All, Family matters, Funeral planning

Who do you want to lead your funeral ceremony?

If you plan on having a funeral ceremony, someone will need to lead the proceedings and, at the very least, say a few words. Do you have anybody specific in mind? 

We look at your choices of officiant to help you decide.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone planning their own funeral that includes a ceremony
  • Anyone who wants help knowing what their options are

Reading time

 3.5 mins


Who gets the last word at your funeral? 

In the not too distant past, a religious minister would lead a funeral service as a matter of course. But that isn’t the case now. A traditional religious funeral is in decline.  For one thing, not everyone in the UK identifies as religious.  

What all this means for you is that you do have the final say about who and how your funeral service is conducted.  The question is who is your preferred choice of voice?

What are the different types of funeral officiants?

  • Religious minister 
    If you consider yourself a person of faith, then it's likely you will choose a religious minister and incorporate your faith into the funeral or memorial service. You’ll want someone who can talk meaningfully about the beliefs, traditions and practices that are important to you.  
  • Civil celebrant 
    Maybe you don’t practise your faith in a formal way, but you’d like some religious elements? A civil celebrant can conduct the funeral service and include religious elements, such as hymns, a bible reading and prayer. 
  • Humanist celebrant
    If you're looking for a religious-free zone, then a humanist celebrant is the way to go.   Or you could simply ask a family member or a close friend to lead the service. In that instance, it would be wise to discuss the matter now and agree clear guidelines about music and any eulogies. Ideally, you want someone who is comfortable in front of an audience and able to project their voice so the people at the back can hear.
  • Funeral director 
    Your family could ask the funeral director to take the service.  He or she may make a charge for this.

It’s a big decision.  It’s worth taking the time to reflect on your personal values and what sort of ceremony best represents you and the impact it will have on the people you care most about.

Remember that regardless of who takes your service, when you plan your own funeral you can leave wishes for what will be said and heard. 

Have you got your funeral wishes sorted?

Download our free Funeral Wishes Planner where you can leave clear instructions for your family about who you would like to lead your service, as well as all the other stuff - even down to your choice of music in the hearse on the way to the funeral!

What are the funeral officiant’s duties? 

If you are inviting a family member or friend to officiate at your funeral ceremony, then you might want to fill them in on their role for the day.

  • The eulogy 
    Writing and reading the eulogy they – or you – have prepared..
  • Event management
    Inviting others who knew you best to step forward and say a few words. 
  • Content management
    Ensuring the readings, poems or prayers and music you want are included. 
  • Time management 
    Making certain the service keeps to time.  
  • Public relations
    If the service is to be held at a separate location, giving instructions as to who is welcome to attend the committal and where it is.  

    And letting everyone know where any funeral reception is being held, along with helpful information such as dietary provisions and whether there’s a tab behind the bar.  It makes it clear where everyone needs to go and what’s awaiting them.  Better that than the awkwardness and disappointment they may feel paying for a drink at the bar when they needn’t have.   

Does a pre-paid funeral plan include the cost of the officiant?

Whether the funeral plan includes the third-party officiant’s fee depends on the type of funeral plan purchased.

There are three types of Plans. All guarantee to cover the funeral director’s fees. The difference in Plan types lies between the level of third-party cover.

  • Guaranteed funeral plan 
    This type of plan will cover the third-party costs for cremation or burial and the officiant fee in full or up to the equivalent amount charged by a Church of England minister at the time the funeral is needed. 
  • Contribution funeral plan
    This type of plan includes a contribution amount towards the cost of cremation or burial and the officiant fee. The contribution amount will grow until the funeral takes place, in line with either the Retail Price Index (RPI), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or in some other way chosen by the funeral plan provider. Any shortfall will need to be paid by your representative or from your estate  to the funeral provider.  
  • No Contribution funeral plan 
    All third-party cremation or burial fees and officiant fee will need to be paid in full at the time of your funeral by your representative or from your estate to the funeral provider. 

LEAVE GREAT MEMORIES, NOT LOOSE ENDS.

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All, Family matters, Funeral planning

Where do you want your body to be kept before the funeral?

An aspect of your funeral you may not have thought about is where your body will be kept in the days leading up to the funeral ceremony.

Although you may already have a preference, this guide looks at some of the practicalities involved to help you make an informed decision.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone unsure about the options for where your body may be kept in the days before a funeral
  • Anyone who is curious about what measures are needed to keep their body at home 

Reading time:

 2 mins


Where will my body be kept before the funeral?

If you don’t state a preference, and unless your family request otherwise, you will be brought into the care of the funeral director until the funeral.

It’s important to bear in mind that some of the larger funeral companies often have central hubs where bodies will be stored on tiered racks.  If the idea of many bodies being stored in close proximity - and away from the funeral home - concerns you, the best option for you would be to choose a small, independent funeral director with their own on-site refrigeration facilities. (You are still likely to have company, but on a much smaller scale).

Can my body be looked after at home before the funeral?

Yes.  If you die at home, your body can stay there until the funeral.  If you die away from home, arrangements can be made for your body to be brought home.  

If you are taken into the care of a funeral director there is often the option to be transported to your home leading up to the funeral.  And vice versa, should the practicalities of looking after you at home become too much.  This will, of course, add to the cost of your funeral.

Your preference for where your body is kept after death and before your funeral may be based on your religious views or guided by practical considerations.

Whatever you decide, the most important thing you can do is to let your dearest and dearest know what you would like to happen.  Writing down your wishes in a document for your family to refer to when you've gone, can help minimise further stress arising from confusion about what to do.

Can I check a funeral home's mortuary facilities?

Yes.  If you have a particular funeral home in mind and are worried about where you will be kept, then there are a couple of things you can do.

  1. 1
    Ask the funeral director to show you ‘back of house’ (the mortuary facilities) or an inspection report by an independent body to give you some assurance that their facilities are respectful and up to scratch.  (The problem with this option is that it could be some time after you've visited before you need the funeral director's services and their standard of care could change).
  2. 2
    Ask a family member or friend if they could check the funeral director's back of house facilities at the time the funeral arrangements are being made.  If they aren't comfortable with that suggestion,  get them to ask the funeral director for a copy of their inspection report.  If they have any concerns, they should request you are moved to another funeral home.

LEAVE GREAT MEMORIES, NOT LOOSE ENDS.

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Cremation vs Burial
All, Family matters, Funeral planning

Cremation vs Burial? Which is best?

Currently in the UK, the two choices for disposal of a body after death are cremation and burial. 

This guide considers the cost and eco-credentials for each option, and the impact those considerations will have on the people you leave behind. This guide also looks into other factors that may influence your decision.

Who is this guide for?

  • Anyone planning a funeral, who hasn't decided whether to have cremation or burial.
  • Anyone looking for the greenest option when it comes to cremation or burial.
  • Anyone worried about the scarcity of burial space and what you can do about it.

Reading time:

 9 mins


In a manner of your choosing 

When planning your funeral, one of the most helpful decisions you can make for the people you leave behind is whether you want your body to be cremated or buried.

You may already be leaning towards one option because of personal preference, religious beliefs or your understanding of the environmental impact and cost. However, if you are currently undecided, here are some things you may like to consider before making your choice.

Burial vs Cremation

Which costs more – cremation or burial?

There's no getting around it: the expense of a funeral is a major consideration for most people. Funeral prices have risen each year beyond inflation since records began in 2004, and the gap between cremation and burial is getting wider. We’ll come on to why later. First, let’s look at the actual cost of a funeral.

Today, the average cost of a basic burial funeral is £4,975. The average cost of a basic cremation funeral is £3,858 - almost 30% less.

You can go cheaper with a no frills 'direct cremation'. This is a cremation service without a ceremony and with no family or friends present. A celebration of life memorial service is often organised at a later date with the ashes present, followed by a ceremonial scattering.

The average price for a direct cremation is £1,626 - less than half the cost of a basic cremation funeral.

Note: Funeral director and third-party cremation and burial fees vary hugely across the UK.

Non-resident fee

If cost is a consideration, then something else you need to be aware of regarding the third-party cremation and burial fees (especially if you intend to leave behind instructions for loved ones about where you want to be cremated, buried or scattered) is the 'Non-resident' fee.

If you choose a cemetery or crematorium outside your borough of residency, the associated fees (e.g. for the grave, cremation, interment) can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled! That could amount to a significant chunk of your estate.  It's important to do your research before you commit yourself (so to speak).

Royal Borough of Greenwich (2020)
The cost of a burial plot purchased in advance in a prime location, including the right to erect a memorial headstone and the fee for one body interment, plus 5-year grave maintenance (weeding and cutting) is £7,113 for a resident and £25,360 for a non-resident. Fees are doubled for a Saturday funeral. (Excludes the funeral director’s fees)

Donating your body to science

A less ‘popular’ option of disposal, but an option nonetheless - and indeed a strong choice for many - is donating your body to science.   Your family may have to pay for your body to be transported to the medical school. 

Body donation is separate from the organ and tissue donation system. If you want to donate your body, you do have to give written and witnessed consent before you die.   There is no guarantee that a bequest will be accepted.  Usually, a medical school will decline a body if organs or tissues have been removed for transplantation (cornea donation is acceptable). 

In the end, Medical schools will arrange and pay for donated bodies to be cremated individually or buried.  If you want to be buried in a grave with a headstone, your next of kin or estate will be responsible for these costs.  You can request your body is returned to your family for a private cremation or burial.  Some crematoria offer a significant reduction in fees (of around 90%) for the cremation of body parts.  

For more details and to find a licenced medical school near you, go to the Human Tissue Authority. For body donation in Scotland, click here.

How much does a grave cost?

While ashes can be scattered pretty much anywhere, in all sorts of ways and at no cost, the space race is on when it comes to burials - it's limited and, therefore, expensive.  See our guide on 21 amazing things to do with your ashes.   

Just as cremation and burial fees vary hugely across the UK, so does the cost of a grave for a burial or interment of ashes.

Here is a list of expenses that you could incur in advance and for those who take on the responsibility of the grave after you've gone. (Actual costs, of course, depend on the crematorium or burial ground you choose).

  • Appointment to select a grave
  • Exclusive Right of Burial (typically 50 - 99 years)
  • Surcharge for advance purchase of an Exclusive Right of Burial
  • Surcharge for a prime location
  • Interment fee (single depth)
  • Exclusive Right of Burial renewal (typically 10 – 99 years)
  • Permission to erect a memorial (headstone)
  • Memorial headstone

Further possible costs:

  • Removal of existing memorial headstone and installation fee*
  • Additional memorial inscription fee*
  • Grave maintenance: e.g. weeding and cutting
  • Deed of Grant transfer fee
  • Copy of lost Deed
  • Copy of lost cremation certificate
    *Excludes memorial mason’s costs

What is an Exclusive Right of Burial?

When purchasing a grave, some people are surprised to learn they are not actually purchasing. The grave space is in fact being leased under what's termed an Exclusive Right of Burial. This is the Right to say who can be buried in the grave and the Right to have a memorial erected on that piece of land, if permitted. Some natural woodland and meadow burial grounds don’t allow any kind of memorial marker.

The Exclusive Right of Burial applies for a set number of years. You are more likely to find an Exclusive Right of Burial lasting between 50 - 99 years and much less in areas of the UK where space is at a premium, such as London. It is possible to find a cemetery that will allow you to buy an Exclusive Right of Burial 'in perpetuity', which means no more fees for your family to pay in the future. However, that option is already rare and getting rarer by the year.

When the Exclusive Right of Burial has expired, they will need to be purchased again, which could be the same cost as when first purchased plus any price increase.

Exclusive Right of Burial & interment fees (2020)

In the examples above: Fees will be doubled for a non-resident at the cemetery. There is no additional fee for non-residents at the natural burial ground.

What is a Deed of Grant?

When you purchase your Exclusive Right of Burial, you will receive a Deed of Grant (or Certificate) issued in your name, which gives you – the registered grave owner – the Right to lease the plot from the burial ground.

This Deed needs to be produced for each burial and if you want to renew the Exclusive Right of Burial. The Deed can be transferred during the owner's lifetime or after their death.

Deed of Grant transfer fee
Example: Torbay Crematorium & Cemeteries (2020
)

Transfer ownership £55

How many people can be buried in a grave?

The number of 'lifetime residents' is limited to the depth of grave purchased or space in an above the ground chamber, vault, niche or mausoleum. This could be up to four body burials and space for up to four ashes interments. The number will differ between burial grounds and types of burial grounds.

It's standard policy for a natural meadow or woodland burial ground to only allow one person to be buried in a shallow grave. If a natural burial is the way you want to go and you want to be with your nearest and dearest, then consider purchasing adjacent plots. 

How much is a memorial?

It depends. There are many varieties of memorial, and the specific type and dimensions will depend on the burial ground. Another important consideration will be where the memorial is situated. If the grave is too near a tree, the memorial headstone or bench could become stained or damaged by the sap and leaves.

What types of memorials are there?

Here are some options for you to think about.

  • Memorial headstones (upright, flat, kerbed), available in materials such as marble, limestone, granite, bronze
  • Memorial plant or trees
  • Memorial bench (exclusive or shared)
  • Memorial plaque (acrylic, bronze, bronze finish, wood, granite, with or without a photo)
  • Memorial vase
  • Birdbox
  • Birdbath
  • Sundial

If you plan on being cremated, you could opt for your ashes to be turned into a diamond or embedded in a piece of jewellery or glass paperweight.

How would you like to be memorialised? 

Cost of the memorial
Example:  Torbay Crematorium & Cemeteries (2020)
Cost for an upright headstone  £720*

* Black granite headstone, including 50 letters, fixing and memorial permit (£405).  VAT applies if the headstone is not purchased at the same time as the funeral.

How much does grave maintenance cost?

The upkeep of the grounds is the responsibility of the place of cremation or burial. The upkeep of your actual grave could be up to someone else. This is an investment in personal time. Alternatively, they could employ the services of a grave tending company - especially if they live far away.
A contract to maintain the grave would usually include cleaning the headstone of algae, mould and moss; weeding; cutting of the grass, planting seasonal bulbs; replacing faded flower displays or placing fresh flowers on your grave at agreed intervals, plus a photo of the work done.

Cost of grave maintenance:
Example: Grave Care International

£99 per annum (1 visit)

A word of caution if you are thinking of buying a grave in advance

Some burial grounds will allow you to purchase a grave in advance so you can pick a favourite spot, providing they have plenty of grave space available.  There may be a surcharge for this. 

Other burial grounds will only allow the grave to be purchased at the time of need.  This poses a serious problem if you want to be buried with or next to loved ones, or in a particular area of a specific cemetery. There's no guarantee that such a space will be available when the time comes.

Is cremation or burial better for the environment?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively, because it depends on your definition of greener.

Both options leave carbon footprints. 

  • A gas cremation makes the same domestic energy demands as a single person would for an entire month. Looking at it another way, that's equal to the amount of fuel required to drive 4,800 miles.

    An electric cremation is more efficient when run on a green energy tariff. It releases about 90% less carbon than a conventional cremation. (There’s only one electric cremator in the UK currently, and it doesn’t run off a green tariff).
  • Some argue in favour of burial on the basis that cremation releases too much CO2.
  • Burial takes up valuable land that could be used for agriculture, housing, or leisure.

Then there are the more granular details of the funeral, such as:

  • The transportation used to get you to the place of burial or crematorium.
  • The upkeep of the burial ground
  • The sustainability of the materials used to make the coffin.
  • The garment/s your body may be dressed in.
  • Whether you're embalmed.
    Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic and toxic substance, used to preserve appearance for the benefit of mourners paying their last respects. (Formaldehyde is also present in some veneered coffins). With burial, there is a risk that formaldehyde will leak into the water table.
  • Where the funeral flowers come from.
  • The paper used for the order of service.

Is a meadow or woodland burial the answer to reducing a funeral’s carbon footprint?

Until recently, the general consensus was that a body burial at a natural burial ground (often referred to as a Woodland or Meadow burial) was the approach that produced the least carbon.

With this option, bodies are never embalmed and biodegradable coffins or shrouds are required. Graves are shallow (only one person per grave), which means your body is returned to the earth much faster. Only natural grave markers are allowed (if any at all), such as a wooden stake or natural stone so that the landscape is disturbed less. It's also common for native trees and wildflowers to be planted over graves.

However, research in 2020 reveals cremation as the winner, not least because there is likely to be a crematorium near your home. 

Conclusion:   Earth to earth or ashes to ashes?

Choosing cremation or burial is a big decision. We have covered many of the key points above, but in the end, it all comes down to personal preference.

Useful RESOURCES

List of medical schools
Human Tissue Authority  

Body donation in Scotland
Scottish Government

21 amazing things to do with your ashes
Before You Go Compare  

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All, Family matters

How to talk to family about my funeral plans

Planning your own funeral can be daunting, but the really tough part is telling those closest to you about your plans. 

Even if you’ve only started thinking about your funeral, it’s never too early to have that conversation with the people you care about – to let them know why it’s important to you to make plans.

 It’s thoughtful and practical. You might also want to get them involved. Our suggestions on how you can bring up the subject should make it easier.

Who is this article for?

  • Anyone planning for their death
  • Anyone who is thinking about or who has finalised their funeral plans
  • Anyone who wants to personalise their funeral and have their wishes carried out
  • Anyone who would like their loved ones to help them plan their funeral

Reading time:

 3 mins


Thinking about my mortality

Most people try to avoid thinking about death, but there are certain situations that, to borrow a phrase from the writer Samuel Johnson, focus the mind wonderfully.

For some, it might be the loss of a loved one or the occasion of their funeral. For others, it could be the onset of a serious or terminal illness. Reaching a landmark age can also trigger a sense that there is more time behind you than ahead of you (60 may be the new 40, but you may have packed 60 years of living into it!). Whatever the cause, if this is you, it’s time to take action.

Take a deep breath

It’s a sobering moment when you first accept that you’re going to leave life’s party at some point. But once you can come to terms with your own mortality, you can start to put your affairs in order. Although funerals aren’t cheap, setting money aside to pay for it with an insurance policy or a prepaid funeral plan can make financial sense and gives you the opportunity to choose every aspect of your funeral. The tricky part comes when you want to share your funeral wishes with other people.

Finding the right time to share my funeral planning arrangements

Any one of the key life events we mentioned before could provide the inspiration for a calm and measured discussion about your funeral plans.
Television programmes can also act as conversation openers – especially soap operas or real-life dramas.
Alternatively, you could ask people to pop over at a set time because there’s something important you want to talk about with them. We suggest you start small, along the lines of, “I’ve been thinking about my funeral.”
A casual chat around the kitchen table, with tea and biscuits at hand, can help dispel some of the tension when you start talking about your funeral.
Ideally, familiar surroundings are better than a public place for this sort of conversation, unless you find yourself in a hospital or in a care home. 

Who should I talk to about my funeral planning?

It may feel more comfortable to sound out one person first so that you can gauge their reaction before you try a wider audience. That could be your spouse, partner, son or daughter, sibling or best friend. Pick someone with whom you are used to sharing confidences so that there is already trust there. You may be tempted to start with someone from outside your intimate circle, but it’s those closest to you who are likely to be affected by your plans.

Should I involve family or friends in my funeral planning?

It may feel more comfortable to sound out one person first so that you can gauge their reaction before you try a wider audience. That could be your spouse, partner, son or daughter, sibling or best friend. Pick someone with whom you are used to sharing confidences so that there is already trust there. You may be tempted to start with someone from outside your intimate circle, but it’s those closest to you who are likely to be affected by your plans.

Meeting resistance when talking about my funeral?

Don’t be surprised if other people change the subject or flat out refuse to discuss the matter. At least you’ll have broken the ice and the next time you return to the subject of your funeral you can gradually introduce some details, perhaps starting with why it’s important for you to talk about this now.
It’s okay for people to get upset or to try and make a joke about it to deflect from the seriousness of the topic. You might even want to make a light-hearted remark yourself to get the ball rolling. “Have you seen the price of funerals? It’s a wonder people can afford to die!”
Or you can explain that you want to clear the air now to avoid family arguments in the future and set everybody straight about what you want to happen when you die. You can mention a prepaid funeral plan or life insurance policy if you have one, and if not, you can talk about how you plan to leave funds to pay for your funeral. No confusion and once it’s all settled there’s no need to discuss it again. 

The important information they need to know about your funeral planning

Tell them why you want to raise the subject now and how important it is to you that they understand your funeral wishes. Discussing the details now will help them when the time comes. They are far more likely to listen when they realise that it’s something you care deeply about.
If you have no particular preferences regarding the details of your funeral, let them know so that they can make those decisions whenever they feel ready or wait until the time comes. Otherwise, have your Funeral Wishes Planner to hand. If it’s completed, talk them through the details. If the planner is still blank, go through it together or outline the basic details of what you’d like and give them permission to decide on the rest.
Make sure they understand your financial position (whether you have a prepaid funeral plan, life insurance or any savings put by), and where you will keep the relevant paperwork, including a copy of your Funeral Wishes.

LEAVE GREAT MEMORIES, NOT LOOSE ENDS.

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Pass on the detail of your send-off so that the people you care about won't have difficult decisions to make when the time comes.

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Healing power of writing and poetry
All, Family matters

How creative writing and poetry can heal grief

Creative writing and poetry allows you to access your emotions and unlock some of the pain following a bereavement.

Whether you are the writer or the reader,  the written word can be the tonic you need to help you through the grieving journey. 

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone suffering from loss 
  • Anyone who is interested in exploring an alternative form of self-help bereavement therapy
  • Anyone who wants to know where to start in expressing their grief through creative writing

Reading time:

 3 mins


Why the written word is so important

When we were children, a kind word could ease most of life’s hurts and injustices.

Similarly, after a loved one dies, every sympathy card means so much to us, regardless of whether it contains a stock phrase of condolence, a deeply personal message or poem, or the heartfelt recognition that ‘there are no words’.  

Every word matters.

How words can release the hurt of bereavement

Words have the ability to shape our experiences and perception, especially when they speak directly to our subconscious mind. The subconscious is more in touch with our emotions than our rational, logical sense of self. When we grieve it is that tender, vulnerable self that can get locked away. 

Words have a power and magic all of their own.

  • They can validate how you are feeling, rather than minimising it.  
  • They can acknowledge a shared experience so that you feel less alone and more willing to open up to others 

  • Thecan help you to grieve by putting you in touch with your own emotions, which is an essential aspect of healing.*  

The impact of words on the mind, emotions and body 

Although the pain of your grief may be emotional or psychological in origin, it is every bit as real as physical pain and potentially as detrimental to your health.

The language that you use to talk about this pain also has an impact on your well-being.**   

Mind body and soul

Ways to write your pain and longing 

Knowing all this, you can also use words creatively to help process your own grief. **

A diary or journal gives us the opportunity to say how you really feel, warts and all, without having to consider how an audience would receive it. You can talk about regret, and anger, and the loneliness of loss – topics that may be hard for others to hear, however much they want to support us.  

Creative writing can be a letter to a loved one who has died, expressing your profound sense of loss or detailing everyday events and thoughts that you long to share with them face-to-face. It can bring you comfort and release, helping you to make sense of life’s greatest mystery: how to live fully in the shadow of death.   

The power of poetry to help you grieve

Poetry, in particular, can help you keep love at the centre of your grief and make it beautiful on the page, whether the words remain a private treasure or a keepsake to share with others. 

Poetry’s use of metaphor and imagery let you capture the essence of your loss in imaginative ways. The right words, however few, can speak volumes. 

There is sorry and beauty in poetry.

How to write about grief and loss

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and the same is true for creative writing.  Allow yourself the freedom to express what you need to and try to resist making changes right away.

Writing authentically puts you in touch with your own needs and helps you come to terms with your loss, one word at a time.

Write from the heart. 

Useful RESOURCES

Poetry Pharmacy

The world's first walk-in Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire will prescribe and dispense the  stanzas you need to lift your spirits.

Consultations are also available by phone and email.

Sources:

* The Lancet:  Formulas for grief  The need to grieve 

** The Conversation:  Academic source of news and views  Talking about pain

** BBC World Service  How doctors' words can make you ill

*** Grist  The healing power of the written word 

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