GRIEF AND CHINESE MEDICINE

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 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/

Flower seperator

‘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, 5.30-7.00pm 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.

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. 

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 receive our newsletters and information about new blogs – please sign up here.

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.

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”.

Before becoming a funeral director with us in Harrogate, David Moon was a music teacher in South West London. He moved to Yorkshire with his wife and two young children to be closer to family. We caught up with him to find out more about his career change and discovered that there are more similarities between the two roles than you might think.

Has music always been a big part of your life?

I’ve been drawn to all things musical from a young age but it’s only been in later life that I’ve realised how much it has been my ‘soul food’. I have turned to music as a way to manage stress, practice mindfulness, gain support from others and to also celebrate key achievements.

When did you first notice a big connection between music and wellbeing?

During my music degree I worked as a freelance performer and guitar tutor. I took a personal interest in bringing live music into settings that offer a welcome distraction and can provide a positive impact to wellbeing. I would regularly perform solo guitar and sing on mental health, elderly and amputee wards at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Music’s benefit to recovery, mood and wellbeing made me feel like I was giving more than just a performance, I was connecting with people.

Did you learn anything about music from your students?

They taught me a lot about current music and artists and in doing that, they showed me how important music is as an outlet. I supported students to compose their own music and the lyrics were often very personal and sometimes quite dark as they channelled their emotions through music. I felt very privileged that they felt able to share such deeply personal moments and it helped me gain a real understanding of how music and lyrics can be a powerful vessel of expression.

Of all the possible career changes you could have opted for – why funerals?

It was quite by chance! My sister lives locally and spotted an advert in the window of Full Circle Funerals on Skipton Road. She knew that the part of my job I enjoyed most was having a positive impact on people’s lives, so although it might seem like a big change there are a lot of similarities.

Did you have any doubts?

I’ve faced challenging situations as a teacher and supported students and families through difficult conversations but I did wonder if I would know the right thing to say to people who have been recently bereaved. I now realise it’s all about trusting myself to navigate the conversation and my past experiences in school have proved to be very helpful.

Are there any parts of the job you have found difficult?

I come from a family of nurses so caring is all around me. That’s given me a really good grounding in lots of ways and has helped me with some of the more physical aspects of the job. I’m very mindful of being gentle and thoughful when carrying out my work.

Is there anything that has surprised you?

Full Circle Funerals does something called reflective practice where we talk through our work to reflect on what went well and whether there are things we could learn to improve the experience for us and the people we support in the future. There are parts of the job that can be challenging and this process is incredibly helpful. I didn’t expect to feel so supported. On top of that, I find the admin and systems that the company has in place very reassuring, giving me confidence that I’m following the right procedures.

How do you feel now you’ve made the move to a new career?

If you had told me last year that my next career move would be into the funeral industry, I would not have believed it. As a high school music teacher for the last 10 years I feel extremely privileged to have shared in some of the most significant moments in the lives of the young people I have taught.

Working as a funeral director means I am offering support and guidance to people during what can be a very difficult time. The time I have spent with families of school age children has afforded me some of the transferable skills which I have benefited from during my time at Full Circle.  As a former Head of Performing Arts, I am no stranger to organising and facilitating community events and concerts and should a family have a strong interest in how music is incorporated into the funeral, I am confident I can enable them to make positive and meaningful choices.

Sarah in front of wavey background
Woodland

Bereavement can often leave us feeling rudderless and not in control of our lives. We can feel overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks and want to just dive under the duvet and never come out.

I understand how overpowering grief can be and the eternal question ‘What is the point?’. But I also know, first hand, how being active, keeping moving and doing exercise has the power to (if not completely heal) at least help us cope with our loss.

Why is movement and exercise so important?

Stress, anxiety and worry are often by-products of grief but thankfully exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of relieving them and something as simple as a daily walk has the power to transform not only our physical wellbeing but our emotional wellbeing too.

When stress affects the brain the rest of the body is impacted too. But when we exercise, the brain produces endorphins – natural painkillers. Endorphins are also known as the ‘runners high’ because they stimulate the brain in a similar way to recreational drugs but without the harmful side effects. Endorphins give us a feeling of relaxation and optimism.

Stress also causes the release of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are the ones known for our fight or flight response, helping us to escape danger such as a speeding car, quickly. The muscles contract, the jaw tenses, the heart beats faster, we breath more rapidly and blood pressure increases. Unfortunately, prolonged periods of stress result in the levels of adrenaline and cortisol remaining high and can actually lead to increased anxiety, depression and even obesity, both directly, by causing people to eat more, or indirectly by decreasing sleep and lack of exercise.

Over time this chronic stress will take its toll on our physical and psychological health.

So, how do we motivate ourselves to move?

How can we make ourselves be active and engage in exercise when it’s the last thing we feel like doing?

Perhaps we need to “fake it ’til we make it”. Pretend to ourselves that this is what we really want to do and eventually one day we realise that we are no longer faking.

Here are a few ideas:

Arrange to walk or exercise with a friend or family member.

If you have a dog then it will need exercising but if you don’t have one, perhaps you can offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s dog.

Join an exercise studio – a little bit more complicated at the moment but there are lots of great online options available.

Join a litter picking group, perhaps a beach or canal clean.

Volunteer to plant trees, lay paths or general conservation.

Check out your local council’s website for volunteering opportunities and to find a list of parks (information for Leeds can be found here).

11 reasons we need to move and exercise

Movement has the power to transform our minds and our bodies.

Movement and exercise help to release our endorphins, our ‘feel good’ hormones and reduce our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.

Exercise deepens breathing, relieves muscle tension and induces calm.

Committing to doing a form of exercise each day will give structure to your day.

Exercising outdoors in a natural environment (Green Exercise) has been proven to have a positive effect on self-esteem and improving mood. It has been noticed to be especially beneficial for people struggling with depression and anxiety. If you enjoy solitude then immersing yourself in a forest or walking around a lake could be just what you need.

Making time for yourself. Often there are others we need to care for and we end up neglecting our own wellbeing. Finding time for self-care is not selfish, it is vital.

Exercise will help you to clear your mind by focusing on the natural environment, the particular exercise you are doing or how your body is moving and responding to the exercise.

Exercising as part of a group, whether in person or virtually, will allow you to engage with others without you being the focal point. This way we can ease our way back into social settings without having to engage with others on too personal a level.

With regular exercise our body will start to tone and strengthen and our self image improves.

The discipline of regular exercise can help us to achieve other goals through focus and a sense of achievement.

Regular exercise can improve our ability to sleep which in turn reduces stress. Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus all of which help to induce calm.

Try to commit to just 15-20 minutes of exercise every day but don’t worry if you miss a day. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy doing and can commit to on a regular basis.

Life is precious. The very fact that we mourn the loss of someone is precisely because we know how precious life is. Make the most of yours.

Space Fitness and Wellbeing have recently launched their free Free 5 Day Pilates Fitness Journey – follow the link to sign up.

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Sabine

Bereavement can often leave us feeling rudderless and not in control of our lives. We can feel overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks and want to just dive under the duvet and never come out.

I understand how overpowering grief can be and the eternal question ‘What is the point?’. But I also know, first hand, how being active, keeping moving and doing exercise has the power to (if not completely heal) at least help us cope with our loss.

Why is movement and exercise so important?

Stress, anxiety and worry are often by-products of grief but thankfully exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of relieving them and something as simple as a daily walk has the power to transform not only our physical wellbeing but our emotional wellbeing too.

When stress affects the brain the rest of the body is impacted too. But when we exercise, the brain produces endorphins – natural painkillers. Endorphins are also known as the ‘runners high’ because they stimulate the brain in a similar way to recreational drugs but without the harmful side effects. Endorphins give us a feeling of relaxation and optimism.

Stress also causes the release of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are the ones known for our fight or flight response, helping us to escape danger such as a speeding car, quickly. The muscles contract, the jaw tenses, the heart beats faster, we breath more rapidly and blood pressure increases. Unfortunately, prolonged periods of stress result in the levels of adrenaline and cortisol remaining high and can actually lead to increased anxiety, depression and even obesity, both directly, by causing people to eat more, or indirectly by decreasing sleep and lack of exercise.

Over time this chronic stress will take its toll on our physical and psychological health.

So, how do we motivate ourselves to move?

How can we make ourselves be active and engage in exercise when it’s the last thing we feel like doing?

Perhaps we need to “fake it ’til we make it”. Pretend to ourselves that this is what we really want to do and eventually one day we realise that we are no longer faking.

Here are a few ideas:

Arrange to walk or exercise with a friend or family member.

If you have a dog then it will need exercising but if you don’t have one, perhaps you can offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s dog.

Join an exercise studio – a little bit more complicated at the moment but there are lots of great online options available.

Join a litter picking group, perhaps a beach or canal clean.

Volunteer to plant trees, lay paths or general conservation.

Check out your local council’s website for volunteering opportunities and to find a list of parks (information for Leeds can be found here).

11 reasons we need to move and exercise

Movement has the power to transform our minds and our bodies.

Movement and exercise help to release our endorphins, our ‘feel good’ hormones and reduce our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.

Exercise deepens breathing, relieves muscle tension and induces calm.

Committing to doing a form of exercise each day will give structure to your day.

Exercising outdoors in a natural environment (Green Exercise) has been proven to have a positive effect on self-esteem and improving mood. It has been noticed to be especially beneficial for people struggling with depression and anxiety. If you enjoy solitude then immersing yourself in a forest or walking around a lake could be just what you need.

Making time for yourself. Often there are others we need to care for and we end up neglecting our own wellbeing. Finding time for self-care is not selfish, it is vital.

Exercise will help you to clear your mind by focusing on the natural environment, the particular exercise you are doing or how your body is moving and responding to the exercise.

Exercising as part of a group, whether in person or virtually, will allow you to engage with others without you being the focal point. This way we can ease our way back into social settings without having to engage with others on too personal a level.

With regular exercise our body will start to tone and strengthen and our self image improves.

The discipline of regular exercise can help us to achieve other goals through focus and a sense of achievement.

Regular exercise can improve our ability to sleep which in turn reduces stress. Pilates, Tai Chi and Yoga combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus all of which help to induce calm.

Try to commit to just 15-20 minutes of exercise every day but don’t worry if you miss a day. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy doing and can commit to on a regular basis.

Life is precious. The very fact that we mourn the loss of someone is precisely because we know how precious life is. Make the most of yours.

Space Fitness and Wellbeing have recently launched their free Free 5 Day Pilates Fitness Journey – follow the link to sign up.

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Funeral satisfaction score infographic

We are developing a questionnaire to support research and good practice

Who is involved in this research and how can I contact them?

The project is a collaboration between Dr Peter Branney (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at University of Bradford, Dr Sarah Jones (Independent Funeral Director at Full Circle Funerals in Yorkshire and Dr Julie Rugg (Senior Researcher in Social Policy at University of York).

Dr Sarah Jones, Full Circle Funerals – Full Circle Funerals is an award winning, modern funeral director supporting the wellbeing of bereaved individuals across Yorkshire.  Dr Pete Branney works at the University of Bradford and you can find out more about him here.  Please contact [email protected] with any enquiries.

Dr Julie Rugg – Dr Rugg is a Senior Research Fellow in Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York. She is a leading expert on cemeteries and has had over thirty years’ experience of researching death, funerals and commemoration.

 

Why funerals?

Most people will need to arrange a funeral at some point in their lives and funerals are regarded as an important event for individuals, families, and wider communities. Funerals are a key rite of passage and getting them right is clearly important. However, there has been little robust clinical research on the long-term impact on wellbeing of funerals going badly or going well.

Do we need a funeral satisfaction score?

There is currently no validated method to measure funeral satisfaction.  Without this measure, it is very hard to do any meaningful research to understand the impact that a funeral has after bereavement.  It is very hard to understand what good funeral care looks like, and how services can be improved to best meet the needs of bereaved people and families.  It is also hard to try to establish whether funeral satisfaction has any impact on long-term mental or physical wellbeing.

What are funeral factors?

A large qualitative study in 2019 identified five “funeral factors” that people consistently stated were important to them, and which they felt had an impact on their satisfaction with the funeral.  This study was the first of its kind as it focused on the accounts of bereaved people, rather than the opinions of the professionals who support them.  These participants were true “funeral experts by experience”.  These factors included:

The funeral followed the wishes of the person who died;

All the right people were involved in decision-making around the funeral;

A funeral director who was responsive to the needs of the people arranging the funeral;

Being able to be with the body – or not – depending on preference;

Having a funeral service that met expectations.

Are funerals really that important?

The way that participants spoke about the funeral arrangements gave credence to the idea that funerals really are important and can have a meaningful impact on the people who arrange and attend them.

One participant reflected on her grandfather’s funeral, and how she was left with a positive feeling:  “It was just, you knew he’d be alright, you could picture him having a little dance down the aisle, you knew it felt ok.”  In contrast, one participant still articulated a strong sense of regret, sixteen years later:  “It’s so important to the person who has a funeral to organise. It’s their one chance to get it right. It doesn’t play on my mind at all, but it could’ve been so much better, it could have been a lot different.”

How do you create a funeral score?

In the next phase of this research, the five factors that have been identified are being used to create a funeral satisfaction score.  This score can then be used in a variety of different research, academic and practical settings to better understand, and improve, services and outcomes for people arranging funerals.

Once a reliable score has been developed then its uses are far-reaching. In medical research, scores such as pain scores or measures of function are commonly used to better understand people’s treatments, and how they can be improved. Similarly, funeral scores will help us to understand the long-term impacts of getting a funeral right or wrong, and what changes might need to be made to ensure that the impact of funerals is always positive.

The development of a score involves developing a questionnaire and then testing it on as many people as possible.  The results (the more the better) are then analysed using statistics and mathematical modelling.  The best questions and structure then becomes clear.  The more thorough this testing process is, the better and more reliable the final score will be at measuring funeral satisfaction.

What can I do to help?

We want the process to develop the score to be as thorough as possible and are looking for people to volunteer to complete the questionnaire.  To take part, you need be over 18 years old and to have arranged or attended a funeral in the UK at any time.  The questionnaire is anonymous, online and should only take between five to ten minutes to complete.

The first phase of the study has now been completed and we are analysing the early results to see what we can learn from the first 300 competed questionnaires.  We will be looking for more participants to complete the survey once we have received ethical approval for the next phase of the study.  Please email [email protected] if you would like take part.

The link to complete the survey is: https://bradford.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/eifell-febe-funeral-satisfaction-survey-21-01

Who is involved in this research and how can I contact them?

The project is a collaboration between Dr Peter Branney (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at University of Bradford, Dr Sarah Jones (Independent Funeral Director at Full Circle Funerals in Yorkshire and Dr Julie Rugg (Senior Researcher in Social Policy at University of York).

Dr Sarah Jones, Full Circle Funerals – Full Circle Funerals is an award winning, modern funeral director supporting the wellbeing of bereaved individuals across Yorkshire.  Dr Pete Branney works at the University of Bradford and you can find out more about him here Please contact [email protected] with any enquiries.

Dr Julie Rugg – Dr Rugg is a Senior Research Fellow in Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York. She is a leading expert on cemeteries and has had over thirty years’ experience of researching death, funerals and commemoration.

Man with beard

Songs hold memories. We all have songs that take us back to particular moments in time, first dances, singing along on road trips, concerts with friends. Even the memory of hearing a special song for the first time can stick with us.

Songs are also alive, every time they are sung fresh life is breathed into them. They grow with us, the voices singing them mature and their lyrics can take on new meaning to match our experiences. They accompany us through our lives and are always there when we need them.
I believe everyone has a song, and everyone’s song deserves to be sung. One of my all time favourite lyrics from the great Bob Dylan is “May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung and may you stay, Forever Young”. The image of someone’s song always being sung makes me smile.

Since 2017 I have been supporting people dealing with a bereavement to write their own original songs. This can be a way of honouring someone, creating something unique to them that can live on and can also be very therapeutic as a way of processing grief. The songwriting process enables us to reflect on experiences, explore and express our emotions and create something unique to add to someones legacy.

Songs can be about the person’s life, about your relationship to them, about your favourite memories of them, your experience of the bereavement or even their legacy going forward. Songs can be about anything really, the important thing for me is that they are true to the writer in whatever they want to say. People often worry that they can’t write a song, we specialise in making the process easy and enjoyable. All you need are your experiences, your way of using words and your ears. We help with the everything, finding your words, creating some music based on other songs you like and then ensuring your words with the music we have created. You don’t have to sing but if you would like to we are happy to help you do that.
When a song is finished the writer has the choice of keeping that song private and just sharing it with whomever they choose or making the song public and sharing it on our website.

It gives me great joy to hear that songs that have been written through this project regularly get played on anniversaries of peoples deaths, on birthdays, family gatherings and other occasions when we may really miss someone. The vision of The Swan Song Project is a world where everyone’s song may always be sung.

Grief doesn’t have time limits so we are here to help whether your loss is recent or years down the line. If you would like to find out more we would love to hear from you.

Ben Buddy Slack

www.swansongproject.co.uk

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