The Best Funeral Ever; With a Dwarf

    This was perhaps the most unique and strange funeral I have and probably ever will see.  It started when I was sent to the coroners to collect the body.  We arrived to find our paperwork was incorrect.  Long story short we had to wait about half an hour to get the correct papers faxed over to the coroners.  Once that was settled we headed in to collect the body itself.  Once inside I see the ID tag sitting neatly on top of the body bag.  Now this was a bad sign indeed.  To explain, the ID tag is a wrist tag with the deceased's name so one can never confused the bodies.  And it is always tied to the wrist.  So for it to be outside of the body bag meant the body was in a bad condition.  Not a bad condition as in injured but as in 'ripe'.  Rotted in other words.  The coroners see a lot of this sort of thing regularly, so for them to be hesitant about touching the body is a really bad sign.

    I opened the bag and yes, the poor body was quite ripe but not unbearable really.  Definitely not suitable for viewing (as the family had asked) but not too bad to the experienced funeral director.  The deceased would not even to be poly bagged (a special vacuums sealed body bag to keep fluids, smells, etc in).   Back at our mortuary we find that he is covered in urin.  And the deceased would need to be dressed.  Just wonderful. However this did not really matter as I would not be involved in dressing the body.  Which I was honestly most grateful for.

    Now for the funeral itself.  There would be just three of us on a direct to the crematorium.  Upon arriving at the crematorium we find that our contact family member was a dwarf.  Not just a dwarf but also a strange person.  Just a little odd, the way they moved, talked, interacted.  We took the coffin into the crematorium before the service was due to start.  The dwarf and celebrant then followed the coffin in and locked us out so they could perform a private service.  We naturally went around to the office where, little did the family know, there are monitors watching everything that goes on in the crematorium.  What we saw was really strange, leaving the funeral staff and the crematorium staff glued to the screen.  The dwarf and celebrant changed into long flowing white robes, which honestly looked more like thin sheets than clothes.  They then performed some ritual, which involved dancing, before turning the coffin on the catafalque three times and finally dancing again.  They finished with some briefe words and then opened the doors for the rest of the family and us.

    By now the conductor was fascinated.  The conductor and I inside and sat up the back by the sound system.  There were not many family and friends, perhaps 15 people at the most.  They were all nice people and most gave eulogies, some of the better eulogies I have heard.  The service itself started with a prayer from the celebrant.  Neither the conductor or I could pick the religion.  It was Christian with Anglican and Catholic imagery as well as something Germanic and some Druidic/Celtic themes.  The celebrant then asked what the family and friends liked to call the deceased, their nick-name in other words.  The celebrant then went on to ask "so what was the deceased last name" obviously having no idea who the descend was or what they were called.  One younger guy was giving his eulogy halfway through the pack.  He said how he had watched the deceased becoming less mobile and in more pain.  Life was becoming very difficult and uncomfortable for the deceased in the final days.  The speaker then went on to say how he was glad he had helped the deceased "on the final journey".  Both the conductor and I looked at each other, unsure what to make of this.  Had the guy helped the deceased to die?  Had the guy helped the deceased while they died?  It was quite surprising and yet none of the family, friends, or even celebrant batted and eye.  On went the service, unhindered by the ambiguous statement.  The last speaker was the dwarf, who gave their eulogy ty interpretative dance.  I will never again see a dwarf give a eulogy at a funeral solely through interpretative dance while wearing a white sheet.  And it was actually quite a good eulogy, better than many others I have seen.  It surprisingly conveyed their happy relationship and sadness at the death.  This will probably be by far the best eulogy I will ever see.  Not only was it different, a dance rather than speech, but it was very descriptive and well done.

    Later we discovered that the dwarf was the sole inheritor of the deceased's estate.  Not a massive inheritance, but a decent amount all the same.  So obviously the guy who had 'helped the deceased on their final journey' had nothing to gain financially.

    I will say that I am not alway the most politically correct.  But I do not mean any harm or disrespect by this, or any other post.


Dignity, Discretion & Personalisation

   It is interesting how important ‘dignity’, ‘discretion’ and ‘personalisation’ are in this industry.  Looking at the ‘Statewide Mortuary Transfers’ website one can see that dignity and discretion is extremely important.  These terms are mentioned several times when talking about staff, facilities and the vehicles.  When talking about the vehicles it even states that they all use “one person stretchers on wheels, similar to those used in modern ambulances.  This ensures a high level of dignity”.  It is interesting how important it is that the equipment be modern and dignifying.  And that they use similar equipment to ambulances.  Most people in this industry would know Statewide is an impressive company.  They are always professional and immaculate, sometimes more so than some funeral directors themselves.  So it is strange that they feel the need to state it on their website.

   Again, looking at the InvoCare website the idea of dignity and discretion is highlighted.  In their corporate profile they talk about “building trusting relationships”, maintaining a high quality and standards and “personalising the service to reflect the life of the individual”.  This sort of wording can be seen in any funeral home website or advertising.  Dignity is just so important with this job.  Yet it is un-assumed.  The way they all emphasise dignity gives them impression that the general public assumes there is no dignity in the industry.  After being asked certain questions and the way others talk about what we do I have realised that most people think there is little to no dignity in death.  And they worry about this with regards to their loved ones.

   While it is true, death and dignity do not go hand in hand they do have a relationship with each other.  The way people are treated after they die would not be called ‘dignified’ if they were alive.  Certain things, such as putting a nappy on them, or dressing them the way we do would be wrong if they were alive.  They, however are not alive and these actions are quite reasonable if not for the best once the person is dead.  Lets look at the nappy.  If a person were alive putting a plastic nappy on them would be insulting in most cases.  It would be uncomfortable and degrading.  Once they are dead this becomes a nice way of preventing ‘spills’ or smells which would be unseemly.  On the funeral or during a viewing the last thing people would want are strong unpleasant smells from their loved one.  So dignity never goes but changes after death.  Even so many in the industry highlight and emphasise how they maintain dignity and many on the outside wonder if it exists at all.

   The other thing they emphasise is personalisation, either through ‘personal service’ or ‘personalising the service’.  A good example of this is the W.N.Bull slogan “leaders in personal service”.  This slogan can be found below the logo on just about everything to do with the company.  You would be hard pressed to find the W.N.Bull logo without it making the company image strongly tied to the slogan.  There are two intertwined reasons why funeral homes place so much importance on personal service.  Firstly they do not want to be seen as a “cold” or “uncaring” place that treats the deceased as an object rather than a person.  Obviously this would create a bad image, which would damage business and drag down the reputation of an otherwise good funeral company.  And reputation is vital in this business amongst the companies.  One can see all this with the rumours of InvoCare being an American corporation.  When InvoCare buys a new funeral home fresh rumours begin to circulate about its American ties.  As a result that funeral home almost always loses business initially.  I saw this myself with W.N.Bull, once InvoCare bought the business work dropped off as rumours rose about the foreign ownership of InvoCare and now of W.N.Bull.

   Gossip is ripe in this industry with true and false rumours being spread about each other.  As such negative stories spread around wildly and damage the companies image.  The other reason that they promote personal service is more obvious and immediate.  People do not want their loved one objectified.  They want them to be treated appropriately.  Many just go with the cheapest or easiest as they do not see the difference in price being worth it.  And it is true, most funeral companies will do a good job.  Or at least the vast majority of mourners will not notice the difference.  After all, many people do not know the coffin should always be turned clockwise.  However many people do care about personal service, and this is a main area that W.N.Bull makes its money.  Driving families over the year the topic of why they chose Bulls has come up surprisingly often.  The vast majority of reasons can be broken down into two main, loosely related reasons.  The first is that previous members of the family (such as grandparents) went through Bulls and it has basically become a family ‘tradition’.  The other reason is, as one mourner once said, they “wanted a more personal service than the big companies” could provide.  They paid a lot more (sometimes up to double) than the larger funeral companies charge primarily for the personal service.  People do not want their loved one to be just another job amongst many, to be in a mass production style system like their groceries or other products.  And that is why many people use Bulls.  They do not have a ‘mass production’ system like many larger companies (such as Guardian or White Ladys).  At Bulls they do one funeral a day per crew as opposed to the six or seven per day per crew with the larger companies.  And this does allow for better focus, learning the name of the deceased and their family, something that is basically impossible for the crews doing more than one per day.  The down side of this is that Bulls have to charge more per funeral, which is understandable.  And as I stated previously most people are willing to pay as much as double to know they are getting that personal service.  That their loved one is being cared for and treated as a persona rather than just another job.  In the end personal service is very important to many mourners and funeral homes.

   Personalising the service itself is not as common but is tied heavily into personal service, and it does come up occasionally.  The best, and most interesting place to find this is on the InvoCare website in the section where they talk about the company.  It basically states that attitudes towards funerals are changing over time.  It is becoming more acceptable to talk about them and “they are now looked upon as a chance to ‘celebrate a life’ through personalising the service to reflect the life of the individual and generally making the service itself special”.  Here they emphasise personalised service over personal service.  I find it a strange and interesting concept to raise, as if there is an assumption that funerals are from a cookie cutter mould with little variation.  What is more interesting is that this is often true in my experience so far.  Especially with traditional Catholic funerals (which is the vast majority of W.N.Bulls work) it could be anyone who has died.  The priests rarely if ever refer to the deceased and focus on the bible and religious ceremony instead.  Sometimes the only way you would know it was a funeral would be because of the coffin and some specific rituals performed only at funerals.  Even at non religious funerals the service follows a fundamental pattern and rarely differs.  It is just strange that something one would think so personal and so individual usually follows a predefined and predictable pattern.

So one is left wondering why personal service is so important to both the consumers/mourners and with funeral companies. Rarely any funeral services are personalised and even those that are follow certain patterns and times. And we should also wonder why dignity and discretion are so important to promote. The act of promoting them so heavily leaves an assumption that those outside the funeral industry see it as inhumane and cold. After all, funeral companies would not spend so much time and money emphasising these ideas if they were un-needed. Even though these three ideas are considered important (by both the funeral industry and the public) we should really question their importance.




   The funeral industry is very old school when it comes to gossip about the industry.  They love it and spread it.  A good example is when a coffin fell on a funeral and came open in front of everyone. It happened to another company and in another part of Sydney.  Yet I knew all about it and the fall out in less than a month.
    So there are a lot of stories floating about, good and bad. But the stories about one funeral director in particular really stand out.  He is simply known as ‘Bricky’ to many in the industry.  This is because he accidentally cremated a body that was meant to be buried. A reason most companies use ID on the body, such as wrist tags (and a reason they should never be removed by anyone).  He then filled an empty coffin with some bricks and buried that instead.  Someone from the company blew the whistle a while later, and was promptly fired.  They exhumed the coffin, the person in charge of the exhumation opened it more than allowed. Because of this it was no longer a health department matter at all.  Instead they prosecuted the Bricky as a commercial case.  That he did not give the family what they paid for, as in cremated rather than buried the person.  Obviously he lost the court case and was fined.  It was all over the national news, and everyone in the industry knew about it. But his business went up.  He actually got a lot more business as a result of the court case and even continues to work with the same company name to this day.
    He is also known for other 'interesting' events. Such as occasionally stalking a woman with his hearse at all hours of the day and night. To the point that the police where involved.



Working Funerals - The Hearse Revealed

    If the transfer van is the silent workhorse of the funeral industry then the hearse is the racehorse everyone watches.  Yet most people do not really look at it, let alone know how a hearse works.  I have found people will watch the hearse, it is a fancy different car carrying a coffin.  But people will not look at it properly.  The watching is mostly superficial and not intense.  It is as though to look too closely would be wrong.  So here is the hearse revealed for what it is, just another car.

    Unlike America no car companies make hearses in Australia.  Instead the hearse is a regular car that has been modified.  Funeral homes will buy a car form the dealer, then take it to a third party car modification place, such as Hadleys, to be turned into a hearse.  Each funeral home can make the hearse the way they want to which ensures it is individual to that company.  They usually use a bottom end or mid-range car, such as a commodore, rebadged to pretend it is a top end car.  They have to pay for the brand new car which can be about $40,000, then roughly another $60,000 to get it modified.  All in all a brand new hearse can easily cost over $100,000 and take a month or more to make.  And they do not need a fancy car for a hearse, it looks no different and costs so much more.  So getting a basic car and converting it makes sense when you think about it.

    There are a few types of hearses in a large variety of colours from new to old.  From black Holdens to white Chryslers.  If a funeral home wants a specific hearse it can be made.  And if the family want a specific hearse it can be found.  But at their heart all of the hearses are the same.  My experience has mostly been with the W.N.Bull fleet, so I will focus on those hearses.

    W.N.Bull has a fleet of three early 2000s Holden Statesman hearses and one 2011 Holden Commodore hearse rebadged as a caprice.  This is the only company to use actual Statesman cars as a hearse and not just re-badged commodores.  Although now InvoCare owns the company this policy has changed and they are now getting Commodores.

Statesman hearse drivers side wing door.
    The hearse has a lot of space, and a lot of doors.  And every hearse will have different ways to open these doors.  The wing doors are the small doors on either side of the hearse that open up the space underneath where the coffin sits.  Here is where we keep tables, chairs, umbrellas, a CD player, the church trolly and much more.  In some hearses they have a button behind the back passenger seats, in others they have the buttons on the middle console by the drivers seat.  And a few have handles on the wing doors themselves.  The handle option is becoming more popular as it is easier to open.  If the wing door gets stuck, which happens a fair bit, or is on a slope and liable to hit something if it swings open then it is a two person job.  One will press the button while the other stands by the door and makes sure it opens correctly. Whereas a hearse that has handles on the wing doors can be opened by just one person in these situations.  The down side is many find the handles to be unappealing and I have heard it costs more.

    The rear (or boot) door that opens to the coffin can be opened in many different ways.  Some will have a button by the drivers seat, like many boot doors.  Others have a button under a wheel arch or by the back number plate.

    Some terminology:
- The gooseneck; is the device used to keep the coffin in place.  It is a simple chrome piece that slots into two holes and is then tightened.
- The bar; is an extendable bar at the back of the hearse.  The foot of the coffin is placed on this as it is slid in or out of the hearse.
- Wing doors; are the small doors on either side of the hearse that open up the space underneath where the coffin sits.
- Duel cab; refers to the number of seats.  A duel cab hearse has four passenger doors and is much longer than a two door hearse.

All photos were taken with an iPhone, so excuse the low quality of some.

Statesman hearse front.
Caprice hearse rear. You can clearly see ordinary commodore mud flaps and tail lights.
Caprice hearse front.
Statesman hearse drivers side wing door.
Statesman hearse drivers side wing door.
Caprice hearse passenger side wing door, with protective carpet down.
Inside the statesman hearse wing door.
Inside the passenger side wing door, with protective carpet up.
Caprice hearse wing door.
Inside the caprice hearse wing doors.
Button to open the wing doors in the caprice hearse.
From inside the hearse, looking into where the coffin sits.
Inside the statesman hearse cabin.
Back seats inside the statesman hearse cabin.
Inside the statesman hearse cabin.
The 'bar' on the statesman hearse.
The foot of the coffin is placed on this as it is taken in or out
to protect the bumper and make it easier to load or unload.
You can see the silver holy water container to the right at the back.
The great cover with a handel in the middle opens a small compartment where the
crucifixes and other small stuff is kept.
The 'pegs' to the side are what help aline the coffin as we slide it in or out.
They can be moved in or out depending on what is needed and have rubber on the tops to prevent damage.
The rollers along the bottom make sliding the coffin about easy. 
Straightening the foot of a coffin just after loading up.
The windows separating the coffin from the cabin can be slid open to gain access to the foot of the coffin.
The cabin of the statesman hearse with doors open.
Back of the statesman hearse after loading.
The door is always left open once a coffin is inside while the hearse is in the garage.
Rear bar in.
Rear bar extended.
The "goose neck" is what keeps the coffin in place. It sits at the head end (by the door) and is slotted into two holes to hold it. Then it is tightened to keep the coffin still. It is a fancy version of the same thing used in the transfer cars to keep stretchers in place.
The Caprice hearse outside a church in Waverley.

The Caprice hearse outside a church in Waverley.

The caprice hearse open, ready for the coffin to come out of the church.

The great cover with a handel in the middle opens a small compartment where the
crucifixes and other small stuff is kept.
You can see the silver holy water container to the right at the back.

Inside the caprice.

Returning home after a rainy day. The family had scattered frangipani flowers on top and inside the hearse.

How to Attend a Funeral; A Briefe Guide

There is no ‘requirements’ about attending a funeral, but there are rights and wrongs.  And it is amazing how many people do not know how to attend a funeral. So here are some simple tips to make your and the families experience a bit nicer:
  1. Turn off your phone, do not silence it.  Just recently somebodies phone went off several times during the service in the church and then at the grave.  Every time he thought he had silenced it only to be embarrassed a while later.
  2. Keep moving, do not hover around and block the doors, tables or stairs.  Blocking the tables delays people from signing the condolence book.  Blocking doors or stairs makes it hard for us and others to move about.  We have a job to do and often only a little time to do a lot.  You would not want people getting in the way of your work, do not get in the way of ours.  It may sound inconsiderate, but making sure that funeral runs smoothly is our job.  Every time we are held up is time the family and the funeral itself are held up.
  3. Move along the seats.  It is inconsiderate to sit down on the end and leave spaces in the middle.  It does not matter if you “cannot see from the middle” or “do not know those people”.  Move along and let others sit down to, otherwise you will be making people stand for the whole service.
  4. Look up the directions.  People usually know where they are going and when days in advance.  It is beyond me why almost nobody looks up the directions before hand.  The cemetery or crematorium cannot be put into the GPS as an address in most cases (not that people try).  So for something so important why most people just ‘wing it’ on the day is irresponsible, especially if they are from out of town.  The funeral staff will try to keep everyone together, but this is incredibly difficult, especially with a very long trip or cortege.
  5. When driving in the cortege keep up and stay close.  Most people are not trained or experienced at following a cortege.  They will need larger gaps than the funeral staff or hire car drivers.  But keep as close as possible while staying safe.  When a car falls back it can result in others cutting in, the cortege not making the lights or just breaking up the look of the cortege.  Not to meantion any cars behind that one are now even further back.  Keeping as close as possible will keep everyone together and look good.
  6. Use the lights, but do not go crazy.  As soon as you are ready to move off turn on the headlights.  This lets the conductor know you are with the cortege and that you are ready.  Also use your indicators, people who are behind and around need to know where the cortege is going.  Indicate a little earlier than usual, or as soon as the car in front does and this will save a lot of trouble.  Having said that do not over-use the lights.  There is no need for high-beams or hazard lights unless there is an emergency.  This will only confuse and irritate people.
  7. Do not run red lights or drive dangerously to keep up.  However you may have to break the law, as long as it is safe; such as going a little over the speed limit, or running a stop sign on a quiet street or cutting people off at the roundabouts after they stop to let the cortege through.  But being stupid and dangerous is never acceptable!  I have seen people run red lights to keep up because they did not know the way and panicked.  I have seen cars nearly side swipe each other when merging to keep up.  If you get cut off we will slow down, or stop just a little further ahead.  So wait, and do not worry, you will always catch up to the slow cortege.  But never panic and endanger yourself or others just to keep up.
  8. At the grave do not stand on the grave cover.  This is a door sized thing, usually with fake grass on it.  Do not stand between it or the grave after we have lowered either.  Or we ill just politely ask you to move to one side.  It is no big deal, but many people just get embarrassed once they realise where they are standing.
  9. Do not be a hero.  If you cannot carry 50kg or more do not offer to carry the coffin, take an umbrella if it is sunny, sit down if nobody else does and you want to.  Either way, do not put yourself out, it does you no good and is pointless.
  10. Do not block our way when we are carrying the coffin anywhere.  That thing is heavy, we do not want to mess about waiting for someone to step to the side, nor to we want to have to squeeze past people.  It is most common at the graveside, people will hop out of their cars, walk to the grave and then stop.  Rarely do they think about how we will be carrying the coffin that way to.  Especially in a narrow cemetery with uneven ground.  I do not care if it sounds rude, but I also do not think you would want to stand about hanging on to 70kg with only a small handle that cuts into your hand all while waiting for someone to exclaim “oh, am I in your way..?” before slowly and awkwardly moving away


Working Funerals - Driving a Funeral Car

Driving a car is not too difficult of a job.  As long as you are in the right place at the right time then the rest is just additional.  To make life easier I will explain the job as I have found it, this should be easier to work the job and to understand those who work the job.  Being a family car driver can essentially be divided into three main parts; first is the pickup and drop-off, second is driving in the cortege and third is working the funeral.  I will explain each in more detail below:

The Pickup & Drop-off

   The pickup is the first impression you will have with the family, obviously this is very important.  The family can vary quite dramatically when picking them up, some people will be absolutely lovely, others will be quite aloof as you are just the ‘driver’.  In any case you will have to judge their mood and act accordingly.  So here is a short procedure for picking them up which should make it easier:
  1. Make sure  both you and your car are clean and presentable and have enough fuel for the day.
  2. Keep the car stocked with water and tissues, but do not over do it.  You want one water per person and within easy reach, but to keep it discretely out of sight.
  3. Know the way.  This is the most important aspect, but also one of the hardest.  Things can change at the last minute (such as an extra pick-up in another location) or unexpected events can pop up (such as construction blocking the street).  You should never rely on the GPS either, but feel free to use it.  This will help in the case of a street with no or confusing numbers.  However if you rely on it completely it may take you a really long or wrong way (such as up a one-way street).
  4. Arrive at the pickup no more than five minutes early or right on time.  Never arrive late and never arrive too early.  Arriving too early will make the family feel like they have to rush and leave quickly.  And arriving to late makes you look unprofessional.  So be on time or very slightly early.
  5. Introduce yourself by name and who you work for when you arrive )obvious but some forget).  Find your people and let them know where you are.  If they invite you in refuse politely, it is never good form to go in for a coffee or tea unless you know them.  Instead wait by the car patiently.
  6. When they get in the car re-introduce yourself very briefly, just your name will do here.  Make sure to point out where the water is and ask if the air conditioning is fine.  People are polite and/or shy by nature so they would rather be uncomfortable than ‘demanding’.  Asking them forces a considered response, they have to actually chose the temperature that way rather than just sit in it.
  7. Shortly before arriving at the church, cemetery, crematorium, or wherever the service is being held tell them about the conductor.  Give them his/her name and a very short positive description.

   The drop-off is basically as important as the pickup as this is the last image you will leave with the family.  On the way back from the funeral the family can often be tired, upset, quiet or happy and quite bubbly.  It really depends on the people but how they act when you first pick them up is the best indication of how they will be on the way to drop them off.  Here is a short procedure for dropping off the family:

  1. Have the car re-stocked with fresh water and tissues if needed and you get the chance.
  2. Make sure you know the way.  Again, this should be obvious but on many many occasions the drop-off destination has changed for one reason or another.  Just be ready for a new drop-off.  A good hint is to look in the order of service (if there is one) for a listed drop-off or wake.

Driving in Cortege

   This is perhaps one of the more difficult parts of the job.  You will be following about 2 feet behind a hearse at a decent speed while talking to people in the car. .  Here is a list of tips for following in cortege:
  1. Learn to break with the left foot in automatic or ‘heal toe’ break in manual.  This can really cut your stopping distance, and shaving even one metre off the stopping distance can save you from ‘bumping’ into a hearse.  It may be tricky to learn at first but is well worth it.
  2. Keep up.  Perhaps the most important should be the most obvious.  Yet many people do not keep up.  If you are too far from the hearse or car in front you will get cut off.  It will also annoy the hearse driver as they think you are trying to dictate the cortege’s speed, which is their job.  They might be assuming a certain speed to enter a freeway or merge, so if you fall back it could ruin their plans.  Simply keep up and put faith in the driver in front.  You will learn which drivers need more room than others and after time be able to predict when they will break before they break.  If other cars get separated do not slow down (unless directly told to) as it is the hearse drivers job to keep the cortege together, not yours.  Stick to your job and follow the hearse blindly.
  3. Stay close and do not let others into the cortege.  While driving below the speed limit people will want to jump into or pass the cortege.  The best way to prevent people from getting into the cortege is to keep up with the hearse, close enough to just see the bottom of its tires.  But be prepared as people will attempt to jump in anyway, sometimes quite legitimately and other times just to get one step ahead.  Do your best to keep people out, but not at the risk of an accident.  Especially near freeway entries/exits it is best to just let the person in rather than to side-swipe them.  Be patient as most people will jump out as soon as they realise that it is a funeral cortege.
  4. Indicate, this is often forgotten and so helpful.  You are not alone, so do not drive like you are.  Instead you are part of a bigger group and will need to indicate sooner and for longer.  If you see the car in front indicate start indicating at the same time, do not delay.  It is so irritating and dangerous as a back car to find the cortege has moved over a lane and is about to exit a freeway.
  5. Stay in line with the car in front or preferably the hearse.  This makes the cortege look so much better and makes it more obvious to other drivers that you are part of a funeral.  It is easy to follow in a line, simply sit right behind the drivers seat of the vehicle in front.  Follow their line as they go around corners and merge, do not make your own path.  This is very useful when driving in tight driveways and cemeteries as if you follow the car in front and they do not hit anything you should not hit anything either.
  6. Do not break the rules to keep up.  If you are about to be separated from the hearse due to a red light do not run it or worry.  They will slow right down until you catch up.  So sit tight, do not speed, know the way and hope they do not turn a corner before you can find them again.  The only exception to this is during a police escort.
  7. Never pass the hearse.  Simple, never ever pass it as a hire car driver unless expressly told otherwise.  It leads the way, it keeps the cortege together, it is the boss.  
  8. They will pull up to an office in most cemeteries, just sit tight behind, do not pass them and try not to let your people out.  Often (especially after a long drive on a hot day) people will want to go to the toilet.  Do not prevent them from going, instead let them know the conductor will not be long and if they can wait five minutes you will be on your way.  If they do hop out and the conductor gets back first you can do one of two things: Either sit still while the hearse pulls out, and assume it will get the message soon.  Or jump out and let the conductor know the situation.  IT really depends on the conductor which you chose.
  9. At the graveside or crematorium stop with about one car length between you and the hearse (if you are right behind it).  Do not stop too far away or too close and always park directly behind it or the following cars if you are a hire car driver.  Unless told otherwise (by the conductor) never park in front, on the other side of the road or anywhere other than in line with the hearse.

Working the Funeral

   Being a family car driver is not just about the driving.  You also have to work the funeral and help the hearse driver and conductor with their duties.  Generally be helpful, get people to sign the condolence books and help the family in and out of the other hire cars (if there are any).  Try to keep an eye on your car, especially if it is unlocked.  And just be ready near it when the family are coming out so they can find you easily.

General Tips for Driving a Car

   Here is some miscellaneous tips and information which may help you understand the job at hand;
   Try and keep the hire cars together.  Even when not in a cortege it is nice to keep any and all hire cars in a neat little row.  So if there are four cars taking the family back to a wake leave the cemetery together, arrive together and then leave the wake together.  There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but general keep the cortege going even without the hearse.

   When parking the car you can generally stop or park anywhere that is safe to do so.  When you stop at the pickup and drop-off you take a risk if you park illegally, but essentially you want to park as close and conveniently to the door as possible.  If you park in a ‘no stopping’ zone on a funeral then you can suffer a fine (as I have seen on a large funeral).  But most parking wardens are quite understanding, so explain politely to them why you are there and you might get away with it.

   I was once told by another very experienced and good hire car driver that the car should be parked about a good foot out from the kerb.  This lets people step into the gutter to get in and out of the car without getting their feet dirty.  He told me how this made it much easier for people, especially the old or ‘unstable’, to get in and out.  This sounded quite odd, but I tried it out all the same and found it to be quite easier for my passengers.  Being able to step up into the car when getting in, or down out of it when getting out, rather than stepping straight onto the foot path was faster and simpler.  Not only does it make it easier for them it makes it safer as they are less lightly to slip and you will not need to help them as much so it makes your job simpler.  I cannot recommend it more.

   Have all the doors open whenever your people are approaching the car.  If you only open the doors on one side people will often slide along the back seat rather than going around the car and opening the door themselves.  It is simply because they will often feel uncomfortable opening the doors themselves.  They are not lazy, really it is not their car and would you feel comfortable opening a total strangers car up?  Having all the doors open (but not the drivers door) on both sides will prevent this and make them a lot more comfortable.

   The GPS is a mixed blessing when driving a car.  You should never ever rely on it, the one in my new Caprice is state of the art, has live traffic updates and the latest maps.  Yet will take pleasure in directing me up a one-way street and enthusiastically warn me of a non-existent accident while forgetting to tell me about the bad traffic I am stuck in.  Having said that it can be an invaluable tool when used right.  Arriving at the street of a pickup and finding no house numbers is quite frustrating, here the GPS will tell you where exactly the house is.  Some conductors and people will not want you to use it as “you are to know the way”.  This is a very short-sighted approach, not only can it help you get about but it is a great talking piece.  You can laugh with the passengers about the crazy way it wants to go or marvel at the advances in technology.  I have had many good conversations about the GPS and let a few people play with it.

   Carry mints in the car, preferably ones which are individually wrapped.  I am not saying that you should offer the mints to passengers.  But after a bit of a drive, about 20 minutes from the cemetery/crematorium people do appreciate the sugar hit.  Be warned, the mints pose a choking hazard, and some might be allergic, so do not offer them to people.  What i recommend is mentioning the crazy OH&S, having a laugh about it and then happening to point out where they are while mentioning that you would never notice if a few went missing.  Just do not offer them to people.

   Always be understanding of the families.  They are in a bad situation, going to a loved ones funeral.  Most will be nice, and most people are good at heart, but a rare few can be bad or just strange.  For more examples of this read about some of my various experiences.  However in those situations my advice is to sit quietly and just do your job, answer direct questions and make conversation if appropriate.

   When making conversation avoid topics such as politics, beliefs/practices, the funeral industry, cost of the job, etc.  If it is brought up by the passengers then go for it within reason.  For example many people bring up the topic of the funeral industry and while I am quite open about it I understand others do not necessarily need or want to hear the details.  So just try to be honest but brief.

   After the funeral and if you are taking the family back to their drop-off you will often find flowers being out in your boot.  Make sure you do not forget to return them to the family, last thing you want is to be racing back to a wake or gathering to return something you forgot.  To help you remember place a petal on your dashboard.  And get into the habit of checking the dash for petals before you say your goodbyes.  Also when the family are exiting the car for the last time check it quickly for anything they might have forgotten, such as glasses, bags, etc.  If they leave something behind in your car you will most likely be the one racing out to return it.

   If you can, place a few order of service booklets into the care before you pickup the passengers.  They will appreciate being able to read it on the way to the service.  However this is rare as they are usually the ones to bring the booklets.  But when you arrive at the service it is a good idea to grab about 4 booklets and hide them in the car for the family.  That way if they run out you can give them extra to ‘send to those who couldn’t make it today’ which they will really appreciate.

   In the end remember that when driving a car as a funeral company you are not really a hire car driver.  You are to keep the family happy which happens to involve driving them.  So always be ready to help them when needed, do not just sit back and drive them about


Modernising Death - Looking at the modern crematorium

    Death is becoming a very 'modern' operation, no different to other big industries like tourism.  As a result there is a lot of uniformity, conformity and predictability in the funeral industry.  And the various crematorium are a good example of this.  They were built at different times in different places by different groups, yet they share many similarities.

    The 'funeral gaze' has a great influence on the industry.  As a lecturer once said, the gaze is "not somebody staring.  It's staring with intent.  Somebody staring with an idea to change things".  It is the influence the people have on what they see and experience.  The gaze is simultaneously encapsulates what is seen and the way it is seen (Perkins & Thorns, 2001, p. 187).  So mourners have a great influence on the funeral industry through their gaze.

    But the funeral industry also has its own influence on the mourners.  The funeral industry manipulates the funeral gaze.  This is because the industry only lives if the funeral gaze is regular and predictable (Pagenstecher, 2003, p. 1).  If the gaze was unpredictable funeral parlours, crematoriums, cemeteries and so on could not sell or market themselves effectively.  And InvoCare (along with others in the industry) realise this and manipulate it through various processes such as theming and dedifferentiation (Bryman, 1999; Pagenstecher, 2003, p. 1). 

    This manipulation is achieved through the concept of Disneyization and McDonaldization.  These concepts refer to the never-ending process, and outcome of the process, of control over every aspect of an image on a massive and local level.  While there are similarities between these two concepts, the difference is that while McDonaldization is about efficiency, calculability, predictability and (most importantly) control.  Whereas Disneyization is about theming, dedifferentiation, merchandising and (most importantly) emotional labour (McCall G. 2., 2010).

    Theming is a common, and the most obvious, form of Disneyization (Bryman, 1999, p. 29).  Theming simply is the productization of an organisation, such as the use of a logo or specific font.  One way to see this in the funeral industry is in the crematoriums.  Crematoriums were often built at different times and for different reasons across Sydney.  We can see this by looking at four main crematoriums in Sydney.  The first is Rookwood Gardens is the oldest operating crematorium in Sydney.  Established in 1925 it accommodated those who could not afford a burial and to cope with a higher volume of deceased than cemeteries could.  The second is Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park (ESMP) crematorium was opened in 1938 to deal with returning soldiers.  The third is Northern Suburbs crematorium, opened in 1922.  The fourth is Macquarie Park crematorium.  Opened in 2004 it was a radically new design and operating procedures aimed at covering as many services as possible, in an efficient and modern way.  Nothing like it had been buit in Sydney before.

    These four crematoriums are in different parts of the city, run by different organisation, built at different times and for different reasons.  Yet their themes, logos and setup are all very similar..  They name their chapels based on points of the compas, such as 'North Chapel' or 'West Chapel'.  They use similar colours, browns, pastels and creme.  But not all four are like this.  Macquarie Park names its chapels after plants, such as 'Palm Chapel' and 'Magnolia Chapel'.  It also uses different colours such as whites, blue and some silvers.  And while the other crematoriums use carpet or wooden floors Macquarie Park uses white tiled floors.  They are even set up the same way, from the way in which you or the hearse enters to where you sit and where the coffin is placed.  There is a asile down the center leading to a stage area surrounded by a curtain.  The stage area is in a recess, indented into the wall at the front and surrounded by a curtain.  The stage has a 'catafalque' on which to place the coffin.  The catafalque is raised so everyone can see it clearly from anywhere in the room.  The hearse can pull right up to the front door and there is parking for mourner cars nearby.  Macquarie Park is different, it is the only one which has a catafalque that is on wheels.  It is the only one which has awnings in front of every chapel and the only one with large modern glass windows and doors with aluminium frames.  And yet most people would see it as any other crematorium.  The logos at all four are of either bird, flower or a sunset and with simple clean lines and colours.  Every crematorium logo is similar to the point of being interchangeable.  But they reflect the industry on a larger level.  They are badges that show who owns and runs the crematoriums and what they are like.  The similarity of these badges reflects the similarity of the groups who run the crematoriums.

    These crematorium employ similar yet different themes to illustrate how they sell the same product, but are different companies.  This gives the impression that they are different places with different experiences and 'products'.  After all, if they all used the exact same themes then people could not differentiate between them.  And people want difference, and a newness, but not to lose touch with what’s known (McCall G. 2., 2010).

    McDonaldization is also apparent in these four crematorium.  The way the service procedes is basically the same in every place.  Everything is predictable and tightly controlled by the staff and by the process itself.  The funeral staff will arrive with the hearse, inform the crematorium staff of their arrival and exchange paperwork.  This paperwork is the same in each crematorium.  Depending on family wishes the funeral staff and/or the family will then carry the coffin into the chapel and place it on the catafalque.  They will say a few words, prayers or whatever they wish, sometimes placing flowers or memorabilia on the coffin as they either enter or exit.  Finally, about 20 to 45 minutes later the curtains are closed and the service is over.  The coffin is then taken into a back room where it is either stored in a fridge to be cremated at a later date or cremated right away.  It is the same, predictable formule in every place and does not vary much.

    The staff, both crematorium and funeral (who are usually from different organisations) keep everything in order.  Working together to do so.  They keep people out of the chapels until the place is ready and set up, they organise the paperwork, they make sure everything runs as it should.  But they do this because of tight rules and procedures.  The consequences for not filling out the right papers in the right way are quite serious, as you can imagine.  Treating the family differently, such as taking them into the chapel too early or late, can again have consequences.  If anything does not go according to the formule then the mourners become upset, even if they do not know the formule.  Everything is tightly controlled and efficient.

    So we can see that the four crematorium all have clear signs of Disneyfication and McDonaldization.  They are uniformed and predictable in almost every way.  Thus we would think there was little originality or differentiation between them and between the services.  As Guneratne highlights, this idea is a superficial simplistic view (Guneratne, 2001, p. 230).  If anything, dedifferentiation and globalisation polarize and emphasise the local differences (Guneratne, 2001).  In other words globalisation does not create a global culture, but rather it “reinscribes locality in new ways” (Guneratne, 2001, p. 527).  And this is the same with the funeral industry.  The conformity reinforces their differences, what makes them individual.

    Going back to the logos we see that although each one is very similar to the other, they are all different and emphasise who runs the crematorium.  Their procedures are slightly different, and these slight differences are most important to each place.  How the hearse pulls up to the chapel, where and how the papers are done, where the mourners park, etc is all different at each place.  But more importantly the staff and design of the crematorium is the biggest difference.  Not only do the staff wear different uniforms but they practice different procedures.  For example at ESMP the staff will charge extra for showing others how to use the AudioVisual system in the chapels and then leave.  While at Macquarie Park the staff will be present for the whole service and run the AudioVisual system themselves, for no extra cost.  Macquarie Park did this deliberately to be different from the other crematorium, to give the mourners something they will not get at another place.  They also offer different services to go along with the funeral.  Macquarie Park has catered function rooms within easy walking distance of the chapels and will record the whole service for families.  It highlights the modern features and designes of the crematorium.  Rookwood Gardens contrastingly emphasises its history and garden settings.  And it does not make any attempt to offer a function room or encourage the recording of funerals.

    Crematoriums are a modern organisation comparable to the tourism industry.  They package and sell a product like any other company.  The only real difference being that the product they sell is a funeral service.  As a result there is a lot of conformity and similarity between the crematoriums.  However this only forces them to reinforce why they are different, what makes them unique.  If they all offered the exact same product then there would be no way for people to chose between them.  And people like choice, even if it is just an illusion.  So long as the choice does not come at the cost of what is expected.


References for further reading:

Bryman, A. (1999). The Disneyization of society. The Sociological Review , 46 (1), 25-47.

Guneratne, A. (2001). Shaping the tourist's gaze: Representing ethnic difference in a Nepalese village. Journal of the Royal Anthropologist Institute , 527-543.

McCall, G. 1. (2010, 3 31). Tourism as a development strategy. SOCA3106 Unpublished Lecture . UNSW.

McCall, G. 2. (2010, 4 28). The “tourist gaze”, industrialisation and accommodation: Guides and hopes for the safe adventure. SOCA3106 Unpublished Lecture . UNSW.

Pagenstecher, C. (2003). The construction of the tourist gaze. How industrial was post-war German tourism? In L. Tissot, Construction d'une industrie touristique au 19e et 20e siècles. Perspectives internationales. Development of a Tourist Industry in the 19th and 20th Centuries (pp. 373-389). Neuchâtel, International Perspectives.'

Perkins, H., & Thorns, D. (2001). Gazing or performing: Reflections on Urry's tourist gaze in the context of contermporary experience in the Antipodes. International Sociology , 16 (2), 185-204.

Urry, J. (2001). Globalizing the tourist gaze. Lancaster LA 1 4YN, UK: Department of Sociology.


Kevin in Waverley

    I was at a church in Waverley and was quite board for most of it.  So I took some pictures of my car again, with the hearse!  I also realised that it could be the last time I drive him.

Following the hearse out to Waverley.

Parked outside the church.

The dash on the way back.