Funerals are an opportunity to say a last farewell to a loved one while celebrating everything that made them so special.
It is a chance for families to get together and remember, for friends to share memories and to grieve.
The Church of England in Suffolk has conducted services for hundreds of years, giving families the opportunity to reflect and to get some closure.
Mary Sokanovic, Priest in charge of Whitton and Thurleston with Akenham, says the expertise and sense of community the church provides gives families a way of saying a proper goodbye to their loved ones.
“Good endings and good beginnings are really important to our emotional, psychological and spiritual wellbeing,” she said. “All cultures mark beginnings and endings in specific ways. When holding a service with the Church of England we take it gently and slowly. I think our rootedness in the community and the place where we have lived our life is very important. We are there for the journey of life. We are there for baptisms, christenings, marriages".
She continues "We are also incredibly flexible – speaking for myself and I know many of my colleagues - you don’t need to have hymns; you can choose any music you like. Very often, we can now live stream funeral services too. I have concerns for people who choose a direct cremation that they don’t get that proper closure, bringing people together in celebration of a loved one’s life".
“With the church you get support before the service, such as accompanying someone to see their deceased relative if they are anxious, and after, like working with the family’s children to help them understand what is happening. We are there for them every step of the way.”
Peter Girt, 67, from Ipswich, lost his wife Sally in February shortly after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer. A service was held at Whitton Church on March 31 to a packed congregation.
Peter said: “Our family have a strong connection to Whitton Church – we were married there, our children were Christened there, and son and daughter were married there. On top of that, Sally’s parents were married there, and her grandparents are buried there too. We don’t attend Whitton regularly, but it holds a very special place for our family. Mary is one of the most caring, sympathetic, and compassionate people around. It is the little touches in the service that make all the difference. I remember at one point my son was doing a reading and towards the last sentences he was getting quite emotional. At that point I saw Mary’s hand come across and rest on his shoulder, it is moments like that which make such a big difference, it was very touching.”
Angela Chappell’s mother Pat Burgess died in May aged 92, with her funeral held on May 23.
“We felt that it was important for all of the family that we had something that marked that this was the end of Mum’s life,” she said.
“It was very important for her grandchildren and great grandchildren too, as they were very close. This was something Mary has very good understanding of, the importance of the ritual that gives that very clear signal of closure. We are not a particularly religious family, and none of us regular church-goers, but this was a really significant and positive experience for us. Our family is very pragmatic and down to earth so we did look at direct cremations as Mum was a person who would say she didn’t wany any fuss – that may suit some people, it’s up to the family. I have spoken to my oldest son about this too. He said he found it really important to have something that was a final point to the whole family together along with mum’s surviving friends. We also wanted to include the dedicated carers from Emily Bray House who contributed so much to Mum's happiness and wellbeing over the last years of her life. Speaking afterwards, we felt we had made the right decision – we could picture further down the line people thinking ‘is that it? It is all well and good saying you can have a party afterwards, but I think many people, like us, need that formality and the comfort it brings.”
The Revd May Sokanovic said: “The thing you have in church is hope, the great Christian tradition of hope that the person will live on in hearts and minds as well as in the life beyond this life. There’s a great confusion - people don’t understand because we are the established church, everyone in the parish is allowed to ask by right for a minister. They do not even have to have come to the church in their lifetime. We also always invite people back for our annual service of remembrance. It can be very difficult, but it is very important. It’s about people’s phycological and spiritual health, with a message of hope and togetherness.”
Visit our webpage on bereavement for more information.