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Last Wishes Workshop in Horsham

Last Wishes Workshop

Published on 1st September 2019

Like so many others who have lost a loved one, Clare Davison was faced with having to organise a funeral at a time when she was grieving her husband. 

Fortunately, Clare had given some thought to arrangements having attended a Last Wishes Workshop held at Sedgwick Park House. The workshop, hosted by Jean Francis, an Interfaith Minister and Spiritual Counsellor from Horsham, had outlined the many ways in which a funeral can be less sombre and more a celebration of life. 

Jean explained to a small group how grieving families are not limited to expensive coffins, church services and gleaming hearses. People can be buried in a painted cardboard box and transported in a modified Only Fools and Horses Robin Reliant if they wish. Our ashes can be cast adrift aboard a miniature Viking boat lit by blazing arrows. The options offered by alternative funeral specialists meant that when it came to organising her husband’s funeral, Clare created a unique service with the help of Dandelion Farewells, a local funeral company Jean recommended.

“When Jean held the workshop three years ago, she brought with her a beautifully painted cardboard coffin. I have always found old wooden coffins with creaking lids absolutely terrifying, so I loved this idea. We had a really open discussion and were all asked to write down our thoughts for our own funeral.”

“When John died 18 months ago, I was in a terrible state and didn’t know what to do. He wasn't a religious person and hadn’t expressed feelings about his own funeral. He just trusted me to arrange it. Remembering the workshop, I ordered a simple white cardboard coffin for only £200 and asked friends and family to send photos of John. Our nephew’s children spent hours helping me decorate the box with pictures. I stuck on a label of his favourite Chablis, while the children and my dogs put their hands and paw prints on it too. It was a joyous moment during a sad time, as everybody was talking about John.”

“I bought a jewellery box and lined it with purple satin, and this is where I keep John’s ashes. The funeral ended up being a quite beautiful experience. When it’s my time, I would like to be buried in a pink coffin with pink roses around me, and transported in a pink Cadillac! I find old-fashioned funerals fearful, especially for children, and it doesn’t need to be like that.” 

Natural Options

As pictured above, Jean Francis (far right) has since returned to Sedgwick Park to host further Last Wishes Workshops, always speaking to intimate groups of people. She presents information that many of us are not aware of. Like how ceremonies can be held at home or in a garden, that it’s possible to be buried on private land, and that costly wooden caskets are not an obligation.

One of Jean’s primary aims is to raise awareness of environmentally-friendly options, such as no embalming or natural  burial sites. People can even request that a tree is planted in their memory, to counteract harmful emissions during cremation. Attendants to workshops are given worksheets to complete, covering everything from insurance plans to their preferred funeral music. These sheets can later be used by relatives to ensure your wishes are adhered to. Another attendee at the workshop is Margaret Tyzack-More, who has been inspired to arrange an environmentally-friendly burial. “I'm going to be laid to rest in a willow coffin at Clayton Wood Natural Burial Ground in the South Downs,” she says. “At Clayton Wood, everything that goes in the ground is biodegradable, as am I. There’s no headstone, so ultimately, you’re just pushing up daisies!”

“By filling in the Last Wishes Workshop forms, you can tell those you leave behind how you want to be buried. These are people you love, so you don’t want them to have to worry about money or what kind of handles to put on the coffin!” 

Interfaith Minister 

Jean was initially inspired by two life-changing funerals, both pre-arranged by the elderly gentlemen involved, which she attended 25 years ago. These uplifting experiences led her to write a book, Time to Go, about the importance of saying ‘goodbye’. This was followed by two more pocket-sized books, Finishing Touches and Ashes and Memorials. 

Having moved to Horsham in 2002, Jean joined ARKA Funerals in Brighton, one of the first local companies to focus on ecological funeral choices. In her 10 years there, she learned how to personalise occasions with compassion and even drama. However, Jean understands that some ideas can lead to disagreements, having experienced this at her brother’s funeral.

“For the benefit of other relatives,  Jim’s funeral service included hymns and prayer,” recalls Jean. “But I felt that my cheeky little brother deserved a bit of sparkle. Working with a celebrant, I adapted a poem called On Angels’ Wings. My brother was a double amputee and was building a three-wheeled Harley Davidson. The poem was about him wearing his red bandana and riding among the stars. Just before the committal, as the curtain was rotating, I played a soundtrack of a Harley revving up, which was a brave thing to do. I wasn't sure what the reaction would be, but everyone smiled. My brother didn’t go to church and I think he’d have enjoyed that. That’s why attending a Last Wishes Workshop and expressing your own views is important.”

After leaving ARKA, Jean became a One Spirit Interfaith Minister, training with the One Spirit Foundation and being ordained on her 73rd birthday in 2012. As a Minister, Jean presents services for people of any faith or none at all, creating a ceremony that reflects an individual’s lifestyle, philosophy, hobbies and humour. 

“Many people are spiritual but not religious, so Interfaith Ministers can fill the gap between religion and Humanism,” she said. ”Traditionally, people haven’t been comfortable talking about death. But by planning ahead, a funeral ceremony can possess real healing power. It presents a wonderful opportunity to take responsibility for one’s departure. You can say, ‘thank you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ to someone.”

“Occasionally, in my role as a celebrant or minister, I meet people with their relatives too, which helps me understand the essence of a person. We look at photos and discuss memories to create a personal ceremony.” 

Changing Views 

Jean hopes that future generations will be more open when it comes to discussing death and that the funeral experience will become more celebratory and less costly.

“Some funeral companies have protocols and traditions. I respect that,” says Jean. “That suits a lot of people, but we shouldn’t all berestricted to a church or crematorium service. There are natural burial sites and basic packages which cost very little, which is a key message of my workshops.” 

“It’s taken my whole lifetime, but thankfully people are now asking questions and seeking a funeral service that reflects their life. The younger generations are more open-minded and social media is making them aware of options, particularly those that are less harmful to the environment.”

“Death seems to be the last taboo, yet it will affect every one of us sooner or later. If we think about sex, it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a baby any more than if we think about death we will drop down dead! So, my mission is to make the experience surrounding funerals a better and more gentle experience.”



For details of future Last Wishes Workshops in Horsham call on (01403) 273754. www.circleoflifecelebrations.co.uk/last-wishes-workshop/