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.

Talking about graves: a final resting place

July 30th, 2021    Author:

A history of headstones

A headstone, tombstone, or gravestone is one of the oldest forms of funerary art, used to mark out a grave of the deceased. They are used for burials across many religions and faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

While we use the terms interchangeably today, they were once different things. Originally a tombstone was the coffin itself, built of stone, or at least the stone lid to the coffin. The gravestone was different and was a stone slab laid over the grave. Back in the 18th century, footstones were also used – a small stone to show where the grave ended. These are not used anymore but it’s interesting that in some UK cemeteries today the stone is placed at the foot of the grave, not at the head.

Going back a couple of hundred years, some graves would also have stone all the way around to mark out the perimeter. You’ll still see some of these in older churchyards. As they cost money, graves and memorials were also a symbol of wealth or prominence in the community.

If you’ve ever wondered why older gravestones are tilted or away from others, that’s probably due to the soil movement that occurs over time, particularly on gentle inclines.

Typically stones will include the name of the deceased, their birth and death dates and a short personal message. Across Europe it’s very common to have a photo of the person, which you may recall seeing if you have visited or passed by graveyards abroad. People also place stones in the ground if loved ones have been cremated, or place a plaque on a memorial.

Another feature some stones have is pieces of art. This may include symbolic items. For instance, birds represent the soul, a book stands for faith and wisdom, an olive branch for forgiveness and peace, and a pillow symbolises eternal sleep, or effectively a deathbed.


Famous graves

So where are some of the most famous graves from the last few centuries located, and what do they look like?

Elvis Presley’s grave in Graceland, Memphis is one of the most visited graves in the world with around 600,000 visitors every year. He is buried alongside several members of his family around a beautiful water feature in the Meditation Garden.

Westminster Abbey is home to some of Britain’s greatest figures, including Elizabeth I, Chaucer and Charles Dickens, but it’s the tomb and monument of Sir Isaac Newton, which is the most impressive to look at. It’s made of white and grey marble with a sculptured figure of Newton leaning against a pile of scientific books with a globe above him.

William Shakespeare is entombed in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Due to the age of the tomb, the words on his gravestone are almost too worn away to see, but they are thought to read: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here; Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

How to choose a headstone

A headstone serves as a timeless tribute to the deceased and while you’re still in the early stages of the grieving process your thoughts are bound to be clouded by sadness. Don’t make any quick decisions, take your time and make sure you think through what you want. A temporary wooden maker can always be put in place while you make your final decision.

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is on the style of headstone. The most traditional design is the upright headstone, which is usually made from granite, limestone or marble. There’s also white marble and bronze. As well as the overall look, you’ll need to consider things such as durability, how clearly it will show an inscription, weather resistance and what kind of cleaning and maintenance it will require. And of course cost will be a factor. Granite is a popular choice as it’s a cheap option, highly durable and comes in different colours and finishes.

And then you’ll need to think about what words you want inscribed on the stone. The inscription usually includes the name of the deceased and their date of birth and death, along with an epitaph. Finding the right words can be the hardest part, which is another good reason not to rush things. You might want to choose something simple, such as ‘Gone but not forgotten’ or ‘Until we meet again’. Some people prefer a Bible passage, the verse of a poem or a memorable quote.

The Bucket List

June 29th, 2021    Author:

Things to Do Before You Die

Bucket lists. We’ve all heard of them, but how many of us have made one and how successful is it proving?

The dictionary definition of a bucket list is; ‘a list of the things you want to do before you reach a certain age, or before you die’. It comes from the phrase, ‘to kick the bucket’, which is a figure of speech meaning ‘to die’. Of course, that phrase came from death being caused by a bucket being kicked out from underneath someone with their head in a noose.

The term was also popularised by the film ‘The Bucket List’, which hit our screens back in 2007, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. If you’ve not seen it, it’s about a billionaire and a working class mechanic who, having both been diagnosed with a terminal illness, meet while sharing a hospital room together. They decide to leave the hospital and complete their bucket lists, rather than spending their last few months sitting in bed. The two become the best of friends during their travels and learn to appreciate all the small things in life that we so often overlook when we’re juggling the day to day.

When we make bucket lists, it’s almost like filling a bucket with lots of ideas of things we hope to get round to doing in our lives; all of our ambitions and wishes. And it’s not always just about completing them before we die. In lockdown, we’re sure lots of these types of lists were made. You only have to have a quick browse on the internet to find an array of ‘scratch off’ lockdown bucket lists, from baking banana bread (!) to learning a new language.

In fact there are many different types of bucket list; the Great British bucket list where you can tick off visiting all of Britain’s iconic locations, the golfers’ bucket list for teeing off at all the major courses across the UK and the foodie’s bucket list for all those amazing restaurants and markets.

Match.com conducted a survey on single Americans to find out what they had on their bucket lists. Here’s what they said:

  1. Fall in love – 83%
  2. Go on a wine tour in Napa Valley – 53%
  3. Change someone’s life for the better – 52%
  4. Get to my ideal weight – 47%
  5. Go on a safari – 45%
  6. Ride a hot air balloon – 45%
  7. See the Northern Lights – 45%
  8. Go to the Super Bowl – 43%
  9. Swim with dolphins – 39%
  10. Travel through Europe – 38%

 

While some of them are obviously more relevant to Americans, the Northern Lights, swimming with dolphins and hot air balloon rides are, we’re sure, very popular choices for many. But it’s also nice to see some money can’t buy experiences on there, including changing someone’s life for the better and falling in love.

So what are the benefits of creating a bucket list?

Just like in all areas of life, creating a list helps us to define our goals and work out how we’re going to achieve them!

Time is precious

The very words “bucket list” can put a bit of dread in some people because it makes us think of our own mortality and the limited time we have. On the flip side however, being aware of time can be a gift because we will undoubtedly push ourselves to make our dreams and goals a reality, sooner rather than later.

Bucket lists don’t have to be ‘before we die’ either. You could create your list in stages. For example, travel through Europe before you’re 50 and skydive before you’re 60!

Focus on your values

Your bucket list is just that, yours. When you’re writing your list, make sure it is full of things you want to do, not what others would expect to see on there or what would impress them. It can be quite refreshing to actually focus on what you want.

Motivate yourself

Having dreams in your head is one thing, but once you write them down you’ve taken your first step to making them happen. Start with some small ones and prove to yourself that they can happen; for example, to teach yourself how to knit from an online tutorial. We make lists and plan for everything in life – graduating, having a family, buying a house – the same theory can be applied.

Keep stress and burnout at bay

It is well known that life experiences can fuel the body as much as a healthy diet, education and love. By creating and working through your bucket list, you’re sure to get more out of life.

There are lots of tools online to help with your bucket list, or you can just reach for a pen and paper. However you go about it, have fun and good luck!

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.