Last month I wrote about environmental options within funeral service. This week I came across possibly one of the most sensible environmental options available and its been right in front of us all the time!
Coffin manufacturing has changed a great deal over the past century, I remember my grandfather making coffins from solid timber and without modern manufacturing techniques had to use hot water in order to bend the shoulders into coffins. Paper laminates, custom and particle board just didn’t exist. Polishing or finishing was applied often by hand, using traditional french polishing techniques.
In todays coffin manufacturing environment , high tech is the way to go, with computerised cutting machines and a variety of timber variants available. Yet ,whilst the manufacturing techniques may have changed , there is still waste from off cuts and damaged timbers or veneers that typically end up in land fill.
Innovative family owned Melbourne coffin manufacturer RH Minter, has decided to do something about it. They are re purposing what was once waste into environmental low cost affordable coffins. While these unpolished rectangular coffins, sometimes have different panels and are possible not for every family (in regard to traditional looks) they definitely lead the way in environmental re purposing.
Manging Director of Robert Nelson Funerals, says “families now have a real alternative when considering environmental options and even better it locals that are doing it.”
“Compared to cardboard, that has to be manufactured, (often overseas) these timber off cuts are already in the local factory and would be shipped out for land fill if not reused.”
Robert Nelson Funerals are pleased to offer these environmental repurposed coffins as part of our standard range.
Call Robert Nelson Funerals for further information. Ph (03) 9532 2111
As with nearly everything these days, people across the world are becoming environmentally aware. Funerals are no different. With the increasing number of funeral homes that are now offering environmental options we thought it was a good idea to look more closely as to what environmental options are available and take a closer look at just how environmental they might actually be and let you make your own mind up.
Burial v Cremation
Cremation into the future
Throughout the world there has been increased interest about Alkaline Hydrolysis, a safe and eco friendly alternative to flame cremation or burial. Alkaline Hydrolysis uses water instead of fire. With claims of 90% less energy used than flame cremation and 0% emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. On the surface, this process looks like it could be a great environmental alternative to conventional cremation. Yet, with Alkaline Hydrolysis taking approximately two days, against flame cremation taking only a few hours, there may still be some way to go in this area before its taken up as a total viable alternative.
Cremation is the preferred option in Victoria where more people in suburban areas choose cremation as distinct from burial. It should be noted that burial in Victoria is for perpetuity, meaning that the burial has no ending and the grave will be there forever. (in other states and countries throughout the world, burial is limited in tenure, where graves will be reused). Regular maintenance is required for each grave including lawn graves. With over 560 cemeteries in Victoria alone (National Competition Policy review of The Cemeteries Act 1958 Victoria), there is considerable maintenance required. Many of these cemeteries are now closed (full). It should be noted that a component of cremation fees subsides the ongoing maintenance cost of cemeteries.
So I guess in considering the environmental impact of burial, ongoing maintenance should be taken into consideration.
Cardboard v Timber Coffins or caskets
As funeral directors, we are constantly asked why don’t we use cardboard coffins?
Cardboard coffins are available. There is little difference in cost between cardboard and particle board and some funeral directors complain about the structural integrity of the cardboard coffins, when exposed to either moisture or refrigeration. Some crematoria have made comment that more fuel is required in the cremation process when using cardboard, where as a timber coffin aids in the cremation process.
Perhaps an alternative is the wicker coffin.
Hand woven, using renewable materials. These types of coffins are now readily available in Australia, albeit are imported from overseas.
Most coffins caskets have combustible (plastic) fittings, including, handles, name plates and crucifix. Some coffins still have metal fixtures. funeral directors have often been accused of reusing coffins and fittings, however in a highly regulated state likes ours (Victoria, Australia) it is simply not possible. However, most of our crematoriums here do actually remove the fixtures, not for reuse, but for environmental purposes. The fixtures are repurposed, but not reused. Interesting only the other day client asked me why they can’t be reused?
Vehicles and fuel efficiency
Most funeral vehicles are still petrol or diesel and to my knowledge no-one has yet moved to an environmental alternative.
Embalming and Body Preparation
There has been much written and said about the copious amounts of chemicals funeral directors use. Whilst it may make a great story, there is little evidence to support it. Basic body preparation requires little to no chemicals. The types of chemical used in basic preparation may equate to disinfection of the equipment. These chemicals are similar to what can be found in any household.
Full embalming does however use some speciality product, but the quantity is small. The types of chemicals varies considerably and more embalming fluid manufactures are taking into account OH&S and the environment in developing new products.
In Australia few companies embalm every body. Those companies that do embalm, do so for a reason, so before running out and deciding you don’t need embalming, talk to your funeral director first. The total amount of embalming fluid used is probably not that significant. Presently there is no other alternatives to embalming.
The Final Word
So, where does that leave the funeral industry and those that are wanting an environmental alternatives?
At this stage, you will probably have to make your own mind up about what you think is the best choices, but just be aware, that because a funeral service is marketed as “Environmental” doesn’t necessary mean it is.
When we were working through the town planning process for our new funeral home, I was expressing my frustration to our planner over the lack of understanding from some of the council regulators. My planner said this, “Robert, your industry is so unique that in a planners entire work life, they may never be involved in the planning process for a funeral home and so therefore how could they begin to know”.
It got me to thinking of all the people we deal with and how many may have the same lack of understanding about what we do.
Often some of my acquaintances will yell out in semi humorous way and with a wry smile ” hey, have you buried many lately”. I politely smile in return. Yet, when we look at this statement, in our State, Victoria, the greater percentage of people are cremated rather than buried with figures nearing 60% or more in some areas. So the statistical chances of me conducting a burial may only be four out every ten deaths. Maybe the correct question should be,”have I done many cremations lately?”
But, these wry questions and answers underpin the fundamental lack of understanding of what it is that funeral directors actually do.
Put at its simplest there are two main functions funeral director performs.
Practical functions the funeral director may perform include collection of the body, storage and preparation of the deceased, casketing, duties on the day of the funeral and any other associated events. Many people think this is all the funeral does.
Administratively there are equally as many tasks, organising cemeteries, crematorium, doctors, Celebrants, music, flowers, Audio visual, printed materials, registration documentation and all the associated forms that go with each pratcial function and then keeping everyone informed
Yet, whilst these tasks can be rambled off in a paragraph or two many of these function, individually can take many hours to perform and some require extensive training. The role of the professional funeral director is to keep all the functions moving along and synced to ensure the funeral and associated services go off without a hitch often all within the space of a few days.
While from time to time some families wish to be involved in some of the technical aspects of the funeral some parts are best left to the funeral director. I recall a funeral where a particular family member wanted to be in charge of the order of service. Problem was they were the last to arrive at the funeral and the order of services were handed out to the seated congregation at the last moment. Funeral Directors are trained and have the experience and knowledge to avoid these types of errors. From a funeral directors point of view nothing can be left to the last minute to organize, as this is when errors occur.
The mortuary is often a misunderstood and maligned area of understanding. Mortuary personal typically have spent more than two years in training before gaining their qualification. Sadly, in Australia most funeral homes operate without any formal mortuary training what so ever. The work of an embalmer is rarely known and although at times can be unpleasant, the skilled practitioners takes great solace in the knowledge that their work is invaluable in helping families work their way through the grieve process.
So while families may wish to be involved in some of the preparations before a funeral many tasks are often best left to the funeral director to avoid unnecessary errors or mistakes. How, do I find out how I can help, just ask your funeral director, they should work with you to accommodate your wishes.
Sadly in recent times with the increase in price conscious clients some funeral homes offer little in the way of experienced, knowledgable and proficient staff. Only recently I was told of one funeral home offering cash incentives for the celebrants to do everything from collection of the deceased to documentation, bookings and
assisting at the funeral itself. This type of funeral model rings alarm bells and it should with you to. So when your select a funeral director, ensure they have the skill, knowledge, expertise and qualifications to look after you.
Robert Nelson is managing director of Robert Nelson Funerals. Based in Melbourne, he is a fifth generation funeral director with over three decades of experience. A qualified Embalmer and member of the British Institute of embalmers, Past President of The Australian Funeral Directors Association (Victorian Division), past deputy chairman Australian Institute of Embalmers, he has travelled and studied extensively throughout the world in numerous disciplines.
On New Years eve many people make a resolution, yet while it is a common tradition some reports claim only 8% of these resolutions are ever kept. Yet, whilst it is easy to get caught up in the frivolities of the occasion, the new year provides a great opportunity to plan the year ahead.
We plan, with insurance for our cars, our house and often our life. We organise wills, superannuation and financial planning. Although, pre planning your funeral is probably not on the top of your list, it is worth considering why it may be for some.
Pre planning or pre paying for your funeral is not a new concept and has been in Australia for the best part of a century in various forms. In more recent years we have been flooded on morning TV with funeral insurance and the so called benefits of it. However, Funeral Directors generally don’t regard this as funeral pre planning as the funeral is never actually pre planned and paid for.
Funeral pre planning typically involves sitting down with your funeral director and working through all the items and services you would want for your funeral. This way the client can ensure the burial or cremation services are meaningful, appropriate and affordable to their unique needs.
The funeral is costed at todays price and paid for. Cemetery or crematorium fees may be pre paid directly with the cemetery or crematorium and can be organised by your funeral director or paid direct. The balance of the funeral funds are invested in a funeral bond in the clients name and assigned to the funeral director on the death of this person. This way the funds are secured, held at arms length from the funeral director and capital guaranteed.
The funeral director will issue a contract showing all the goods and services pre paid and the monies paid.
So why would you consider pre planing your funeral?
For many its simply a matter of “Peace of Mind” . So that your family is not burdened with the expense and not knowing your wishes at the time of your death. Robert Nelson, from Robert Nelson Funerals says “that for many pre planning your funeral is about planning for the future so that people can get on and live their life, knowing all their affairs are in order.”
For others it may be because of some of the financial benefits of pre paying your funeral. On 1 January 2017 the Australian Government implemented changes to the assets test used to calculate pensions. Investments of up to $13,000 (current threshold for the 2018-19 financial year) in a funeral bond such as the Bendigo Funeral Bond, are exempt from Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs income and assets tests. For more information on these changes to the pension assets test, you should contact Centrelink, Department of Veterans Affairs or your Financial Adviser.
So what does it mean when your funds are capital guaranteed?
It mean your original and subsequent net investments plus declared bonuses are guaranteed upon your death.
Finally, once paid you have nothing more to pay at the time of death for your funeral. The funeral directors contract provides a guarantee that your original investment will cover the cost of the funeral into the future.
So if its “peace of mind”, getting your finances in order or it seems just the right thing to do at this time, call Robert Nelson Funerals and discuss your requirements.
“I have lived my whole life near the water, swam surfed, sailed. It’s where I met my wife, we even got married on the beach. The water and the beach mean a great deal to many people and are often very much part of our lives.” Robert Nelson – Managing Director, Robert Nelson Funerals
As larger number of families now seek more meaningful and relevant ways to farewell their loved ones, we have seen an in increase in alternate funeral venues.
Across Melbourne, Funerals are now being held in , parks, gardens, beaches, golf, bowls, and yacht clubs, reception venue, vineyards, restaurants and the list keeps growing. Increasingly larger numbers of venues are finding families, not only want the wake or refreshment services at their location, but also have the entire funeral, to save mourners having to drive to a different locations across the city.
With this in mind Robert Nelson Funerals has introduced “Funerals by the Bay”, Funerals that are held in bayside locations around Port Phillip Bay. Most locations have sweeping views across the Bay with sand only meters away. Robert Says “typically families that have an association with the water choose the Funerals By The Bay Option”. Whether it be sailing fishing or generally loving the water, these are the types of people that choose these locations for funerals, memorial services or wakes.
“Funerals By the Bay” by Robert Nelson Funerals at Sandringham Yacht Club provide families with a complete funeral service package, with options that include not only all vital aspects of the funeral service, including, the coffin, cremation fees, certificate fees, funeral director fees, etc, but also venue hire, catering and audio visual all in one complete price option. If its a memorial service (no coffin present) or the wake after the funeral service, Sandringham Yacht Club provides a wonderful choice.
Robert says people are often surprised at how reasonable the costs are to have the services in these locations.
It’s not only members of the club that can have their funeral at the yacht club, but non members are also welcome to have their final send off at this beautiful club too. The club has extensive food and beverage options for the gathering at the conclusion of the funeral service.
Some families also choose to have their loved ones cremated remains scattered at sea and this can be arranged also.
If you have attachments to other bayside areas in Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula talk to us about Funerals by the Bay at Mornington, Port Melbourne, Brighton, Parkdale, Williamstown, Altona, and St.Kilda
The Irish Wake is perhaps one of the best known funeral traditions in the world.
Many countries have now adopted the term “Wake” and although it is widely associated as an Irish tradition each country has its own version and rituals. In Australia the wake usually begins after the funeral whereas as you will discover the Irish wake begins immediately after death.
As with many rituals and traditions the origin of the “Irish Wake” is generally unknown. Often thought to have been heavily influenced by element of ritual paganism, it was very much frowned on by the Church.
One claim thought to be folklore, was that this Irish tradition came about because of lead poisoning in pewter tankards. With high levels of lead in pewter mugs, many of the drinkers who used them would fall into a ‘cationic state’ resembling death. The sufferer could regain consciousness after many hours or even days, hence the term “three-day Wake.”
But, wherever these rituals and traditions originated many have now been carried on through the passage of time and are practiced in many countries throughout the world.
Traditionally, the local priest would be called to the family home to give the last rites. The priest would come at all hours of the day or night for prayers and the sprinkle holy water over the body.
Following the death and with the body still in the family home, the house needed to be prepared. A black-edged envelope would be attached to the front door to let neighbours and friends know of the death. A room in the house was set aside for the body and window would be opened to allow the spirit to move out and onto its eternal journey. Nobody was to block the window, as this would have bought misfortune to whoever has blocked the spirit’s path to eternal life. The mirror would be either covered in a white sheet or a linen cloth or turned to face the wall. This is thought to hide the physical body from the dead body. After about three hours the curtains are drawn and the window shut, so that the spirit does not return.
I had often heard on my travels of the bodies being prepared and sometimes embalmed by the funeral director in the house on a door removed from its hinges, however I cannot confirm the validity of this claim. Traditionally the body would have been washed with holy water by a women known as a ‘handy woman’.
It is about this time the undertaker was called, usually providing a modest inexpensive coffin. Candles were placed around the coffin, and remained lit until the body is later moved to the church.
Once the family had completed their prayers in the house, friends would call in to pay their respects and offer their condolences. Then all the merriment would begin. Refreshments including Tea, Sandwiches, cakes, buns, beer and poteen (an illicit Irish distilled beverage made from potatoes) would be offered. it wouldn’t take long before tales would be told about the dead person, and the naughtier (and more alcohol consumed), the more laughter ensued. Music also played an important part in the tradition.
This would go on all that night, and the next day the body would be taken to the church for prayers. No doubt attended by some that had already experienced their own “3 day wake” On the third day after death would be the funeral mass.
Following the catholic funeral mass the funeral party would then follow the coffin out of the church, and it would be placed into the hearse and the family and friends would walk behind to the cemetery for a graveside service.
After the burial, as is so customary now and then, mourners would return to the local pub or family home, where the merriments would continue.
In Ireland today, many of these old traditions have gone as the modern traditional funeral director performs the functions a family once did. So whilst the old tradition and ritual may be disappearing one thing has not and that is the joining of family, friends and relatives in “Celebrating a Life” in a fitting and meaningful way.
In Australia the “Aussie Wake” is alive and well. For many the traditional values and meaning of the church (relative to funerals) is being replaced by new traditions, steeped in the old traditions of the Irish wake, Many families are now choosing to have services or events in places like bowls, golf, football or yacht clubs, where joviality and humour can often form a significant part of the event. Sometime the body is present and sometimes not. Usually the merriment continues long into the night around the bar, where tall stories become just a little bit taller.
Although time has passed and we live continents away from Ireland, many of the old customs have morphed into our “Aussie Wake” and found new meaning and values in Australia life.
The “Wake” is still as relevant as it ever has been.
Robert Nelson is a fifth generation funeral director who has studied and travelled extensively throughout the world. His company Robert Nelson Funerals is based in Melbourne Australia and specialises in meaningful funerals