Growing up, we were very much an ‘animal household’. At one time or another, we had every imaginable pet, including Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, stick insects, dogs, cats, horses, chickens, ducks, rats, rabbits and more. We had so many animals that we received visits from our school classes and local Guides groups, as well as countless friends.
As naturally happens, our animals passed away, one by one, and took-up their final resting places in our family garden (save for the horses and pigs!), close to where they lived and caused mayhem. Many of these were left to rest peacefully, but a number were disturbed by neighbourhood animals or garden re-landscaping.
Whilst living in Hove in 2010, I decided that my flat, and my life, were missing something and so I set about finding an animal companion. That summer I was lucky enough to come across a beautiful Netherland dwarf rabbit, later to become known as Lucy. She came home with me that afternoon and was the best companion for almost 12 years. Lucy lived free in my lounge and made it entirely her own. We referred to it as ‘Lucy's lounge’, as she was very much the boss of the domain. Lucy really came into her own during lockdown, when she became my ‘lockdown buddy’.
Lucy was full of love, enjoying head strokes and cuddles, as well as being feisty and endlessly naughty! When she decided it was time for strokes, Lucy would either (in her younger years) jump onto the sofa, or (in her later years), sit by the sofa and stare at me until I realised that my attention was required. She was intelligent and affectionate and knew how to get what she wanted.
By early 2022, Lucy was suffering from arthritis and on 27/01/22 I made the heart-rending decision to have her put down. This was performed by my local veterinary practice, who had provided Lucy with great care during her life and this level of care continued until the end. I was with Lucy & was stroking her head (her favourite thing in the world), as she slipped away.
The vet gave me several options for dealing with Lucy’s body, including taking her home with me, or sending her for group or individual cremation. I didn’t have a garden to bury her in and didn’t want her to be in a box on the mantelpiece for the rest of my life, which didn’t seem like a fitting end for a girl who was so full of life and naughtiness. And so, in the moment, and just wanting to get away from there, I opted for the group cremation.
As well as the grief, I also felt a lot of guilt for allowing Lucy to be sent for a group cremation. It made no difference to her, but I very much felt that I hadn’t given her the resting place that she deserved. During this period, and out of curiosity, I spent hours online, searching for alternatives to burial or cremation, as well as ways of making use of ashes. ‘Scatter tubes’ are one way to spread our loved ones’ ashes. There are also specialist planters, where the ashes and a plant can be added, and the plant grows from these. Ashes can be fused with glass to create unique pieces of art, or they can be added to a bespoke piece of jewellery, or even turned into a diamond. One company provides urns, in the shapes of various animals, as an artistic way of storing the ashes. I have also seen that one company can take the ashes and your companion’s lead or collar, and frame these along with a photograph of your loved one.
There are some lovely options out there, but I felt that none of them would have been right for ‘my Lucy’. I therefore founded Ashes to Blooms, to provide other people with what I feel would have been a fitting tribute to her.
Ashes to Blooms take some of the ashes of a loved one, whether a beloved person or a special companion animal, and combine them with a mixture of 21 varieties of UK native wildflower seeds and other natural ingredients to create bespoke seed balls. Customers can then give these to friends and family (or keep for themselves) to scatter in a special place and watch their wildflower memorial grow. This is what I would have wanted for Lucy.
Unfortunately, after a long battle with alcohol addiction, we also lost my brother, Andrew, in August 2022, aged 40. Anyone who has lost a loved one, whether a family member, friend or animal companion, knows the pain and emptiness we feel when they die; a pain that we will likely all feel a number of times during our lives.
Andrew was a tech investor and worked hard with me in developing Ashes to Blooms. After Andrew’s passing, my mother suggested using some of Andrew’s ashes to make seed balls. Hand-rolling the seed balls was very cathartic for me and I felt honoured that my family had trusted me with the last physical part of Andrew which remained on Earth. In the spring we will each plant Andrew’s seed balls in our gardens and in planters on our balconies, and he will grow with us during the summer. During the winter he will go into hibernation, and he will then be back the following summer, and we will await his return.
There is an endless and increasing range of wonderful ideas out there for putting our departed, to rest. There is no one ‘right’ way to do it, but I hope that I have been able to offer grieving families another option for the final resting place of their loved one. My family will never have my brother back, but knowing that he is growing on my balcony, and will return, year after year, does provide me with comfort.
David Holmes, a lawyer by profession, is the founder of Ashes to Blooms, a business based in Worthing, West Sussex, next to the South Downs National Park. Ashes to Blooms specialise in making bespoke seed balls containing ashes, helping clients to create wildflower memorials to their loved ones.
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