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Talking about Death – would you take your child to a funeral?


6 Minute Read

I watched my friend’s five-year-old son peer down into the tiny grave.

Surrounded by a group of somber people in the small churchyard, the cold wind whipping around their ankles, the sound of sobbing and noses being blown, he was just curious to see what was in the bottom of this hole in the ground.

We were gathered to say goodbye to a baby who had died in her mother’s womb at just eight months old. An utter tragedy. The poignancy of the size of the white wicker coffin was heart-wrenching.

But this little boy just wanted to know what was going on. He quietly leaned over, peered in, saw the tiny coffin at the bottom of the grave, and then wandered back to hold his mother’s hand, looking reflective.

Should he have been taken or not?

This was the subject of an article I shared in my Facebook group last year and which generated a large number of comments. It seems there are many different opinions on this subject.

So here’s my take.

It depends.

Whether you take your young son or daughter to a funeral simply depends on many factors.

I intuitively feel that in the long run, it is better to not hide death away from children full stop, but then as some of the comments in the group showed, being in the presence of someone who has died can be traumatic in and of itself. Whether it is more traumatic than not being there at all is, at least to some extent, dependent on the circumstances.

Age may be a factor, as may religious or cultural reasons as to whether a child should attend or not. These need to be respected.

But more than anything, the way the death and funeral are handled in terms of speaking about it will determine to a large extent the effect it will have on the child.

Susan said: “Personally I think it is absolutely necessary (to take children to funerals).   My mother died unexpectedly when I was 10 and I was sent away the day she died until after the funeral and it was a huge mistake and the biggest regret of my life. I never got to say goodbye and for a long time, I kept thinking she would just appear and that it was all a big mistake. It has had an everlasting effect on me and I’m now in my sixties. If someone just disappears from your life and you haven’t had a chance to say goodbye as a child, it is very bewildering and distressing, much more so than attending the funeral.

I would stand at the lounge window and think she would walk along the road. And even though I knew she was in a coffin under the ground, I thought she was still alive and trying to get out. I think a lot more damage is done by not allowing a child to say goodbye than them attending a funeral which I think is a positive way to say goodbye.”

But then someone else shared:

“I recall sitting in the front row of the visitation on the night before my grandpa was buried. During the ceremony, the Rosary was said and it seemed like hours staring at his waxed body in the coffin. I didn’t like it and to this day, those feelings are the first that come to mind even though I had many other great memories with him.” 

So what to do?

On balance, I think the more we are at ease ourselves with dying, death and grief, the easier it will be for our children to be at ease. They will take a lead from us, as they do in most things.

So if you feel uncomfortable about this subject, either because of people daring to think NOT to take their child, or because they strongly feel taking a child to a funeral is a good idea, it’s worth exploring a bit more.

So, what is your opinion about funerals, full stop?

If you have religious beliefs, the end of life ritual (commonly known in the Western world as a funeral) may have requirements that you follow, that have stood the test of time in that religion, and that you are already aware of.

If you are not religious, but spiritual, you might know you want nothing to do with a church for your own funeral but are not quite sure what on earth to do if not that.

Or you might think that the only alternative is having a humanist conduct your funeral, who will not include any reference to any religions or spirituality at all.

You might not even want (or be able) to contemplate the word ‘funeral’ at all.

And this is at the heart of the original question.

In Western society today, generally speaking, we shy away from the obvious – the fact that just because we are alive, we will also, one day, die.

In fact, the word ‘death’ has almost become taboo (although this, finally, is beginning to change).

In order to consider whether or not you might take one of your children to a funeral, you have to be able to contemplate death – your own or someone you love.

death, funerals, alternative funerals

In order to do that, you have to face up to what kind of beliefs or attitudes you have about end of life and all that that entails.

And that is not easy. It really is not an easy subject to reflect on, which of course is why people don’t do it. Plus we are all so busy living, aren’t we!

But let me add in a little something to tempt you to explore further, assuming you have read this far.

Did you know you don’t even have to have a funeral at all?

It’s true. But not commonly known.

And even if you do know it, the impact of grief might propel you into engaging a funeral director, or having a funeral for a family member, simply because that’s been the way it’s usually done.

So you have to be prepared in advance if you think you may not want to have a funeral. That nearly always means being willing to have a conversation with your nearest and dearest.

And that’s why it’s a good idea to work out what you think about end of life matters well before you may need to know – so you can instigate a very necessary conversation.

So – what DO you think about funerals? Would you want one for yourself? Would you take a child to one? Please comment below and let’s hear how you feel about it!

Welcome Abroad the Funeral Revolution


1 Minute Read

Advantages of Age hears from Kate Tym and Kate Dyer, the founders of the UK’s first Coffin Club.

It’s a sunny morning in September in a room above an art gallery in Hastings. There are laughter, chat and a feeling of warmth and camaraderie which seems slightly odd considering each of the five people involved are busily decorating their coffins. This is Coffin Club UK where death is always top of the agenda and yet no one seems very sad! Kate Tym and Kate Dyer, the founders of the charity, encourage clubbers to plan their perfect send-off and, if they like, bling up their coffins too. ‘We go through life planning each step of the way and then, when it comes to our funerals, we seem quite happy to just leave them completely up to chance,’ says Kate Dyer, cheerfully. ‘Yes,’ adds Kate Tym, ‘families find themselves, at a point of bereavement, having to make decisions about what mum or dad or sister might want and they’re not in the right place, emotionally, to start asking questions or thinking creatively. Coffin Club removes that anxiety as it means you get exactly the end of life celebration you want and you know exactly where every penny’s going.’

Funeral Directors, generally, like to offer a range of packages – it’s 20 minutes up the cremation, or a religious place of worship, to a very set format. ‘People don’t realise that funerals are actually very unregulated,’ says Kate Tym, ‘you can separate the cremation or burial from the celebration of life.’ ‘We’ve had send-offs in barns, village halls and even the upstairs room of a pub,’ Kate D says. ‘Simply by changing the setting, the whole atmosphere changes, too,’ she enthuses. Kate T says that by putting a brightly-decorated coffin into the mix it becomes part of the proceedings. ‘Guests aren’t afraid of it – they come up and look at it, touch it, pat it, have a chat with the person inside. Sometimes we leave a space where people can write messages to the person inside – they’re involved right up to the last moment.’

Coffin Club runs over six weeks, for one morning a week, and each week there is an invited speaker – forward-thinking, independent funeral directors, the manager of the local crematorium, a representative from the local hospice, the manager of a natural burial ground and a lady who did her own DIY ceremony for her husband just over a year ago. ‘She kept him at home for five days after he’d died,’ Kate T says cheerfully. ‘She really is our poster girl!’ Each clubber is given a funeral wish-list right at the beginning and fills it in as the weeks go by. So, from burial or cremation to music choices, to venues and readings and anything else they might fancy, not a stone is left unturned.

‘The reasons people come to Coffin Club are all different,’ says Kate D. ‘Some are all about practicality, they want to cost their funeral and have it all organised before they go, so that their family aren’t left with the job. For others, it’s more about coming to terms with the inevitable and finding that in itself empowering,’ Kate T adds.

Currently, in the UK, the average cost of a funeral is around the £4000 mark (https://www.sunlife.co.uk/how-much-does-a-funeral-cost-in-the-uk-today) and that’s not including the ‘do’ afterward, the flowers or the catering or any legal costs around settling an estate. Coffin Club wants to deal with funeral poverty, too, ‘We can get a much more personally-tailored funeral to come in at around the £2,500 mark. It can be done even more cheaply if you don’t use a funeral director at all, but that’s not for everyone,’ says Kate D.

‘Each time we’ve run the club we’ve had one person attend who is terminally ill,’ Kate T says. ‘That’s really hard, but also means a lot to us. Ashley came along wanting to be buried in the field at the back of his house, but wasn’t sure if that was even legal. It is legal and it’s really not difficult to arrange. Coffin Club enabled him to get exactly what he wanted.’ ‘He had the most fantastic celebration of his life,’ says Kate D. ‘We started in the village hall, which was packed. The service itself was full of music and lots of people stood up and told personal stories of their memories of Ashley. Without the crematorium time limit hanging over us, we were able to let the service take as long as it took, and at the end that was about an hour and a half. Then he was drummed across to the field where he was buried with family members helping to lower his coffin into the grave.’ ‘Ashley had actually been too poorly to decorate his coffin,’ Kate T explains, ‘so his family did it for him after he’d died. They covered it in maps of places he’d travelled to and tickets from gigs he’d been to. I think they found it a nice experience, talking about things he’d done and sharing memories.’ Kate D takes over, ‘Everyone came up and touched his coffin, wrote messages, talked to him – it was really very lovely.’ That’s the true validation of Coffin Club – someone who came along and got exactly the send-off they wanted and for it to not cost a fortune.

The coffins Coffin Club that uses are really innovative. They are flat-packed ply coffins that come in ten sections that are then put together with an Allen key. The Kates get them from a Dutch company called Coffin in a Box. ‘They have a really low-carbon footprint,’ says Kate T, ‘they’re made with virtually no waste, have low-emissions in combustion and bio-degrade really easily. Putting them together is pretty funny, too. Having been involved in making and decorating the coffin gives people a feeling of taking control.‘

‘We’ve had people’s kids come and help them, they laugh together whilst decorating their box, it’s a truly bonding experience and makes the whole thing less frightening. Of course, there is a very deep sadness when someone dies,’ says Kate T, ‘but celebrating their life and trying to capture some of the joy and energy they had when they were alive is about love and respect, too. It’s not about making light of it, it’s about caring deeply enough to give them a send-off that is totally about them.’

The decorated coffins have ranged from simple – painted white with a Star of David to much more decorative , for example, hot pink with unicorns and Elvis, to the jokey, for example, a plain box with This way up and Handle with Care stickers on it. ‘It’s not about how good they are, artistically,’ says Kate D. ‘It’s more the process… the thought behind them. It gets our Clubbers thinking about what’s been important to them during their lifetime.’ They range from an elderly Quaker who had a Quaker Oats themed coffin to Bev, who loves purple and went for a vibrant violet base coat. ‘A lot of the conversations happen while we’re decorating,’ says Kate D. ‘It’s a time when people share some of their deepest feelings because thinking about dying – brings these emotions sharply into focus.’

‘Coffin Club was born out of frustration,’ says Kate T. ‘We’re funeral celebrants and we were so depressed by the one-size-fits-all formula of most funerals that we thought there must be a better way. We want everyone to know that there’s a vast choice of send-offs available to them from the traditional Victorian gent in front of a limo hearse to skipping naked through a field with dancing girls and fire eaters!! If you know you can do anything at all and still want to go the totally conventional route, we’ll support you 100 percent. But, we don’t want people having 20 minutes up the cremation because they had no idea they could do anything else. Coffin Club is all about choices.’

Ultimately, Coffin Club is about people taking back ownership of their end of life celebrations. ‘We can’t believe the children of the 50s and 60s generations are going to go for the formulaic way!’ The Kates really believe, as a nation, we’re on the brink of a funeral revolution. ‘We’ve run three Coffin Club Master Classes so that people in other areas can learn how to set-up and run Coffin Clubs and are certain they will grown all over the UK.’ Coffin Club has been followed by a local documentary maker, Whalebone Films, for over a year and the BBC came and filmed in September too – there is a definite feeling of the tide turning. ‘We don’t believe respect is about how much you paid or what you wear. it can be about getting out a pot of paint and doing something that’s a labour of love.’

Coffin Club really is a fabulous initiative. As the Kates say: ‘We’ve got to start talking about death again as a nation. From the moment we’re born we’re all terminally ill. We need to bring death back into the every day and out of the scary, taboo place that it’s been for a long time now. If you talk about sex, you’re not going to get pregnant and if you talk about death, you’re not going to die. You’ll just be well prepared – Coffin Club is really just about thinking outside the box!’

 

www.coffinclub.org

www.coffininabox.com

Green burial suit by Coeio could replace coffins – Tech Insider


4 Minute Read

The green burial suit by Coeio could reduce the harmful effects of burials on the earth and also transform our relationship with death.

Imagine that instead of burying your loved one in a coffin, you dressed them in a garment that ate away at their remains, leaving almost no trace in the dirt where they once laid.
It might sound a little horrifying, but one startup is banking on biodegradable “burial suits” as the future of green funerals. The suits use mushrooms and other organic compounds to decompose and wipe toxins in the human body.

Jae Rhim Lee, CEO and cofounder of Coeio, launched the company in 2015 after years of research on mushrooms and funeral practices. She set out to create a coffin-killer that would reduce the harmful effects of burials on the earth.

CoeioCoeio

Read the full story here: Green burial suit by Coeio could replace coffins – Tech Insider

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