Diana's Journal


Farewell Captain Sir Tom Moore

By Diana

We were so saddened to learn of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore yesterday.

This remarkable gentleman inspired the nation and reminded us of the value of being kind and courageous, and of what we can achieve when we are selfless, brave and giving in times of crisis. He was absolutely what our country needed in one of our darkest times in history, and more than a breath of fresh air. His uncomplaining, dependable and total commitment to the cause of raising money for the NHS, out of gratitude for all they had done for him, was awe-inspiring. His motivation was, quite simply, gratitude.

He showed us how simple, courageous acts can make such a huge, positive difference in times of trouble. He was human, yet a true legend; our lockdown hero.

For those who've lost parents, and were feeling the loss in these scary times, he stepped in and filled that void with his gentle encouragement and heartfelt belief that tomorrow will be a good day - the gentle reassurance that all will be well and that we are not alone. He gave us comfort, and hope. His sense of duty to his country and his love for his family are true examples to our nation, as was his resilience and indomitable spirit. When we struggled to keep things together, getting to grips with a new way of living safely during a pandemic, Captain Tom kept steadily walking, a constant reminder of an old soldier’s resilience, perseverance and dogged determination.

To those of us struggling to hold on during a pandemic, which has threatened our livelihoods and our businesses, he was a constant presence on our television screens and in our newspapers, reminding us to keep going, to persevere, to never give up and to keep one foot moving in front of the other. No matter how slow we might think our progress is we can still keep moving, albeit at a slower pace, and with fewer opportunities, but keep going we must.

His was a life of devotion and service to his family and his country. He reminded us of the old-fashioned values of dignity, kindness, humanity, modesty, humour and gratitude. He showed us, young and old alike, that it’s never too late to make a difference.

He didn't just leave the NHS richer, but each of us too, as individuals and as a nation.

He both united and inspired the nation just when it needed to be inspired and united. To say he was inspirational is both an understatement and a totally inadequate description of this remarkable old soldier.

"Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away".

We think this quote by George Bernard Shaw epitomises Captain Tom’s legacy:

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no "brief candle" for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

We bid you the fondest of farewells, Captain Sir Tom. You came into our lives when we needed you the most, and now you can complete your journey with gentleness and the same joy in your heart that you have given to our nation.

Yours truly was a life well lived.

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded"

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Planning a funeral

By Diana

When planning the funeral of a loved one, there are many aspects that are daunting when our emotions are so raw and confused. Funeral directors provide calm, understanding, professional guidance, and if they recommend a civil celebrant, such as Diana, to work with the family to create a ceremony that reflects the personality and beliefs of their loved one, this difficult time is made much easier. Diana is always searching for readings that can inspire and provide comfort, and recently came across the following piece, known as "Paradox of Our Age", written by Dr Bob Moorehead, an American pastor and published in a collection of his writings in 1995. It is often credited to the late American comedian, George Carlin, who in fact emphatically denied that he wrote it, and it is also wrongly credited to the Dalai Lama. The accreditation is less important than the sentiments expressed about the modern lifestyle and the importance of showing love to all of those around you. Any or all of the piece could be included in a celebration of your loved one's life.

"We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results. We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger things, but not better things; we've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We've become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships. These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, thow-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room. Indeed, these are the times!

Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away."


Scattering of Ashes at Sea

By Diana

I was approached by a local family to conduct a ceremony at sea while they scattered the ashes of their loved one at their chosen spot in the Solent.

The Solent is a major shipping lane for passenger, freight and military vessels that separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland. It is also an important recreational area for water sports, particularly sailing, and hosts the annual Cowes Week regatta. This busy stretch of water has a complex tidal pattern, with three tributary rivers - the Rivers Avon, Itchen and Test, and is about 20 miles long and varies in width between two and a half and five miles.

The family were Hindu and saw the scattering of ashes in the Solent as the closest they could provide to the scattering of ashes in the Ganges, as is Hindu tradition. The practicalities for many of taking a loved one's ashes back to the Ganges can prove too great, as it is often difficult for people to travel to India due to the expense, or older family members being unable to travel, so many choose local rivers where the ashes can be scattered on the flowing waters. According to Hindu and Sikh ritual, the ashes of cremated bodies must be scattered in the sea, or in waters that flow to the sea, to transport them to the next life. In general, flowing water is the best as it disperses the ashes when it joins the sea.

Water is the perfect place for scattering a loved one's cremated remains. Water is both mentally calm and stimulating, whether it be a tranquil lake, a babbling brook or crashing waves on a beach. There is also a sense that the ashes are being returned to nature which is hugely important to most religions and belief systems.

The family who were my clients were from Luton and were travelling to Hampshire for the day, and many of the arrangements were being organised locally by a family member who lives on the South Coast.

A private charter boat had been booked to take the 40 or so family members on an hour's cruise in the Solent on a very cold, windy and wet day. I joined the family at the dockside and observed a huge amount of sadness when we boarded the boat from the men, women and small children who were all travelling to pay their respects to a greatly respected husband, father, grandfather, uncle and brother-in-law who had been the head and elder of this very tight knit family.

A particular area had been chosen by the family for the scattering which was where the three rivers met, and we were dependent on the ship's captain to pinpoint this area and slow the boat and quieten the engine for our scattering ceremony.

The entire family of 40 gathered on the deck as the ashes were divided up and the captain advised the best place to perform our ceremony, saying he could allow us 10 minutes before he would need to restart the engines and return to the port.

The scattering took place as planned and it was agreed that because of the elements that day, we would hold our ceremony inside in the warm immediately afterwards. As the family gathered around me, we held our service which gave much comfort to the grieving family, many of whom asked for a copy of my words afterwards.

There is much to be considered with a scattering of ashes at sea, not least of all tides and weather conditions. We possibly had the worst type of weather on this occasion, but were able to adapt our service, while enabling the scattering to take place in exactly the spot chosen by the family which had greatest significance to them. We consoled ourselves that in our Great British weather if it starts raining immediately after the ceremony, it means good luck.

While most ferry companies in this particular area offer a free scattering of ashes service, the benefits of a private boat charter include absolute privacy for the family while enjoying the use of the entire boat, which will invariably provide refreshments during the sailing.

Hindus and Sikhs scattering their ashes on the seas and rivers of Britain is not a new phenomenon and popular locations tend to have larger Hindu and Sikh populations nearby, as was the case with my clients, who afterwards invited me to join them at the local temple nearby. As an observer I witnessed them offering prayers and gifts to their Hindu idols and afterwards, with the permission of the priest, spreading out a feast for everyone in one the side rooms. By now there was less sense of grief, and more an atmosphere of unity, love, caring for one another, and celebration.

I would recommended that biodegradable urns are used which once in the water will float for a short while and can be followed by the scattering of flower petals or roses. If casting a wreath, please take care to ensure they do not contain any plastic or wire ties.

Currently in the UK no permission nor license is required to scatter ashes in coastal waters, but if using a ferry company or private boat charter, please inform the captain of your intention so that they can respect your wishes, and slow down the vessel and quieten the engines while your ceremony takes place. You will also invariably find that a crew member accompanies you for safety reasons.

People of the British Isles and beyond have a strong association with water: whether through our jobs, or as somewhere we love to relax, holiday and play, or as an element that holds spiritual meaning. Perhaps as water makes up over 80% of our body, it is not surprising many of would wish this to be our final resting place for our ashes.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day


Natural Burials - a modern option

By Diana

It used to be the case that there were only two options for funerals: burial or cremation. Burials were the most popular choice until 1968, after which cremations grew in popularity until three-quarters of funerals were cremations. Cremations appear to be an option that involves a clean and efficient system, but as the average cremator runs for 75 minutes at temperatures of up to 1,150 degrees Celsius, it has been argued that they use as much energy as a 500 mile car trip, as well as creating emissions that can be deemed unacceptable environmentally. Issues with burials include the use of formaldehyde for embalming, having an adverse effect on the groundwater, and the mining, and transport (often from overseas quarries), of grave headstones.

As a result of these concerns, and as part of the growing interest in protecting the environment, natural funerals are becoming more popular. In fact as recently as 2007 research from the Post Office indicated that nearly 35 per cent of people were planning on having an eco-friendly burial, instead of a traditional burial or cremation.

There are many ways to make a funeral more environmentally friendly, including choosing a coffin that is biodegradeable cardboard or woven from plants that are fast-growing and easily replaceable, sometimes grown in areas that provide work and therefore income for local residents. Plants used to make coffins include cane, seagrass, cocostick, banana leaves, loom, bamboo and water hyacinth. Another option is a woollen coffin.

For many years it has been traditional to send a wreath or display of flowers to a funeral to show respect, but often nowadays mourners are asked instead to make a donation to charity, rather than paying for flowers to be cut, viewed briefly, and then discarded. Another option is to plant a tree in memory of the deceased.

When people think of an environmentally friendly funeral, however, they usually mean a natural burial. These take place in fields or secluded woodlands that have been designated for the purpose of natural burials. The graves are often unmarked, or sometimes with a tree to indicate where someone has been laid to rest. However, regulations state that there must be a plan of the cemetery and each grave must be identified by its position in some way, perhaps by recording the coordinates on a digital plan, or by using a Radio Frequency identification (RFID) system that uses devices attached to memorials or pegged into the ground that transmit data to an RFID receiver, or by using up to three markers to locate a grave by triangulation.

The Government describes a natural burial as "a term used to describe the burial of human remains where the burial area creates habitat for wildlife or preserves existing habitats (woodland, species rich meadows, orchards, etc), sustainably managed farmland, in-situ or adjacent aquatic habitats or improves and creates new habitats which are rich in wildlife (flora and fauna. Where a funeral precedes such burial, it would typically seek to minimise environmental impact. The terms 'green burial', 'green funeral' and 'woodland burial' are also sometimes used."

There are now over 270 natural burial sites in the United Kingdom, of differing types. Some are operated by local authorities beside or even as part of their more traditional cemeteries. Some are privately owned and run by the landowners and their families, or by staff they have employed. Some are owned by large corporate companies or are run in partnership between the landowner and a larger 'umbrella' organisation.

The first woodland burial was opened in 1993 by Carlisle City Council in a woodland site on an unused part of the municipal cemetery, and other local councils have followed this example. Councils find the advantages of opening a natural burial ground near an urban area are that it provides additional burial space, it meets the demand for environmentally friendly funerals, and provides a new green space for the local community. Some people, however, do find that these municipal natural cemeteries do not meet their needs as they are usually approached through the traditional cemetery.

This demand for natural burials, with no connection to traditional cemeteries, has led to private companies developing stand-alone sites, as well as charities and not-for-profit groups, natural burial operating companies and landowners.

In some natural ceremonies, cremated remains can also be buried, with perhaps a wild flower meadow area available for the scattering of cremated remains. Areas are often set-aside for those people who require a physical memorial, perhaps with seating and open areas to allow family gatherings or somewhere for quiet contemplation.

The long-term future of natural cemeteries has to be considered, as some of the earlier ones were established with the proviso that, once full, they would be managed by a wildlife charity. These charities, however, are not necessarily able to manage a whole cemetery, and the needs of the charity may not match the needs of the mourners. Some cemeteries are therefore retained for agricultural use, or the memorial trees that are planted form a woodland that is sustainable and can provide an income to maintain and manage the cemetery. The coppicing method can be followed, where a few trees that will grow to a great height are planted, but the majority are shorter trees that can be pruned close to ground level every 7-15 years, depending on species, creating new growth and a permanent memorial, as well as wood that can be re-used. This is a centuries-old traditional way of managing woodland that creates a self-sustaining ecosystem. By utilising coppicing, the evolving woodland retains a rich biodiversity and provides a living landscape that can be enjoyed for generations to come. Flowers can also be planted to add to the diversity.

Many people find it comforting that, after death, they can give something back to nature, something that can be enjoyed for generations to come. A natural or woodland burial provides a living memorial and a celebration of the life that has ended. There is no onus on their families to maintain a grave plot, as nature itself creates a sustainable environment.

The modern style of funeral, as conducted by Grace the Day, focuses on celebration rather than mourning, and is personalised to the individual who has passed away. A natural burial complements this approach, being seen by people as being more uplifting than a church funeral, as would being able to visit a grave in a woodland rather than a cemetery. Whichever final resting place and type of funeral is chosen, the need to fulfil the wishes and beliefs of the loved one should take priority, and ideally this would have been discussed and incorporated into a funeral plan, but if not, it is reassuring that there are different options that can be considered and that the choice of funeral is no longer restricted to being a cremation or a traditional burial.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day


The history of flowers and funerals

By Diana

In Britain today, the question of whether or not to send flowers at a funeral is one of the first queries in the minds of mourners. Often, the family will pre-empt this by stating 'no flowers' or 'family flowers only' or 'donations to a charity instead of flowers'. It still feels, however, that flowers are a part of the whole mourning and grieving process.

Flowers have great symbolism, and can be a unifying sight, enabling mourners to remember and discuss their memories of the departed, offering comfort to the family. Remembering the dead is a fundamental part of the ritual associated with death. The presence of the loved one continues through the memories they have left behind.

At a time when death can be seen as an ending, flowers and their symbolism are a living tribute, a sight that reminds mourners of the natural cycle of death and renewal, but also provides an uplifting and beautiful image to offset the sadness experienced at a funeral.

There was also a practical purpose behind the use of flowers, as their scent could help mask the odour of death, as well as being a powerful aid to elicit memories of the loved one because the sense of smell can be one of the strongest senses for triggering memories. Throughout history, both strongly scented flowers, and pungent, aromatic herbs, have been used both at funerals and at homes where the body was laid out before burial.

It may seem that the use of flowers at a funeral is a modern idea, when it is easy to order an appropriate wreath or floral arrangement from a florists, but there is evidence through history, and even prehistory, that flowers were seen as an integral part of the mourning and funeral process.

From as early as Neolithic times, evidence has been found of flower remains and pollen in burial chambers, including one from over 50,000 years BC. Some of these flowers were known for their medicinal properties, and it's possible that they were left with the body for assistance in an afterlife, or they could have been a symbol of the person's skills.

Once Christianity became established in Britain, many legends and associations developed about flowers and their significance for funeral practises. One legend is that the Virgin Mary cried when Christ was carrying the cross, and that where her tears fell to earth, pink carnations grew for the first time, making these flowers an appropriate choice for floral displays at funerals.

The herb that is also closely associated with the Virgin Mary is rosemary, even taking its name from her, being 'the rose of Mary'. The legend is that when she was fleeing from Herod's soldiers, she hung her blue cloak on a rosemary bush that had white flowers, but by morning they had changed to blue. White flowers are seen as symbolic of Christ's love, and are therefore felt to be appropriate for funerals, but the blue flowers of rosemary are also significant. The herb also is known for signifying remembering, perhaps because of its strong aroma, also useful for masking unpleasant odours at the time of death. Shakespeare wrote about rosemary's significance in Hamlet when Ophelia mourns the death of her father and brings rosemary to his funeral: "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray, you love, remember."

Shakespeare was reflecting the customs of the 16th century, as it is known that there were issues from medieval times onwards about placing flowers on graves. There seems to have been a period when churchyards were used as grazing areas for animals, and sometimes wicker or willow fences were placed around graves to protect them, and the flowers placed on them. There were different views about whether it was appropriate or not to place flowers on graves. Many areas considered doing so was a heathen practice and it was banned in some churchyards right up until late in the 19th century. In Wales, however, different flowers were planted on graves to symbolise the time of life in which a person died: daffodils, primroses and violets for infants, roses for adults, and rosemary for the aged.

It was noted in the late 17th and early 18th century that it was common practice in England to combine the practical odour-masking qualities of herbs with the symbolism of evergreens, the quality of not-wilting suggesting remembrance, and so sprigs of rosemary or box were carried behind funeral processions and thrown on top of the coffin in the grave.

It was during the Victorian period that many of the present day customs and practises associated with mourning began or were developed. As the body of the deceased was laid out at home for many days, there was time for many floral tributes, as well as the need to sweeten the air. The social standing and degree of respect was demonstrated by the size, shape, colour and grandeur of the flowers. Today, florists can create tributes in the form of names or symbols to represent the interests of the deceased, be it a guitar for a musician, a football for a sports fan, or the drama masks for an actor.

The traditional British concept of flowers at a funeral is also influenced from the many other faiths and cultures that are represented in the United Kingdom. Whereas the Orthodox Jewish faith forbids flowers or plants at funerals or on graves, in Hindu funerals women lay flowers at the feet of the body, while visitors to the deceased's relatives bring gifts of fruit instead of flowers. Sikh funeral customs permit the sending of flowers, but floral tributes are not appropriate for Islamic funerals. Different cultures have contrasting symbolism for the same flower: in China, the white chrysanthemum represents grief, whereas in the United States it indicates happiness and cheerfulness.

With such a long history and differing customs about flowers and plants, it is clear that the family mourning their loved one can decide what feels best for them when it comes to floral tributes at the funeral, following the tradition and customs that is most appropriate for their family.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day


Traditional or Personal?

By Diana

If we are fortunate, we have not attended many funerals, and this has both advantages and disadvantages. We don't have that feeling that too many people we at least know and often love are no longer with us, but we also have little idea of the format a funeral ceremony takes, and are certainly not aware of the different options that are available. The result of this unfamiliarity means that, if we are in the sad position of organising a funeral, we tend to rely on the funeral directors or on traditions, rituals and conventions we have heard about but not necessarily experienced. It must be very difficult to try to deal with grief whilst organising a completely unfamiliar ceremony, and taking the straightforward option of following the guidance of a funeral director must be very appealing. These directors have a wealth of experience, but do not always know about, or offer, all the options available, including the possibility of the service being taken by an independent civil celebrant.

On the way to a funeral recently, I asked if it would be religious, and was told that, having known the lady in question for 80 years, there had certainly never been any interest in religion. I was therefore expecting a secular service, hoping for an independent civil celebrant, and was surprised to see a vicar waiting with the mourners in the reception area.

I wondered what the format would be, as we were not in a church. In fact, to me, the ceremony seemed rather mis-matched and disjointed. Although the vicar did not use too much of the traditional Christian funeral service, his very presence and the inclusion of various prayers and a hymn made the ceremony seem conventional and religious in tone, not reflecting what I had been told about the lady. He spoke clearly but it did not feel that he was doing more than reading out some notes that had been passed to him, rather than reading with feeling about someone he knew a lot about having spoken in depth to her family.

When the daughter go up to speak, she was obviously close to her mother and the service immediately felt far more personal, particularly when she talked about her mother's love of singing, introducing a song for the moment of reflection: Bring Me Sunshine, sung by Morecambe and Wise. This choice of song, irreverent though it may seem, felt very appropriate having heard how the lady even encouraged group singing when in hospital, and how she mouthed the lyrics when her family sang at her bedside, despite being on heavy medication. Gradually, members of the congregation quietly joined in, singing the song that was familiar to most of them. The choice of a song that really meant something to the lady and her family made the service seem personal and relevant. Prayers then followed, and the moment of connection quickly passed.

The ending of the service felt very abrupt. The coffin was still in full view, the vicar had stopped speaking, and no-one knew what to do, until the family moved out of a side door, and, tentatively, the rest of the congregation followed.

I couldn't help feeling that the family had not been made aware of an alternative to a vicar for their ceremony, and I knew that an independent civil celebrant would have created a personal service that honoured the whole family and included the mourners who had attended but did not know what to expect.

A celebration of life service created by Grace the Day as a result of full, sensitive consultation with the family of the loved one would have opened with an introduction, an explanation of who was standing in front of everyone and talking. The information about the loved one would have been carefully written after hearing about her from her family, to the extent that she felt like someone Diana had personally known. This close co-operation with the family means that, when Diana speaks about the loved one, she is both professional and personal, able to speak clearly and movingly without being overcome with emotion.

The service would have been created to suit the lady herself, not a generic service, and included only readings and music that the family felt would have been chosen by their loved one. There would be no need for a traditional hymn that meant nothing personally to the family, or for prayers that, as a non-religious family, had no significance and felt awkward. Instead of relying on tradition and unimaginative hymns and prayers, there would have been heartfelt, personal words and choice of songs. Of course, should a family feel that some religious content would be appropriate, then it can be incorporated smoothly into the service.

At the end, Diana would have explained that, in this particular crematorium, the coffin remains in place until everyone has left, and that the mourners should leave, after the family, through the side exit. She would also explain where donations to the family's chosen charity could be made, and where the guests could join the family to share their memories at another venue.

This funeral felt, to me, as though little thought had been given to the background of the family and how their contribution would not match the traditional style of the Christian service. The vicar was, of course, very familiar with the whole procedure, but did nothing to make the mourners feel involved and unique. I was sad to realise that, at a time when emotions are so raw and decision-making is so difficult, the family were not given the advice they deserved.

As written by Diana's Personal Assistant, Dawn.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day


The reassurance of a familiar officiant for a grieving family

By Diana

Any death in the family is always tragic but somehow when I've been contacted by a family to take a second family funeral, after conducting one previously, it seems to be a huge gesture of faith and trust, and I hope the familiarity of the same officiant gives some comfort and reassurance to the family as they face a new bereavement.

This has happened to me twice in the last month. One morning, my mobile rang and it was a gentlemen who introduced himself as the son of a lady whose funeral I had conducted two years ago almost to the day. As soon as he mentioned her name, I remembered her, and when I voiced out loud her surname he seemed genuinely impressed at my memory. He told me that his father had just passed on, on the 2nd anniversary of his Mother's death.

He had changed computers and lost my details, so contacted the funeral director who kindly gave him my contact number, and he asked if I would be available to conduct his father's funeral. I was able to confirm that I was available on the chosen date.

I went back through my files and found his mother's funeral script, and this helped me make a brief outline for the draft script for his father's funeral, without having to trouble him for names, dates and places etc in these early stages of grief, since he is not local and was himself recovering from an operation.

This enquiry came on the morning before I had a large funeral to take locally. Again, this request came through a family whose relative's funeral I had officiated at a year ago. I was contacted last year by a friend, an ex colleague, who had heard about my work and asked if I would consider taking the cremation service of her grandmother who had died in her sleep at the age of 91. My friend's father was an only child, and had been the person who found his mother after she passed. Just a year later, he had died, in identical circumstances to his mother. He was found by his wife, and my friend and her family were not only grieving, but in shock. I agreed to take his funeral too, and mentioned in my address that we could not imagine the grief of this young family who were facing a second death in the family exactly a year to the day later.

My friend had warned me there would be a large number of mourners at the crematorium and this was confirmed when I saw the vast number of sympathy cards at their home when I visited to take details for the ceremony script, but we were all completely unprepared when we saw just how many had assembled at the crematorium chapel which seats 85. With mourners standing at the back and filling one outer lobby area, the doors needed to be kept open so that everyone could hear. We calculated there were close to 200 present - double the capacity the chapel could hold.

We had been allocated a double slot at the crematorium which not only enabled all three children to pay their own tributes to their father without any sense of rush or pressure, but allowed for the orderly filing in of all the mourners, and the filing out afterwards so that each and every one could pay their respects at the coffin.

I was thanked afterwards not only by the family, but by the funeral director who wrote to me later, mentioning that dealing with so many mourners might have been chaos, were it not for my calm manner.

The second funeral also turned out to be unexpectedly different. Two years previously when I conducted the funeral of my client's mother, by necessity and out of respect for his father's grief and health, the funeral was brief and simple, but appropriate to the situation. With the family choosing beautiful pieces of classical music to reflect the couple's shared love of music, the funeral was personal and touching, but the shortest I have ever taken, yet again I was thanked in writing by the family who commented that it was the simplest and most apt ceremony they had ever attended.

This time for the father, we were able to give the time and words that he deserved. An ex serving police officer, his coffin was covered in the National Association of Retired Police Officers' drape and his maroon Normandy Veterans beret placed above it. Once again, beautiful pieces of classical music had been chosen by the family who were very specific that the coffin should be placed in the chapel before mourners were seated, something they felt gave greater serenity. I could only agree.

The Band of the Royal Marines playing 'A Life on the Ocean Wave' was the family's choice for the Moment of Reflection, chosen to reflect their loved one's naval career.

Working for several weeks with the son who provided such helpful details for the Eulogy, we had the opportunity to give extra time not only to the planning but to the content of the service. When I sent him my first draft of the script, he replied by return, with very few amendments, commenting that it was an excellent first draft and very accurate.

He gave the Tribute on the day, speaking, without notes, movingly and understandingly about his father for almost five minutes.

It was another full chapel, with mostly elderly mourners, possibly more used to religious funerals, but the feedback afterwards as I shook hands with everyone was greatly humbling and heartening with such comments that it was very apt, that he would have approved, and it was very moving. When the son wrote to me a few days later to thank me, he mentioned how many of those who spoke to him afterwards commented on how lovely the service was.

Working again with one of my favourite funeral directors, this was another seamless, dignified and perfectly organised funeral, with the utmost respect shown not only to the departed, but to those living too.

With very grateful thanks to both families for entrusting celebrations of their loved ones lives to me a second time, and to Deric Scottt Funeral Directors for their co-operation and instructions and Alan Rice Tapper from Tapper Funeral Services.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day.


Scattering of ashes

By Diana

The scattering of ashes in public spaces and beauty spots is declining in popularity due in part to environmental reasons and the fact that often this final act of laying ashes to rest has to be done cloak and dagger style while no-one is looking or because those entrusted with the task want to do so in as much privacy as possible.

I had the task 20 years ago while on holiday with my family of scattering my uncle's ashes in the churchyard in compliance with his request. We had chosen a fine spot in the churchyard with beautiful views across a Cornish bay, but had not factored in the direction of coastal winds. A gust of wind and the presence of others in the churchyard at the same time has been our abiding memory, despite following his wishes to the letter.

It is perhaps understandable that in the intervening years, the scattering of ashes has declined in popularity. Far more environmentally friendly is the interment of ashes in family graves (permission must first be obtained from the Church Council) or purchasing a separate, small plot for the interment of ashes in woodland burial grounds which offer pleasant and tranquil places to visit for family who may want to sit quietly with their loved ones on anniversaries and special times of the year, or just when they want the comfort of being still and feeling close to their loved one.

This closeness in a peaceful sanctuary aids the healing of sadness and grief. I have several friends who visit their parents' resting place in woodland memorial gardens regularly and have seen firsthand how this helps ease their sadness and loss. It gives them and their children a permanent place to visit and pay their respects. Using bio-degradable caskets, this is a far more environmentally friendly solution to the scattering of ashes, unless the scattering is done at sea.

Several ferry companies and charter boat companies offer a very discreet service to allow family members to scatter ashes at sea either when en route to a destination or by special charter, quietly and diplomatically overseen by a member of the crew.

Interestingly since I started writing this, there was an article in one of the weekend newspapers about an elderly widower who lost his wife after 65 years. They had made a pact many years earlier, at the wife's suggestion, that when they both died, their ashes should be mixed together and laid to rest in the same casket so that they could be together even after death.

The wife had now died, and the husband found some comfort in keeping her ashes at home with him, knowing that his would one day join hers and he could honour the pact they had made. He describes the casket containing her ashes, which is held in a pretty floral bag, and he takes comfort from her close proximity. His wife didn't want her ashes scattered, but wanted them mingled with her husband's so that they could be together for eternity.

Reading this article, I wondered how many of us have the same vision and foresight as this couple. We are often encouraged to decide on a resting place for the ashes of a loved one, without giving thought to the spouse or partner who may one day want to share the same resting place and "be together for eternity". Once a scattering has taken place, this is no longer possible in the literal sense. Great thought and foresight needs to be given to the final resting places of all remains, but especially ashes, if a scattering is chosen in an unmarked spot, but how often do we consider that couples may want to stay together for eternity? The sharing of a casket is a touching way to do this, and to recognise the unbroken bond of marriage even after death.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day


Funeral Planning

By Diana

Planning your own funeral may seem macabre, or scary, or a task that is only ever undertaken by mourners after your death, but more and more people are considering this as part of the process of making a Will or taking out funeral insurance.

Thinking about what happens after we die is daunting, but, as from the 1st October, and as part of its national consumer campaign, the Law Society has been reminding people of the importance of using a solicitor to make a Will. Intestacy rules govern how an estate is divided should you die without making a Will. There are new provisions brought in under the Inheritance and Trustees' Powers Act 2014 which change the way a person's estate is divided if they should die without a valid Will and have a surviving spouse or civil partner. Should you die without a valid will and are separated - but not divorced - your estranged partner will inherit more than your children. If you do not have children, your partner or civil partner will inherit your entire estate.

If you are considering reviewing your Will or drafting a new one, I would strongly urge you to also give consideration to your funeral planning. Many people pay into a funeral fund, but until recently, few actually gave thought to how they would like their funeral conducted, where, by whom and the content they would like included in their ceremony.

I was recently approached by a mourner after I had conducted her friend's funeral at our local crematorium. After exiting the chapel, I was waiting quietly to say goodbye to the family before leaving when she came up to me to thank me for the funeral saying she was now going to a lot of funerals but this was the nicest she had been to and it was exactly what she would like when her time came. She gave me her address and asked me to write to her with my details, which I duly did, sending information for planning her own ceremony in advance, and choosing her own content, which would be lodged with her solicitor alongside her Will.

For several years, this is a service I have been offering, believing that even in death, all should have the opportunity to have a funeral service which reflects their personality, spirit and personal tastes. Very often, especially if a death is sudden, the remaining family members are dealing with their own shock and sadness. We only have one chance to organise and design a funeral service and it's important that we get it right the first time, for our own peace of mind and out of respect for our loved ones.

I first had experience of this when a greatly loved bachelor uncle died and left written instructions covering everything connected to his funeral. His written wishes included his preferred funeral directors, that he would like a Church service with viewing beforehand, his own selection of Bible readings and his express wishes for the scattering of his ashes after cremation.

This forward planning relieved any one family member of the responsibility of conceiving and organising the funeral, while coping with their own sadness and loss, and ensured his express wishes were followed without any misunderstandings, deviation or personal influence.

There is much to think and decide about when planning a funeral, bearing in mind the wishes and needs both of the loved one who has died, and the family and friends who need to feel they have not only fulfilled the wishes of their loved one but also met their own needs for mourning and grieving. Planning your own funeral in advance can alleviate much of the difficulty and uncertainty experienced by your family and friends, and enable all concerned to focus on celebrating the life that has ended and moving on with the lives that are still to come.

For more information about all types of civil ceremonies, please see Diana's Diary at Grace the Day