Austin's Blog

 

What the month of May has taught us about mental health and talking about death

May 22nd, 2020    Author:

May is the month of both Dying Matters Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Week. While we acknowledge these important events every year, this year, of course, is quite different.

Are we closer to talking about death now that we are living through a global pandemic and faced with devastating figures every day? Are we more aware of our mental health now that we are separated from our friends and family? From the way we feel every day to drastic changes such as not being able to attend funerals and not scattering ashes once in a while, how is this all affecting us both now and in the months and years to come?

Awareness is key to helping ourselves and others, so let’s take a look at what both the Dying Matters and Mental Health Awareness campaigns can teach us.

 

Mental Health Awareness – #KindnessMatters

This year’s awareness week has been all about kindness. Here at Austin’s we are very community-focussed and have tried to do as much as we can to support others over recent weeks, including:

  • Supporting ‘The Stevenage Community Food Bank’ by collecting donations of non-perishable food items at our head office for those struggling to feed themselves and their families during the pandemic.
  • Delivering 1,500 face shields to funeral service colleagues throughout the UK thanks to Relton Herron of Avacare in Stevenage.
  • Helping the ‘Stevenage Helps’ appeal to attract donations of over £30,000.

 

How can we all be kinder?

According to YouGov research carried out for ITV, people have been more concerned about their mental health since lockdown began, but 37% have got back in touch with old friends or family and 60% say they’re talking more often to family and friends on the phone than before the lockdown.

These are both really positive things to happen – and many acts of kindness have come out of lockdown too. You only have to take a brief look at social media to see lots of feel-good stories; from people delivering home-cooked meals to neighbours, to Colonel Tom raising millions for the NHS!

Research on the Mental Health Awareness Week website says that “kindness can  help reduce stress and improve our emotional wellbeing.” It really does have genuine health benefits. They also say “kindness is choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings.”

Here are some of our favourite ideas on how to show kindness. You can get more inspiration at mentalhealth.org.uk…

  • Volunteer for a local community organisation - charities are crying out for a helping hand right now, from support with online fundraisers to collecting donations from the local community
  • Check in safely with a neighbour who is isolated or shielding
  • See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories by video, for example
  • Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects - if you’ve got to know your neighbours better during the Thursday night ‘clap for carers’ then why not get together and make a difference where you live?
  • Post a card or letter to someone you are out of touch with  – a handwritten note can make someone’s day
  • Smile and say hello to people you may pass every day, but have never spoken to – social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t still interact with people (at a safe distance!)

 Dying Matters – #DyingtobeHeard

How can we talk about death more openly, but also make sure we are listening to others? This year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week theme was ‘Dying To Be Heard’. In other words, how many people want to talk about death, but feel they have no one to talk to about it?

Hospice UK recently 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.

The fact that we are connecting with people more during lockdown is a good start – but active listening is key. It’s important to ask the other person, ‘what’s important to you?’

 

How can we become better listeners?

Here are some tips from dyingmatters.org on how to be a good listener :

  • Let them know you want to listen – there will probably be a lot going on in the mind of the person speaking, let them know it’s ok to think things through and take their time.
  • Don’t try to be the expert – you don’t need to have answers to their questions – in fact, they’ll probably prefer it if you don’t! Nine times out of 10 they just want to unload their thoughts.
  • Don’t try and steer the conversation – let them work through things in their own way.
  • Do pay attention – it’s really obvious, and off-putting, when the person you are confiding in has their mind elsewhere.
  • Practise your own self care – some of what they say might be upsetting for you to hear. Make sure you have some means to process everything afterwards and have someone to listen to you too.

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.

 

The Order of Service – the little part of a funeral with the big impact

January 29th, 2020    Author:

The Order of Service is a small booklet that is given out to all attendees at a funeral. While many would be forgiven for assuming that it is simply an ‘itinerary’ of the service, complete with words to the chosen hymns and prayers, an Order of Service is in fact so much more than this.

memorial card is something that can be made very special and indeed personal to the deceased – and it’s something that will last for many years to come. In a few years’ time when you’ve cleared out a lot of your loved one’s possessions, this little booklet will no doubt be something you keep. It will also be a unique keepsake for many of the people who attend the funeral, as well as those who are unable to. So, try and take your time over it even when it may seem that the rest of the funeral planning is more urgent.

Emma Freud once wrote in a very frank, yet inspirational, article for the Guardian, ‘How to do a funeral’: “This [the Order of Service] invariably becomes the emotional focus of the week [during funeral planning]. It needs to be a collective effort and is probably the moment when family tensions emerge in that lovely dysfunctional way that only a close death can inspire…”

This is, in many ways, true, for there are lots of elements to consider in an Order of Service, which we’ll go through in this blog. But it’s also a chance for you to come together with your family to search through old photos and retell stories of your loved one whilst you create something that really reflects who they were.

 

Order of Service

What does an Order of Service include?

As a general rule, Order of Service booklets are about eight pages long, but they can of course be longer if you wish.

They include, but are not limited to:

  • Details about the person who has deceased
  • A schedule of the ceremony
  • Details of the wake or gathering afterwards, if there is one
  • Complete words for any hymns, readings or poems
  • Any photos of your loved one which you wish to share
  • Any music you played at the start or end of the ceremony which you wish to name

Make sure when you are putting your Order of Service together that you liaise with the person conducting the service about the schedule of the day. You don’t want to print any incorrect details and cause confusion.

The front cover

  • A photo of the remembered person along with their full name
  • Their birth date and the date of their death
  • An optional short message, quotation or sentiment
  • The location, date and time of the service

 The back cover

  • A closing photo, which could be one of them in a group or showing a different side to their personality compared to the one on the front cover
  • Details of any preferred charities for donations should people wish to give
  • Your thanks to everyone for their support and kindness during this time

Adding personal touches to an Order of Service

Going back to the article in the Guardian, Emma explains how each Order of Service she has created for a loved one has reflected their personalities: “For my mother-in-law, we had photographs. For my father-in-law, we kept it formal. For my hippie friend, it was a party on a page…. For my dad, we had a few jokes (the front page said: “Clement Freud. Born 24.04.24. Best Before 15.04.09”).

Don’t be afraid to create something very personal to your loved one. Use colour to express their personality, devote a whole page to a collage of photos, or include a drawing of them by a younger member of the family. Add in somewhere a phrase they always used to say, or match the design of the booklet to their favourite pastime, such as gardening or baking.

Designing and printing an Order of Service

Once you’ve added your personal touches to the essentials, just make sure that the design is still accessible for all readers and that fonts are clear and at a good size. Here at Austin’s we provide service sheets in a variety of designs, but of course you are welcome to design and print your own. There are plenty of templates available online for inspiration.

If you decide to print your own booklets then there is the option of online printers or local printers. Using a local printer will mean you can go and get a feel for the stock and how your font and text size looks on a physical proof rather than just on screen.

If you need a little more assistance with your booklets, there are people who will write, design and print them while working closely with you to get the desired outcome.

Clearing the Possessions of a Loved One

December 29th, 2019    Author:

When a loved one dies, one of the most difficult tasks you may have to take on is clearing out their home. It can be a difficult and emotional time, but it’s also an important step in the grieving process and there are ways to make it easier to handle. 

 

The art of death cleaning

The first way is to do what you can now to make it easier for your loved ones. In Sweden, there’s a tradition called ‘doestaedning’ or ‘death cleaning’, which involves getting rid of unwanted possessions while you’re still alive.

Decluttering has become big business here in the UK, as many of us strive to live more sustainable and minimalist lives. But decluttering also has a much bigger impact on our families when we pass away, as they will inevitably have less ‘stuff’ to clear.

Death cleaning is described as a ‘gentle art’; it can be very empowering and there is no need to rush the process.

There will be things you realise you don’t need and can donate to a local charity – anything from clothes to excess vases (things you don’t even think about that take up space) – and then items you want to keep in the family and can offer out to people now rather than leaving them to have the discussion after you’ve passed; this could be a piece of furniture, or even jewellery.

You should of course make a will, but can also really help your family out by talking to beneficiaries about the items in your possession. It’s a sad fact that many family feuds stem from arguments over items going missing, or indecision over who should get what. For anything not specifically mentioned in your will, think about having those conversations now with the relevant people to save stress for them later down the line.

 

Emotional attachment

The second way to make this process easier is to consider timing. We all have emotional attachment to inanimate objects; some of us struggle to let anything go, while others are happy to keep one or two things that remind them of the person they have lost.

It’s strange to think that a teacup or everyday watch can embody a loved one once they pass; but items like this can, and do. By waiting until you are emotionally ready, parting with a loved one’s possessions will feel like the right thing to do, rather than a secondary loss.

 

Doing it by the book

The next way is all about making sure everything is kept clear between family members. When someone dies, the distribution of their estate is placed in the hands of the executor.

Assets are distributed in accordance with the terms of the will, but when it comes to all of the smaller items that aren’t in the will, it’s sensible for the executor to put measures in place to ensure each family member can agree what is happening to each item.

The best way to do this is to go around the property and make an inventory of everything inside. Then you can sort items into categories such as; throw away, donate to charity and keep, ready for everyone to get together and make the final decisions.

If you jointly decide to sell some items, it’s sensible to keep a receipt book of all of the proceeds so that you can refer to it if questions are later raised.

 

The perfect keepsake

Finally, there are some lovely ways of making your loved one’s possessions into perfect keepsakes. For example, you may have a selection of their ties, which can be made into a cushion cover, or a shirt into a teddy bear.

You may want to create a memory box of possessions that you wish to keep, such as photos, certificates, newspaper cuttings and birthday cards.

Sometimes it can be as simple as keeping their old watch on your bedside table next to a photo. Do whatever works for you and, most importantly, take your time.