bodies need to be buried or cremated per year; each one taking up energy, space, time and material. While it can seem wrong to think of it in this way, there are decisions we can all make to improve the sustainability of our own funerals, as well as what happens to our bodies after we die and what happens to all of our possessions. After all, no one wants to spend their lives doing what they can to help save the planet, only to leave a negative legacy behind them.

So what can realistically be done? Well, burials are much better for the environment than cremations, simply because of the huge amount of energy cremation requires to take place. That said, burials take up a lot of space and produce things that we don’t even think affect the environment, such as contaminants from coffins that can leak into the earth. This is something that can be easily helped with eco-friendly coffins. For those who’d like a biodegradable coffin there are many now available in all sorts of materials. Here at Austin’s we have a choice of two coffins. The Datchworth is handmade from English willow gathered in Lancashire and the Bramfield is made with sturdy recycled paper in a green finish with natural rope handles.

You could also opt for a green burial site. These are established woodlands or meadows covered in newly planted trees, which in turn helps the environment. We’re very green-minded and have lots of trees at Harwood Park, including our large woodland, Spencer Wood. Biodegradable burial pods are also becoming popular. They convert your body into a new tree over time – either as it decomposes or from the ashes. You become part of the earth’s natural system as the circle of life continues.

An article from National Geographic back in 2019 states that 78% of funerals in the UK are cremations. But did you know that the energy just one cremation uses is roughly equivalent to the energy usage of a single person over a whole month? Globally, cremation emits over 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for around 0.02% of world carbon dioxide emissions. Given the popularity of cremations though, and the fact that they are around a third of the price of burials, can there be a greener alternative?

Making its way around America – but yet to be legalised in the UK – is a type of water cremation known as resomation. The body is gently dissolved in a water lye solution through a process of alkaline hydrolysis. Testing will be needed before it is allowed to be used here in the UK, but it could be a greener alternative for the future that doesn’t burn the volume of fossil fuels that traditional cremation does.

You’ve probably already heard of cryomation. It involves immersing the body in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius. It creates zero emissions and all of the body is returned (less the moisture) instead of approximately 2.5% of the body with cremation.  The body becomes brittle and breaks up into small particles, which are freeze dried and placed into a biodegradable container. These remains are in a form that can be buried with much less space required, or can even give ongoing life, as you can use them to plant a tree, bush or other plant.

In 2020, Washington state became the first in America to legalise another new alternative to cremation; recomposition. Similar to a natural burial, bodies are turned to soil mulch through natural and efficient composting processes, and can then be used to plant new life.

Of course, funerals and wakes can always be made more eco friendly too, by thinking about the flowers and produce you use. Rather than choosing flowers that have to come from abroad, opt for those in season locally, or go very simple with wildflowers that are sustainably sourced. The same goes for any food and refreshments you serve afterwards; using locally sourced produce will reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

Being in a Good Place to Die

May 29th, 2021    Author:

We mention a lot here at Austins about the importance of talking about death and opening up to others about your thoughts, worries and wants before the time comes. There is a national campaign surrounding this called Dying Matters Awareness Week, which takes place each May.

Last year’s theme was ‘Dying to be heard’, which focused on the many people who want to talk about death but don’t feel that they have anyone to talk to about it. Around the same time last year, Hospice UK released new research findings, showing that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% said that one of the top three most useful things someone could do was to just sit and listen to them.

This year’s theme is focused on being #InAGoodPlace to die. While the Covid pandemic may have brought death to the forefront of our consciousness as a nation, actually planning for parts of our death – what we want to do before we go, where we want to die and how we want our funeral to be – are quite different to talking about death and dying generally.

Research by Dying Matters found that only 13% of adults have told a loved one where they want to be when they die, and just three in 10 know how to make the necessary arrangements to achieve this. The remainder don’t have end of life plans in place, either because they don’t know how to talk about it or where to start going about it.

Of course it’s not just about where you want to die. Being ‘in a good place’ includes:

  • Physically (place of death, Advance Care Planning)
  • Emotionally (talking about death, making sure loved ones are cared for)
  • Financially (making a will, making funeral plans)
  • Spiritually (How different faith groups talk about and prepare for death)
  • Digitally (Looking at digital assets, social media, online banking)

Having as much of this in place as you can makes everything easier for your loved ones when you’re gone, and helps protect them too. Although the conversations may be difficult now, the ones later down the line will be much harder without them. We need to be braver about talking and better about planning for our end of life.

There are lots of professionals out there who can help with financial and digital planning, and of course we always encourage conversations to be had, but who do we talk to and what are the options when thinking about planning our physical passing?

If you or a loved one knows that your life is coming to an end, you might want to think about where you would like that to happen. Some people will find this easier to talk about than others – you may feel very strongly about planning it, or you may need a little help starting a conversation about it.

There is no right or wrong place to die; it will be different for everyone and depends on where you will be most comfortable and what will work best for you and your family.  The main options are:

  • at home
  • in a hospice
  • in hospital
  • in a nursing home or care home

A lot of people like the idea of dying at home. You know you will be comfortable, surrounded by your own things and familiar with your environment. However, there can be concerns around the level of care you will receive, as well as how family will cope having you at home if you were to become more unwell.

Hospices are wonderful places that give you the home-from-home feel but in a professional care environment. They are more personal than hospitals and you can take your own belongings, bedding etc. to make yourself more comfortable. On the other hand, if you have been receiving treatment in hospital you may have developed relationships with the staff there and like the familiarity without having to settle somewhere different.

There are many avenues of support available and, remember, your plan can change with your needs. For instance, you may be at home for the meantime but know that a hospice is available should your circumstances change and you suddenly need it. Your GP, district nurses, hospice home care team or other support network are all there to help.

You can still join the @DyingMatters conversation on social media using the hashtags #InAGoodPlace and #DMAW21 or visit www.dyingmatters.org/AwarenessWeek for more information.

 

 

 

 

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

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.