Austin's Blog

 

Funeral flowers and floral tributes

November 23rd, 2020    Author:

Celebrations or commiserations, happy times or sad, flowers do a wonderful job of saying what we sometimes can’t find the words for. They are a symbol of hope and love; in the words of French artist Henri Matisse, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

Throughout history flowers have been used to celebrate and mourn our loved ones. We wear a beautiful red poppy to remember those who have given their lives in battle, while the pretty blue forget-me-not flower is long-associated with dementia.

Of course, floral arrangements have always been part of funerals. Years ago they had more practical uses, mainly to cover the smell of decaying bodies. It is believed one of the first known uses of funeral flowers was in the Shanidar caves in Iraq. Here, skeletons were found covered in deposits of wildflowers, including hollyhock, thistle, cornflower and grape hyacinth.

Today, flowers are a token of the love and respect for the person who has passed away, and a comfort for the family left behind.

 

Choosing funeral flowers

The flowers you choose for a loved one’s funeral might have a personal meaning – perhaps they always had a vase of tulips on their windowsill, or you remember the scent of roses in their garden.

If you don’t have a personal association, or if the floral tribute is for someone outside of your close family, you might want to choose flowers based on their symbolism. For example:

  • Lilies: a traditional funeral flower that is thought to represent the soul of the deceased returning to a peaceful state of innocence.
  • Roses: popular flowers for funerals that come in a variety of colours, but red roses are typically chosen by the spouse or partner to signify their love.
  • Gladioli: a traditional funeral flower that makes wonderful standing fan sprays
  • Carnations: fragrant and long-lasting, pink carnations are often chosen to symbolise the enduring love of a mother or grandmother
  • Chrysanthemums: yellow flowers can represent hope and happy thoughts.

 

Personalising your funeral flowers

The Co-op recently carried out a survey to find the most popular flower types chosen for a funeral. The report showed that roses were the top choice, followed by lilies, carnations, sunflowers and daffodils. They also found out that a quarter of Britons would like a personalised floral tribute at their funeral.

This could reflect their favourite hobby, sports team, a much-loved pet or something else entirely! In fact, florists up and down the country have had a number of out-of-the-ordinary requests over the years, from a dartboard to a vegetable patch, and handbag to a packet of Werther’s Originals!

 

Sending flowers to family and friends

It’s not uncommon for people to only request family flowers at a funeral, so before you send any on the day itself, make sure to check the funeral announcement carefully. Charity donations in lieu of flowers is fairly common, but remember you can always send a floral gift to their home before or after the funeral if you would like to.

You could send a bouquet or wrap of cut flowers, but bear in mind that some homes can get overwhelmed with flowers in the first few weeks. An alternative idea is a potted plant or planted basket.

A potted hydrangea looks beautiful and can be moved outside and planted up in the garden too. Orchids are stunning and always give a lift to any indoor space. With a little TLC, plenty of potted plants can keep bringing joy to the recipient for years to come.

 

Alternatives to flowers

Plant a tree or shrub: You could plant a tree or shrub in memory of the deceased and as a long-lasting tribute to them. A rose that can be planted outside is also a nice thought. You could send this directly to the bereaved, or plant it on their behalf.

Seed cards: These have become quite popular as wedding favours but are an equally nice idea for a funeral. Send a packet of wildflower seeds with your condolence card for the recipient to plant in the weeks or months ahead. When they look out onto the wild flower display they’ll always have a memory of their loved one and feeling of support.

Send a photo: This is a good way to share a special memory too. Send a photo you have of the deceased along with a story about it. If you don’t know what to say to someone, or what to write in the card, then this can really help get your feelings and emotions out.

Gift of time:  Whether it’s over the phone, on Zoom or in person, taking the time to talk to those grieving will mean so much to them. You don’t have to send anything physical for them to know you’re thinking of them. You could also offer to go shopping or run any other errands.

Food basket: Food can be of great comfort, especially a home-cooked meal delivered to someone’s home or a thoughtful basket of goodies that they can dip in and out of when they fancy. It’s often the last thing on people’s minds when they are experiencing loss, so having someone take care of the odd meal for you is a great help.

We’re here to help with any questions or requests you have about floral tributes so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

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.

How to write a condolence message

August 25th, 2020    Author:

We’ve all had to get used to different methods of communication during the pandemic. Apparently, the art of letter writing has quickly come back into fashion, as many more people have taken to pen and paper to check in with loved ones.

Do you find writing comes naturally? Or are you always searching for the right words?  Some people find the words just flow, while others struggle and choose to buy a card with the words already in it. Neither is right or wrong, but when it comes to offering your condolences to someone who has recently lost a loved one, it’s important to make that communication, especially while we can’t see each other as easily or attend funerals.

 

Choosing the right words

Words can be extremely powerful. Using the right words in a condolence message can help comfort, heal and even change perspectives for the positive. Take these quotes for example:

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” From a headstone in Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell

We’re sure you’ll agree these two quotes sound very comforting. The words focus, not on what we’ve lost, but what we still have and will never lose.

“While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.” John Taylor

While this quote is also very comforting, it also has the power to change our perspective; the deceased is no longer with us, but it is hoped they are now reunited with other loved ones.

Of course, you don’t have to be a famous poet or literary genius to write a thoughtful message. Below are some top tips on writing a message that you’ll want to send. And remember, writing a message can also be an opportunity to offer help and support, as well as share happy memories of the person who has passed away.

 

What should the message include?

While there is no set structure for a condolence message, there are typical elements that you may want to include if you’re having difficulty getting started.

Top tip! Don’t write straight into your card. Draft some words on a scrap piece of paper until you’re happy with how it sounds. That way you won’t end up reaching for the Tipp-Ex or dashing out to buy another card!

  • Address the card or letter to every member of the family, if you know their names. It’s much more personal than to say, “Mike and family”.
  • Start by telling them how sorry you are for their loss.
  • Then tell them some good qualities of their loved one. It might be how funny they were, or how kind they were when you needed help. Hearing these qualities will help the family to know how much their loved one was appreciated by others.
  • You can then go a bit further, if you want to, and share a story or memory you have of the deceased; something short but that really sticks in your mind and again, will bring much comfort to the family.
  • Finish your note by offering some kind of support. This can be anything from a listening ear, to something more practical such as looking after the dog or doing their shopping; whatever is relevant and appropriate to the situation.

What should I avoid in the message?

We mentioned earlier how powerful words can be. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy for the written word to be wrongly interpreted because there are no facial expressions, or voice, to confirm the tone in which something’s being said. You can minimise any risk by carefully avoiding certain types of language. Here are some examples:

“You should…” In any situation, this can be quite a negative phrase. The bereaved don’t always want to hear your opinions. Advice and support, yes, but not strongly worded opinions of what you think they ‘should’ be doing, thinking or feeling.

“You will…” Similar to the above, saying ‘you will’ can seem as if you know exactly how they are feeling or what is going to happen. Remember, every situation is unique.

Also, try and avoid certain cliche sentences such as, “What a terrible waste of life” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Although your intentions are good, phrases like these can be hurtful and cause distress.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t say something because it sounds cliche. If it’s appropriate – and true – then you should say it. For instance, something like, “I was so sorry to hear about Laura’s passing”, while commonly used, is true. You were very sorry and can empathise with the person you are writing to.

 

Final thoughts

Take your time over your message and don’t rush it. Also, don’t be afraid to express your feelings. You might really miss the person who has passed, be in shock that they’ve gone, or be struggling with your own grief. It’s ok to share this; empathy and understanding are a huge part of the healing process and kind, loving words can only help bring more comfort.

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/