One of our aims at A Natural Undertaking is to help families to have greater involvement on the run up to, and during the funeral – if that’s what they would like. All too often families will find that everything is “taken care of”, leaving them little room to express their loss or share it meaningfully with each other at a time where it should be so important to do this. We also encourage people to think about and discuss their funerals with their families in advance. This is so that the people who are left can feel confident that they are doing what the person they love would have wanted.
We are very grateful to Stephen, Victoria and Millie for sharing their story below and hope that it will help and inspire others to make the most of a time that nobody wants, but that all of us at some point may have to experience…
During the summer of 2016 Rachael discovered that the cancer we all hoped had been treated, had returned, and was not going to be cured. After more time and treatment passed, ever the organiser, Rachael decided that she needed to take steps to plan her funeral.
She’d heard about A Natural Undertaking through a friend at work and also through a cancer group that she was part of: Solihull Breast Friends, and decided to do some online research. Once she was satisfied that she knew what she wanted, she set about finding readings, poems and music for the funeral with all three of us and we typed up an outline of a service. She then invited A Natural Undertaking for an interview.
Interviewing the Undertaker
Rachael and Stephen met with Fran during Rachael’s illness to discuss her funeral whilst having a cup of tea in the comfort of her own home. It was a very hard conversation to have, but, as ever, Rachael was very specific about what she wanted and the pre-planning and discussions helped to guide the conversation. Fran’s open and sensitive attitude also was helpful – it didn’t feel a strange conversation at all to be having with her.
Fran brought with her lots of examples of funerals that she and Carrie had been a part of, including pictures of locations, coffins and flower arrangements. Rachael was then able to choose and personalise her funeral exactly the way she wanted, selecting an oval English Willow coffin and her favourite flowers. We felt that the funeral arrangements were tailor made for Rachael, and because Fran had met with her, we knew that she understood as well as us what Rachael wanted, whilst still offering original ideas that we had not thought of.
Knowing that we had planned the funeral as a family took away a huge amount of stress as we knew that once Rachael had gone we would know exactly what she wanted. It also meant that we could share our ideas with her too.
Acknowledging what’s happened
After Rachael died peacefully at home Fran told us to treasure the time with her, and not to rush for her to be taken away. We were able to do this, sitting with her and talking to her without feeling rushed or under pressure, along with her own mum, dad and close family.
After a few days had passed we chose some clothes and ensured that Fran and Carrie had Rachael’s essential blue mascara, and on our visit to see her in the chapel of rest, she looked peaceful and exactly as she always did.
Starting to plan
Fran came back round to the house to make sure the plans Rachael had discussed with her a few weeks earlier were still correct. She sat with us whilst we looked through examples of orders of service and discussed the most suitable style and content for Rachael’s service so that she could design this for us.
Fran and Carrie had lots of contacts up their sleeves for printers and flowers, so we did not have to worry about trying to find Blue Brodia at the wrong time of year. This made the arrangements a lot easier for us as we knew it was in capable hands. It freed us up to do the things that were important to us.
The important things
We decided in true Rachael style (she loved craft, and had been a Brown Owl at a local Brownie pack), that we would hand make the invitations to the funeral. We spent quite a while together at Hobbycraft choosing our materials carefully and then spent all afternoon ink printing our chosen design on the front, colouring and writing our messages inside.
During this time, we were able to share our memories of Rachael/mum, remembering and smiling about how she would have loved to be involved in doing this craft. This was a special time for us as it made us feel close to her and to each other. When family and friends received their invitations, they really appreciated that they were handmade, that it was something that Rachael would have liked, and that it really reminded them of her.
Fran also brought up things we hadn’t even thought about, such as message tags which were sent out along with the invitation to the funeral. Here friends could write personal messages to Rachael to place on her coffin during the funeral service. Everyone after the funeral said this was a lovely idea that they had not come across before, enabling them to be more involved in the service and to say their own private goodbyes at the same time.
We felt as if Fran and Carrie became part of our family at this difficult time, as they were always on hand with a personal touch, kind words and a genuine interest in fulfilling Rachael’s wishes. We felt as though Rachael’s funeral was special to them too.
Mum came home to us on the morning of her funeral, allowing us time to chat with her whilst we decorated her coffin with the bunting and flowers she had requested, supplementing them with bluebells from our garden.
This gave us time to say our final goodbyes in our own home surrounded by close family.
Carrie and Fran appreciated that we needed to say these goodbyes on our own, leaving us to our own personal thoughts, returning later to be subjected to more interviews from other family members who were so impressed they wanted to book themselves in!
The service itself went exactly as Rachael /mum would have wished, we were even able to travel from our home to the crematorium in the car with her.
We booked a double slot to give ourselves plenty of time – as it was we needed every second of it! Whilst Rachael had estimated the timings of the music and the readings (she really was very specific!) she had underestimated just how many people loved her and would attend the service.
Whilst we can never be happy that we have had to say goodbye to Rachael/mum we feel that we used the time that we had in the best way that we could. We feel proud that we did it in a way that we know she approved of, and that we even added in a few of our own things that would have made her smile.
Our thoughts on pre-planning the funeral
When Rachael said she wanted to meet with ‘A Natural Undertaking’ I was frightened at the thought of the approaching death of my wife and perhaps my own mortality too. During and following that meeting, whilst still being scared at the thought of death, I knew that Fran and Carrie would ensure that my wife’s wishes were carried out as she had wanted. That they would be carried out by caring and sincere people that both she and I felt understood us, and who we could trust as friends who have helped our family at a very difficult time before, during and after the funeral.
Given this confidence to face matters, I went on to interview the vicar, to request that he step off the C of E authorised order of sermon, prayers and committal, to write a service and make it specific and personal to Rachael. Father Simon also delivered above and beyond expectations.
Discussion of the key matters of Rachael’s funeral with the key participants avoided any disappointments that may have arisen due to lack of thought and planning, but more importantly helped us to realise that it is acceptable to be fearful, to cry and be sad, but also to know that we would be cared for and respected at the time of our deaths, and that our families would be supported thereafter.