An Hour On The Day…. Hardly!

The funeral was only 20 minutes away from commencing and my new colleague turned to me and asks, “are you nervous because I am”. I turned to her and said, “no,  I’m OK”, I lied.

I met Fred’s  (not his real name) family almost a week before, he was terminally ill and had a young family. Fred was in his last days of life. His family had somewhat come to terms with this and were quietly calm in talking about him. Naturally, at times they would need time to compose themselves as they were coming to grips with the finality of his life.

We spoke about what type of funeral service Fred and his family might like and his preference for burial or cremation. We discussed funeral venues and styles of services. I was beginning to get a picture of what the family wanted to do. There would be quite a lot of family travelling from interstate and some from overseas. We left fairly open the choices and would finalise the details when Fred died. But, given Fred’s long illness, the family were keen to ensure the funeral was held quite quickly.

Fred died two days later.

Robert nelson Funerals
Robert Nelson Funerals

All of a sudden there was a greater sense of urgency by Freds family in organising the funeral. We took Fred,s body into our care and organised all of the appropriate certificates from his attending doctor.  A suitable celebrant was selected that we felt would bond well with his family, Coffins, flowers, service time and date for the funeral were all set. There was to be refreshments and catering including an open bar at the venue. The hourglass was now turned and we were on a fixed time to have everything in place for that “hour on the day”.

Over the next few days, there would be dozens of communications, in person, by phone and email conveying all the necessary information to ensure everything went to plan.

Remember how I started this piece when asked if I was nervous just before the funeral, well, it is about this time when I am the most nervous, knowing we have a great deal to achieve and with a limit on the time to do it. There is a golden rule, Plan, Plan, Plan, Plan and then expect things to go wrong and plan for that too. Everything needs a backup plan, so we can expect the unexpected and deal with it even at the last minute.

Behind the scenes, Freds body needs to be prepared and dressed as the family wants to see him the night before the funeral. The coffin has been ordered and delivered and we now have Freds clothing, preparation will take 1-2hrs by skilled qualified staff. The Government Medical officer had visited our mortuary at 2am the night before to finalise cremation documentation. It’s all go, go , go.

Our in house Audiovisual specialist is busy preparing video tributes for the service and the wake following. with over 125 images and 16 tracks of music for the service and wake, there were many hours of work into the night ahead. the service would also be video recorded, so there was a stack of gear we would also be taking along. This is also unpacked, checked and repacked to go.

Audio Visual
Audio Visual

As we neared the day of the funeral, numbers still had to be finalised for the wake at the venue. What had started out as 60 people had now grown to 125? It’s impossible to guess the actual number of people that will attend, but there is always sufficient food to cover another 50 or more. People don’t generally come for lunch.

By this time our celebrant had met with the family and formed an order for the service now only 48 hours away. She would be in regular contact with them over the following days. The sand in that hourglass was running low.

The family hadn’t yet organised the printed order of service  and there was still a potential that we may have to do it at the last moment. Remember Plan and plan for the unexpected.

The family arrived the night before the funeral to see Fred, they were no doubt very sad but pleased they could say their last goodbyes. They advised the order of service was in hand and all would be ready by tomorrow.

The following morning flowers arrived at 4.30am and we arrived at 6am to get the vehicles prepared for the 2pm service. To my aghast, the flowers weren’t quite right. A quick call to our florist and a pick up from the local wholesaler and we were back on track.

Coffin Flowers
Flowers by Gradiflora

All of the audiovisual had been triple checked the night before, but a laptop was left running and you guessed it was doing a new software install. Now, really! Sure enough, it loaded on time and we were now back on track, but now almost no sand left in our hourglass.

With all the gear packed and the hearse carrying Fred all clean and shiny, it was time to head off to the venue, some two hours before the start of the funeral. There was much to set up. On arrival, gear unloaded, set up, venue staff briefed and one hour left before service time, there is now no time to be nervous, we have planned, tested, planned, tested everything.

There were hundreds turn up to Freds funeral. The family loved everything, as much as you can at a funeral. At the conclusion of the service, family and friends stayed behind to chat and have refreshments. we still had Fred to deliver to the crematorium. I would later return to ensure everything was still going well. At 5pm many of the mourners had now left the venue, yet there were still many interstate friends and relatives. A few quick discussions with the venue team and I had another room within the venue sorted and the wake would continue on for many hours to come.

Springvale Botanical Cemetery - Function Rooms
Springvale Botanical Cemetery – Function Rooms

I arrived home, about 8pm a little tired and with a slight smile, maybe of relief that everything had gone to plan and the family happy with our services.

Was it a hectic week for us, possibly, but what I didn’t tell you is we also dealt with a number of other families at the same time. It matters not to them, that we have other families or clients, everyone is special and everyone deserves to treated like they are the only person we are dealing with.

Next time you see us for that hour on the day, remember our day may have started days ago.

Robert Nelson is a 5th generation Funeral Director. His company Robert Nelson Funerals is based in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia. He provides Meaningful, Affordable Funerals across Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.


When a holiday turn to Tragedy

Interstate  or overseas holiday travel can be such a fun and exciting time. New cultures, new experiences rest and relaxation for some some, exciting adrenalin fuelled activities for others. But what happens when fun turns to tragedy?

Australians are avid overseas travellers, with over 9 million Australian taking overseas trips each year. in  2016/17 1,600 Australians died overseas. These figures are only set to rise.

Danger on the street. Blue flasher on the police car at night.

Organising repatriation or funeral services on your own overseas can be complex and expensive when you don’t know what you are doing.  In some countries the law and bureaucracy can also complicate the expediency of handling an untimely death. Despite the deceased having an Australian passport we are bound by the laws of the country we are visiting and this can be a confronting situation when families are distressed in shock and or grieving.

Robert Nelson, of Robert Nelson Funerals said “in one case we handled a few years ago the person died on a remote Island in Greece in the middle of summer. There was no refrigeration and no chance to get the person off the island for days. A large fish tank was seconded from a restaurant and turned into an ice box until the body could be transferred to Athens before coming back to Australia.”

Should death occur overseas the first point of contact is your insurer. They will be able to advise you of your entitlements. You should be mindful that simply having travel insurance does not guarantee your claim will be accepted. Most travel policies have extensive terms and conditions. Illegal or some extreme activities, riding or driving while under the influence may also result in the insurer rejecting the claim.

Once the insurer has accepted the claim, they generally work with assistance companies that provide advise and assist with organising the funeral or repatriation services. These companies in turn work with specialist in house funeral companies to provide on ground services and expertise.

The family will need to make a choice of having a burial or cremation in the country of death or repatriate the body back to Australia.

Body Repatriation is a highly specialised field and is best handled by experienced competent professionals. Many countries do not have the type, style or standard of funeral service or body storage that many might be expected in Australia.

All bodies being repatriated by air back to Australia will need to be fully embalmed. In Australia this is generally performed by members of the Australian or British Institute of Embalmers. Overseas it may be performed by doctors or universities and is not a normal procedure in funeral service in those countries. The quality and standard of preparation can be less than satisfactory.

Preparation by Skilled Professionals
Preparation by Skilled Professionals

The despatching funeral service will organise , collection of the body, all necessary local documentation, a specialised and hermetically sealed coffin, suitable for air transfer. They will liaise with their own government authorities for death and health certificates and other formal documentation that may be required. In addition they will work with the Australian Consul within that country as well as Airlines and Customs brokers.

These processes cannot occur overnight and you would expect some delay before the body can be returned home. This can add to the distress of families back home.

Robert says, “in a case we dealt with in the North of England the Coroner only worked in that town once a week and we had to wait for more than week before the coroner could commence their investigation.”

Loading to the aircraft 1,600 Aussies die overseas each year
Busy day at the airport. 1,600 Aussies die overseas each year

Before arrival home the family will have needed to contract a local funeral service provider, who will arrange for the collection of the coffin from the airport on arrival and clearance from Australian Customs. The local funeral director will then organise local documentation for burial or cremation, this may also take a number days to organise.

So what happens when you are not insured or the insurer will not accept your claim?

You will be left to organise all of this on your own. Be mindful there are specialists in international repatriation in Australia that have strong connections throughout the world. you should use these resources in order to save you time and avoiding over payment.

When death occurs away from home but in Australia thing are a little different. When death occurred interstate most bodies used to be flown home. This entailed using a funeral director at the place of death and another in your home town. It can be quite costly.  Whilst this still happens today, most bodies are road transported by specialist crews and vehicles. This mean they can collect the body from the hospital or coroner and transport directly to the home town funeral director. Generally this is seen as the most expedient and cost effective solution.

There is no doubt when death occurs away from home and often in sudden and unexpected ways it adds to the trauma of the situation. However, behind the scenes their are teams of dedicated, skilled, professionals working around the clock to ensure your loved ones are returned as quickly as possible.

Robert is a fifth generation funeral director and Managing Director of Robert Nelson Funerals in Melbourne, Australia. He is a member of the British Institute of Embalmers and skilled in International and Interstate repatriation service. he has strong connections in this field throughout the world

Re Purpose Coffins?

Last month I wrote about environmental options within the 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 today’s 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 offcuts and damaged timbers or veneers that typically end up in a landfill.

Innovative family-owned Melbourne coffin manufacturer RH Minter has decided to do something about it. They are repurposing 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 repurposing.


Managing 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 offcuts are already in the local factory and would be shipped out for landfill 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



Enviro Funerals Do They Exist

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.

Calvary Cemetery

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.

Willow Casket

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.

Handsome mature surgeon in blue medical wear and mask is putting on medical gloves at operating room
In The Prep Room

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.




Leave It To The Funeral Director

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.

  1. Practical Functions
  2. Administrative functions

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.

Senior people casual greeting shaking hands
Expierence, Knowledge & Understanding key elements  required in selecting a Funeral Director

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.

A New Year, Time To Start Planning

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.

Seniors using digital tablet
Pre Planning is simple

The funeral is costed at today’s 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 is 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-planning 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.”

Mature surfer ready to catch a wave
Planning ahead means you can get on with life knowing all your 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 means your original and subsequent net investments plus declared bonuses are guaranteed upon your death.

Finally, once paid you to 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.


Funerals By The Bay

“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.

_DSC4490-Edit_2800North 2“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

Christmas a time to remember a time to care

Christmas is often a time of family. As we near this festive occasion we should take some time to reflect on those that won’t be with us this year and for those that have suffered loss. The weight of expectation at Christmas can add more pressure to a difficult time for many.


People are effected by loss in different ways, the loss of a spouse, sibling , child or friend or even a pet can be profound and people will deal with these in their own way. Whilst our immediate reaction may be to surround those that are grieving with support and love. Grief can make people respond in unexpected ways and at this time of year some may reject these invitations, and that can be confusing to those offering that support. Some may not want to spend time with family this year as they work through grief.

Allow people to set their own boundaries as they work through this process and continue to offer your love and support.

Your care and support is important. No-one can take away the pain and sadness of grief, but knowing that people care provides comfort and healing. Be patient, grief has no timeline. jamie-street-489919-unsplashBe prepared to listen, share memories and stories and don’t be afraid to use the name of the person who has died and above all take care of yourself. Sharing some else’s pain can be demanding and exhausting.

Where can I find more information? The Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement has some great resource material and brochures

Or Contact Robert Nelson Funerals for additional information. ph (03) 9532 2111

The Irish Wake

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



Day of The Dead


Can you imagine the Australian government providing a public holiday to celebrate the dead, sound a bit far fetched? Well, not in Mexico. In the James Bond movie “Spectre”, the opening scene starts with a Day of the Dead Street parade in Mexico City. Possibly one of the most remarkable facts of this scene is that no such procession had ever taken place in the city before this film scene. Whilst the day of the Dead festivities were common place the parade was not. However, from October 2016 the street parade became an annual feature of Mexico City Life. Yet, whilst the street parade is relatively new, Day of The Dead is not.

“Dia de los Muertos”, (Day of the Dead) coincides with Allhallowstide, encompassing the Western Christian observance of all Saints Eve (Halloween). Celebrated from October 31st to November 2nd it encompasses All Saints and All Souls Day.  This multi day holiday focusing on the gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember the dead and help support their spiritual journey. Revellers believe the the spirits of the dead return to take part in the festivities alongside the living. despite Day of the Dead falling on Halloween, it is not Halloween and its not supposed to scare anyone. Those celebrating truly believe that death is something that should be celebrated in a lively way and should not be something to be afraid of.

Day of The Dead bread

Perhaps, the most striking features of the day of the dead festivals are the vibrant colours, haunting makeup, images of  of skeletons and skulls, food, dance, parties and carnival atmosphere.  The brightly painted skills are understood to be a remnant of an ancient Aztec tradition. The skulls were used during rituals to symbolise death and rebirth.

In Melbourne a number of Mexican restaurants celebrate and special food is often on offer for this unique festivity.

child on Halloween

Whilst in Australia Halloween has grown, in the United States Halloween is big business. According to the National Retail Federation, it is estimated that Americans spent over $6 billion dollars on candy , costumes and decor during the 2013 season. It is easy to be carried away with the commercialism and fun surrounding Halloween, yet it is a significant time in the churches liturgical year, dedicated to remembering the dead and all the faithful departed.

This time of year is not just restricted to the celebration of the dead by christians.

Obon Lanterns, Japan

The “Bon” or Obon, a traditional Japanese festival (held around 15th August) is often referred to as “The Japanese day of the dead” commemorates lost ancestors whose spirits are believed to come back  to visit relatives during the festival. Many People return home during he festival  to spend time around family and friends. In Kyoto giant bonfires surrounding the hills are spectacularly lit to publicly mark the end of Obon.

Food offering at The Ghost Festival

Somewhat similar to the “Bon” or Obon festival, The Ghost Festival is celebrated by Chinese, who believe during this time that the gates of hell are opened up to allow the ghosts to roam free on earth where they can seek food and entertainment. Balanced with fear and festivity , celebrations begin with parades culminating in lanterns being released onto the water. Similarly as with other death festivals, food and ritual play a  significant part in these events. Family members may offer prayers to the deceased as well as offerings of food and drink in addition to burning hell money and joss paper. It is believed the joss has some value in the after life. Some burn paper houses, cars and televisions to appease the gods.

In multi cultural Australia we are fortunate that some of these traditions are also celebrated here.  Yet, our own values and the way in which we tread carefully around death are quite reserved and easily symbolised in the colours we choose to wear and associate with death are quite dark and austere.

So what can we learn from these unique festivals? In diversity we often find our own relevance and meaning to ways in which we deal with death and remembrance of our ancestors. Perhaps knowing and understanding of these diverse cultures and festivities allows us to formulate our own views and meaning to death and dying. Whilst many might suggest it would be very politically incorrect to “celebrate the dead” just maybe there is something we can learn.

It is clear in Australian funerals there has been a marked change in what occurs at funerals, once for people to have clapped at a funeral it would have been seen as highly inappropriate, yet today its common and seen as highly appropriate thing to do. There are also many other things that are also changing at these events and maybe thats a story for another time.

So as we move move forward our cultures blend and our views change, I don’t expect we will see any public street parades celebrating death any time soon,  but I just wonder how we will celebrate the dead in the future.

Robert Nelson has listened and worked with clients since 1983 and created ceremonies that are designed around the needs and desires of grieving families. Robert Nelson Funerals, knowledge, experience and understanding makes him the preferred choice for Melbourne families.

For more information on any of these services, please contact Robert Nelson at or ph (03) 9532 2111