“Grief is the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or some living thing that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, cultural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.” Wikipedia
Ram was a 12 year old German Shepherd dog.
A few months ago I received a call from a client I had helped almost a year ago. They were Hindu and had followed strict Hindu customs and rituals for their relative with a funeral service in their home followed by witnessing the cremation.
During the call Marla, Rams owner described how their beloved German Shepherd was in his final stages of life. Ram had been part of the family and was as such treated as a member of the family. Marla wanted to ensure that when Ram passed he was given the same dignity, solemnity and ritual that they would afford any other member of their family.
The family wanted a special coffin made, just like for any person and wished to have a Hindu service from home.
Early one morning a week later I received the call that Ram was in pain and needed to be euthanised. It was not an easy choice, but given his pain, the decision had to be made.
I met the family at the local vet. Ram was surrounded by his beloved family as he quickly and peacefully slipped away. We hastily organised a specially made coffin for Ram, with full lining and handles and the next day met at the family home to afford Ram his last farewell and Hindu customs.
The service ran for almost an hour as the family meticulously went about ensuring Ram was given all the courtesy any family member would have been given. At the end of the service, they carefully closed his coffin and Ram was conveyed to the pet crematorium for cremation.
While this is a beautiful story of love and loss, it demonstrates how grief is not restricted to human loss. We all experience grief differently and sometimes it can be hard to understand or support each other. People of different ages and cultures will grieve in different ways. Many of us have experienced the loss of our pets and some wonder why we may grieve more for them than we did for close family members. There is no right and wrong in the way we grieve.
For those struggling to cope with grief there is help and support available.
Professional support can assist you in providing a listening ear and also provide support or other resources that may be useful to you at this time
Robert Nelson Funerals provides complimentary bereavement support to all its clients.
Families may also choose to contact The Grief Centre
www.griefcentre.com.au or phone 1300 270 479
Thank to Rams family for providing and allowing me to use these images.
My forebearers were involved in some of the early cremations on the cremation pyres of the Ballarat goldfields in the 1800s. Much has changed in the way we cremate and societies views on it.
Today, cremation accounts for almost 60% of all disposition in Victoria (Births Death Marriages Victoria July 2020 – September 2020). With so many people choosing cremation over burial, How much do we really know what happens behind the scenes?
In Victoria, all crematoriums must be on cemetery land, and all cemeteries are on crown land, so unlike other states and other countries, Victoria does not have private crematoria. In states and countries that do have private cremation, there is a significant difference in fees. In the report commissioned by the Victorian Government “Victorian Cremation Industry Viability” by Marsden Jacob Associates 2004, “the cremation price is a small proportion of the overall cost to the bereaved and is unlikely to affect the burial/cremation decision. The bereaved are generally more concerned with the total package price.” This would seem to contradict what has occurred to fees in a market where private operators exist.
With an increasing number of funeral operators offering low cost , direct or unattended services the cremation cost can account for more than 50% of the overall fees.
So how do these private crematorium function?
In most place throughout the world, the crematorium is located in the rear of the funeral home and operated by the funeral director, Fees can be up to 50% lower than those currently charged by public crematoria.
How do most people see cremation?
People on a regular basis tell me how they have been into the crematorium and witnessed the cremation. While this is possible most mourners will only get as close as the crematorium chapel. Most crematoria in Victoria have chapels and function areas that are separate from the crematorium. Mourners will normally attend the chapel for the service and at the conclusion, the funeral the coffin turn from view or is lowered out of sight. Some cremators are located directly behind the chapels. The coffin is removed from the catafalque (the lowering device) and will await cremation. In other instance, the coffin is loaded into a vehicle and transported a few hundred metres to the crematorium building. the cremation may occur immediately but in some case will occur the following day.
With an increasing number of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist families in Melbourne, the cultural requirement to witness the cremation has increased and more families are requesting this option. Don’t be surprised, that the crematorium charges a fee for families to witness the cremation of their loved one.
In many countries that our new Australians come from, the service would often be held in front of the cremation chamber. In Melbourne, small numbers of the family either watch the cremation on a video screen in an adjoining room or witness the coffin entering the cremator behind a glass window. The process for families is quick. The coffin is loaded onto a special device that will discharge the coffin into the cremator. The doors of the cremators remain closed until that family is ready. Once settled, the family will indicate to the cremation operator to proceed. The door slides up and the coffin is quickly injected into the cremator. The door is quickly closed. Families will leave after this. The whole process may take less than a minute.
The cremation itself takes 1-2 hours.
Ashes or cremated remains
The terms ashes tend to infer the cremated remains are like cinder, very light and like powder, however, most people are surprised when the cremated remains are returned. Ashes are skeletal remains and the average cremated remains urn will weigh approximately 3kg. Typically remains will be ready for collection within 48 hours after cremation.
Is the coffin cremated or reused?
Absolutely not. The coffin as you see it is not opened once entered the crematorium building.
Do I need to use a coffin at all for cremation?
While some crematorium now accepts non-coffin cremation the deceased still needs to enter the crematorium in a sealed container and be on a solid base. The body is usually wrapped in a cotton shrouds similar to the way Muslims would bury their loved ones and secured to a plantation pine cremation bearer. Some feel this is a good environmental option.
What can I place in the coffin?
Unlike burial, there are restrictions what you can place in a coffin for cremation. Batteries are definitely not to be included (due to the possibility of explosions) and the funeral director will sign a declaration that any pacemakers have been removed. Excessive plastics should be avoided and bottles are now on the band list due to effect they can have on cremated remains. Bodies can be dressed as normal.
Can I use a cardboard coffin?
Yes, there is special cardboard coffins known as Bio board.
No, many people are choosing to have a direct or unattended cremation. The body and coffin are taken directly to the crematorium without anyone attending. Many families choose to have some other celebration of life event, from a very private personal scattering of cremated remains in meaningful locations with a few people, to large elaborate and often noisy lunches. There are no rights and wrongs when it comes to celebrating a life, just relevant and meaningful events. So the choices are all yours to make
Can we seperate cremated remains for different members of our family?
Yes, just ask your funeral director and he will arrange this for you.
Cremation Urns, Jewellery, Scattering tubes
There is a large range of options open to families to choose from in deciding with what to do with cremated remains. There are literally thousands of different types of cremation urns, made from every conceivable material. From mass produced urns to individual handcrafted works of art, environmental and bio degradable urns are also available. Cremation jewellery varies from small metal pendants that can be place on a necklace to Diamonds made from cremated remains and Italian glass infused with remains all made into beautiful jewellery.
Robert Nelson is a 5th generation funeral director and is Managing Director of Robert Nelson Funerals, based in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia. Should you have any questions about cremation please do not hesitate to contact me. (03) 9532 2111,
A Coroner is a government official who is empowered to conduct or order an inquest into the manner or cause of death and to investigate or confirm the identity of an unknown person who has been found dead within the coroner’s jurisdiction.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coroner
A Transfer is a funeral industry term to describe the process of moving a deceased person from one location to the next, typically from place of death to the funeral home.
“I would have been in my early to mid-teenage years when I did my first coroners transfer, it was during industry work strikes in the 1970s and I did them on my way to school. Memories of some transfers stay with you for life. One of my first, involved a small van with a gas bottle on the roof, slamming into a pole on a major road early one morning. The bottle exploded and the vehicle engulfed in flames. It’s not hard to imagine why these scenes are easily recalled many years later.”
With over 6500 (Coroner Court of Victoria, Annual Report 2017-2018) coronial investigations each year what determines when the coroner is involved and why?
The coroner deals with reportable death. There are the obvious types, Violent, unnatural or unexpected deaths, these include homicide, suicide and drug, alcohol and poison-related deaths. Accident or injury-related deaths such as road fatalities, public transport fatalities, accidental falls, workplace deaths, electrocution, drowning and animal attacks. Where a person,s identity is unknown. The cause of death is not known (the medical practitioner cannot form an opinion about the probable cause of death). Healthcare-related deaths, when someone dies unexpectantly during or after a medical procedure. Deaths of a person who was in custody or care, an inpatient in a mental facility, under care or control of Victorian Police.
The death must be connected to Victoria, the body in Victoria, the death occurred in Victoria, The cause of death occurred in Victoria the person ordinarily resided in Victoria.
Given the large parameters under which death is reportable, it is not hard to see why there are so many cases handled by the Coroner. But why do the coroners investigate matters that to many people would appear to be straight forward and the deaths obvious?
The coroners court has three roles:
Independently investigate deaths and fires
Reduce preventable deaths
Promote public health and safety and the administration of justice
Families first contact is often with a police officer who will inform the next of kin of the death. They will often seek additional information from the family which will be passed onto the coroner. The body is transferred to the Coronial Service Building in Southbank, Melbourne. All Victorian Coronial cases are transferred to this central location.
Whilst at the Coroners a number of things occur.
Identification, confirming the identity of the deceased, may involve visual, medical or scientific processes, including fingerprinting, dental records or blood or DNA.
Forensic Processes, the preliminary process may include, visual examination, collection of personal health information, the taking of bodily fluids, imaging such as CT, Xrays and ultrasound and fingerprints. Often an autopsy (post mortem) is requested. This is performed by a pathologist using techniques similar to a surgical operation. During this process, the major organs of the body are removed and examined and specimens are taken for analysis. The benefit of an autopsy is that it can provide detailed information about the person’s health and condition to give an understanding of the various factors that may have contributed to their death. Even if the cause of death seems clear, the person may have had a medical condition that was not obvious during their life. A family has the right and can request an objection to an autopsy.
Once all the investigations are complete the coroner will issue an “Order for Release”, this enables the body to be released to a funeral director and the funeral performed. Unlike deaths that are not reportable, the full death certificate can take some time before the cause of death is actually known. Your funeral director will guide you and can order an Interim Death Certificate. These look just like a regular death certificate but does not contain the cause of death. Once the coroners office has provided the cause of death to Births Deaths and Marriages a Full Death Certificate can be issued. This can take several months.
Why do some of these processes take so long? With over 6600 investigations each year, the average time to investigate takes 11.8 months? While many associates the coroners with inquests, out of 6500 investigations only 49 inquests were held over that same period of time.
Typically a families involvement with the coroner will be unexpected, it is not one of those things anyone would expect. Your Funeral Director is the best person to contact. They have regular and consistent contact with the coroners office and will arrange for the release of the deceased into their care. Funeral arrangments can occur before the body is released. The body can be expected to remain in their care anywhere from several days to several weeks.
The sudden death of a partner, child family member or friend can be a difficult and painful experience. Families can be assured that today, Victorias Coronial Services Centre is one of the world leaders in Forensic medicine. The practices of yesteryear have long gone, replaced with state of the art facilities and highly trained professionals and skilled staff.
For more information, https://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au
Robert Nelson is a 5th generation funeral director with more than 3 decades in the funeral industry. He is the owner and managing director of Robert Nelson Funerals.
If I were to ask you to transport a box approximately 6 foot in length 18 inches high and 18 inches wide in your station wagon, you would quickly discover it probably doesn’t fit, and you would need to source a different mode of transport. The box, as described, is a standard size coffin in the Australian Funeral Industry and yes the Australian Funeral Industry still uses station wagons, but with a twist?
The Australian hearse is typically built from a station wagon body, the vehicle is cut and extended, and the roof also removed and heightened to accommodate the range of different coffin sizes and flowers. These vehicles include Fords, Holdens, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce, you name it most makes of vehicles have been made into hearses. With extensions and vehicle customisations, the hearse can easily cost between $200,000 – 300,000 dollars.
So why is it that the funeral industry hasn’t considered using vehicles that don’t require this level of customisation and cost?
Australian funeral customs have primarily come from English funeral traditions. Of course in more recent decades, immigration has altered some of these traditions. Historically English churches often had graveyards within the church grounds. The coffin was simply carried from the church to the graveside. However, when the coffin needed to be transported further, a hearse was used.
My forebearers first started out on the Ballarat goldfields and as carpenters would later become furnishing undertakers. In the 1850s it was still a long way off from the automobile being invented. The horse and carriage was the transport of the day. The funeral carriage were all customs made from wood and glass, few were identical, yet all were black. Many of those with glass panels had either etched or gold gilded embellishments and others would be adorned with a crucifix or cross, symbolic of either an Anglican or Catholic Funeral. The engines were the horses, usually baring their black feather plumes and harness.
In the early part of the new century, vehicles quickly began to appear in the funeral cortege behind the horse-drawn carriages, and it didn’t take long before the horse was replaced with the automobile. From a child, I was told that the body of the horse-drawn carriage was placed onto the back of the car or ute, creating the new hearse.
Over the years, the vehicles have modernised and changed in shape and style, and the hearse body has become more stylised. Yet, one thing that has remained is the glass window sides.
Hearses around the world vary, some countries prefer clear glass-sided vehicles while others, including America, prefer a discreet view of the coffin. Some countries use Vans, with various degrees of modifications. There are evens small buses that can carry the coffin and family mourners. Although black is seen as the colour of mourning in most countries hearses can be any colour.
Of course, there are many specialty or even novelty type vehicles, these include Motorcycles with sidecars to carry the coffin, I have recently seen a Land Rover Defender, firetrucks, aged and historic cars, farm utes and trucks.
So what is the way forward and what might the vehicles of the future look like. We know that many vehicle manufacturers are moving away from the manufacture of station wagons, and there is a greater emphasis on smaller and greener vehicles.
With Cremation now accounting for 60-70% of all funerals, the funeral cortege is also less frequent as many families now choose to have single service funerals, where the hearse plays no significant role in the funeral process as there is no procession to the cemetery.
The people mover van provides a great alternative to expensive full customisation of the funeral vehicle and at a fraction of the cost.
As consumers across the board, yes including funeral service become more cost-conscious, all aspect of the funeral industry need to be reviewed for relevancy and cost-effectiveness. The hearse is a significant cost of the overall funeral cost.
So next time you see a hearse on the road, you may have a different view as to its relevancy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
So what does it mean to have a meaningful funeral?
Put simply, the funeral has to be relevant to you. As with all milestones in life, such as weddings, birthdays, family events, etc, people choose to celebrate these in ways that have meaning and relevance to them. Funerals are no different. Funerals are a celebration of life, where we can reflect on a persons life lived.
Traditionally, funerals were centred around the church and religion, just as they were with weddings. The funerals were often very similar as dictated from the church’s funeral rites. However, today things have changed. Increasingly more families and mourner’s find little relevance in the traditional funeral service. It has often been heard from some mourners they wonder if indeed they are at the right funeral service as the service bears not reflection on the life of the deceased and subsequently mourners don’t connect with the service.
So how are Australian families making more meaningful funerals and what are the types of things that are being incorporated into a funeral or the events surrounding it.
Over the past decade there has been a increase in the amount off audio visual productions at funerals, wether it be photographic montages with selected video and relevant music, to photographic or display boards of images of the deceased life. These simple touches bring relevance and meaning to mourners in attendance as the images are something they can relate to and will spur on strong memories of the person they knew and remembered. Services can be recorded and or live streamed to the internet for people that may not be able to travel to the service.
A few years ago I interviewed and filmed a lovely lady and asked question about her life and growing up. A few years later at her funeral, her images and voice mixed with archival photos gave her the opportunity to talk about her life, in her words, it was personal and touching.
Families have traditionally invited people back to their homes after a funeral for refreshments. As homes have got smaller and peoples lives busier, these functions are now often held elsewhere. Todays progressive cemeteries have high quality function rooms and beautiful catering. Many families are using there facilities or those of their sports clubs for both the funeral, the memorial service and or refreshments. These have great benefits as it places mourners at ease in their more familiar surrounds.
Indeed many families are finding more relevance and meaning at these informal refreshments functions, than they are at the funeral services and subsequently we are seeing increasingly more families choose to have a cremation without any attendance and memorial service held afterwards in their favourite location.
Its not only the funeral service itself that has seen significant change, but the way and manner in which people are choosing to deal with cremated remains. Whilst traditional memorialisation is still popular, families are choosing to say there final farewell in different ways.
Ashes to Ashes, offers a unique yet personal way to commemorate the loss of a loved one by scattering their ashes high in the sky by way of a beautiful and spectacular fireworks display. The brain child of Sydney born pyrotechnic Craig Hull, Craig believes peoples sadness and grief are replaced by wonderment and celebration as the journey towards closure begins.
Every heard of someone as referred to as a rough diamond? Well now its possible to turn them into a beautiful one, literally. An Australian based company can now turn cremated remains into diamonds. Known as “Cremation Diamonds” the process takes anywhere from 3 -8 months.
Now whilst some of these new ways of remembrance and meaning may not be your cup of tea, the most significant change has been the acceptance of allowing those in mourning to choose to do things that have relevance and meaning to them. Funeral options.
So next time you’re in a position to talk to family about what you want, tell them, they might be surprised!
As for me, I want to go sky high, with my cremated remains scattered over the start line at the yacht club, while my friends watch on and celebrate on the balcony with a cold beer and remember me with love, laughter and life.
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 email@example.com or ph (03) 9532 2111