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How we build ceremony into the care of our guests

There are many reasons why people wish to include ceremonial aspects within funeral arrangements – primarily out of respect of the person who has died and their religious wishes – but often this is limited to just the Funeral Service.

But, at Holly’s Funerals, we believe there are many more ceremonial opportunities that could be included if only families were given the opportunity, and the correct level of support and advice, by their funeral directors.

We prefer to focus on these intangible, ceremonial and support aspects, which, we believe, can really help families come to terms with the death of a loved one and support them in their grief. This is why we give our families so much more time compared to mainstream funeral directors – time to think, time to listen, time to talk and time to reflect.

Unfortunately, though, there’s no money in adding “ceremony” into the everyday care of bodies and so very few funeral directors are willing to include this as part of their remit – it just doesn’t make good business sense.

But we look at things differently.

In our experience, people who are able to engage with death and, in some way, participate in the care and wellbeing of their loved ones after death, experience a deeper sense of calm, an inner peace and greater acceptance than those who have little or no engagement. They are more likely to embrace death in a positive way, through love and affection.

We do realise, however, how difficult it can be for some people to engage with death. Often people require a much higher level of support and guidance to help them through this difficult process. But, by allowing sufficient time and energy to create the right environment, and by supporting people through the process, we are able to help many of our clients overcome their fear and engage in some way.

At Holly’s Funerals, we build a number of ceremonial aspects into the care of our guests and fully support families if they wish to be involved, we talk them through the process and how this may help them. Then we create a beautiful, peaceful environment that helps to relax and comfort people. We explain in detail what they will see and experience, and then we support them fully through the entire process.

The stance we take reinforces our ethos that people deserve as much love and respect in death as they received in life. We behave as though the person is with us in life, watching us and listening to us from the corner of the room, so we treat all of our guests as though they are part of our own family.

Welcoming guests into our care

We always welcome guests into our premises the same as any other visitor. We address them by name and talk to them, explaining where they are and why. We talk to them about their friends and family and the discussions we have had regarding their funeral arrangements.

Similarly, we greet them each morning and say good bye at the end of the day.

Ceremonial cleansing and purifying

We use a variety of spiritual techniques to help prepare the space in which we work.

At various times, we use a combination of “Smudging” with White Sage and other natural herbs, sound cleansing using Tibetan bells and singing bowls, the burning of scented candles and an essential oil humidifier/diffuser to cleanse the air and energies within our premises.

These ceremonial activities also help us to ground our spirits and emotions into a state of calmness and connection in order to honour the body we have been given guardianship over and support the families we work with.

Our “Serenity Room” is maintained as a sacred space and energetically cleansed environment where we undertake the care of our guests. It is also used when family members come to spend time with their loved ones.

Washing and dressing

We see this as one of the most important aspects of our work.

Gently washing and dressing a dead person is one of the most spiritually rewarding tasks. It’s an opportunity to show your love for the person and honour their body. It can be incredibly healing for family members to be involved in this intimate ceremony if they feel able to.

We treat all of our guests with the utmost respect and dignity, we talk to them throughout the process and explain what we are doing and why. We maintain their privacy by keeping them covered throughout the process, usually with a light muslin sheet.

We gently wash the body with a mixture of warm water and frankincense, a sacred essential oil with a warm, earthy scent and antiseptic properties, using soft flannels, washing their hair and shaving if required.

Our guest is then dressed to the requirements of the family, maybe in their own clothes, or in a soft cotton shroud, ready for their funeral. Whilst we will always endeavour to meet our families wishes regarding clothing, we also adhere rigorously to the rules and regulations of cemeteries and crematoria.

Spending time with friends and family

For some reason that we don’t understand, most funeral directors will only allow “viewings” once the body has been placed in the coffin.

Whilst this may be right for some families, many people can find this quite shocking.

We see the coffin as a barrier to engagement. We want people to feel comfortable and be able to sit naturally with the person they have come to spend time with. Some people may want to stroke their loved one’s hair or hold their hands and this is very difficult when the person is already in their coffin.

For this reason, we prefer to create a ceremonial bed using a bamboo stretcher and trestles, and then cover the guest with a soft blanket or silk pashminas. Again, we talk to the guest and explain what is happening, then we smudge their body and say blessings whilst scattering rose petals around the bed.

We do not put any limit on time or number of visits as we realise how important this time is. We want people to feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible, to spend time in quiet contemplation or to sing and talk with their loved one for as long as they want without any pressure from us.

After the visit we always invite visitors to chat over a cup of tea about how the person feels and take time to support them through their feelings and emotions. Again, there is no time limit on this and we spend as long as is required with people in order that they leave feeling grounded and supported.

On the day of the funeral – final preparation

We only ever have one funeral per day and so this is special time dedicated only to that person. It is our time to say goodbye and to wish them a safe journey as they prepare to leave this existence on Earth.

We start by preparing the coffin, removing the lid, checking the lining and placing the shroud which will eventually wrap their body. They are then gently lifted and lowered into the coffin and the shroud is gently wrapped around them, just leaving their face visible.

At this stage, we will place any special items that are to accompany them into the coffin. This can often include cards and letters from friends and family, some flowers, any special photos or a perhaps a child’s picture or two.

We will then undertake a blessing, again smudging the coffin and scattering a mixture of herbs and rose petals around the body. After we’ve all said our goodbyes, the lid of the coffin is replaced carefully and sealed into place ready for their onward journey.

This job is a vocation, a calling, to help families cope and engage with death in a softer and more caring way. We only work in the best interests of our guests and families and see ourselves as guardians of the body, carers of the spirit and soul, preparing them for their transition between life and death.

If you would like more information about this topic, or any other funeral related advice, please feel free to contact us without obligation.

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