Full Circle Funerals turns Five

By Sarah Jones

In Celebration of our First Five Years

It is hard to believe that it is five years since we started out on our mission to create a new kind of service that would change people’s experiences of arranging a funeral. Now here we are with 4 sites across Yorkshire, 3 national awards under our belts and 10 fabulous people in our team.

What we set out to do

We never underestimated the challenges involved in entering a well-established industry. Coming from a health and social care background, those of us who were there at the start of the Full Circle journey recognised that there was a need for somewhere that applies therapeutic principles to funeral care and understands that people’s needs have evolved significantly over the last 100 years.  We understood that the process of saying goodbye to someone is an essential part of the grieving process and can influence how that process plays out in the future. Essentially, we became funeral directors because we believe that good funeral care can have a positive long term impact on wellbeing and grief.

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What happened next

Everything about our service is about wellbeing, from the interiors to the way we look after our own team. People responded really well to our approach and we quickly recognised that there was a huge unmet need. This inspired  us to open up 3 more services across Yorkshire far sooner than anticipated.

We find that much of our time is spent helping people to understand what is possible and then creating time and space to support them as they work out what will be best for them. We talk to them about what is important to the person who has died and their family and friends. These ideas form the basis of the choices that are made about the funeral and how that person will be remembered in the future.

Our funeral directors have come to us from all walks of life, with one of our newest recruits switching from a teaching career. They all bring a desire to have a positive impact on the people they support and their local community.

Our role in the community

Over the past 5 years we have supported no fewer than 25 charities and taken part in 79 community events. From the outset we recognised the importance of our role as a local service and point of contact, not just for people who needed to arrange a funeral but for all those involved in caring for bereaved people and those approaching the end of their lives.

The part we play in our local networks gained new significance during Covid-19 when we, and others we worked closely with to provide bereavement support, suddenly found ourselves in a unique position. There is a significant  amount of admin to contend with  when someone dies and the pandemic meant that the places where people would usually go to complete these tasks had closed. Everything had migrated online and people were genuinely struggling with both their grief and the need to navigate new digital systems that had been put in place. We found ourselves helping in ways we wouldn’t normally help, completing admin and giving urgent advice on new procedures and opening hours for crematoria. Our team worked their socks off to support people in whatever way they could, to make their lives easier during these strange and troubling times.

During this period, we carried out research with some of the people we work closely with such as celebrants, care homes and local florists. We discovered that everyone had been doing more and doing things differently. We used this research to create a guide for those providing services in our local community on how best to support people during the pandemic.

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Looking ahead

Anniversaries are an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, what we have learnt and how we can take that knowledge forward. We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from the hundreds of people we have supported and we are looking forward to helping more people in the future. If this means growing our team and our number of sites, it will only be done in a way that allows us to maintain the very special environment we have created at Full Circle Funerals.

From our own experience, we understand the positive impact our work has on the people we support. We are also committed to better understanding what helps people after a bereavement by working with local universities in York and Bradford to lead ground-breaking research into bereavement and funeral care.   By taking this methodical and collaborative approach with academics, we hope to influence change on a wider scale.

For now, however, it is our birthday month and we are celebrating in lots of exciting ways. We will soon have some exciting news to share about a new charity collaboration and we are preparing to launch the second edition of Funerals Your Way, our bestselling funeral self-help book. There is so much to look forward to and so much still to do.

We feel filled with immense gratitude for the people who have supported and encouraged us and the amazing and inspiring people we work alongside daily.  More than anything, we commit to continue to do the very best that we possibly can for the people in our care.

5th Anniversary highlights

By Sharon Malone

Mindful Memorials
Mindful Memorials

Have you ever thought when you’re “gone” how you would like to be remembered?

The reality is very few of us do other than perhaps a fleeting thought alluding to the hope that you are remembered for “all the right reasons” as the saying goes. So, given that you probably haven’t thought that much about how you’d like to be remembered, it stands to reason that you probably haven’t thought at all about how others, your loved ones, may want to remember you, have you?

As a nation, the British are not very good at talking about death and loss – we’re only just now beginning to acknowledge the importance of supporting the bereaved through a range of different offerings from counselling through to expressing our grief through artworks and memory walks.

It’s no surprise therefore that very few of us make our wishes known surrounding our death and how we want our body to be treated – if indeed we have a preference at all.  The ramifications of this can be far reaching when it comes to memorialising.

Mindful Memorials
Mindful Memorials

When my father-in-law died, we came to the awful realisation that none of us knew whether he would have preferred to be buried or cremated, let alone what hymns he might have liked at his funeral.  Even though he was not in the best of health at the end, sadly, we hadn’t had that conversation with him.  He hadn’t included any instructions in his will so when the question was asked of us, we were at a loss as to what the answer should be.  This was somewhat distressing – shouldn’t we know him well enough to not be in any doubt?  We opted to have him cremated.  This decision was to shape everything that followed.

Whilst there is a variety of ways of storing, scattering or preserving the ashes of a loved one, if a more traditional headstone is preferred options can be limited.  Not a lot of people realise this until it is too late. Most Churches, for example, will only permit a small flat plaque with room for the most basic of inscriptions, in a plot surrounded by other similar plaques in the part of the Churchyard dedicated to the burial of cremated remains.  Likewise, most cemeteries will limit the size and style of memorial acceptable for the commemoration of ashes.

Mindful Memorials
Mindful Memorials

Options for memorials on graves containing a body in a coffin or casket are more extensive but the drawback for coffin burials is that the final resting place needs to be chosen very quickly at the height of raw grief.  Interestingly, however, many families who choose a full coffin burial will also have chosen and prepaid for their plot, often purchasing multiple plots either next to each other or sharing the same grave.

For these families, the memorial, and the way they are remembered, they are guaranteeing that a record of their life will endure.

In conclusion whatever your choice of final resting place it could affect what your memorial may look like, so consider carefully how you would like to be remembered and, above all else, make your feelings known.

© Sharon Malone 2021. mindfulmemorials.co.uk

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By Jane Wood

Jane Wood
Image of lungs

Jane Wood is a practicing acupuncturist and has written a guest blog about her perspective of Chinese medicine, and how she believes it can help those that are grieving. If you have any questions or would like to find out more about Jane’s work and Chinese medicine you can visit Jane’s website.

 

Grief and Chinese Medicine

Grief through the lens of Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine sees emotions manifesting in the organs; the heart feels the emotion of joy, the spleen pensiveness, the liver anger and frustration, the kidneys fear. And the emotions of sadness, grief, and worry affect the lungs.

We can see similarities in our own everyday language; something may make your heart sing, if you’re out of sorts you might describe yourself as feeling a bit liverish. And our breath changes when we’re upset, whether that be with sobs of grief, shallow breathing, or holding our breath.

 

The physical impact of grief

Western medicine sees the brain almost as a Commander, sending signals via the nervous system to other parts of the body as if they were its troops.  Chinese medicine sees all parts as equal, with organs affected directly by emotions. Either way, there is no doubt that your emotions affect your body and health.

The first thing to say is that grief is a normal experience, one that binds the whole human race.

Although everyone will have their own experience of bereavement, the loss of a loved one is generally accepted as a major cause of stress and anxiety. Responses in the nervous system change our biochemistry. A cascade of hormones release telling us that we’re no longer safe and need to prepare to fight, flee, or freeze.

The first responder to stress, adrenaline, gives us the impetus to move quickly or be completely still. It diverts blood to the skeletal muscles, heart and brain so you we can fight or flee and dilates our pupils so we can see where we’re going! Extremely useful if we need to jump out of the path of an approaching bus, but not so great for going about our normal lives as that extra diverted blood has to come from somewhere, such as the digestive or reproductive organs.

We need this stress response to get through life. We wouldn’t last long without it. But we also need to be able to relax when the stressor has gone. It is normal for us to move between stressed and relaxed states, which are governed by two branches of the nervous system. Problems arise only when we stay in a stressed state for too long without periods of relaxation.

If stress continues, the body releases steroid hormones such as cortisol, to prolong the stress response. Cortisol is essential for life.  In normal times, it helps to break down food to give us the energy for life. But the increase in cortisol from long term stress is less helpful, leading to a range of health issues.

 

How acupuncture can help

Our bodies are always looking to maintain a constant internal environment to keep our internal organs safe and maintain the right environment for life. It’s a bit like Goldilocks wanting the porridge to be exactly right, we can’t be too hot or too cold. This state is called “homeostasis”. Long term stress moves us away from homeostasis, keeping us in “fight or flight” mode for too long.

Research into acupuncture has shown that it can reduce the stress response by:

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Making changes to the nervous system, which sends signals to the body to tell it to make changes such as increasing or slowing the heart rate, to bring it back to that middle ground, homeostasis.

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Improving heart rate variability. While it might seem that a heart rate as steady as a metronome is something to aspire to, we need a heart rate finely tuned to change to the environment. Higher heart rate variability is associated with better health overall.

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An area of the brain called the hypothalamus releases neurochemicals when the body is under stress. Acupuncture can calm this response.

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Increasing the release of endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals that play an important role in regulating responses to stress such as pain, heart rate changes, blood pressure and digestive function. ​

Self-help

Breathe well

Going back to the lungs, one of the simplest changes we can make is working with the breath.

Our emotions affect our breath, it really is a barometer or benchmark of how we feel. But the reverse is also true. Changing how we breathe can send signals to the body to let it know that we’re safe.

In times of stress the breath tends to be quick and shallow and may feel uneven. When we’re relaxed our breathing is deep and even, with longer breaths.

Breathing is an automatic function of the body, but we can also directly control our breath.

Here’s a simple breathing practice.

Start with good posture – how we hold ourselves has a very physical impact on the breath. By standing/sitting straight and relaxing the shoulders down and rolling them back we allow the ribcage to expand, increasing lung capacity and allowing more air into the body. With that air comes oxygen, needed by every cell of the body to help it function.

You might also notice that changing your posture also changes how you feel.

Now observe how your breath is in this moment. Is it shallow and fast, or slow, deep, and even? Then bring your attention to your posture, whether seating or standing imagine a string at the top of your head lifting you towards the ceiling. Begin to count each in breath and out breath. Don’t strain, just count the breath as it is.  You might notice that the breath becomes softer and longer over time. Next you can begin to make the outbreath just a little longer.

You can try this at any time and can also work with the breath while lying down.

What else can you do?

Relax

Although it can be difficult to relax, see if you can find something works for you. It might be a walk in nature, talking things through with a friend, listening to music, or a nice warm bath. Everyone is different and what works for someone else might not work for you, and vice versa.

Diet

Nourish yourself with good wholesome food. Being off your food is a normal reaction to grief, as is turning to junk food for comfort. Although it may make you feel better for a short while in the longer term, it can prolong the stress response. Common stressors include coffee, alcohol, and sugar.

Take time to eat. Your digestion will thank you for eating slowly, chewing properly and sitting calmly. And if it’s possible, try and eat your meals at roughly the same time each day. Strange though it may seem, your body gets used to this rhythm and begins to prepare itself to digest food.

Sleep

Insomnia is a common side effect of stress. But even going to bed and getting up at the same time, perhaps listening to soft music, a gentle audio book, or recorded relaxation can help to maintain the Goldilocks state of homeostasis, and you may find it easier to return to a normal sleeping routine later down the line. Gentle stretching or breathing practices in a dimly lit room before bed can sometimes help.

And finally – Accept grief

Grief is normal, but the biological impact of long term suppressed grief can impact on health. Culturally, we’re sometimes encouraged to “keep things in” but grief is a normal part of life, a common experience that binds us as humans. The loss of a loved one is stressful, but expressing grief in whatever way works for you, and for as long as you need to, releases stress hormones just as running away from danger does.

If you would like anymore information or have any questions please contact Jane Wood via e-mail [email protected] or visit her website https://janewoodacu.co.uk/

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