An Interview with Sarah Jones, author of ‘Funerals, Your Way’ 0

A wicker coffin decorated with flowers by the team at Full Circle Funerals

We’re all going to die. Not right away (let’s get that clear – we’ve not spotted a large comet hurtling towards Earth) but, like it or not, death comes to us all.

We don’t talk about it, though. And since we don’t talk about death, the majority of people who are arranging a funeral for the first time are blindsided by the sheer number of decisions they have to make, often about things they’ve never considered.

Sarah Jones from Full Circle Funerals holds her book, Funerals, Your WayPerhaps you know whether the person who died wanted to be cremated or buried – but did you ever ask them about what they’d want to be wearing when it happened? Are they a wicker coffin sort of person, or is veneer wood better? Funeral planning involves a host of bewildering questions that most of us are unprepared for.

Funeral director Sarah Jones of Full Circle Funerals wants to change that. Her new e-book, Funerals, Your Way, offers families a gentle yet thorough introduction to the many options available to them, and a framework for approaching difficult decisions with their loved one’s wishes and personality in mind.

Ahead of the launch of the book, we caught up with Sarah to talk about how it came about and why the “person-centred approach to planning a funeral” is the future…

Hi Sarah! How did you become a funeral director?

We opened Full Circle Funerals in September of 2016, but I’d decided about a year before that that was what I wanted to do. I started my working life as a doctor in the NHS, doing vascular surgery. I left that role to work with adults with learning difficulties.

The simple reason for opening Full Circle is that, throughout my work in health and social care, I’ve always felt that end of life care and funerals are really important. And that if they’re done well, that it could probably make a really big difference to bereaved families.

I felt that it was something it was important to do well and do right, and I was quite clear in my mind about what I thought that would involve. So, I decided to do it.

What inspired you to write Funerals, Your Way?

The team at Full Circle Funerals decorate a wicker casket.I think the more people know before they walk into a funeral director, the better.

Every day, in our work, we support families, and it’s so obvious and so clear that giving them a little bit of information and time, and expanding on the ideas they’ve already got, is incredibly helpful to people. Opening up a space where they can confidently feel that they can explore what they want and what they need can make a real difference.

A lot of people walk into the room and they have never thought about it before. It’s something they haven’t even wanted to engage in: they’re bewildered, they’re confused, and they’re vulnerable. I think it’s so easy to address that knowledge imbalance and power imbalance, so that families can go into the arrangements knowing what questions they need to ask, having gathered their thoughts.

How you would like families to use your book? 

A traditional church funeral arranged by Full Circle FuneralsIdeally, I think everybody should just read it, randomly, as a book, rather than being in a situation where they’re having to apply it to a person in their lives, or themselves. That way they’re not stressed, and they can take their time to consider it.

Another way it could help is if families read it when they know that they are going to need to arrange a funeral in the coming weeks and months, so they’re preparing themselves.

We are also approached by quite a lot of people who want to plan their own, particularly younger people. So, I think it could be something they read relatively privately, and then when they’ve gathered their thoughts, then they can engage in that difficult conversation with the people in their family.

In the book, you talk about taking a “person-centred approach to funerals”. What does that mean to you?

A burial arranged by Full Circle FuneralsI come from a background in health and social care, where everything should be person-centred.  You effectively have a group of professionals and a process that is centred around the individual. And you’re collaborating with that individual, giving them what they need to optimise their health and care.

That principle, to me, feels very, very important for funerals. The person who has died – do you want the funeral to reflect that person?  And then you also have the people close to them, who maybe need to get something helpful from the process of arranging the funeral and the funeral itself – how do you support them?

So, I suppose my logic was just to highlight the people at the centre of all of this. I think funerals should be person-centred, and that person should not be the funeral director or a representative from the industry.

Do you see that perhaps as something that some in the industry need to work on?

The team from Full Circle Funerals.Everyone I have met seems to be trying to do their best, and we’re all trying to achieve the same thing. Which, broadly speaking, is better, more consistent, personalised care for people at the end of their lives and at funerals.

I believe that the way to achieve that is to increase knowledge amongst the general public and to therefore increase people’s expectations. I think that that’s actually the only way that you can fundamentally change funeral care.

So, my emphasis is on just trying to just slowly work away, in my own very tiny way, at changing people’s expectations of how good a funeral can actually be, and how helpful it can be. And giving them the information that they need to make that happen.

Funerals, Your Way is available to buy from Full Circle Funerals here. All proceeds go to support the Leeds Bereavement Forum and local hospices.

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Meet the Maker: Cremation Glass Jewellery 0

Glassmaker Kenny Scott of Ash Glass Design.

Pendant with flecks and swirls in the glass made from the ashes of someone who has died

What do you see when you look at this pendant? To the untrained eye, it might look like … a pendant. But to those in the know, it’s something unusual, and completely unique: those flecks and swirls in the glass are made from the ashes of someone who has died.

In fact, the necklace is just one item in a range of mourning jewellery and sculpture created by glassmaker Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass Design. Based in the picturesque village of Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders, Kenny and co. craft bespoke cremation glass jewellery for families who want a subtle way to carry their loved one’s ashes with them.

So, how does one become a cremation glassmaker, exactly, and how is cremation glass actually made? To find out more about this relatively new answer to the question of what to do with ashes, we had a chat with Kenny …

 

How did Ash Glass Design get started?

Kenny Scott and his team at Ash Glass DesignKenny began his career at the tender age of 16, leaving school to take on a five-year apprenticeship in making glass from scratch. 20 years later, he was creating glasswork for museums and clients when he received an unusual request:

“One of my friends who’s a funeral director approached me and asked if I would make a memorial pendant for someone using ashes”, Kenny told Beyond. While at first Kenny wasn’t sure (he describes it as “a wee bit of a Marmite moment”) the family was so pleased with the result that he immediately realised that he wanted to do it again.

“After I made the pendant and met the family, it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when making something for someone”, Kenny explained. “They were so happy, and it’s such a precious thing that you’re making for them, that I thought, ‘Oh, I really like doing this.’

“Basically, that was it: I put a wee range together, and from there it’s kind of grown. I love doing it.”

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it.”

Why do people like cremation jewellery?

CreAsh Glass Design's cremation glass mourning ringmation jewellery isn’t for everyone ­– but while some find the concept morbid, others like the idea of keeping a loved one close in a subtle way. “I speak to all the customers, and I think for them the nicest thing is the fact that they can have their loved one with them all the time, and it’s not in your face. It doesn’t have a big sign saying what it is – it’s just a lovely piece of jewellery”, Kenny said.

“Nobody would know what it was other than them, and I think that’s the beauty of it. Everybody says that they get so much comfort out of having it.”

In Ash Glass Design’s range, rings are the most popular option: “Somebody said to me, it’s like they’re still holding my hand.

“We do lots for weddings as well, my goodness. For somebody who has maybe lost a parent, it’s like [their loved one] can be there on their wedding day. It’s a lovely way to have them with you.”

“There’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt.”

How is cremation glass jewellery made?

Making cremation jewelleryThe process of making cremation glass jewellery is long and somewhat delicate, with great care taken to make sure the right ashes (“labelled, bagged, boxed, bagged again”, Kenny reports) are used.

At Ash Glass Design, everything is made in-house. After a discussion with the family about the design, Kenny melts their required colour of glass to make a base. He then carefully adds the ashes before sealing it over with clear glass to make a perfect finished surface.

After some time spent in the kiln – it takes a day and a half to gradually cool the hot glass down – the glass is polished down with diamond tools and set into the gold or silver using a traditional technique. Any ashes left over are returned to the family along with the finished piece.

“You have to know the procedures for cooling glass down, how to heat it up, how compatible it is with other materials, so it’s quite a wee science on its own,” Kenny said, adding that “there’s always something you want to try and create differently and try and adapt. You’re always making new designs as well, to stretch the boundaries a bit.”

“I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them”

Do you take requests?

Because Ash Glass Design is a small company (Kenny, his wife Emma and “amazing” goldsmith Joanna) the team are able to take requests to make each piece of glass unique: “If somebody wants a bespoke colour in their jewellery, we never charge any extra … We do what we can to help folk get what they want. If [a customer] wants something to be adapted somehow, then we look into it for them”, Kenny explained.

“Sometimes it’s not as feasible as they might think initially, but we can talk them through it, and find the best option for them.”

Customers appreciate this personal service: “I still get phone calls three or four months down the road from some of my customers saying how happy they are, and what it means to them. Even a couple of years down the road, we still get them phoning back, asking how we are. It’s lovely.”


Want to find out more about Ash Glass Design? Check out their website, www.ashglassdesign.co.uk, give the team a ring on 01896 850447, or contact Kenny at [email protected]


About mourning jewellery …

A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold.
A Victorian mourning ring with hair sealed into the gold. Image by Charles J Sharp, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mourning jewellery dates back as far as the 1600s, when stern memento mori-themed rings (‘remember that you must die’) were gradually overtaken by more personal tokens of grief. Examples from the British Museum demonstrate how gruff messages like “learn to dye” were replaced by kinder tributes, such as “not lost but gone before” and “not dead but sleepeth”.

At its peak in the Victorian era, mourning jewellery was worn as part of a strict dress code for the bereaved. Mourning rings were joined by broaches and lockets, and were often made with jet (a precious stone that, being black, was thought to be mourning period-appropriate). Many contained a lock of the hair from the person who had died, or a miniature portrait.

Popularity eventually declined as life expectancy increased – by World War One, mourning jewellery was out of vogue. But the desire shared by bereaved families for physical mementos of their loved ones never really went away.

Now, the rise in cremation – 70% of people in the UK choose it over burial – and increasing openness about death are leading to a rise in interest, with companies like Ash Glass Design offering a more contemporary take.

Meet Basil, the UK’s First Funeral Therapy Dog 0

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dog

What makes someone a good fit for bereavement care? Kindness, attentiveness, a lovely glossy coat …

Basil, who puts in his hours in at Clive Pugh Funeral Directors in Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, might tell you it’s all three – if he could talk. Basil is, after all, a dog.

In fact, the gentle and unassuming beagle is quite possibly the UK’s first ever funeral therapy dog, working with Clive and Rosalinda Pugh to offer comfort and support to bereaved families.

“People love him because it feels as though they’re coming into a home, as opposed to funeral premises.” Rosalinda told Beyond when we caught up with her recently.

“We hope it’s something that gives a bit of relief to people, even for a very short space of time, when they come to us to arrange the funeral of their loved one.”

Basil the Beagle, a funeral therapy dogOffering paws for thought …

Basil joined the family business in 2016, at the tender age of six. Clive and Rosalinda’s daughter had taken care of Basil since he was a puppy, but she was finding it difficult to give Basil the long walks he loves after having their first grandchild. Clive and Rosalinda were happy to step in.

“With Clive and I both working full time in the business, I said now that Basil is going to live with us, we will have to give him a role.” Rosalinda explained.

“I knew that therapy dogs went into nursing homes and hospitals and I thought that Basil would be perfect in a similar role with us because he’s just such an adorable beagle – so calm and loving.”

Once Rosalinda and Clive started giving families the opportunity to spend time with Basil, they found that he was a perfect fit:

“He started coming to work with us every day, and we let people decide as to whether they wanted him there or not. And it’s just gone from there.”

“We have found that the majority of families are really pleased to have him around, to the extent that we had a funeral recently where the family wanted him to lead the coffin into church. They were thrilled that he was able to be there. I’ve been amazed at the response.”

“We often get letters and cards from families asking us to say hello to Basil or thank him for being there.”

Giving families a hound

Picture supplied by Richard Dawson/Bav Media

What’s the secret to Basil’s success? Recent studies have shown that support animals really do make a difference to the way we feel, lowering blood pressure and releasing mood-boosting hormones.

One study by Goldsmiths University indicated that dogs in particular are compelled to comfort people they think are in distress, and will even approach and nuzzle strangers who are crying in an effort to soothe them.

In a funeral home, this instinct to help can make a real difference to the bereaved. “Basil provides families with unconditional love and support, as well as a subtle distraction from grief,” Rosalinda told Beyond.

“If you’ve ever had an awkward family reunion, you might know that a dog, even then, can brighten up the mood and give people something a little bit light-hearted to talk about. That effect is immediately helpful when you’re arranging a funeral, because people are anxious when they come to see a funeral director. They’re not sure what to expect, and I think Basil just takes a little bit of that stress away.”

“Sometimes people are nervous of going into our Chapel of Rest, but if they have Basil with them, it seems to alleviate that feeling.”

Every dog has his day

It’s not just bereaved families who love Basil – he’s now something of a celebrity. So far, Basil has been featured in a number of national and international newspapers, including The Times, The Express, The Independent, Metro News and even Paris Match. He’s also made an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, where Clive, Rosalinda and Basil were interviewed by Davina McCall and Ore Oduba of Strictly fame.

So, has Basil let all the fame go to his head? Rosalinda says not: “We’re not letting any diva behaviour become evident, if we can help it. Definitely not. But beagles are such loving, affectionate dogs; I think that you can’t go wrong, really.”

“We’ve seen an incredible response. It’s been quite amazing. You have to wonder why somebody didn’t do it a long time ago.”

Want to find out more about Clive Pugh funeral directors, home to the lovely Basil? Check out their profile here on Beyond.