Helping young people after online bereavement

We are always inspired by the many ways in which the people we support choose to make a funeral so very personal. This is one of those occasions and we are extremely grateful to Lawrence for allowing us to share the following helpful information about how he created a special ‘Board of Condolence’ for Mary. The following blog is written in Lawrence’s own words.

I was very taken with an idea that came up when we were discussing Mary’s funeral to use Post-it notes rather than a book for condolence, particularly as Post-its were an important part of the training business Mary and I ran for the last 12 years. All our training rooms were covered in them.

For a modern funeral celebration Post-its have some obvious benefits: People can write their messages at their own pace, many doing so simultaneously, and take their time reading the other messages while they post theirs on the board. Also, having colourful notes on the tables and the board brightens up the room for funerals that want a ‘splash of colour’, which is how we also chose to describe our dress code.

Tips for anyone wanting to create a similar Board of Condolence

  • It is worth using the original branded Post-it® notes and their ‘Super Sticky’ variety. Nobody should have to spend time picking precious memories off the floor.
  • Test the surface you are using for your board beforehand. Even Super Sticky Post-its don’t stick well to whiteboards. I taped a large sheet of white card over an otherwise shiny board in advance to avoid disappointing drop-offs.
  • Place some Post-its on the board in advance. Nobody likes to be the first on a blank board and your initial notes can help explain everything. At the start our board contained 8 different coloured Post-its which read ‘Board’ ‘of’ ‘Condolence’ ’Tell us’ ‘Why’ ‘You’ ‘Love’ ‘Mary’. After spotting the board on the way in no one needed to be told what to do. We made no announcements. People just picked up a pad and a pen from the tables or at the bar and gave us some lovely memories and messages.
  • Provide a big enough board. We received more than enough notes but probably would have had more if my white card had covered the whole board.
  • Don’t make it look like the office or a meeting room. We used a simple wooden artist’s easel (slightly less than 6’ high) which fitted our setting far better than a standard flipchart or whiteboard stand.
  • Provide lots of decent size Post-its. 76mm x 127mm worked well for us. We had more than enough for our 120 guests with 12 pads of 90 notes, each split in half, spread across 24 tables each with a pen on top. It was all very colourful and lovely to see people feeling inspired by the abundance of notes.
  • Give people the right type of pens/markers. Nobody carries the right sort in their jacket or handbag. Ballpoints and rollerballs are fine for normal writing but don’t stand out well enough on Post-its. On Mary’s board everyone wrote their notes with the 1mm line width fibre tipped pens we provided and the results were clear and visually consistent.
  • Remember to take photos of the finished board in case notes are lost and the layout is meaningful to you. Better still use the free Post-it® smartphone app (from 3M) to digitise your notes – available from the App Store and Google Play.

I recommend the following or similar notes and pens:

  • Post-it Super Sticky Notes Carnival Color Collection, Pack of 6 Pads, 90 Sheets per Pad, 76 mm x 127 mm.
  • Post-it Super Sticky Notes Playful Color Collection, Pack of 6 Pads, 90 Sheets per Pad, 76 mm x 127 mm
  • Pentel Sign Pen – Black, Packs of 12.

One other idea that really worked well for us was having physical postcard size photographs of Mary on the tables (in addition to a constant digital slideshow in the background on a large screen).

We used small wire card holders, each with two photos back to back. With the pictures standing upright, it felt a little like Mary was at every table and it certainly encouraged people to move around and mingle to see all the old happy-snappies and new digital reprints and that sparked lots of conversations.

 

By Sara Fixter – Funeral Director at FCFP Altrincham

In a time where teenagers and young people form strong relationships online, we need to be able to support them after someone with whom they have an important connection with, has died.  This “digital grief” or “digital bereavement” can have a significant impact on those impacted and we consider how best to offer support in these circumstances.

Respecting the nature and depth of online friendships

Teenagers and young people typically spend a lot of time online, using social media, gaming platforms or other online communities.   Some of these online relationships can develop into friendships that are as deep and as meaningful to them as any non-online friendship.  The anonymity associated with being online may mean that young people are more able and willing to be open and unguarded.

Online relationships provide a way for individuals to connect with others without the pressure of face-to-face interactions. Experiencing a loss of such relationships can be bewildering and lead to feelings of loneliness and distress.  If this bond was private then there is also a risk that the young person may be unintentionally excluded from the funeral or other helpful activities.

Not everyone will understand

Technology is moving so quickly, and we need to accept that not everyone immediately grasps the importance and validity of online friendships.  It hard for young people to find support if they believe that the value and depth of their online relationships are not respected by others.

Sharing how they are feeling with others in their online community can help but, as with any community, not everyone will be supportive.   In extreme circumstances there is a risk that a young person may experience “disenfranchised grief” – a sense that their grief isn’t socially acceptable or is something to be ashamed of.

The first and most important way to prevent this happening is for us all to respect and validate online friendships – only when we do that will the young people we want to support believe that we can support them after bereavement.

Rituals and memorials

Loss and grief are always a unique and personal experience.  Furthermore, there are no well-worn conventions to follow after the death of an online friend.  The person who is grieving is unlikely to be invited to the funeral and even if they are, the event might not reflect the life of the person as they knew them.

We believe that attending a funeral and talking about the person who has died with others who knew them is helpful.  When these opportunities are not as readily available, it may be helpful to explore other ways to acknowledge the loss of an important life and to engage in activities which support the development of continuing bonds.

If the person who died was part of a strong online community, then the group may plan a virtual send-off that pays tribute to the person as everyone in that community knew them.

Memorial pages on social media can be helpful to some, but Facebook only allows memorial pages to be set up by someone with a death certificate which means the whole character of the page may differ from their virtual persona.

Continuing bonds

Continuing Bonds Theory says that when someone dies our relationship with them does not end, but it slowly changes over time.  The bond can remain just as strong, and some activities and rituals may help to establish and maintain the development of these bonds.

There are many individual and group activities which support the development of continuing bonds after someone has died.  Places, times, objects, songs and pictures can all be powerful and meaningful – if ideas and opportunities can be shared with the young person, then they can choose to engage in a way that feels helpful and right for them.

Finding support

Losing an online friend is a genuine loss that can be felt deeply and should never be regarded as inferior to other forms of grief. The grieving process is the same and professionals understand the emotions felt and how to offer support.

There are some excellent online bereavement support groups and grief websites suitable for young people experiencing loss.  Please get in touch if you have any specific questions, or need some advice about where you might find the support you need – we are here to help.

Websites

Teenage Grief Sucks – Grief Support by & for Teens

The Good Grief Trust: Coping with losing a friend – The Good Grief Trust

Young Minds: Dealing with grief and loss | Mental health advice | YoungMinds

Bereavement support

The Counselling and Family Centre (CFC)

Bereavement Support Group – Wednesdays 7-8.30pm. Therapist led. Email [email protected] for a Zoom invitation.

Full Circle Funerals Online Bereavement Support Group

First Wednesday of every month 5.30 to 7.30pm

Tel: 0161 928 6080 for more information

Cruse Bereavement Support, contact your local branch:

Contact your local branch – Cruse Bereavement Support

Sue Ryder – offer free personalised expert grief support by text https://sueryder.grief.coach/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about funeral choices.

There are many ways to be creative when arranging a funeral. If you are arranging a funeral or would like to know more to support others, then read on.

What does creativity mean?

We believe that choice and creativity are two sides of the same coin.  While discussing this as a team, there are two metaphors which we have found helpful.  In our experience, creativity is often “sparked” or “inspired” by knowing the choices that are available – and then making a little tweak here and there.

Choice is being given a menu of delicious dishes to choose from, whereas creativity is being given a bag of ingredients and empowered to make a new dish which is completely unique to your taste.

To use another FCF team metaphor, choice is being given a list of options on a piece of paper and a pencil, to tick the choices that are best for you.

In the funeral arrangement process this difference might look like browsing a selection of existing options and choosing from these or using this knowledge and your experience to curate something a little different.

When does creativity happen?

We know that many people consider funeral choices in the weeks and monthly before someone dies and the arrangements and decisions continue until the funeral service or committal take place.  There are also choices and space for creativity after the funeral with the creation of post-funeral rituals.

Before someone dies, they may share with their family and friends what they would like for their funeral and these wishes are likely to create a framework for additional choices and opportunities to be creative.

From the first moment after someone has died, there are choices and whenever there is a choice, there is an opportunity to be creative within these choices.  If you are using the service is a funeral director, then you have choices about when someone is brought into their care and what the person who has died is wearing or has with them.  Throughout your meetings with the funeral director, they will share choices and give the opportunity for you to together expand these choices with as much, or as little, creativity as you like.

Making funeral decisions takes some time and deliberation and as the right choices become clearer to you, you may also find opportunity to adapt and “tweak” them a little – so they feel even more appropriate a fitting.  You may also find yourself taking inspiration from other events or experience you have had – a wedding or other celebration.

What can help?

Being creative within your funeral arrangements is not for everyone.  For some, it is an important way to participate and consolation – for others it would be an added and unwelcome pressure.  If you know what is possible – they you can do what is right for you.

The time leading up to a funeral is busy and can be quite daunting.  If there is a way to utilize the anyone who has offered their help then you might consider asking for them to support with daily tasks like bringing some food, sweeping the leaves or running some errands for you – people often want to help but don’t know where to start and delegating might mean you have a little more time to mull over your options.

You may be very much in touch with your creative side or (like me) sometimes find it a little elusive.  If so, you would reach out to some family or friends who you trust and who’s creative sparks you have appreciated in the past.  They could come to the florist with you or help you think about something that would accompany the flowers on the top of te coffin.

 

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Clothing

What would you like people to wear to the funeral? Is there something specific that the person that had died would appreciate? What about a token item to wear, in addition to clothing? Some people like to wear a specific colour, a pin of something special, or incorporate a theme into the clothing to be worn by attendees.

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Food and drink

Are you thinking of including food or drink at the funeral or wake? Is there something special that you would like to serve? Did the person that has died have a favourite snack or tipple? Is there a special dish that is important to you as a family or group of friends?

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Sharing memories

Some people find that they would like for memories of the person to be shared during the funeral service or at the wake. This could look like particular people speaking during the service, memories being written on cards or in a book by attendees, or asking individuals to contribute their memories to a memory tree or other structure.

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Funeral favours

Would you like to give attendees a little something to remember the service? These small gifts could be anything from the person’s favourite sweet or favourite flower bulbs.

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Coffin choice

There are many different types of coffins to choose from, but did you know that many can be personalised? Cardboard coffins can be used as a canvas for drawings, paintings, and collage. Flowers can be attached to coffins and so they can form the base of a floral arrangement.

Everyone is different

There is no right or wrong way to approach arranging a funeral, and the important thing is that you make decisions that are right for you and the people that you care about. This might look like making entirely original choices, or it might look like curating options and choices to create an event that is right for you.

 

If you have enjoyed this blog, you might be interested in reading more about funeral choices. You can also read our previous blogs How to make a funeral more personal and What to wear to a funeral for further inspiration.

books about grief for teens and young adults
teenager reading about bereavement

Books can help young people process their feelings after bereavement. Stories and other written resources can also open up conversations with teenagers about death and dying.

We’ve picked some of our favourite books which are specifically designed to support adolescents and teenagers during periods of loss.

Out Of The Blue by Julie Stokes and Paul Oxley

Out of the Blue is an activity book which has been developed to support grieving teenagers. It talks openly about the feelings they may be struggling with, using words and stories from teens who have been through similar experiences.

The concept is to provide practical activity-based material to help young people work through their emotions whilst reinforcing the sense that they are not alone. The book is designed so that it can be completed by the teenager on their own or with a family member or professional. The focus is very much on making memories when someone dies.

Buy Out of the Blue

What On Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? By Trevor Romain

‘The author wrote this book after his father died. It is gently written and is accessible for children from the age of 8 to young teens. Using simple language and illustrations, it suggests the emotions a young person may be feeling and offers ideas about what to do to feel better. Throughout the book it offers answers to questions such as ‘Why do people have to die?’ and ‘How can I say goodbye?’

Buy What on Earth do you do when Someone Dies

The Year Of The Rat by Clare Furniss

When 15-year-old Pearl’s mum dies giving birth to her baby sister, she has to cope with both the grief of losing a parent and the distress of having a constant reminder of her death, in the form of the baby which she refers to as ‘the Rat’. Pearl deals with death, life, and family in this poignant and bittersweet novel. This book was shortlisted for the Branford Boase prize and longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

Buy The Year of the Rat

Sad Book by Michael Rosen

This is a tender and honest account of a father’s grief for his son from two former Children’s Laureates, writer Michael Rosen and illustrator Quentin Blake. Michael Rosen talks about his sadness after the death of his son in a personal story that is suited to teens and adults.

Buy Sad Book

Sometimes Life Sucks: When someone you love dies by Molly Carlisle

Teenagers can face all sorts of experiences of loss, from the death of a grandparent, pet or school friend to a teen fatality, a peer with terminal illness or living without a parent. It may even be the death of a celebrity or someone they knew online. This book is full of helpful stories, tips and information that will help teens navigate all kinds of loss.

Buy Sometimes Life Sucks

Still Here With Me: Teenagers and Children on Losing a Parent by Suzanne Sjoqvist

This sensitive anthology is made up of the experiences of children and young people who talk about their own feelings following the death of a parent. Describing the pain, loss and anger as well as their struggles to cope with other people’s reactions, this is a a book that doesn’t shy away from taboo experiences. It deals with all kinds of deaths, including heart attacks, addiction, domestic violence, natural disaster and war.

Buy Still Here with Me

You Will be Okay by Julie Stokes

The death of a parent, sibling or friend is one of the most traumatic experiences a child or young person will face. This honest, comforting and strength-building guide is ideally suited to 9 – 12 year-olds and is written by Julie Stokes, a clinical psychologist and founder of childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish. It includes stories of people who have been through grief and looks at ways to develop confidence, trust, grit, a resilient mindset and flexible feelings.

Buy You Will be Okay

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

This bestselling novel about love, loss and hope is aimed at children with a reading age of 11 and above.  It tells the story of Conor, who is dealing with his single mother’s ongoing treatment for cancer. It is a valuable read for older children and teens who may be struggling to come to terms with life’s most difficult times.

Buy A Monster Calls

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brachmachari

With a recommended Reading age of 13 -16 years, this book tells the story of Kai, Orla and Zak who grew up together. They are bound together by music, laughter, friendship and big plans for their future. All this is thrown into the air when Kai’s family suffers a huge loss. Trying to cope with his own grief, as well as watching it tear his family apart, Kai is drawn into a new and more dangerous crowd. Orla, Zak and new classmate Om try to help him find his way back, but are they too late?

Buy When Shadows Fall

You might also be interested in reading our blog Books to Help a Grieving Child which has reading suggestions for younger children to support them through bereavement and open up conversations about death and loss. 

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In this article we are going to look at some of the ways that connections can be maintained with someone after they have died. These continuing bonds take many forms and there are lots of possibilities.

In the past, there may have been a tendency to encourage people “to move forward rather than dwelling on the past” after a significant bereavement.  We now know that this advice can be unhelpful and make people feel isolated and poorly understood. It is now accepted that finding ways to feel an ongoing connection and bond after someone has died recognises the changed nature of a relationship after bereavement and can help people find their own personal way to grieve.

The word ‘personal’ is important here because, just as every relationship is unique, maintaining a connection is a very individual thing. What works for some people will definitely not help someone else. With that in mind, the following ideas are intended to inspire and provoke your own thoughts rather than being prescriptive. We hope you find them helpful.

Photographs

People tell us that they have found it helpful to have a favourite photograph in a special place, perhaps next to a much-loved chair or on a shelf where it is easy to glance across at it often. Some people like to spend time creating an album of photographs, letters, tickets and other memories.

Personal items

Wearing a favourite piece of jewellery, whether it was a gift from the person who has died or an item that belonged to them, can create a very personal and enduring connection. Other personal items such as items of clothing, paintings, creative items or things that the person loved, can have the same comforting effect. Memorial jewellery can also be specially made.

Talking to them

So many people have told us that they take great comfort from talking to the person who has died. Often they feel embarrassed to admit that they do this but it is in fact a very common way to maintain a bond and something that people find incredibly helpful.

These conversations may happen spontaneously or in a more planned way – maybe taking place during visits to a special place.  Conversations may be about sharing news, talking about worries or problems or asking questions,

Talking about them

Other people can find it difficult to know what to say following a bereavement. They may not know how helpful it can be to talk about the person who has died. By bringing the person up in conversation, it can make it easier for you and them. It can also be helpful to talk about the person to new people, sharing the things that were special about them.

Sharing stories, reflecting on what someone might have said or thought in certain situations or remembering what was important to them are all powerful ways to make that person part of your present.

Writing letters or journalling

Journaling is often used when people are grieving as a way of processing emotions and thoughts. Writing letters to the person that has died is a similar idea and can be a useful way to stay connected as your own life moves forward, allowing you to share events, news and feelings.

Being creative

In a similar way to writing letters, creative writing such as poetry can be a helpful way to express emotion. Creativity can take many forms and our Art After Loss exhibitions are evidence of the fact that art can be a very positive vehicle when people are grieving. You can find out more about this on our Art After Loss page on our website which includes an online gallery of creative works made in response to loss.

Special days and places

Significant days like birthdays and anniversaries can be an opportunity to continue doing something which you enjoyed doing together or to take time out for a trip or favourite activity. There may also be places which you liked to visit together and these can be comforting at any time, not just on anniversaries.

Music

Listening to music is an excellent way to connect with our emotions. Some pieces of music may have particular significance for your relationship. You may even want to create your own music in memory of someone who has died. Find out more about music for wellbeing.

A favourite song, or piece of music which was played during a significant event may immediately create a strong feeling of connection to the person who has died.  Playing this music might be consoling but it may also catch you unawares while you are going about your day – which can be challenging.

Organising an event

Sometimes a death can inspire an event in memory of the person who has died and this may become a regular celebration of their life or the things that mattered to them. It might also a way to raise money for a charity that meant a lot to them or supported them during their life.

Continuing their work or ideas

If the person who has died was in the middle of a project, some people find it helpful to complete it for them. Perhaps they were making a model, putting together a family album or a family tree, training for a sporting challenge, raising money for a charity or planning a trip they had always wanted to take.

All of these ideas are simply that, and some will be more helpful than others. You may have formed your own continuing bonds and we would love to hear from you about ways you have been able to stay connected to someone after they have died. Everyone’s journey through grief is different and each person’s story can have the power to inspire somebody who may be struggling.

Read more on this topic and explore some continuing bonds activities that maintain positive memories after loss.  

If you would like support following bereavement please visit our bereavement support page on our website.

You can contact us to discuss any aspect of bereavement or funeral planning and wishes or to share your own story.

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

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

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

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Recommended age: 4-7

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

Buy Badger’s Parting Gifts

Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

Recommended age: 5-8

‘Nothing that is alive goes on living forever’

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

Buy Lifetimes

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

Recommended age: 4-8

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

Buy The Memory Tree

When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown

Recommended age: 4-8

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

Buy When Dinosaurs Die

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

Recommended age: Baby to 4 years

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

Buy Wherever You Are

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

Recommended age: 7 years and up

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

Buy Duck, Death and the Tulip

Gentleman Sam by Penny Hartdale

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

Buy Gentleman Sam 

The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson

Recommended age: 3-7

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

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

Buy The Paper Dolls

Suzie Goes to a Funeral by Charlotte Olson

Recommended age: 3-7

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

Buy Suzie Goes to a Funeral

Love Will Never Die by Clare Shaw

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

Buy Love Will Never Die

Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Recommended age: Primary school age

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

Buy Water Bugs and Dragonflies 

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

Recommended age: Pre-school children

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

Buy Is Daddy Coming Home in a Minute? 

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

Recommended age: 3-7

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

Buy What Happened to Daddy’s Body?

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Recommended age: 3-6

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

Buy The Goodbye Book

I Miss You by Pat Thomas

Recommended age: 6-12

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

Buy I Miss You

Ida, Always by Caron Levis

Recommended age: 4-8

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

Buy Ida, Always

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Recommended age: 3-8

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

Buy The Invisible String 

The Invisible Leash by Patrice Karst

Recommended age: 3-8

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

Buy The Invisible Leash 

I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

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

Buy I’ll Always Love You 

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Log coaster with flowers on

Can our physical environment really make us feel better?

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

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

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

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

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

Biophilia

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

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

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

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

Materials

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

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

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

Patterns

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

Colours

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

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

Wool hearts

Plants

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

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

Close up of plants

Small steps, big impacts

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

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

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Design for wellbeing

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deciding what to wear

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

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

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When you are attending a funeral

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

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

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When you are arranging a funeral

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Dress codes for children

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

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Dressing for the weather

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

What not to wear at a funeral

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

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Your funeral wishes

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

 

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Continuing Bonds Theory

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

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

 

What does “Continuing Bonds” mean?

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

 

How can Continuing Bonds help?

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

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

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

 

Individual and group activities

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

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

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

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Time for reflection

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

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

 

Using words

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

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

 

Is it unhelpful to dwell on the past?

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

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

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

 

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