Funerals Need to Be Respectful, Legal and Dignified

There is so much choice when planning a funeral these days but generally funerals need to be respectful, legal and dignified. Having land, wanting to be buried there and then feeling the need to share my privilege with others, set me on the road to starting a woodland burial site.

The practicalities were very straightforward and within 6 months we had our first burial at Tarn Moor in Nov 2002.
The pleasure of being able to share and guide the principle of natural burial was overwhelming.
Within only a month of opening, a family had asked me to help them plan and prepare a funeral, one they wanted to be in control of. They asked me to lead the ceremony. I arranged outside music, we decorated the coffin and grave surround together and I still smile when I think how I bartered with the limousine company because we only needed a hearse for 15 minutes!  This was the start of many wonderful, personal and fitting funerals, with tears and smiles, live music, dancing, fly pasts by spitfires, and picnics, to mention but a few.
It was with excitement that I then put my creative mind to the test when asked to make a shroud. I now have my own design, which can be made to the family’s specific requirement, sometimes with their own outer fabric.
On one occasion a lady was delighted to see a shroud pictured in my file. Her husband had a full size green hide on his office wall and always used to joke “when I die, wrap me in that and throw me in the ground”.  Which is exactly what we did – well not quite! I prepared the under part and she and her friend came and fastened the hide to make the finished shroud.  A friend drove her & husband over to the burial ground in their old Bedford van. They were a little early to arrive so they called for a cuppa at a roadside van. The van owner was very friendly and asked “Are you on holiday?”  er …. No. “Ave you come to Skipton shopping?”  er … No.  Then it came out – “Actually we are on our way to a funeral” – “Anyone you know?” she asked. “Well actually it’s my husband and he’s in the van!” They proceeded to tell this jaw dropped lady about the shroud and forthcoming ceremony, and laughed all the way to Tarn Moor.  Although tinged with sadness, she rang to say what a wonderful day they’d had!
After setting up and running the award winning burial ground at Skipton for 9 years, I have now become an Independent Eco-friendly Green Funeral Director and funeral celebrant.
In 2011 I was very busy with both Tarn Moor and my funeral directing.  It was at this time that tragedy hit my own family. My pregnant, newly wed daughter of 7 months lost her dear husband to a motorbike accident.  With baby coming 2 months early I knew I needed to let something go, to care for my own family and me.  I decided then to concentrate on being a ‘green funeral director’.  I now have time for my family and also devote myself to a wonderful job.

My business logo came from this situation. ‘Rosemary for remembrance – Lavender for healing’

The only regret in my job/vocation is that I didn’t come into it earlier in my life. I have been so privileged to meet such wonderful families and be able to guide them through many very special farewells.

I tell people funerals need to be respectful legal and dignified. Preparation for ‘A good funeral’ is probably one of the most important events and of course it is the last gesture that can be done for someone you love. There is no practice and no rehearsal, but so many small and personal things can be done that help the grieving process. I have noticed over the last 12 years how more people are aware of pre-planning their funeral and making their own ideas work.  This is something I am involved with on a regular basis and I am now delighted to offer a pre-payment funeral plan in conjunction with The Ethical Funeral Plans Trust.   A plan that is transparent and personal, allowing payment for specific needs.  It is wonderful to see how more people are talking and being pro-active in planning their funerals and are so much more aware of the environment.  The importance of knowing they, as a family, is in control, not the funeral director.

I don’t see myself in direct competition with traditional funeral directors as I specialise in Woodland funerals, biodegradable coffins, handmade bespoke shrouds, and floral tributes from the hedgerow.  I suppose I am quite unique, as I don’t think there are many funeral directors who plan and lead the ceremony, or call their chapel of rest, ‘the departure lounge’!!

Of course, funerals need to be respectful legal and dignified. I believe it is important to be able to personally follow each stage with the family and not delegate. I encourage family involvement and attention to detail at every step.

I have now arranged and conducted 15 cremations, something I didn’t anticipate, but I can still offer ‘green’ guidance.  The first was for my own brother, which was very emotional and difficult (especially taking the ceremony), but extremely rewarding knowing that I was fulfilling his wishes.

Article by Wendy Clarkson

This article was orginally published in More to Death, the official magazine to The Natural Death Centre.

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