From the family of Annie Valentine
Carrying our Mum, Annie Valentine, in a beautiful eco bamboo coffin topped with orange tulips and snap dragons, up through the woods to the Woodvale crematorium felt like such a tender way to accompany her as we prepared to say farewell. The walk up through the Victorian cemetery was magical, wild and full of birdsong. Such a touching, communal gesture of working together to carry Annie not only helped us to connect with a sense of journeying and preparation, but also with each other – the group of folk, family and friends, who had gathered together on that day to say goodbye.
ARKA have supported us so brilliantly, several times now, to say goodbye to loved ones in ways that have felt so utterly connecting, human and real. With heartfelt and enduring thanks, Jane
Marilyn & Raymond Blackwood
When Cara first asked me if I would like to be involved in the willow weaving for my husband’s coffin, I was hesitant but then something came over me that made me think it would be a lovely thing to do. Cara came and collected me in her car, like a friend. The weaving workshop is located in a barn near Ditchling, below the hills of the South Downs. When I walked into the workshop, the coffin was already there, ready for me to work on and the feeling I had at that moment is difficult to describe. The barn felt cold, but the welcome was so warm and friendly that I was made to feel at ease immediately. Sitting in this welcoming place of creativity helped me to disassociate the funeral that was due to take place from the work I was about to do. The willow was woven through a loom-like structure, as I sat intertwining each piece I found it soothing. So, while I felt emotional knowing that I was taking part in creating my husband’s last resting place in my own small way, it gave me comfort.
Friends and family who attended my husband’s funeral commented on how beautiful and natural the coffin looked and when they heard that I’d had the opportunity to be involved in its making they were touched. I would encourage anyone to try this for themselves, it creates a unique connection during a difficult process, a personal parting gift for your loved one.
We really appreciated ARKA’s service, from the initial visit to view and advise about Denée’s garden resting place site, through to their sensitivity regarding the timing of the invoice. We were guided gently and enabled to organize at our own pace, in our own way, with confidence.
Not only did ARKA Original Funerals collect Denée from hospital and look after her in the serenity of their Brighton room for a week, but we were enabled to continue to care for her during this time too. All our senses were considered, with the provision of soft lights and music, essential oils of our choice with which to massage Denée with after gently bathing her. Then a day or so before being brought home, we were able to dress Denée in her favourite clothes. So meaningful.
ARKA then not only delivered Denée home in the coffin, but helped carry her up the hill to her garden studio where she rested overnight, bathed in the light of a full moon.
Denée loved a full moon.
The next morning the whole family, including 4 grandchildren decorated Deneé’s coffin whilst she lay there in dappled shade. Even Denée’s youngest grandchild (5 years) gently held Denée’s hand before we lowered Denée into her resting place. As we had no time constraints we were able to let the day unfold gently. The birdsong was amazing and chalk downland blue butterflies danced. So beautiful.
Denée would have loved it all and it could hardly have been more perfect except for one thing – there was so much more to share and love with Denée, alive.
Daily since, we have been able to go and spend time beside Denée and can even see where she lies from the bathroom window, which is especially great for days when John can’t make it up the hillside garden. We are slowly sculpting the chalk around Denée in a spiral form akin to the ammonite fossils we found when creating her resting place.
We are also starting to build an invertebrate habitat and hibernation structure incorporating some of the wonderful found objects that Denée had gathered with the potential to use in her paintings. She would be really pleased about this and would have loved to have shared in both these processes. Actually, it feels like she is. We feel so very fortunate to be able to do this and it really feels like a positive part of the grieving process.
Tiny seedlings are sprouting on the ground over Denée – probably of the adjacent downland species that were in flower when Denée was laid to rest – starting the process of renewal and succession to biodiversity.
My mum, Edie, was 87 and died of cancer in Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford, Kent.
Edie had not left any specific instructions or wishes for her funeral. We decided to arrange a woodland burial for her, at the Deerton Natural Burial Ground in Kent, the county where she had spent the majority of her later years.
It was very important to me to know that after her death her body would be cared for and respected and I wanted her close in Brighton, rather than remote in Dartford, so we approached ARKA Original Funerals to find out what the possibilities were and explore what our options for the funeral might be.
We’re very ‘hands on’ people, so we were thrilled to learn that, with Cara’s help, we could take full control and effectively create a complete ‘do-it-yourself’ funeral.
That meant that my husband drove with Cara to collect my mother from the mortuary at Darent Valley Hospital, he signed for her body, and with Cara’s lead and guidance, helped to wrap her and bring her back to Brighton.
I was able to arrange visits to ARKA when I wanted and, with Cara’s help, guidance and support, to oil and dress Edie and see her placed in her coffin, the night before her funeral.
A particularly personal moment that I treasure was holding and massaging my Mum’s hands with perfumed oils. I was so pleased to spend that time caring for her before I finally let her go.
On the morning of the funeral, we collected Mum from ARKA’s Islingword Road office and rented one of ARKA’s 6 seater cars, to drive to the woodland site in Kent. My son and daughter travelled in the car with us alongside Mum’s coffin, plus the balloons, champagne, candles and a gazebo that we also had for the ceremony.
We were met and supported at key moments by the team at Deerton, where, over the next couple of relaxed hours, as the larger family gathered, we were able to dress the coffin with flowers, carry it to the graveside, run the service we wanted, and finally lower Edie into the ground.
It was a fantastic and unforgettable goodbye to my Mum. Life with her hadn’t always been easy, but what we were able to create was a thoughtful, personal and very unique ceremony, which went a long way for my brothers and me to have the gracious farewell we needed.
That it took place was without doubt, because of the care and support we had from Cara, who not only empowered us, but also provided the space, time and information we needed to think everything through and make it the most personal funeral that we could.
I know my Mum would have been so pleased and proud of us for what we did.
Karen was a really good friend to a lot of people, she was fun, interesting and intelligent. The one thing about Karen was that deep down she was quite a troubled soul and learned to cope with her demons by drinking too much, she kept this secret from her friends and family. The more she drank, the less she slept, the more tired she got, the more anxious she was. Eventually Karen’s body had enough and she ended up in hospital, unlike a lot of people who manage to recover from the damage that alcohol can do, her body gave up and after about 2 months of treatment she died, she was only 44. Everyone was so shocked and saddened by the loss of Karen, she was such a good friend to so many people, people found it hard to believe that this could have happened and felt guilty that we didn’t do enough to try to help her, it was a really difficult time for everybody that knew her.
Karen’s family organised a funeral for her which her friends and family attended. Most funerals happen a week or two after someone has died, so everyone was still in shock at the time.
After a year or two her closest friends still felt really sad and felt like they hadn’t really had their own time to say goodbye to their dear friend so we organised a memorial.
Karen loved trees and in particular leaves, she had a lot of fun in Tilgate Park in Crawley when she younger so we decided that we would go there to say a proper goodbye to our friend. We asked the amazing celebrant Belinda Chapman to put a ceremony together for us, she met with us and we talked about Karen. Belinda prepared some words to say to open our ceremony but as there were only to be about 5 or 6 people there she suggested that we walk around, stop at key points where individually we would take a few minutes to talk about the Karen we knew. I decided to sing a song for Karen, I chose the Tom Robinson classic ‘glad to be gay’, not my favourite song in the world but it summed up a time where we were first empowered about being gay, we were political, going to Gay Pride in London for the first time – heady days and a lot of fun. Some people told stories about her, played a couple of records for her. We cried, we laughed, looked up to the sky, toasted her with a drink or two (yes even though it was the thing that killed her – we thought it fitting!). Belinda invited us to gather little bits and bobs along the way, lovely little bits of bark or leaves that had fallen on the forest floor. We came to a spot by a really beautiful oak tree and decided that we would make a little alter with all the bits that we collected, we ended our ceremony there, we dug a small hole where we buried the words of the ceremony, words to songs and other bits that we felt Karen would like. It was there that I said goodbye to my friend, as painful as it was at the time I felt released from the sadness and pain that I was feeling, now even as I write this I feel the sadness but it’s changed, I now remember her with love and smile at all the good times that we had. I would do anything in the world to get her back but accept that this cannot happen.
I guess that when someone dies suddenly the shock of this can last a long time, holding a memorial in your own time can really help in the healing process, help to make sense of things and to help you move forward in positive way.
The sudden, tragic loss of our beloved son led us to a devastating realisation that his funeral arrangements would have to be made at a time when we could barely function in our everyday lives. In fact, we had an overwhelming sense of dread about our inadequacy to provide our son a proper and fitting farewell.
However, from the moment we stepped into ARKA and met Sarah at Islingword Road, we had an immediate cessation to all those fears. It was as if we had entered a serene and beautiful world which helped prevent our despair from completely overwhelming us.
We saw our son at ARKA and he was in such a state of peace – it was such a comfort to know that he was in the most sensitive hands.
ARKA helped us, with such empathy and true sincerity, to organise a funeral for our son, which truly was a wonderful celebration of his life. It was personal and unique to him and that was so important to us. We were able, family and friends, to carry him from the wonderful secluded chapel in Woodvale up through the wooded grounds to his final place of rest and each of the near one hundred mourners were able to say a final, individual, farewell.
In the days following the funeral we were inundated with messages telling us that our son’s funeral was the most meaningful service they had ever attended.
For us, despite our overwhelming loss, we were able to take such great comfort that we had given our son the very best send off we possibly could and for this we will be ever grateful to ARKA.
Thank you so much Sarah.
Pat & Terry Kilburn
I have lost 2 of my closest friends in recent years and although one was quite recently I feel I can look back with enough clarity to be able to talk about my experiences with Arka on both occasions. The first time was the very sudden death of my closest & longest friend, he had family and a very busy business & associates network so there were a lot of people who would be attending, I personally did not organise the funeral arrangements but I was consulted and within that role I decorated his Cardboard Coffin for the Cremation – My one to one dealings with the staff concerning dropping off and the collecting the coffin were very supportive, accommodating, flexible and thorough. The service itself was attended by hundreds and there was a Walk with mourners behind the coffin on a Beir, through a very busy and potentially dangerous Road route to the Crematorium. The Arka Staff handled this as thoughtfully & safely as any Police or other official organisation. I cannot thank them enough for all their understanding & patience.
My second experience in many ways could not be more different- not in the way Arka & their staff dealt with arrangements but in that my close friend who died had no immediate family I became his NOK in order to organise and register his death, attend to his estate and organise the funeral – all whilst under current Covid regulations. It was a very daunting task not just to do all the necessary things such as legal requirements concerning property, banking and legacy issues but to also organise the actual funeral itself – Arka staff could not have been more supportive, helpful, respectful & thorough in the way they assisted me in pulling all the different strands together so the funeral came together perfectly on the day. I personally wrote some music & collated a photo slide show arranging the music and the staff were completely in control with it – without ever being intrusive, were always happy to talk & be flexible if these were changed or required equipment. Having to attend to & arrange funerals is not easy whomever you are and whomever you choose to direct it, but I know that on both these desperately sad times Arka were professional, friendly, more than helpful and gracious in their handling of both very different occasions. Occasions where most people find it very difficult to either attend at all or organise the entire event, were realised in a way befitting of the deceased and the grieving family or a group of friends coming together to plan & arrange a fitting & ‘homemade’ send off for one of their own. I know one thing for sure, Arka will be attending to my funeral as & when it’s my time and I feel calm & happy that I will be in safe, sensitive, organised professional hands that are so understanding & caring toward the bereaved.