When Jean passed away, her family knew that she wanted to be buried in an existing plot with her son. But issues with ownership meant the family had to take a different approach.
“Mom was the most family-oriented woman you’d ever meet,” says Richard. “She’d always said she wanted to be buried with my brother, who passed away when he was 15. When we found out we didn’t have the rights to the grave, we were devastated. We had to think of a way to make things work.”
Jean loved her family. She was a highly organised woman and kept important paperwork in a tin box for years – birth certificates, death certificates… all the important documents belonging to her grandparents, parents, and children. She’d also taken out life insurance and made her funeral wishes clear to her two sons, Richard and Rob. Sadly, when she passed, it quickly became clear that she didn’t have the paperwork she needed to be buried in the grave she had in mind.
Jean’s wish was to be buried with her first son. He was buried in Robin Hood Cemetery in 1983, after passing away unexpectedly at the age of 15. Jean’s husband had paid for a double plot to allow this to happen.
However, in the years that followed, Jean’s husband became estranged from the rest of the family. Nobody had heard from him in over 40 years. But as he paid for the grave and could potentially still be alive, the family were unable to bury Jean in the plot she’d wished for without his consent.
Richard and Rob were determined to find a way to lay Jean to rest in the plot with their brother. “We were in touch with the cemetery. Rob spent weeks researching Ancestry archives and parish records trying to find information about our Dad. We contacted local MPs and councils. But we couldn’t find a trace of him and everyone was bound by legislation.”
At this point, the family knew that they would need to take a different approach and decided to switch funeral directors. They got in touch with Roger at Hickton Funeral Directors, who arranged to collect Jean and presented the family with some alternative options.
The family ultimately decided to hold a cremation. “Mom’s biggest wish was to be buried in that plot. We didn’t want to put her in a grave a few fields across in the cemetery. So, we decided to have a cremation instead. That way, when we gain rights to the grave, we’ll be able to bury her where she wanted. We’ll hold a second service where we’ll bury the ashes and add her name to the stone.”
Of course, the funeral itself went a little differently to what the family originally expected. As Jean couldn’t yet be buried at Robin Hood Cemetery, the family decided to hold her service and cremation at Woodlands Cemetery, which was closer for family and friends to attend.
Joy Smith, a celebrant recommended by Hickton Funeral Directors, arranged to meet with Richard to get to know more about Jean. “We met at Aunt Betty’s house. Her and my mom were inseparable, so I wanted her there too. She could share memories from their childhood and youth that me and my brother wouldn’t have known about.”
The family held a traditional service with around 50 guests. “Roger at Hickton’s was a diamond. He guided us through every step.” Jean used to wear dark blue to important occasions – weddings and important dinners – so Richard and Rob chose to have her cremated in blue and added blue flowers and ribbons to the floral wreath for the coffin.
“Mom wasn’t overly religious, but was in her younger life, so Aunt Betty recommended some hymns. We chose 'Oh, Lord My God! When I in Awesome Wonder' and 'O Jesus I Have Promised'. We all knew what the reading would be. My mom kept a poem on a plaque by her bedside for her whole life after my brother passed away. It’s called ‘Footprints in the Sand’ and talks about how God will carry you through hard times. My daughter Lauren read it beautifully.”
For music, the family chose some of Jean’s favourites. She was a big Elvis fan, so the ceremony opened with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and closed with ‘American Trilogy’. For reflection time in the middle of the service, ‘Jesus to a Child’ by George Michael played.
Richard’s tips if you’re planning a funeral
“People tend to avoid talking about funerals. It’s something that we avoid, and hope will never actually come around. But it’s so important to open a conversation and talk to people about what you want. Make a will and let your wishes be known. Check you have the right paperwork. Take the steps you need to before the time comes. Because when it happens your head’s in a blur, up in the clouds. Having everything ready will help you make better and more informed decisions.
“When it comes to actually planning the funeral, try to talk to all the people who were close with the person who’s passed away. They’ll know little details about the person that you might not have known. Favourite songs from their childhood, small wishes that they might not have mentioned to you. All the information can pull together to get the funeral right.
“It’s good to think about finances too. I’m a car salesman, so I’m used to haggling with customers. But nobody seems to think about shopping around and getting the best price for a funeral. I was surprised to see the difference in cost between different directors for similar services, so it’s always worth a look.”
Image credit: All images kindly supplied by Richard.
To thank Richard for sharing his story, we’ve made a contribution to the British Heart Foundation in memory of Jean.