BOOKS TO HELP A GRIEVING CHILD

books to help a grieving child
books to help a grieving child

Books can be an excellent way to support a grieving child and help them manage their emotions after loss. Talking about death can be difficult, and some people find it especially hard to approach the subject with children. In fact, all parents may feel it beneficial to read these books to children, not only when they are bereaved, but as a way of starting conversations about death, dying and bereavement more generally.

We have collected a list of children’s books that explore the subject of death and topics around it such as missing someone, saying goodbye and managing difficult emotions. This list is not exhaustive, and there are many books for children on these topics that we haven’t listed, but these are some that stuck out to us.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Recommended age: 4-7

This wonderful book introduces children and adults to ageing, death and dying without using sugar-coated language. Badger is old and knows that he will soon die, which doesn’t scare him but leaves him with concern for those he cares about. When Badger’s death finally arrives the reader is taken through the reactions of those that cared for Badger, and how they felt following his death is explored.

Buy Badger’s Parting Gifts

Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

Recommended age: 5-8

‘Nothing that is alive goes on living forever’

In this gentle book readers are taught that everything that is alive has a lifespan, which begins and also ends. Death and dying is normalised by Mellonie and Ingpen, and made as much a part of living as being born.

Buy Lifetimes

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

Recommended age: 4-8

Readers are introduced to Fox who, whilst he has had a long and happy life knows that it is time for him to leave. After he falls asleep for the last time his friends begin to gather round him to share memories, and from this a memory tree grows. In The Memory Tree Teckentrup uses sensitive language to introduce the death of Fox and inspires home with her whimsical illustrations that memories about someone that has died continue on in people’s minds and hearts.

Buy The Memory Tree

When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown

Recommended age: 4-8

This book explains in simple, honest terms about death, dying and grief. It explores some of the feelings that may be experienced when someone is bereaved, and seeks to answer some of the most commonly asked questions children have about death

Buy When Dinosaurs Die

Wherever You Are: my love will find you by Nancy Tillman

Recommended age: Baby to 4 years

Even when apart, a parent will always love their child. In death that love will remain. This book contains a pertinent reminder for children that have lost a parent that they will never, ever be without their parent’s love, even if they have died.

Buy Wherever You Are

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

Recommended age: 7 years and up

Erlbruch’s tender tale of an unlikely friendship between Duck and Death is beautifully illustrated and serves as a gentle reminder that dying comes to us all, and does not need to be feared.

Buy Duck, Death and the Tulip

Gentleman Sam by Penny Hartdale

Gentleman Sam is an elderly dog who finds his forever home on a farm with other animals. Sam has lots of lumps and he knows that one of them will kill him. He is not scared of dying, but has concerns for his friends that will remain behind. When Sam dies his friends are very sad, but in time the sun returns as they begin to understand that Sam remains with them, just out of site.

Buy Gentleman Sam 

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson

Recommended age: 3-7

‘…the pieces all joined together,
and the paper dolls flew
into the little girl’s memory’

This is the story about a girl and her paper dolls, and is a sweet reminder of the circle of life and that those we care about remain with us.

Buy The Paper Dolls

Suzie Goes to a Funeral by Charlotte Olson

Recommended age: 3-7

Attending a funeral for the first time can be daunting, especially for children. In this book Olson explains what can happen at a funeral in ways which children can understand. This book can help children prepare for attending a funeral themselves or can serve as a useful tool to explain what happens at funerals to children that might not be attending themselves, but have questions about the event.

Buy Suzie Goes to a Funeral

Love Will Never Die by Clare Shaw

There are lots of things that children can feel after someone they care about dies. This book explains some of these feelings in honest, clear language, and encourages children to express their feelings through language and through drawing.

Buy Love Will Never Die

Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Recommended age: Primary school age

This tale uses the analogy of a water bug turning into a graceful dragonfly to explain death to children.

Buy Water Bugs and Dragonflies 

Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? by Elke and Alex Barber

Recommended age: Pre-school children

Sudden deaths can be incredibly difficult to come to terms with and often have an added layer of complexity that expected deaths do not have. Elke and Alex Barber have put together this short book that seeks to help children come to terms with someone they care about dying suddenly – it can also be used by adults to open up the conversation about someone’s death.

Buy Is Daddy Coming Home in a Minute? 

What Happened to Daddy’s Body? by Elke and Alex Barber

Recommended age: 3-7

From the same authors as Is Daddy Coming Home in a Minute?What Happened to Daddy’s Body uses the same delicate but clear language to explain the process of cremation to children.

Buy What Happened to Daddy’s Body?

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Recommended age: 3-6

Through the perspective of a fish that has lost his tank-mate, Parr explores the variety of emotions one can experience in loss, and those behaviours that may result. The book concludes by encouraging readers that positive feelings can come after goodbyes, even though it might not feel like it at the time.

Buy The Goodbye Book

I Miss You by Pat Thomas

Recommended age: 6-12

Simple explanations of death, why people die and what people can feel after a funeral are all contained in this book by Pat Thomas.

Buy I Miss You

Ida, Always by Caron Levis

Recommended age: 4-8

Ida and Gus are polar bears that live in a city zoo. Ida becomes sick with an illness that cannot get better which leads to hear death. Through the experience of Gus and Ida the turbulence of caring for someone through a  terminal illness to their death is delicately spoken about in these whimsically illustrated pages.

Buy Ida, Always

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Recommended age: 3-8

In this book readers are reminded that no matter what happens, even death, people are always connected to those that they love.

Buy The Invisible String 

The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst

Recommended age: 3-8

From the author of The Invisible String, this tender tale seeks to reassure readers that after a pet dies, the love they had for them will remain.

Buy The Invisible Leash 

I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

When Elfie, a young boy’s dog dies from old age the boy and his family are sad. Their grief is explored in this book and relief is found in remembering just how much Elfie was and still is loved.

Buy I’ll Always Love You 

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Can our physical environment really make us feel better?

People often refer to locations or spaces as their “happy place”. Places can hold special memories and certain surroundings can make us feel good, even if we’re not entirely sure why. In fact, there is a lot more to the connection between physical environment and wellbeing than you might expect.

Our physical environment has a significant impact on our mood. It is increasingly accepted that wellbeing can be improved by incorporating nature in our direct environment where possible.  Where it was not possible to have a building surrounded by woods, water, meadows etc. then bringing elements of nature inside is the next best thing.

Over the last few decades, more attention has been paid to how health and wellbeing could be improved in homes, the workplace and care settings. Following the principles of design for wellbeing can help us to feel more open, optimistic and resilient.

When we became funeral directors, we wanted to create spaces which would promote wellbeing and resilience, and which would be welcoming and comforting.  We are also very mindful that using some of the principles of design for wellbeing might be helpful for people who have been bereaved, or face other challenges in their lives.

Here is a brief guide to some of the key principles of design for wellbeing and how to create a sense of connection for yourself at home and work.  

Biophilia

I recently read an excellent book entitled “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coulthard [1].  What this book has taught me is that we were instinctively applying the principles of biophilia at Full Circle.  Imagine my delight when we found out that our belief in the importance of creating a beautiful space, inspired by nature, has a scientific foundation.

The term Biophilia was first used in 1960s by Erich Fromm.  He used it to articulate the idea that humans have an innate affinity with living things and natural surroundings.  Since then, this principle has been embraced by many schools of thought within psychiatry, architecture and neuroscience.  It is widely accepted that there is a direct link between contact with nature and our wellbeing.

Nature makes us feel good.  What I learnt from Sally Coulthard is that science has actually shown that spending time in nature reduces stress levels, reduces anxiety and depression [2] and that nature can help us heal.  Patients who can look out over green spaces have quicker recoveries and need less painkillers [3]!

There are many ways that we can create nature inspired spaces and harness the positive effects that this can have on our health and wellbeing.  You might want to bring some nature into you home, work or community spaces – small changes can have a meaningful impact.

Materials

“Natural” means something which is as close to its natural form as possible.  Pebbles and plants are easy examples, but it also includes using wood is its most natural form, rather than painting it and altering it to the point that its natural origins can barely be seen.

Wood is an amazing material and several studies in different countries have shown that the presence of nature can have a stress-reducing effect [4].  Fresh flowers have also been shown to have a notable positive impact on wellbeing and mood and adding flowers to indoor spaces has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety [5].

At Full Circle we have wooden floors, use natural pine furniture as much as possible and we use tactile displays of driftwood, pinecones, chestnuts, dried flowers, and wall wreaths made from all kinds of natural products.  Our blinds and rugs are natural tones and made from natural materials such as linen and cotton.   Some of this can be included in any space and even small changes can have a meaningful impact on the sense of nature, and on how we feel.

Patterns

There is so much choice if we want to include natural patterns and textures inside.  For example, at Full Circle we have wallpaper with large birch trees, smaller circular trees and smaller twigs with leaves and small buds, all in repeating patterns.  You can find an abundance of flowers, animals, foliage, and shell patterns in all the elements required to decorate an indoor space.  When you are next choosing a lampshade, rug, blanket or even a notebook – choosing a pattern inspired by nature could have a small but meaningful positive impact on connection with nature.

Colours

The colours that we choose for our indoor spaces can also be inspired by nature.  There is no clear evidence about which colour has the most positive impact on mood, concentration, and wellbeing – the general consensus seems to be that it is complicated and varies with age, life experience and many other factors.

However, choosing colours which are common in the sky, sea, in plants and in the earth seem intuitively like a good place to start.  Blues, greens, greys, browns and a tendency towards softer tints (rather than bright and vivid) are more likely to simulate our experience of being in nature.

Wool hearts

Plants

Spending time in places which are full of plants can be very positive.  In a recent study, residents with paved front gardens were given two planters with ornamental plants and  Over a period of one year, we found that having plants in previously bare front gardens resulted in a 6% drop in residents’ perceived stress levels [6].  The number of people of people with healthy Cortisol (stress hormone) levels also increased from 24 – 53% over the course of the study.

This support the results of similar studies.  So, if you would like to look after yourself, promote better wellbeing for yourself and your family – maybe this is one positive step to consider.

Close up of plants

Small steps, big impacts

I would highly recommend reading “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coultard if any of this has resonated with you.  She has many good suggestions and really emphasises that small changes can have a big impact.

We are more mindful of the importance of our mental and physical health and wellbeing than ever before so let us let natural light into our homes and workplaces, choose nature inspired patterns and buy that houseplant or small bunch of flowers!

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Design for wellbeing

References:

[1] “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coulthard

[2] Collaboration for Environmental Evidence.  “The Importance Of Nature For Health: Is There A Specific Benefit Of Contact With Green Space?” 

[3] Ilrich, R.S.. “View Through A Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery.” Science 224 (1984): 420-421

[4] Fell, David Robert.  “Wood In The Human Environment: Restorative Properties Of Wood In The Built Indoor Environment.” PhD thesis, The University of British Columbia, 2010

[5] University of North Florida in partnership with the Society of American Florists.  “The Impact of Flowers on Perceived Stress Among Women.”  

[6] Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, “Green Front Gardens reduce physiological and psychological stress”. 

Deciding what to wear

A generation ago, deciding what to wear at a funeral was fairly straightforward. Most of those attending would arrive in something dark and smart. It was felt to be the most respectable thing to do.

However, just as things have moved on in relation to the format of the funeral itself, so too has the protocol on what to wear. As people choose to make funeral choices which are in keeping with the personality and wishes of the person who has died, colourful clothing is not only more acceptable, it is sometimes requested.

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When you are attending a funeral

If there is a particular dress code, it is very likely that someone close to those organising the funeral will know what it is. Don’t be afraid to ask around to see if anything has been requested.

It is natural to worry about getting it wrong. If there is no clear guidance and you are unsure, opt for dark and smart. If, on the other hand, you know that the person who died would appreciate you dressing in a certain way or wearing a specific colour, you may feel a greater connection to the person and the day if you follow these instincts.

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When you are arranging a funeral

If you are arranging a funeral and it is important to you that people dress in a certain way, it will be helpful to those attending if you give some positive guidance about what is expected.  We would advise that you give people some direction on what you would like them to do “please wear a pop of colour”, rather than a less specific instruction such as “you don’t need to wear black”.

 

There is no right or wrong thing to suggest. Some people prefer everyone to be in black because they feel it is respectful. Some want people to dress in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Others have very specific ideas.

You might want everyone to wear a touch of pink because it was the favourite colour of the person who has died. You may choose to encourage everyone to dress as if they were going to a party so that it feels like a celebration. The person who died may even have made their own wishes known.  It might feel very meaningful to those attending to be wearing a specific colour, if they know that fulfils their funeral wishes.  They may even choose to go out an bug something in that colour to wear – and that process may be very consoling for them.

 

Whatever you decide, you should feel comfortable sharing these wishes with others. Having said that, it’s unlikely that you will want to phone around everyone who might turn up. Choose a few people to share your preferences with and ask them to be responsible for making sure everyone who might be there knows what is expected. It is also perfectly acceptable to share details of the arrangements, including dress code, by email or text.  If you are placing a notice in the paper, creating an online memorial page or using social media to share details of the funeral then this would also be a great place to give instructions.

Don’t spend time worrying about what people might think about your requests if they are specific. People like to know what is expected of them and if they know a particular colour has meaning, then taking time to choose something will be a way for them to engage emotionally before the funeral and participate more fully on the day.

Dress codes for children

If you have a specific dress code, you will probably want it to apply to children as well. If you are attending a funeral with children and are unsure what they should wear, choose something smart and understated if possible.

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Dressing for the weather

The time of year will have some influence on what you choose to wear. If it is a very hot day, heavy dark clothing may be uncomfortable. Make sensible decisions so that you don’t feel too hot or cold. If you have something black that is very thick and warm and something navy which is lighter and cooler, choose the navy outfit on a hot day.

What not to wear at a funeral

If there is no clear request to wear something colourful, choose subdued colours and dress smartly. It is rarely a good idea to wear, trainers, jeans, caps or anything too casual. If in doubt, dress respectfully and ensure your appearance is understated.

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Your funeral wishes

If you are planning your own funeral, give some thought to how you would like people to dress. Would you like everyone to turn up in red because you always enjoy wearing a good splash of red? If what people wear will help them remember you with affection and add a personal touch to the proceedings, consider making your feelings known to those closest to you.

 

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Continuing Bonds Theory

Grief is often described as a journey, although for many people it doesn’t have a clear start and end point. Everyone grieves in different ways and whereas many theories have been developed about the grieving process.

People have told us that they have found the theory of continuing bonds incredibly helpful and we thought it would be helpful to share some more information.  Many people have been unable to attend funerals in the last year and we believe that raising awareness about activities which might support the development of continuing bonds might therefore be even more important.

 

What does “Continuing Bonds” mean?

Put simply, continuing bonds theory States that when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn’t end, but it changes.  The relationship may continue to be very strong be we need to find a different way of relating to that person, and their memory. It helps people find ways to adjust and stay connected.

 

How can Continuing Bonds help?

Finding ways to stay connected can be therapeutic in its own right. You may explore ideas individually, as a group or family, or in many different ways. Some people find that these bonds develop naturally and with ease, others find it helpful to engage in activities and rituals which support their development or maintain them over time.

Maintaining this  connection might be very private and could be something as simple as keeping a photograph in a special place or a piece of clothing or jewellery to remember the person by. These connections provide comfort and can be very consoling.

Some people find it helpful to have a lock of hair, or item of jewellery to include the fingerprint of someone who has died.  This is a truly personal item which many people find very helpful and consoling.

 

Individual and group activities

You may decide to create some continuing bonds as a family or group. This could involve writing a song for the person who has died and performing it at special events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. You might agree a date each year to get together for a special walk in a location that was meaningful to the person who died.

If a memorial stone is places somewhere, or ashes have been interred or scattered, then you might choose to visit that place.  Alternatively, we have supported people to place a memorial bench in places of significance.  These are often beautiful and restful places and the bench might include an inscription, if you like.

On a personal level, you might find it helpful to use creativity make a connection. This might be a piece of art that you create as a way of expressing emotion and then hang on the wall in your home. It could be a rose that you plant in the garden that blooms every year and brings joy.

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Time for reflection

Special spaces and places can be used as a way of continuing your bond with someone who has died. This might be a quiet part of the house where you can sit and reflect, perhaps with a drawer nearby where you keep a meaningful piece of jewellery or clothing to hold as you sit and think about the person. It may be a bench in the garden or in the park where you can enjoy the view and watch the world go by.

You might decide that you would like a memorial tree in a woodland, a memorial birdbath in the garden or place some ashes in a small keepsake which you can hold and in the palm of your hand.

 

Using words

Some people find it helpful to write a letter to the person who has died or have a quiet place where they can go and have a chat. It can also be helpful to put your feelings into words, writing down how you feel and even any questions that you would like to ask yourself or the person who has died.

Maintaining a connection to someone also happens when you talk about them, share memories with someone, bake a recipe they loved or listen to a piece of music they enjoyed.

 

Is it unhelpful to dwell on the past?

People often worry that they should try and move on with their lives rather than dwelling on the past. Grief is often described as a linear process, which ends with acceptance or closure. In our experience, we have found that the process of redefining your relationship after loss is hugely positive.

Continuing a bond in a unique and personal way is natural, normal and can be incredibly helpful. It is not something to be ashamed of and it does not immediately mean that you are “stuck”. In fact, it is an important part of the grief process and maintains a natural attachment and bond which can continue even after death, just in a different way.

You may be interested in reading more about this topic and exploring some ideas and activities for Continuing Bonds.

 

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Poems and readings can be incredibly comforting at times of loss and their words and meaning can make them a very special part of a funeral. There are lots of well-known readings and bible verses that are traditionally used at funerals. If you are looking for a non-religious alternative, however, there are some beautiful poems to choose from. Here are 7 of our favourites – we have many other suggestions so please don’t hesitate to ask if you would like more ideas.

  1. Not, How Did He Die, But How Did He Live?

By Summer Sandercox

 This short funeral verse is an uplifting poem about celebrating life and remembering someone who has made a positive impact on those around them.

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?

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  1. Death (If I Should Go)

By Joyce Grenfell

Joyce Grenfell was a British actress and satirical writer who became well known for her wry humour. This poem is often used as a funeral verse because of its sense of fun and positivity.

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

  1. Roads Go Ever On

By J. R. R. Tolkien

Life is often described as a journey and funerals are a time to reflect on this, making this passage from The Lord of the Rings a popular choice for funerals, particularly non-denominational or humanist ceremonies. In this beautiful reading, Bilbo acknowledges that his journey is complete.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

Roads go ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

  1. Dear Lovely Death

by Langston Hughes

 We chose to include this poem because it introduces the idea of continuing bonds. You can read more about this on the Continuing Bonds section of our website. We have also written a blog What are Continuing Bonds which talks about how ,when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn’t end, but it changes.  This poem talks about the way things take on new significance after someone has died.

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing—
Never to kill—
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same—
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

  1. Funeral Blues

BY W H Auden

This tender poem by Yorkshire-born writer W H Auden was introduced to a new generation by John Hannah in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is full of emotion and can be incredibly moving when used as a funeral reading. Although the tone is far from uplifting, it can be helpful to some people to acknowledge the hugeness of their grief and this poem does that very well.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message “He is Dead”,
Put Crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday-rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk , my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

  1. She Is Gone (can also be read as He Is Gone)

By David Harkins

People often choose this gentle poem for the funeral of a mother. It was in fact read at the funeral of the Queen Mother. The words can be changed to make it suitable for a father’s funeral too. We think it’s a lovely verse to celebrate the life of anyone, not just a parent.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

  1. No Matter What

By Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori’s children’s book No Matter What deals with the big worries that little children often have. In the book, Small’s mother says reassuringly, “I’ll always love you, no matter what.” The excerpt below can be used as a tender reading for a funeral where young children may be present. It is also very comforting for all ages.

Small said, “But what about when we are dead and gone, will you love me then, does love go on?”

…Large (replied) “Look at the stars, how they shine and glow, some of the stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies, for you see…love like starlight never dies…”

These are just a few of the many non-denominational readings that can be chosen for a funeral. Sometimes, the person who has died will have had a favourite book, author or poem and this could have significance. They may even have shared an idea when talking about their funeral wishes. If you are thinking about making and sharing your own funeral wishes, you can find more information on our Funeral Plans and Wishes page.

Sarah
Christmas card

Writing a Christmas card after bereavement can be difficult. You might worry about what to write, whether to mention the person who has died, whether to mention Christmas or you might be wondering if you should send one at all.

If you are writing to someone who has been bereaved:

There are no hard and fast rules, but we would always suggest that a kinder gesture would be to send the card. If you don’t then there is a danger that the individual or family might feel ignored or avoided.

If you would like to steer away from too much overt Christmas sentiment, then you could choose another type of card with a blank inside. This still shows that you are thinking of them and avoids any worry about feeling insensitive with Christmas wishes.

We would encourage you to mention the person who has died on the card. Some people choose to include their name with the person / people the card is addressed to – possibly saying “I hope you don’t mind me including Jim, it didn’t feel right to leave him out”, or you could acknowledge their name in the body of the card. Alternatively you could use the family name – “Dear Family Jones”…

You should include a message that feels right to you and it is okay to say that you weren’t sure what the right thing to write was but you just wanted them to know that you are thinking of them! Messages like “I am thinking of you all – I image the holidays might be a difficult time for you”, “I really want you to know that I am here for you, whenever you might want to talk” or simply “You are in my thoughts”.

If you have been bereaved:

Again, there are no rules or accepted etiquette about whether to send Christmas cards after you have been bereaved. We would suggest that you send them if you want to and don’t if you would rather not. Everybody will understand if you choose not to.

If you do choose to send cards, then you might like to send it to a smaller group of people and feel that it is important to acknowledge your grief in the card or you might just want to share Christmas wishes and feelings of hope. Many people choose to write the name of the person who has died within the card or included in who the card is from or sign off using the family name – “Best wishes from Family Brown”.

As with so much after bereavement it is very hard to know how you feel hour-to-hour and day-to-day. There is not right or wrong way to send, or not send, the cards so we would strongly encourage you to do what feels right for you.

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Poems and readings can be incredibly comforting at times of loss and their words and meaning can make them a very special part of a funeral. There are lots of well-known readings and bible verses that are traditionally used at funerals. If you are looking for a non-religious alternative, however, there are some beautiful poems to choose from. Here are 7 of our favourites – we have many other suggestions so please don’t hesitate to ask if you would like more ideas.

  1. Not, How Did He Die, But How Did He Live?

By Summer Sandercox

 This short funeral verse is an uplifting poem about celebrating life and remembering someone who has made a positive impact on those around them.

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?

Some ideas for you to consider

The tone of the funeral – if someone was quiet or reserved, flamboyant or cheeky then this could be reflected in the funeral. You have control over the flow and tone of the funeral.

Put a personal item on top of the coffin – this might be with or without a flower arrangement. For example, you may choose some binoculars, dancing shoes, a racing post or a gardening trowel and terracotta pot.

Choose a colourful coffin or ashes casket – there are a huge range of coffins available, decorated with different flowers, team colours, animals, colours, and themes such as sports and countries. Alternatively, you can create a fully bespoke coffin with photographs and other artistic media.

Decorate the coffin yourself – if you choose a white or manila cardboard coffin then you might choose to decorate this yourself. You can paint the coffin, create a collage with photographs, notes, and other graphics.  This might be something that you would like to do with other friends and family – so you are creating something personal together.

Photographs and videos – choosing one or more photographs to show during a service is a wonderful way to include many people, places, and life stages. It also helps those present to connect with the event and the person who has died.

A “funeral favour” – you might choose to give something to people who attend the service, in memory of the person who has died. This can be particularly poignant if there is something which immediately springs to mind – maybe they loved Tunnocks Teacakes, Dairy Milk or Werther’s Original.

Refreshments – choosing a favourite food or drink to enjoy during refreshments can be a lovely way to acknowledge the tastes of the person who has died. An afternoon tea, lemon drizzle cake, sherry or Martini may feel very fitting.

If you would like to find out more about funeral choices or if you are thinking about leaving wishes for your own funeral, you can contact us on 01943 262626 or at [email protected]

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You may also be interested in our book Funerals Your Way which has plenty of information about arranging the kind of funeral you want and how to reflect the life of the person who has died.

Why it can be helpful to express your funeral wishes when you know you are reaching the end of your life

Learning that you have a life-limiting illness or terminal diagnosis requires many adjustments in the way you think, feel, and communicate with your friends and family. In time, one of the things you may start to think about is how you would like to be remembered and the kind of funeral you want.

We have helped many people in this situation to start thinking about their funeral choices and prepare themselves to talk to those closest to them about their wishes. The feedback we have had, both from the person who is expressing their wishes and those making the funeral arrangements, is that exploring and making funeral wishes is a positive experience for everyone involved.

Here are some of the reasons why people tell us they have found it helpful.


 

It allows them to talk more openly about what is happening

Some countries and cultures around the world feel much more comfortable talking about death than we tend to in the UK, where there is typically fear and avoidance around the topic.  Broaching the subject of your funeral wishes can overcome some of these barriers, trigger meaningful conversations and help those closest to you to overcome their own fears. People tell us that these conversations can feel liberating and create a closeness and understanding that would not otherwise have been possible.

It gives them time to consider what is possible

Almost anything is possible when you are arranging a funeral and there are very few rules that must be followed. When we talk to people about their wishes, we encourage them to think about the things that are important to them. By introducing elements that reflect their interests and personality, the whole occasion can become very unique. We believe it is important to give people the space to explore what they want and to guide them gently by letting them know what is possible. Sometimes the conversation can take a surprising and uplifting direction which might only happen with this time and space to explore.

It can be a gift to those making the arrangements

When we are supporting people to arrange a funeral, we are deeply aware of their desire to fulfil the wishes of the person who has died. If the person had a conversation with them before they died or left written wishes, it is almost like a gift to those making the arrangements. Fulfilling these wishes is very consoling and can help with the grief process.

It gives peace of mind

When you have made the big decisions yourself and have set out your funeral wishes, you have peace of mind that everything will be done as you would like. This can be particularly comforting when you know you are reaching the end of your life. You are leaving nothing to chance. People tell us that they often feel a great sense of relief when all the decisions have been made and shared, either in writing or verbally.

 

There is time to plan

We understand how beneficial it can be for people to express their wishes and for others to know that they are doing things in the way they would want, and we offer free support to people who want to discuss their funeral wishes with us. There is no obligation to use us for the funeral.

We are here to provide information and gentle support to help people make the choices that are important to them. Our funeral specialists are sensitive and experienced. They will spend time supporting people to think about the type of funeral they want and the choices available, making it as easy as possible for them to create the funeral they want.

If you would like to talk to us about expressing your funeral wishes, please email [email protected] or call us. If you work in a sector where you support people who may benefit from expressing their funeral wishes, we have resources available. Please get in touch.

 

You may also be interested in reading about Mandy’s funeral wishes and how she found it helpful to explore what was possible.

Read our blog: How a funeral can be made more personal

When someone is grieving it can be hard to know how best to help. We might tell them that we are there for them and ask if there’s anything we can do but often the person can’t articulate what they need.

A common practice is to bring food – we can show people that we care by taking the time to cook them something nutritious. This is a lovely gesture and is often warmly welcomed by people who might be struggling to think about feeding themselves and their families. A casserole can give them important nutrition at a time when they may be neglecting their wellbeing. A cake can be useful to offer people who drop in to offer condolences.  We also know that nutrition and hydration are important to support wellbeing after the physical and mental stress of bereavement.

Food is a practical way to help and there are plenty of other ways to give useful support after bereavement. Here are a few ideas and things that people have told us they have found helpful.

Tea and coffee

One alternative to bringing a cake or casserole is to make up a basket of teabags and ground or instant coffee, perhaps with a packet of nice biscuits too, that can be used for visitors.

Gardening

Depending on the time of year, an offer to cut the lawn or tidy the garden might be very welcome. Rather than asking whether the person would like their lawn cutting, it might be more helpful to let them know that you cut your lawn on a certain day of the week and will pop across and do theirs for the next few weeks, while you have your mower out. This can make it easier for them to accept the gesture.

Childcare

If there are young children in the family, an offer to take them to the park for a morning or help with school and activity runs is likely to be appreciated. Although they may want to involve their children in discussions about death and visits from well-wishers, the offer of a distraction for younger members of the family and help in maintaining their routine will be appreciated.

Walking the dog

Routine activities like walking the dog can feel like a huge effort following bereavement. An offer to call in once or twice a day to take the dog out is a down-to-earth way to show support. Once again, giving definite times and sticking to them will be extra helpful.

Stay in touch

If you don’t live close enough to offer practical day to day support, keep in touch with a regular phone call or visit. Remember to continue contact after the funeral and keep in mind that there is no timescale for grief. Your support and presence may be needed for some time to come.

A regular message asking – “How are you today?” lets them know that you are thinking of them and avoids asking that one big tricky question “How are you?”.

Arrange activities and outings

Everyone grieves in different ways and some people can take time before they are ready to resume things they used to enjoy doing. They may find it hard to be in group situations because they are worried about becoming emotional. Think about arranging safe activities that can be cancelled at short notice, such as a walk in the park or a trip to the beach.

Again, this is something that can continue for many months after the funeral and may even become a regular routine. When someone is grieving, it can be helpful simply to know that someone is calling in every other Friday for a walk or a cup of coffee, even if they don’t feel up to it on the day.

Don’t worry if your offers are rejected

Grief brings up all sorts of emotions and it can affect the way a person behaves from one day to the next. Try not to take it personally if your offers of help are turned down or if you unintentionally say something that is taken the wrong way. By continuing to be present, available and not taking offence, you will be providing support anyway.

Bereavement is a time of loss and change which is why the constant presence and support of friends and family members is so important. Gratitude may not always be apparent but in the long term, as the person adjusts to their new way of living, your dependability will make a difference.

If you are supporting someone who is bereaved there are some useful resources on our website that may help them. You can find details of creative activities and ways of remembering someone who has died on our page about continuing bonds. We also run a bereavement support group which is open to all.

Giving flowers is something that brings pleasure to both giver and receiver and, with many of us becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our choices, British grown seasonal plants and living arrangements have become a popular choice for all sorts of occasions, including funerals.

Earlier this year independent funeral directors Jez and Sara Fixter, of Full Circle Partners in Altrincham, helped a local family plan a living arrangement for their mother, specifically designed to be replanted after the funeral.

The arrangement featured some of their mother’s favourite seasonal blooms, including snowdrops and primula, with trailing ivy and Japanese holly, all of which could be replanted directly into the soil. Tulips and foliage were included which could be recut and displayed in a vase.

They transplanted the elements into their own garden where they can flourish for many years to come and remind them of their mother and her love of plants.

“It can be so comforting to spend time in the garden looking at the plants and bulbs coming up year after year and feeling a continuing bond with the special and important person you are remembering,” explained Sara.

“The wellbeing benefits of gardening really come into their own at difficult times in our lives, such as after bereavement, and our experience has shown us that finding personal ways to stay connected to someone who has died can have an incredibly positive impact on the grief process.”

The arrangement, which was put together by Hale-based florist Bloom & Gorgeous, was created to be naturally environmentally friendly and used peat free soil and a trough that could be reused as a planter.

 “The family felt that being able to replant plants and flowers from the arrangement in their garden would be lovely way to remember and honour her,” said Sara.

“A living arrangement is a very sustainable form of floral funeral tribute which tends to be fitting too, because people who love plants and gardening usually care deeply about the environment.”

The family included another thoughtful touch in the funeral service, displaying a piece of their mother’s embroidery work to recognise her love of snowdrops and her creativity.

“Being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity to bring meaning to the event and remember some of the special things about the person.

“Not everyone finds this helpful, of course, and we are always guided by those making the arrangements so that we can provide the information they need to create the kind of funeral they want.

“The important thing is that people know that they have options and that there is really very little that cannot be included, should they wish.”

For more information about Living Arrangements or Funeral Choices contact us.

Find out more about funeral choices.

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