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.

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.

Let’s talk about the ‘D’ word

April 26th, 2017    Author:

Death and dying are not something most people naturally want to talk about. In fact, one research study found that people would rather discuss money or politics with family and friends. So it’s often not until a loved one dies that our thoughts turn to their wishes concerning their funeral.

Unfortunately, according to the study, only 30% of people had let someone know their funeral wishes. It also found that because of people’s reticence to talk about death, only 25% of respondents had asked a family member about their end of life wishes and just 7% had written down their wishes about the care they’d like if they were unable to make decisions.

With Dying Matters Week  taking place next month, it’s hoped that people will be encouraged to think about and discuss death and dying. During the week there will be nationwide events on this important subject, including coffee mornings, healing woodland walks, spiritual ceremonies, talks and film screenings.

It may be a good time to open up the conversation with loved ones and ask them questions such as how they would like to be looked after in later life, whether they’ve made a will and what kind of funeral they’d like. Perhaps they have a particular song they’d like or they have a favourite colour they’d like incorporated into the ceremony.

Talking about death doesn’t have to be morbid or depressing. Chatting about it is a great opportunity to think about what you’d like and to let friends and family know your wishes. When the time comes, it will help them to know that they are doing the right thing and that everything is as you wanted it.

* For help and support planning a funeral, please contact us on 01438 815555.

Should you take children to a funeral?

November 12th, 2016    Author:

Should you take children to a funeral?

When a child attends a funeral or cremation, it can help them to understand that death is final and gives them the chance to be with their family and friends to say goodbye. This can be an important part of the healing process.

The first thing to do is to ask your child if they’d like to go to the funeral. Sit down and talk to them about what this involves – who will be there, what will happen and why you are doing this. If your child is given clear information, they can make their own decision about whether or not they want to go.

If your child doesn’t want to go to the funeral

* Reassure them that this is OK and that not everybody goes to a funeral.

* Ask them whether there’s anything they don’t understand about funerals or if they have any more questions.

* Let them know that they can change their mind – even if it’s on the day of the funeral.

* Perhaps ask them if they’d like you to tell them about the funeral when it’s over – again, reassuring them it’s OK if this isn’t what they want.

* Talk to them about how they’d like to be involved in saying goodbye without going to the funeral. They might want to help pick the funeral flowers or to write a poem to be read out at the service.

If your child wants to go to the funeral

* Ask them if they have any questions about the funeral or if there’s anything they don’t understand.

* Explain that it’s OK to cry and it’s OK not to cry, and that they may even want to smile or laugh. Reassure them that whatever they feel like doing, that’s alright.

* You might want to ask someone trusted to help take care of your child during the ceremony.

* Include them in the planning of the funeral and look at ways they can be part of the service. They might want to write a poem or some special words that can be read out. Perhaps they could draw a picture of the deceased, which could be printed on the Order of Service. On the day, they might simply want to keep a special memento in their pocket.

After the funeral…

Whether or not your child wants to go to the funeral service, they can still be involved with commemorating the deceased’s life. Sit down together to talk about ways they’d like to remember their loved one. They might want to:-

* name a star

* plant a tree

* launch a balloon

* make a memory board

* You can download our free booklet, Talking to Children About Death, at

https://www.austins.co.uk/additional-support.html