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

Government rules

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There are no legal limits on the number of people who can attend funerals or commemorative events.

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Actual maximum numbers that can attend will be dependent on what the venue can safely allow (see details for Yorkshire crematoria below)

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Symptomatic people should not attend funerals

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People who are self-isolating or who are in quarantine following international travel may be present at a funeral where a legal exemption applies.

Local Crematorium Rules

Cottingley
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Chapel will seat 75 attendees

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Seated attendees only

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Barrier will remain around coffin

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Whilst not required, attendees are encouraged to wear a mask

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Family pallbearers allowed

Huddersfield
Lawnswood
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The main chapel will seat 70 attendees and the overflow, 80 (150 total)

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Seated attendees only

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Barrier will remain around coffin

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Whilst not required, attendees are encouraged to wear a mask

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Family pallbearers allowed

Nab Wood
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No limit on the number of attendees

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Use of masks encouraged

Park Wood
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56 seated attendees allowed

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Chairs are in rows of 4 – these cannot be moved

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Family pallbearing allowed

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Whilst not required, attendees are encouraged to wear a mask

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Barrier will remain around coffin

Rawdon
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The chapel will seat 80 attendees

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Seated attendees only

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Barrier will remain around coffin

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Whilst not required, attendees are encouraged to wear a mask

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Family pallbearers allowed

Scholemoor
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No limit on number of attendees

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Use of masks encouraged

Skipton
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66 seated attendees in chapel only

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No restriction on the amount of attendees outside

Stonefall
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90 attendees allowed inside

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No attendees allowed in foyer

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Additional attendees allowed outside

York
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The White Rose chapel will seat 95 attendees, and the Ebor chapel 25 – no standing attendees allowed

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Meeting room
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Local Burial Rules

Bradford
Calderdale
Craven
Harrogate
Kirklees
Leeds
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Hole for coffin
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Registering a death

General Government Guidance
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If the person died at home or in hospital:
A relative should register the death but if this is not possible the following may register

Someone who was there at the time of death

An administrator from the hospital where the person died

Someone who is in charge of making funeral arrangements

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If the person died somewhere other than at home or in a hospital:

A relative should register the death but if this is not possible the following may register:

Someone who was there at the time of death

The person who found the person after they had died

Someone who is in charge of caring for the person after they have died

Someone who is in charge of making funeral arrangements

Bradford
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Telephone 01274 432 151 to book an appointment for the registrar to call you. If the person died in either BRI of AGI you can make an appointment through their bereavement officers. For BRI telephone 01274 364477 and for AGI telephone 01535 652 511.

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death will be sent directly to the registrar.

Calderdale
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Visit the below link to book an appointment for the registrar to contact you.

https://ebooking.calderdale.gov.uk/eRegistrar/

Registration of death is only being carried out over telephone.

The hospital or GP surgery will scan the registration paperwork to the registrar.

Harrogate
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Use the below link to book an appointment for the registrar to ring you:

https://myaccount.northyorks.gov.uk/registrars/death-booking

Or, call 01609 780780

You will need:

Details about the person that has died

Confirmation that the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death has been emailed to the registrars

A credit / debit card to pay for any death certificates

Kirklees
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No registration of death is to be done in person, only over the telephone

Use the below link to book an appointment for the registrar to ring you

http://zipporah.co.uk/contact

You will need:

Details about the person that has died

Confirmation that the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is with the registrar

A credit / debit card to pay for any death certificates

Leeds
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Registering the death by phone

A member of the registrar team will call the next of kin usually within three days of the person’s death and over the course of the phone call they will register the death. If the next of kin is unable to take the call someone else can speak to the registrar – the next of kin can pass the phone to them or they can give the registrar additional contact details. The other person must be:

A relative of the person that has died

The funeral director or someone making the person’s funeral arrangements

York
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Email: [email protected] or call 01904 654477 to arrange an appointment to register a death by telephone; details you must include are:

name of the person who has died

date and place of death

name, contact number and email address of the person registering the death

name of the funeral director (if known)

Registration of deaths is only taking place over the telephone.

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death will be issued directly to the register office.

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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.

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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 Sarah Jones

A Day In The Life Of A Funeral Director

Traditionally, funeral directing has happened behind closed doors creating an air of mystery about the profession and everything surrounding it. Funeral directors often joined the family business having grown up in it, and it was deemed respectful and dignified for the care of people who have died (and arranging funerals) to happen privately and out of sight.

For this reason, and perhaps a post-war desire to be less exposed to death, choosing to work in  funeral care isn’t considered as proactively or readily as other branches of health and social care.

We recognise that the privacy surrounding funerals makes it very hard for people to know what it’s like to be a funeral director. It can be hard to know what questions to ask.  As a modern funeral director that is seeking to encourage more open conversation about funerals and funeral directing as a career, we are keen to answer some of the questions people have and talk about what a typical day in the life of a funeral director is really like in 2021. My personal experience tells me that most people are naturally very interested in what it is like to be a funeral director and have many questions.  Some people have many practical questions (often starting with “Do you also look after the dead people”), other are fascinated about funeral choices and many want to understand the emotional labour involved and what it “feels like” to help people to arrange a funeral.

As always, breaking down something complicated and human into its composite parts can end up oversimplifying it.  However, I believe that there are six key strands to being a funeral director and I’ll try to tell you a little more about each one below.

I must also caveat everything by saying that the UK funeral industry is unregulated and there are no minimum standards to adhere to.  This means that funeral directors can choose their own ways of working so it is hard for me to judge whether this blog would apply to every service.

We have also make a short video to compliment this blog so if you are interested, then please take a look at that too!

 

1) Looking after people who have died

After someone has died, we go to the place where they have died and bring them into our care (and usually look after people until the day of their funeral).  Depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the person who has died and their family, this may involve delivering personal care, dressing someone, or doing their nails, hair and makeup.

Sometimes people also need some care which is exclusively for people after death.  This depends on specific circumstances and we would always try to facilitate a family being involved in these decisions (gently and only if they want to).  Most people have heard of embalming, which is an example of such a procedure.

 

2) Supporting people to make funeral arrangements

We spend much of our time helping people to understand what is possible and then creating time and space to support them to work out what works best for them.  We start by trying to understand what is important to the person who has died and their family and friends and then expand on these ideas by structuring the decisions that need to be made and sharing ideas.

This might include needing to do some research about new options, places, or people so that we can suggest things which are specific to that individual.

Once the decisions have been made, then it is our job to pull everything together.  This usually involves sourcing some funeral products (like coffins and urns), liaising with other people like Minister and celebrants and ensuring all the necessary paperwork has been completed in a timely manner.

 

3) Support on the day of the funeral

On the day of the funeral, we are there to make sure that the event is as the family and friends wanted it to be.  In many cases, this involves ensuring that all the carefully prepared plans and timings are adhered to.  However, sometimes that also involves navigating the unexpected and being able to make quick judgements and decisions about how to adapt the plan in response to unforeseen circumstances.

Roadblocks which have popped up in the hour since you last checked the route, an unwell funeral attendee, a hearse that refuses to start or a last-minute change of plan about whether family members would like to carry the coffin, are all things which we need to navigate calmly and quickly.

 

4) Pre- and post-funeral support

As funeral directors, we are well placed to support people to understand and write down their own funeral wishes or purchase a pre-paid funeral plan.

We know the benefit of people leaving funeral wishes and see how consoling it is for people to be able to gift the fulfilment of these wishes after someone has died.  Many people we have supported to decide and articulate their wishes tell us that they have found it a positive experience and feel like an important task has been completed.

Similarly, because we support people who have been bereaved, we are well-placed to share helpful information about bereavement support, activities to support the development of continuing bonds and signpost to other services and organisations which might help.  We also run a peer bereavement support group at our services but that is not the case for all funeral directors.

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5) Raising awareness and standards

The more that people know about funerals, funeral choices and how funerals costs are calculated, the better.  We believe that sharing this information gentle and carefully while people are not immediately faced with planning a funeral is best because they can then call upon this knowledge when they need to make many funeral decisions in a relatively short space of time.

We spend time sharing blogs (like this one), raising awareness about funeral choices, hosting talks and workshops and other educational events.  We encourage other professionals allied to funeral care to come and share their perspective.

We also lead and contribute to funeral and bereavement research with several different universities so that we can help to gather the information that is needed to make sure that funeral directors know how to deliver the best possible (evidence-based) support to people who have been bereaved.

Sarah presenting at a conference

 

6) Having a positive impact on our communities and the environment

As funeral directors, you are an important part of your local community and it is rewarding to be able to make a positively contribution to this community.  We do what we can to understand what individuals, groups and organisations are doing and try to provide support where we can.  This can take many different forms, but the key is that is it driven by the needs of the community that we are in.

Like many people, we take our responsibility to the environment very seriously.  We consider how to minimise the impact that we have as a business, try to make a positive contribution to any sustainability work taking place in the community and work hard to raise awareness about greener funeral choices.

Every single day is different, every individual that we support is special and our job is truly a privilege.  We meet the most amazing people (personally and professionally) and are constantly reminded of how incredibly resilient people are – and it is an honour to be able to help.

 

If you have any questions about what it is like to be a funeral director (or anything else funeral related) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch via our Contact Us page or by emailing [email protected]

By Gemma Wood

Gemma
Rose

Art After Loss

Creative activities can be immensely helpful after any major changes in our lives, including bereavement. Being creative is mindful, absorbing and allows the unconscious release of emotions and feelings without the need to find the right words.

Grief is different for everyone

Grief isn’t just associated with death. We can also find ourselves overwhelmed by feelings of loss when important relationships end, if we move somewhere new and after a change in career or financial circumstances.  Simply growing older brings change, loss and new adventures.

The complex emotions involved can take us by surprise and everyone’s experience is very individual. Some people find it helpful to express how they are feeling in groups or one-to-one, whereas others prefer to grieve privately.

Art after loss

The world’s most famous painters have created masterpieces after loss, although the benefits of artistic expression can be felt by anyone, not just those who already consider themselves to be artists. Creating and viewing art has helped lots of people acknowledge and cope with their feelings and the ‘art’ can take many forms – painting, sketching, printing, sculpting, mosaicking, collaging, photography, sewing and writing, for example.

Art helps us reflect on and express grief. It can also promote positive thoughts. Creating art can help people to relax and be present in the moment, instead of dwelling on what has already happened or worrying about what might happen next.

Painting By Bea

Using art to support wellbeing

Art to support wellbeing after loss is not just for people who consider themselves to be creative or artistic.  It is for anyone who thinks it might be helpful to create something.  Whether the creation is technically sophisticated or basic, it doesn’t matter.  If possible, quality assessments such as these should be thrown to the wind.

Using creativity is accessible to us all, whether we are professionals, regular creators, or complete amateurs with no experience at all.  Often children, with their natural openness can show us how to use art to explore some of our more challenging feelings and express the unspeakable.

All you need to get started is a quiet place and time to reflect. If you have paints or a pencil and paper to hand, keep them close and see what happens. Your artistic activity may be as simple as going into the garden and picking flowers to arrange in a vase or gathering scraps of material to create a collage. You might be inspired to write a poem or song. Our creative responses are as unique as our experiences of loss and there is no right or wrong way to use art to support your wellbeing.

Photo by Harriet Yuen

Full Circle’s virtual gallery

Many people that we have supported have told us about the art they have created and how this has helped them.  Some of them have even shared their art with us, which has been a great privilege.

With this in mind, we have created this online art gallery to celebrate and share some of the beautiful and meaningful ways that people have used art to help them after a loss or bereavement.  We hope that this provides a platform for people to share their art, and that it may inspire others to use art to support them after loss or bereavement.

Our virtual art gallery is an open and welcome space and if you would like to contribute something to be safely shared with others then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  If you would be happy to share some information about the loss that inspired the creation, or about the artwork itself then that would be really helpful.

Please take the opportunity to look at the gallery, even if you choose not to take a contribution.  If you have any questions or would like any support then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Lisa Baldry Photography

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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By Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones
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‘I want to talk about my Mum dying but people have stopped asking me about it and so I don’t know whether I can bring it up’

‘People assume that everything is okay because I am just getting on’

‘It’s been a year since my brother died and there seems to be a feeling that I should have moved on – but I don’t feel like that’

‘People cross the street when they see me – I think they are embarrassed or don’t know what to say’

‘I think my friends are afraid I might cry on them’

 

The time between someone dying and the funeral is often a very busy time – making contact with people, making arrangements with the funeral director, the officiant, family and friends, doing all the official, legal things that are required and just generally engaged in many conversations about what has happened and how we are feeling. After the funeral there seems to follow a quieter time when it comes to tasks and there comes a time and a need to return to ‘normality’. What is normal when we are talking about bereavement and grief? Everyone’s grief is individual to them and yes there are some ‘norms’ in terms of our physical and emotional reactions to grief but really, we are all individual and we will have had our own relationship with the person who has died and we will respond to that in our own way.

What does become apparent though is that over the months that follow, our opportunities to talk to people about our experience and our emotions become less. Perhaps because we don’t feel like we can or should bother people; perhaps because we think that we might look okay to people on the outside that we don’t feel we can tell them how we are on the inside; perhaps people are afraid to ask us because they don’t know what kind of emotional response they will have to deal with. Whatever the reason, the fact is we don’t talk. Counselling offers that opportunity to share our inner most thoughts with someone who is non-judgemental and impartial. However, it can sometimes be difficult to access free counselling or a long wait and not everyone can afford to pay for it.

The idea of a bereavement support group is that you can offer people a safe space to share experiences and emotion with people who have a shared knowledge and understanding of where you might be at. The power of hearing that someone else has thought what you have been thinking, has wondered whether their feelings are ‘normal’, shared the feeling of fog and forgetfulness, should not be underestimated.

We started our bereavement support group in October 2018. Before the Covid pandemic, we met in an evening once a month and we have an open door – to anyone (not just to families that we have supported) who would like to come and stay for as little or as long as you would like. The kettle was warm, and the biscuits were plentiful. During the pandemic we have continued to meet, only by Zoom. I wasn’t too sure how people would feel about it but like everything, it works for some and doesn’t for others. Some like the opportunity to still be able to meet and chat. Some don’t like video conferencing as a way to connect. What we all miss is the chance to give a hug or hold a hand but we also take comfort from knowing that we are there for each other.

You may not want to say very much in front of a group of people who you have never met before – that’s okay. You may find yourself sharing more because they are strangers – that’s okay too. Either way, what we hope is that people feel comfortable and leave with a sense of their time having been spent in a worthwhile way. We aren’t counsellors but we are a team of people who work every day with the bereaved and we listen to their experiences and we share their lessons with those who we hope it can help.

 

‘I went home and I slept through the night for the first time since my husband died’

‘Someone in the group talked about a time of day that they found to be very difficult and how they decided to start a new routine at that time and it has helped them. I am going to try that too.’

‘It isn’t just me’

‘They all understood what I was trying to say even though I couldn’t find the words’

Full Circle Funerals Bereavement Support Group meets on the first Wednesday of the month, 5.00-6.30pm by Zoom. You can contact Ruth on 01943 262626 or [email protected] to find out more about the group and to get the link for the next meeting.

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By Jennifer Rawlinson

Jennifer headshot
Mental Health england stat

What is a Mental Health First Aider, and Why are they Important?

Overview of MHFA

Mental Health First Aid goes way beyond providing support in a crisis. And in this article, we are going to look at the many benefits of having a mental health first aider.

Compulsory mental health first aid in every workplace is now a step closer to becoming a legal requirement as Dean Russell MP and Where’s Your Head At? Ambassador introduced his Parliamentary Bill in March 2021 which had no objections, going straight through to second reading.

But what actually is mental health first aid? Like physical first aid, the aims are similar in that it is designed to

Preserve life

Provide comfort

Promote recovery

In addition to this, MHFAs are trained to spot the early warning signs of emerging mental ill-health; develop confidence to have a supportive and proactive conversation; and be confident in guiding someone to the appropriate professional help.

Their role is to listen rather than advise. They do not diagnose. It is about being there in the moment for that person. And it can be really rewarding for the individuals who train in this role and are able to use their skills to support others.

The benefits are wide and varied and encompass a number of the 5 ways to wellbeing (5 things which are proven to improve your wellbeing.) Supporting others links with ‘giving’; it provides a great ‘learning’ opportunity; and very much helps those ‘connections’ and positive relationships within the workplace.

As this starts to drive a supportive culture of openness it starts to encourage more discussion between people and makes them more mindful of checking in on others too. Leading to a happier, and healthier workforce who feel able to open up and ask for help when they need it.

On their training journey they will develop skills such as non-judgemental listening and how to show empathy. These skills can be transferred to many other aspects of work and life too.

The reality is that many people experience mental ill health but simply do not know where to turn for help. They may struggle to open up and ask for that help. Mental health first aiders are another step an organisation can take in moving forward to a culture that is open and supportive of their people and demonstrates that work is a safe place to open up, as well as having a level of support available.

They are an initial point of contact, someone who is trained to listen, but we make the boundaries very clear in our training that they are not a counsellor or therapist. They are there to guide and signpost those people who don’t know where to go for help.

Where it fits- strategy and culture, HSE, and Duty of Care

Mental health first aiders therefore not only are trained in terms of dealing with a crisis, but they are also trained to understand what promotes good wellbeing in an individual and ways of being proactive around this. Having this education makes them perfect fit to support in the delivery of an organisation’s wellbeing strategy. They can lead wellbeing initiatives; open up communication channels and keep those positive messages consistent. As well as educating others around the importance of self-care too.

Signposting is a key part of the role of an MHFA, and this is both internal and external signposting. Internally this could be about the organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme. EAPs are so often under-utilised but they promote great education for employee wellness, as well as support in a crisis. There is usually a very proactive element of an EAP which is often missed in an organisation’s communication to their team. They are a great resource which should be shouted about, yet in reality there tends to be very few employees who really understand what their EAP can provide. Mental health first aiders can therefore promote better the internal support system available. They can be the enabler. Leading to a happier, more well and more productive workforce.

The Heath and Safety Executive highlight that employers have a duty of care to their employees not just in terms of their physical safety, but also their psychological safety.

An employer may also have legal obligations in relation to the Equality Act 2010 in terms of making reasonable adjustments with regards a staff members mental health. Having a good understanding of how different mental health conditions could affect someone day to day can really help make this process much easier and more effective for the team member.

Further benefits 

Being trained in mental health first aid can really assist in the return to work process for someone who has been off with mental ill health. Yarker et al in 2020 identified the following as key drivers which determined how likely an employee was to thrive in the workplace following mental ill health absence leave:

That the person receives non-judgemental support

They have access to health and advice outside of work

They are able to contact specific charities

Given MHFA training encompasses all of the above, it can be an extremely beneficial course for both line managers and HR managers as well as those keen to volunteer (it is important to have a diverse team of MHFAs as this makes them more accessible for others within the organisation.)

Other considerations

When implementing mental health first aiders within an organisation it is important to view them as part of the overarching wellbeing strategy. (We can help with this if it isn’t something you already have in place)

Providing clarity on the boundaries of the role helps the psychological safety of the MHFA as well as manage the expectations of the person needing support.

Consider what support is in place for your mental health first aiders. How often do you check in with them? How do you facilitate the profiling of the role? What other proactive work can they do to support your wellbeing strategy?

What other employee benefits do you offer? It is a great opportunity to review your EAP for example and ensure people do utilise the benefits available to them. For instance, counselling sessions can be available immediately to the employee rather than waiting potentially months through the NHS. This is worth its weight in gold when looking at employee wellness.

Do existing policies and procedures need updating? A great place to start is to review both the employee lifecycle and ‘a day in the life’ of an employee. Taking a look at each stage from recruitment, through to onboarding and beyond highlights many opportunities to shout about the support available. It can aid in attracting the right people to the organisation and can support retention too- all adding to that bottom line.

What does it involve?

The MHFA England mental health first aid course can be run either online (across 4 x 2.5 hour interactive sessions with e-learning) or face to face in 2 days.

To find more about more about mental health first aid or if you have any questions you can contact Jennifer at [email protected] or visit the Flourish In Mind website. 

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By Sarah Jones

Sarah
Wicker coffin

Green funerals – At a time when the environment is influencing so many of our everyday choices, interest in green funerals has never been higher. Whether you are arranging someone’s funeral or leaving wishes for your own, there are plenty of simple ways to make it more environmentally friendly.

 

Green funerals – what are they?

Green funerals are those where the environment has been considered in the choices that have been made. You may want to have a completely “green” funeral or it might be important to you to include some environmentally friendly elements without unduly restricting your options.

Some funeral choices are generally regarded as being better for the environment than others, but there also remain many questions still unanswered.  For example, natural burial is widely accepted as being more environmentally friendly than flame cremation, but the carbon footprint of individual coffins is less well understood (particularly if you consider the entire process from raw materials to their final disposal).

 

Why choose Green funerals over other types of funeral?

There are three main reasons why you might want to consider the environment in the funeral choices that you make:

A funeral can reflect the beliefs, values and individuality of the person who has died. If the environment has been important to someone during their lives, then it could be meaningful for this to be reflected in their funeral.

A funeral is often a time for reflection and including “greener” options can be a powerful signal to those present – it might even feel like leaving a legacy.

It is now widely accepted that we have a responsibility as individuals and as a society to minimise the detrimental impact that we have on the environment – a great number of small changes could add up to a truly significant contribution.

Green funerals – How to I make sure that I have a “green funeral”?

If you would like to make sure that your funeral is as green as possible then we would strongly encourage you to express your wishes (verbally or in writing) to the people who are most likely to be making your funeral arrangements.  Although these wishes are not legally binding, in most circumstances they are likely to be adhered to.  You will find some information about greener choices for you to consider below.

The process of fulfilling funeral wishes is often very consoling when people are arranging a funeral.  Making sure that your green funeral wishes are acted upon is likely to feel like a gift and this may have a meaningful and positive impact on the wellbeing of those people who are arranging the funeral.

 

Green funerals – Burial or cremation?

Burial, compared to flame cremation, is a greener choice (as it avoids the mercury, dioxin and carbon monoxide emissions associated with cremation). Furthermore, burial closer to the surface (such as in a natural burial ground) means that decomposition becomes aerobic and is more beneficial.  Although exact figures are hard to come by – the best information that I can find is that burial results in 100kg CO2 and flame cremation result in 200kg of CO2.

There are some alternatives to burial and flame cremation which are now available in other countries.  Water cremation (or “Resomation”) is a process whereby a body undergoes alkaline hydrolysis and is broken down into amino acids, which are passed through the water system.  After Resomation, ashes are available (although they look whiter than those that result from flame cremation).  Interestingly, many Resomators are manufactured in Yorkshire but they are not yet approved for use in the UK (although this is likely to change in the next few years).

Human composting was recently made available in Washington State.  Mixed with wood chips and alfalfa, a human body can be converted into compost in 30 days.  Again, this is not yet available in the UK but who knows what the future might hold!

Green funerals – What is the “greenest” coffin?

Choosing a coffin made from biodegradable materials (such as cardboard, willow or bamboo) is a common way to minimise your impact on the environment. However, it is also important to know how far these coffins have travelled as more locally grown and manufactured options may be preferable.

If you would prefer a wooden (or wood effect) coffin, then there are still greener choices such as locally sourced hardwoods like oak or cherry and softwoods like pine. Manufacturers will be able to advise where the wood has been grown and whether it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) registered.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to use a coffin at all. Alternatives, such as a material shroud are an increasingly popular and green choice.

Green funerals –  What is the best way to travel?

You may wish to consider how far the body and the mourners travel and the type of fuel used in transportation. Choosing a local burial ground and having the service in the same location may be possible and people can be encouraged to travel together.

Funeral Directors are notorious for being proud of their large fleets of diesel-guzzling, enormous vehicles but times are changing, and more hybrid and 100% electric options are available.  This is our 100% electric Nissan Leaf eco-hearse, which has proven to be very popular since we brought it to Yorkshire in 2016.

It is also worth bearing in mind that you can transport a coffin in your own vehicle (if it is big enough).

Green funerals –  What else is there to consider?

There are several other things to consider when making greener choices:

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Avoid embalming to ensure that formaldehyde does not leak into the ground after burial

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Ensure flowers are sourced locally, or handpicked from your own garden

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Avoid use of cellophane and only use natural materials in floral arrangements

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Minimise the use of funeral stationery and ensure that any paper used is recycled

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Choose a memorial location which you can visit without having to travel far by car

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It is estimated that a single tree sequestrates 3,500kg CO2 over its lifetime. Planting one tree should therefore offset the CO2 emissions associated with any funeral – and we shouldn’t forget that trees are brilliant for nature, offer habitat and supporting biodiversity

Green funerals – What now?

The aim of this blog is to help you to feel more informed and confident about green funerals and some of the choices available to you.  We hope that is has also inspired you to consider the environment in your own funeral wishes, and the choices you make if you are ever arranging a funeral.

We have included some links below – you might find interesting if you would like to know more. Furthermore, we are also always happy to answer any questions that you may have (and be challenged on anything that we have said).

Together we can make a meaningful difference to the world that we live in.

 

To find out more about:

Eco hearse – https://fullcirclefunerals.co.uk/about-us/eco-hearse/

How to contact us – https://fullcirclefunerals.co.uk/contact/

Human composting – https://recompose.life/

Natural Burial – http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/

Water cremation – https://resomation.com/

Tree planting – https://www.makeitwild.co.uk/

 

 

If you would like to know any further information or would like to discuss a specific option, please let us know.

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By Sarah Jones

Sarah
Old people holding hands

The last year has been personally and professionally challenging and many people have been unable to engage in funeral rituals in a way they would have been able to do previously.

As our communities consider how to reconnect and recover, there is a lot we can learn and take forward from our experiences of supporting people who have been bereaved during this time.

Changes to funerals

Before 23rd March 2020, funerals were being arranged and conducted with no restrictions but thereafter churches closed and the numbers of people who could attend the crematorium or graveside were immediately and heavily restricted.  There was significant local variation in how many people could attend (mainly determined by venue specific risk assessments) and this has remained the case throughout.

In addition to restrictions in the number of people who could attend, there were also other changes – some of which were very significant to families and friends. In many situations, it was no longer possible for families to carry the coffin, touch the coffin before leaving, sing hymns and people could no longer gather after the funeral.  For many, the refreshments after the funeral can be a separate event – with storytelling, sharing of images and music or raising a toast in an atmosphere of warm, loving acceptance.  For many people this may feel like the time that they are welcomed back in the community after bereavement.

In July 2020, churches started to reopen. For many people this was a very positive and important change which was followed by slightly relaxed restrictions on funeral attendance and “allied event” (such as refreshments) numbers by October 2020.

When religion and a place of worship have been an important part of someone’s life, it can often be very important for their funeral to take place in this special place.  Religious traditions and rituals may be the most meaningful aspect of a service and although these can take place elsewhere, this is often not in keeping with what the person who has died (and their family and friends) were expecting.

Increased isolation and greater anxiety

It is also important to remain mindful that all of this took place while people had a lack of face-to-face interaction with funeral directors, ministers and others providing support, people were more isolated and had less community support and were often unable to spend time with the person who has died due to safety concerns.  Administrative tasks (registering death / banks etc) were also harder to complete as longstanding systems changed and staff were more likely to be unavailable.

Many people have found the last year anxiety provoking and have found that their mental health has deteriorated over the last year. People experienced bereavement with already lower levels of mental wellbeing and resilience, and it has been harder for people to reintegrate into society as their usual networks and activities have stopped.   This has meant that in many cases funeral and bereavement care services have continued to support people for a longer period than they may have done previously to try to compensate for this increased isolation.

 

How did we respond?

Funeral and bereavement care professionals have responded by encouraging pre-funeral, informal online gatherings, by adapting traditional services to be less structured and more intimate and by developing the skills to be able to offer live-streaming, recording and photographing.

We have also encouraged people to consider arranging memorial or thanksgiving services later and have tried to proactively share information about post-funeral ritual options.

Many people adapted their funeral choices so that they continued to create meaningful funerals despite the restrictions.  People lined the streets, met online to raise their glasses together, handed out take-away afternoon teas after services and are planning beautiful memorial services to take place in the future.

However, some people have really struggled with the restrictions and this has been particularly challenging when the person who died had expressed clear funeral wishes, which could not be fulfilled.

 

Some positives

It has been important to look for the “silver lining” over the last year and I believe that there have been some with funerals.

Services were more intimate and personal and may have allowed more free expression of emotions, some people have been more willing to speak because smaller numbers of people have lead to less performance anxiety. Also, recordings and photos (which would not have been taken otherwise) create keepsakes which may be consoling with long-term benefit

In fact, increased use of technology has enabled many people to engage with funerals and each other where this may otherwise not have been possible, and we have all developed new skills and resilience around more efficient communication methods.

 

What now?

As we all look forward and are considering how to recover, heal and reconnect with our lives and communities I have a few suggestions for each of us to consider.

1) Continue to raise awareness of post-funeral rituals

2) Share resources for bereavement support

3) Create opportunity for collective grief and acknowledgement of loss

4) Acknowledge grief may be expressed differently

5) Encourage open dialogue about death and dying

6) Try to embed learning and positive change

 

Sarah Jones – Full Circle Funerals – award winning Independent Funeral Director in Yorkshire.  Author “Funerals Your Way – A Person Centred Approach to Planning a Funeral”.

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