How to Trim a Coffin WNBull Style - The Handels

    You can read the previous parts on how to do the inside lining here and how to do the lid and thumbscrews here.  But now for the handles, an important part of the coffin.

    One thing to remember is that you must make sure all screws and nails are in properly, otherwise the handle may come off at a bad time.

1. Flip the coffin onto its side.

2. Get the following tools and place them close by:
- 1x Hammer.
- 1x Guide (the wood block used to keep the handel straight and in the right spot, labelled "tudor" in the picture).
- 1x Drill.
- 6x Handles.
- 12x Nails (long).
- 24x Screws.

3. Line up the handle so the middle will be centred with the thumbscrew on the lid.  Feel free to use the hammer to help make it straight.

4. Use the guide to keep the handle straight and at just the right hight on the coffin.

5. Hammer the nails into the tops of the handle, you need two nails per handle.

6. Once all three handles have been secured drill them down.

7. Check all there handles making sure they are straight and secured.

8. Flip the coffin to the other side and now do the same with those three handles.

    If you followed all three posts then that's it, you trimmed a coffin!

    You can read the previous parts on how to do the inside lining here and how to do the lid and thumbscrews here.



Funeral Fun - Whale of a Transfer

    This is not my story, and I was not even in the industry when it happened, someone I use to work with told me this story as a cautionary tale on why to never keep things in pockets higher than your waist.  But it is such an odd and amusing story I thought it worth telling here.


Funeral Fun - Accident on the Harbour Bridge!

    Breaking down or having an accident in a funeral car is often a little more serious than with most other cars.  Mainly because the funeral car will probably have a body or two onboard which always grabs attention.  And this attention is really unwanted for the funeral homes as it makes them look bad.  So you can imagine how bad it was when a hearse had an accident almost right ON the Harbour Bridge.  A classic Sydney icon that is a major link between two sides of the city.

    The hearse was driving along, headed to a funeral in North Sydney, so it had a coffin onboard.  It was only a small funeral so the hearse only had a conductor and driver, no cars following and nobody else inside.  It was also late afternoon and getting close to rush hour.  As they made their way onto the Harbour Bridge there was a sudden and loud bang, as thought the hearse had slamed into something.  They paused for a moment but continued on when smoke started pouring out of the engine.  They immediately pulled over and jumped out as it looked like it a fire was starting.  The engine looked totaled at the front, fluids and smoke were pouring out form underneath.  Of course the conductor grabbed his mobile and started calling the relative people, such as roadside assistance, and the office.

  Once the office found out about the accident they scrambled another hearse to go and collect the body so they could continue with the funeral, and also because they did not want to make the news with a body in a hearse having an accident.  The RTA (road maintenance people) were very quick to arrive as they had seen the accident on their cameras and promptly started diverting traffic and organising a tow truck.  Not long after the second rescue hearse arrived and they were about to get the coffin out of the first, broken hearse when the RTA stopped them.  They refused to let them move the coffin until after the broken hearse was towed off.  To the RTA the priority was on getting the road clear, which is their job.  Looking at the time the funeral staff knew they would not make the funeral in time if they waited.  So as soon as the RTA had turned their backs the funeral staff grabbed the coffin out, jogged it over to the other hearse, threw it in and sped off before anyone could stop them.

The hearse involved, much later
    The second hearse made it to the funeral in time and the family never knew about the accident that nearly delayed the whole event.  This is about when I came into the office to drop off some paperwork.  All the phones were constantly ringing, people were dashing about, it was chaotic.  As soon as I found out what had happened I immediately left and went home for the day (it was time to finish) as I knew I would be no use and did not want to get dragged into the chaos and panic.

    As for the hearse, it was towed off.  After a few hours and lots of debate the hearse was then towed over to the WNBull North Sydney branch before being taken to a mechanic a few days later.  They later found out that it had hit a road sign which was lying on the road.  This sign had then shredded the transmission and most of the engine.  After being hit the sign was then flung to the other side of the road, narrowly missing the oncoming traffic.  It is very lucky nobody was hurt and only the hearse was damaged.

    What is stranger, and luckier for the funeral home, is that it did not make the news in any way.  One would think that a hearse, with coffin inside, having an accident on its way onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the edge of rush hour would make the news.  But no, here are no pictures of stories to be found anywhere about the event.


Working Funerals - Handling the Elderly

    Part of working funerals is dealing with the elderly, they are more likely to know and/or be related to people who die as most people who die are themselves older and/or elderly.

    I should define what i mean by 'elderly' as I am not just talking about old or older people.  There is no age limit or minimum to be 'elderly', one must simple be old.  I use 'elderly' to refer to people who act old mental and physically.  It is not just that they will have trouble getting about, will have trouble thinking, are slow to respond and so on.  They will also have an 'elderly' attitude and feel about them and often have many/odd/difficult requests.  However this is not always because of their age as some people who are quite old will act quite young.  They may have trouble getting about/thinking but are still lively and do not feel old to interact with.

    As the elderly are an unavoidable part of the funeral I thought that a short guide on how to handle them could be useful and/or interesting.  I may talk of attitudes to elderly at funerals another time, but for now I will just stick to handy tips and things to watch for.

Some General Tips & Recommendations:
    My top tip is that elderly love free stuff no matter what its value.  If you are having trouble getting rid of an older person and/or they are unhappy/confused for whatever reason offer them something for free.  They will then usually walk off, content with their new thing which they will inspect in detail while walking off or once they are seated.  However they do not want just any old thing for free, it has to be something nobody else is getting.  For example handing them an 'order of service' (or 'mass book') is not considered valuable as you are giving everyone the same thing.  So instead give them a pen or something else which nobody else is talking/getting (even if they are allowed to have one).  WNBull puts company bookmarks on its tables, something nobody generally wants at a funeral except people who are already a fan of the company.  As such nobody wanted or took them.  This made them the perfect thing to give to old people, it was something nobody else was getting making them appear to be 'special'.

    The elderly often have difficulty making decisions or communicating, or for that matter thinking in general.  This might only minor and mean they change their mind about something trivial once.  Or it coule be major in that they do not know who brought them to the funeral or who will take them to the cemetery (as happened with one of the priests on a funeral).  Long story short he had no idea about even the colour of the car that he came in, and quite possibly did not get a car to the funeral.

    Elderly people are slow, in body and mind.  As frustrating as it can be to stand about, waiting for what feels like an eternity while they think over a point or formulate a questions, you will have to deal with it.  A simple fact is that our brains often slow down as we age, so be patient and think of how you want to be treated when you get old.  The elderly are also physically slow, which blocks pathways and others movements.  Again, you will have to live with it, but it is perfectly fine and reasonable to ask to get past.  Always ask rather than push and they are often likely to move aside, many elderly realise they are slow and you are not and once made aware of the situation are quite happy to let you pass.  However just push past and it will be seen as rude and inconsiderate (which it is).

    They often had old fashioned or conservative views and attitudes.  Understand this, do not let it make you prejudice and do not bring up politics or religion.  If these topics come up do not get into it (they can be dragged out for ages if you do) and do not state your views if they violently contradict/contrast the other persons view (as they will either feel bad or the need to prove their point).  This is good advice for dealing with people in general in a customer service role, but the elderly are more likely to be old fashioned or conservative and depending on your age/ideas are also more likely to be furthest from your own beliefs.  It is rare that somebody will win in a debate on these topics.  This relates to my next point.

    As a result of these older attitudes they may have prejudice against you or preconceived ideas about you based on certain things.  Being in my early 20s in an industry where the average staff member is in their 50s made people look at me differently.  I often had older people try and tell me what to do as they knew best and I was just a kid.  That my opinions were invalid on the mear fact that I was young and thus they assumed unexperienced and/or uneducated (through life itself or books).  They did not like the idea of a 'kid' driving them about or having an idea they disagreed with.  On the other hand I had people who were very happy with me being a 'kid' and actually liked it.  They asked me about new things (such as the GPS in the car).  They would comment on my age and state how I was around the same age as their grandkids.  This example of ageisim is just one of many, but the point is elderly people will see things differently to you and you should make room for this.

    Technology is something they dislike and tradition is something rely on.  Unless they bring it up do not bring it up.  It is not because it is a controversial topic which can cause heated debate (like religion, politics, etc) but because they simply do not like or understand technology.  I remember one elderly lady demanded I keep the GPS off while driving even though I was not using it.  She did not like the picture being there as she thought that GPS and modern technology was the end of the world, people were relying on it and it was faulty.

Hazards to Watch For & How to Deal with Them:
    Know where the bathrooms are, many, including the elderly, will probably need them and not know where to go.  So know where the bathroom is and if it is unlocked, or at least roughly where it should be.

    Stairs or steps are perhaps the biggest issue to the elderly.  They have trouble getting up or down them and could fall.  Be ready to help them or direct them to a ramp.  And remember, a single step of an inch can be just as bad as a long staircase.

    They are liable to fall over or trip, almost as likely as a drunk person.  As one ages their balance deteriorates as much as the other senses thus making it harder to keep upright.  Also proprioception is something which deteriorates making it harder to control ones limbs.  Thus they can fall over, seriously injuring themselves in situations we take for granted or would not even consider difficult.  So watch them and be ready to assist them.  Some would say that you should also be ready to actually catch people if they start to fall, but this depends on weather or not you could actually catch them.  There is no point in both of you falling and getting hurt.

    The rain and wet is a major hazard to the elderly.  They can fall over, slip or get damp.  Either way it will cause them harm and/or grief.  So keep an umbrella handy and an eye on the elderly in the rain.

    The heat and sun can be worse for the elderly than the rain.  The only people I ever saw faint at funerals were with young girls (usually thin but rarely 'too thin') and the elderly (again, usually women).  With the young girls they are often fine after a drink and resting in the shade, however with the elderly it can easily involve an ambulance check.  So keep water and umbrellas handy to pass out to the elderly.  Simply do not let the elderly get too hot.  It can be a serious issue and involve an ambulance which is a spectacle and a lot of work for you.

    When giving water to the elderly (especially at a cemetery) be mindful of their bladders.  Offer them water but do not force it upon them.  It might turn out that person has a bad bladder, does not need the water and is liable to wet themselves if they drink it.

    They may have trouble getting in or out of cars, especially new cars.  Watch cars as they arrive and be ready to help an older person out, this will keep traffic flowing and prevent blockages.

    Elderly people do not make good drivers (in most cases at least) so direct them if needed and do NOT send them down narrow or difficult paths.  They have trouble judging spaces and can get bottled up which again blocks traffic.

    Be ready to take wheelers as they sit dow (a 'wheeler' is a walking frame on wheels).  If you let it sit in the aisles then this blocks the flow of people, so move it to the side informing the owner as you do so.  On the other hand be ready to pass the wheelers that have been moved back to the owner as they are leaving.

    WIth all of the above hazards prevention is the key.  Stopping something before it happens will keep people happier and save you a lot of time and effort.  So think of them and yourself and take a moment to prevent something rather than avoiding it and having to react after something goes wrong.

How to Avoid the Elderly:
    Yes, my top recommendation is to actually avoid the elderly, especially if they appear difficult.  This naturally depends on your disposition, many people actually like working with the elderly just as many enjoy working with children.  Simply everyone has things they do and do not like.  So if you are like me and do not think like this then avoid them.  So 'vanish' at the right time and somebody else will 'get' to handle these aspects/people you dislike.  Here are some tips on how to avoid the elderly:

    Be physically distant from the situation, or at least further from it than other staff and you are less likely to become involved.   For example go to the hearse, you might 'need' to get something out or put something back, this is the perfect time to do so as you - especially if the hearse is located quite far away.

    Be busy elsewhere, there is plenty to do on a funeral, so find something you would rather do before others find it.  This could involve sorting the condolence book, although this is not that good as you can stop and come back to this task, or another staff member could take over this task.  Or you could 'have' to move one of the funeral cars (especially if it is the car you're assigned to), although this is sometimes silly, out of place and not liked by certain conductors.  Another option is to already be helping someone with something, such as taking an unstable person to their seat or showing someone where the bathrooms are.  Either way, find a task that you can do, is a valid task that can be prioritised, that you cannot just pause or pass on and that will not make it appear as though you are avoiding work.


    Some things said here can make people a bit unhappy, they have thought this post takes a prejudice view against the older people.  I have nothing against the elderly, however they are annoying and inconvenient.  This is nopt to say others are not annoying/inconvenient, but that the elderly are different and sometimes more annoying and inconvenient.  On the other hand they can be quite lovely and wonderful to chat with, especially the Catholic nuns/sisters who are often very lively and full of humour.


A Quick Survey

    I have created a relatively short survey which I would appreciate people answering.  It shouldn't take long and could be quite interesting!

>> Click this link to take the survey online <<

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Cultural Differences in the Hearse: American and Australian hearse

    I wrote this post about inside the hearse a while ago.  What surprised me was how few people knew about the hearse.   As a follow up I have been keeping an eye out for articles about the hearse and recently I came across this post about unusual hearses at the Chive.  It's about 'unusual' hearses, but what is interesting to me is picture 25, which although a little odd is quite a standard hearse to me.  This lead to me thinking about the cultural differences in hearse's between America and Australia and how this might indicate cultural differences in funerals as well.

Funeral Fun - Crashing the Home

    Nobody wants to have an accident while doing a transfer,just as when driving a hearse.  It is not a good look for a car to crash and then to find out it had a body onboard.  However this has happened several times in the history of the industry.  However one story that stands out is of a fully loaded transfer van crashing into a home.

    This occurred many years ago at a funeral home which has since been sold off and no longer exists, although many of the employees are still in the industry.  What happened was that the funeral home was on the top of a steep hill.  One day the transfer crew returned and were about to reverse into the mortuary when the driver had an epileptic fit which resulted in him losing control of the van.  The van then rolled down the hill, picking up speed as it went, and crashed into the front room of a house.  Luckily nobody was hurt in the crash, however the van was full at the time.  Yes, it had four bodies on board.  One of the other staff ran to the manager informing him of the accident.  At first the manager did not believe it, hearing that a van had just run into a home with four bodies after the driver had an epileptic fit was a little outlandish to say the least.  Upon realising it had actually happened several staff rushed over with another van and moved the bodies out of the now destroyed van quietly and quickly before the residence or anyone else found out.  The last thing they wanted was to make the news about a van ladened with bodies crashing through a house.

    Overall it was an experience I doubt anyone involved will forget and one even I will remember for some time.  And yet there are many like it and worse, which I will tell at another time.



Funeral Fun - The Gloved Man & Stolen Flowers

    It had been a long day before I encountered a strange person on a strange funeral.  I had just finished working a short job in the city, everything had gone well, on the way to the next job I had to collect and take another staff member with me, not an issue as we had a good chat on the way.  So far it was turning out to be quite a fun little day.  The only problem is that we had not eaten since 7:00 and it was now well after 14:00.

The Need to Show Power and Importance

    As an undertaker one will get to drive around all kinds of people.  And one thing I found is that people with power or importance did not act like it while those without power acted like they had it.  This is also something many hire car drivers noticed and commented on, so I am not the only one to think it.

    Basically those with power treated me as an equal, not just making conversation but also asking about and interested in me as a person.  I remember as we pulled into the function center for the wake that the quite prominent lawyer I was driving asked if I had time to stop and offer the girl ushering traffic a water if I had time (it was a hot day and she was in the sun).  It was amazing how he noticed and thought of the wellbeing of the staff.  Another time I was talking with a lady about the odd things we bring back from holidays.  She said, quite nonchalantly, how she had a chandelier posted back from Franc simply because she liked it.  To her posting a whole chandelier was on the same level as me posting a letter.  Yet one would never guess about either of these people's status through their dress, body language or attitudes.  They were quite relaxed and saw me as another equal person.

    In contrast I disliked driving 'lower' rich or powerful people.  Those that thought they had power and thus the right to show it off when really they had nothing in comparison to people with actual power or wealth.  These people were much less likely to talk with me let alone make actual conversation.  And they never treated 'us staff' as equals, we were there to serve them.  Not to point fingers or group people but these sort of people were more common in places like Double Bay, Edgecliff or the western hills areas.  Basically 'fancy' and expensive areas that are actually not quite as expensive as other areas.

    What is interesting is that people of a middle class background or lower (not upper-middle class) were also quite nice and relaxed treating others as equals.  They were not rich or powerful and fine with the fact., such as those from the Shire, certain parts of the Eastern Suburbs and certain parts of the North Shore.  Again, just like with the rich people I often had a great time driving these people who made an effort to get to know me and talk with me.

    So it appears that those with lots of power or money and those with a decent amount to little are more likely to be kind and treat people as equals.  On the other hand those with a decent amount of money or power are the ones who are unlikely to actually talk with staff and act as though they are the most important ones to grace your presence.



The Transfer Van: How the dead are transported

The Toyota Hiace
    The transfer van is something that is so important, an essential part of society, and yet almost nobody knows it even exists.  This is not because we do not actively avoid it.  Instead it is just something which nobody is told or thinks about.  Thus I thought it was about time i brought the transfer van out of the dark.

    One of the things that surprises people about the transfer van is that it is literally a van and nothing special.  People often believe the body is transported in a special vehicle designed for the job, much like a hearse if not a hearse.  When I tell them that it is a van, often a Toyota Hiace, they are surprised but not shocked.  Nobody has ever expressed displeasure with the thought of their loved one, or themselves, being transfered in a van.  It is just something they never thought about rather than something they disliked.

    I should not that there are actual state and national laws on what vehicles can transport a body.  Because I do now fully know these laws or regulations I will not go into them in detail.  But basically the vehicle has to have an airtight seal between the driver and the body.  The compartment the body is held in must also have decent ventilation to the outside.  Thus one cannot just transport a body in the back of any car.

    Now for the transfer vehicle itself.  The most common is the Toyota Hiace (pictured right and below) as it is cheap, practical and so reliable.  The Hiace is used by 'Statewide' and 'Mortuary Services Support' (dedicated transfer companies) and many funeral homes.  It is just such a reliable van, I remember how we would run our Hiace up and down freeways for days on end and it never missed a beat.  Plus it is actually quite cheap (to run and buy) which makes it quite a good option from a financial point of view for the company.  All of this is exactly what one wants in the transfer car, last thing anyone wants is to be broken down with a body on board.  The next most common would be a basic Mercedes Van, this is used primarily be InvoCare transfer crews.  It is more expensive to buy than the Hiace, but InvoCare is not just rich, they are also happy and willing to spend money if it is justified.  The Mercedes is a much nicer van inside and outside with better airconditioning and more legroom for the drivers.  However there are other much less common transfer vehicles, I remember an interstate transfer company arrived with a really odd custom built car.  It was like a ute which's tray was a large single and sealed box.  This thing was apparently from the 1980s and on its second engine, which had done over 5 million kilometres.

    Because the Toyota Hiace is the most common transfer vehicle I will primarily look at this as the example of the transfer van.  In the back of the Hiace is an automatic 'lift' (pictured below) which can be raised or lowered.  This makes it possible for the van to hold four bodies at once and because the lift can be lowered it makes 'loading up' the body much easier.  One can simply lower the lift to waist hight rather than have to lift the body to head hight.  Inside the Hiace there is the divider, this divider is not only the airtight seal but also practical because it has so many shelves.  Here is where we keep the body bags, slide sheets, gloves, hand sanitisers, street map and so on.

    One massive drawback to the Hiace is that it is rather top heavy once the lift is installed.  A transfer van, exactly the same as the one featured in this post, actually flipped on its side in Melbourne only a couple of years ago.  When driving it you could really feel this top heaviness.  It was obviously impossible to take any corner too fast or the van would fall over.

Inside the cabin of the Hiace.

Inside the back of the Hiace with the lift raised.

Inside the back of the Hiace with the lift lowered.

The switch to raise and lower the lift.

Stretchers sitting inside the van.

The clamp used to keep the stretchers in place.
Our transfer van, back in the garage after a long day.
The transfer stretchers.
The leg-less one is lying upside down and on top of the one with legs

Inside the transfer van with no stretchers.

    This is what we will all ride in one day, a white van.  It is literally the second last thing most people will be driven in after they die (the last being the hearse).


Coffin Costs

    The coffin is an important item to any funeral, after all, when one thinks or googles funeral the first things that come up are usually of people carrying or crying over a coffin in a cemetery.  Yet it is so expensive, disproportionately so.  A mid-range coffin will have well over 100% profit on it.  What is interesting is that people pay this cost and that once they find out about the high profit margine they are offended.  We do not like the idea of a funeral home making profits, all despite it being a business like any other.  Coles sells food, Big W sells products and funeral homes sell the process of dealing with the dead.  But they all use the same models and methods to do so.  So here I intend to examine the prices of coffins, what people get for their money and why they cost so much.

    The coffin is one of the most important items in many ways and to many people.  Coffins carry with them an emotional significance for most people, especially when they think it holds the body of their loved one.  I noticed that people will treat the coffin with reverence and significance.  Naturally this varies from culture to culture and person to  person.  For example ethnic people (such as Greeks, Lebanese, Italians, etc) will often want to 'touch' the coffin in some way or see inside it.  They touch it by either by crowding around madly and emotionally or by quietly and calmly carrying it.  Traditional Catholics on the other hand will sometimes touch the coffin by carrying it, but unless they are part of a religious order they will rarely be physically involved with the coffin and not want to see inside.  However they do gaze on it more, for them it is more visually significant than for other cultures.

Ready and waiting to be sold.
    It is also often the most expensive item at a funeral.  This is because it is all but essential for a funeral.  You have to get the body there somehow and people rarely want to see the body itself being interacted with.  People like the body to be in a box or wrapped up heavily and it is this wrapping or box that is handled.  However, while essential this is not the reason the coffin will cost so much, nor is it the reason "high end" coffins exist.  It is because of the previously mentioned significance that they are so costly.  For a low end coffin one could expect to pay $1,000.  For a midrange model one pays $2,000 to $5,000 and for the top end it would cost $6,000 or more.  

    The value for money is quite interesting.  Firstly coffins are just boxes, usually wooden, and looking at them being made this is quite clear.  Although the end product is actively deceptive of this fact, and idea I will expand in another post at another time.  But for now I will explain that they are usually chipboard, just like furniture.  Yes, until you get to the high midrange prices or higher the inside is just chipboard and it will have shiny plastic handles.  One of InvoCares favourite coffins are what people in the industry refer to as "the ikea coffins" or "the snap-together coffins.  Because they literally snak together, they arrive at the funeral home, fresh from China, as flat separate pieces in a cardboard box.  Staff then take these pieces and "whack them together", not needing any glue, nails, stapes or anything else to fix the pieces together.  Due to being made in China on mass they are very cheap for InvoCare, even after shipping they cost well under the price charged.  However they are considered to be very cheap and low quality by those I talked with in the industry.  There were often gaps of almost an inch between whole sides, exposing the contents within.  There was also an incident or two where a coffin got caught as it was lowered at the grave, quite a common affair, but on a few rare occasions they broke open, quite uncommon.  Another interesting point on the low end models is that this is where LifeArt starts and aims most of its advertising.  LifeArt are basically cardboard coffins which are said to be very cheap compared to others and also very environmental.  Luckily neither of these points are particularly true, not that the truth matters to most.  But they cost more than the basic $1,000 chipboard coffins and are made from trees as are the wooden coffins. 

    Of course this is just the low end coffins, with the midrange the quality often changes quite a bit.  For example midrange models are almost always chipboard (which is actually quite decent for a coffin) and put together in a more complex method than the 'snap together' variety.  These coffins will also sometimes feature actual metal handles rather than plastic and have more details on the body of the coffin.  But they cost $5,000 or more, so one would expect these basic changes.  Yet seeing it from the undertakers angle one wonders if this price is worth it.  People outside the industry assumed that if the coffin cost $5,000 for them then it would cost the funeral home $4,000 or more.  It was always assumed that the profit margin was low or at least modest.  When I informed them that the coffin actually cost $1,000 to $2,000 (after shipping and tax) they were quite surprised and outraged.  But why, what is wrong with a business making money?  Well, quite simply I wont answer this here, it is too long and convoluted a concept to discuss in this post.  So for now I will look at why the funeral home has such a high profit on certain coffins.

    As one conductor said "the expensive coffins are the bread and butter of the industry".  He went on to say that this large profit allows the company to survive, to pay the employee wages and cover unforeseen costs.  One would think that the "service fee" families pay for funeral would cover the cost of the funeral.  But it only covers most of it and for that funeral.  There are others where the service fee did not cover everything.  For example I waited for over an hour at RPA for the body to be released (due to the shocking attitudes and management at RPA).  So who paid for the time we spent there, for two people to just sit around for an hour or so?  Well the coffin did.  It would be wrong and inappropriate to pass this cost directly onto the family, whether they can afford it or not.  But it would be just as wrong not to pay the transfer crew for their time.  Thus instead the cost is taken off the cost of the high profit coffins.  So now you might be thinking that undertakers are basically taking the costs of funerals from those who pay for a high profit coffin.  This is essentially correct; the funeral home is doing a funeral yet charing another family for the costs that the original family would refuse.  Nothing is wrong with this practice, the costs have to be covered and it would be wrong or impossible for the funeral home to pass on these costs.  So if they want to stay in business then they have to find the money somewhere.  This somewhere is high profit coffins, if people are willing to pay this price then the funeral home has every right to charge the price.  A suit salesman once told me that he would charge over 180% profit in some suburbs for his suits to cover the costs of selling suits at a slight loss in other places.  It is simply the same process at work with coffins.

    Actually the whole coffin sale process is quite refined.  Tom Jokinen explains the American coffin sale process in 'Curtains: Adventures if an undertaker in training' (an amusing and true book).  Here he illustrates how where coffins are placed in the "show room" is strictly dictated.  And not just their hight, but their lateral location (as in which is on the right and which is on the left).  They even specifically design the pathway people will walk, working out the direction and pace of travel.  All very American and related to McDonaldization, yet in Australia we do not do things quite the same way.  The sale of coffins is often more relaxed here, although showrooms exist and are thought about they are not thought of in the same detail as in America.  In fact WNBull (a top funeral home in Sydney and one of the most expensive) did not even have a show room of any sort.  One existed in the past but they found it was not used very much or well and as such turned it into a meeting room.  This is interesting in and of itself.  That in America the show room is considered important if not essential for most funeral homes according to Jokinen.  Yet in Australia even a top funeral home did not see a need for a show room and instead thought a staff meeting room would be more effective.  Actually, not many funeral homes in Australia have show rooms.

    Many undertakers who are involved with organising a funeral for a loved one, or themselves, will tend to buy the midrange coffins.  These people will also either inspect the coffin in the trim shop, not in the show room or simply pick it from a book (like most Australians).  However they will always have a pre-determined preference for the coffin.  They know what they want, what they will pay and what they will get and they got for that.  Talking with undertakers who had organised funerals for relatives it was clear they were never sold a coffin so much as bought the coffin.  Yet more interestingly, knowing the value and markup, people with industry experience will either got for the very cheapest of the cheap of upper midrange.  From talking with them I think it is because they know the value of the cheap coffin is decent and they do not see the reasoning for paying more.  After all, these are people who have been to several funerals every day for the past few years which has made it a mundane and common affair.  When they got for the upper midrange it appears to usually be because of the "value" or "quality" that they see in these coffins.  They know what they are getting, know the high profits and yet think of these coffins as quite worth it for themselves and their loved ones. 

    If one wanted to buy and provide a coffin themselves without going through a funeral home then this is quite possible.  Simply contact a coffin manufacturer and see which one will sell a single coffin.  Almost all Australian coffin manufactures would be quite happy and willing to sell one coffin to someone (and have done so in the past, even taking custom orders).  I would recommend 'Beta Caskets' for this as they have good service, are good quality and well priced.  You might pay a lot more than it cost to make, but it would still be cheaper than buying it from a funeral home.  Again, despite knowing this and having contacts with coffin manufacturers funeral directors are still most likely to buy the coffin through the funeral home.  I have never heard of someone with industry experience buying the coffin from the manufacturer.

    Value is an complicated idea when talking about coffins.  One dimension is that they have an emotional value, playing an important role in the funeral service.  On another side they have a financial value, people want quality for paying thousands.  Yet this value decreases as price increases with top range coffins having over 100% profit for the funeral home.  At first many people find this profit avaricious, to be taking advantage of the dead and the grieving to make money.  Upon closer inspection this becomes transparently false as the money does go to covering valid unspoken costs.  Without the top end coffins there would be far fewer funeral homes and far fewer options for families.



Crying on Funerals; how people display emotion & the professional wailers

    It was once said on Something Positive that our sorrow at the death of a loved one comes more from of selfishness than empathy.  People are sad that they can no longer spend time with that person rather than sad that the person is actually dead.  Another interesting point is Durkheim's argument that we are naturally social creatures constantly conflicting with social desires and expectations.  This lead me to the thought of how emotions on funerals is quite possibly as social as it is personal.

    According to the images and perceptions of funerals the event itself is a sad affair where people will express their depression and sorry in a variety or ways, from silent starring to emotional crying.  However the truth is that people are quite 'normal' on funerals.  Sure, there is sorrow but the event as a whole is generally more like a gathering of family and friends than a sad emotional event.  Of course there are exceptions, some people do cry, others are so emotional they can barely stand.  What I have found is this degree of emotional display differs with culture, age and gender.  Thus I will be looking at the degree to which certain people display negative emotion (such as crying) on funerals.

    Firstly we should look at age.  From what I have seen the amount of crying or display of emotion differs quite considerably with age, and until a certain point (towards adolescence) is nots influenced by gender or culture.  Very young children, those under the age of five or so, were very unlikely to cry.  Instead they were more concerned with eating, going outside, playing and other such needs and desires.  This changed when children were eight to twelve, as at this age they were surprisingly very likely to cry and be more upset than most adults.  Yet once they got much older than twelve to thirteen they become more dependant on the social situation.  As in if the adults were crying  then they were liable to cry, and if the adults were not crying they would not be likely to either.  The influence of gender is not apparent until into, or after, puberty.  Thus boys and girls cry and exhibit emotions to the same degree until 'men' or 'women'.

    Now lets discuss my observation.  I find the whole concept interesting, that the display of emotion on funerals varies with age, but not gender nor culture until a certain age.  The young children who do not cry or show any emotion could have several reasons for this.  One is that children simply do not understand 'others' fully.  By this I mean that those under a certain age only think of themselves and struggle with empathising with others.  If one asks a child how many siblings they have then they might say "one brother", however ask them bow many siblings their brother has and they might have trouble answering.  They cannot see things from others perspectives and as such one cannot really expect them to be sad that something (or someone) they struggle with understanding exists or empathising with is dead.  So on the funeral you will see young children quite understandably more concerned with going outside to play rather than sit inside listening to a long service ignoring the social conventions and expectations around them.  Yet the exact opposite appears to be true when older children, especially around eight to ten years old.  They will almost certainly cry, and not just a couple of tears, they will have red eyes, blocked noses and be like a little waterfall of sorrow.  As with the younger children they to ignore social conventions and expectations, generally crying no matter what.  There could be several reasons for this display of emotion, the one I believe is that this is a prime age where they can fully understand others as well as death and yet have not developed the mental tools to deal with the coming together of the two ideas.  Simply the fact that people exist and can be empathised with creates a serious upset once children realise that these people die.  They feel sorry for the person, bad that they are dead and never to return.  Despite knowing and understanding this they are still too young and inexperienced to have developed the tools to deal with this coming together of concepts.  This is partially due to the fact that adults are so hesitant to talk with children about death.  Many strange questions were asked by children on funerals, they would ask about what the hearse was, what was in the coffin, where the dead go (it was interesting that they had to go somewhere, they could not just cease to be), what all the candles were for, what is in the hole (asking about the grave), why there were flowers, where the coffin went at the crematorium and so on.  What was most interesting is that adults were hesitant to explain anything much, avoiding details and often resorting to making things up.  A few adults explained that the hearse would drive the deceased "up to heaven" even when they were not religious.  When asked about the coffin some explained that the deceased was "asleep in the box".  Either way the adults would always answer questions about the deceased in present tense and never that they were dead.  They were just "asleep in the box" or "on his way to heaven".  When questioned they always explained to me that they were hesitant to discuss death with children as it was "inappropriate for them, their too young and wont understand".  Adults thought it was likely to "damage" or even "upset" them as one childcare worker once said to me.  He was convinced that explaining anything to do with death to children would have a fundamental negative impact on them, going so far as to say it would be "scarring them" to do so.  When I asked him when he would recommend explaining to people about death he replied "when they are old enough to understand it".  He would not have told them anything about death until they had all but developed their own understanding anyway.  Yet death is a fact of life, and what was interesting was that the children were quite comfortable with the questions and answers it was the adults who were uncomfortable by talking about the process of death.  I have serious doubts that the children would be damaged in anyway by explaining death to them.  In fact avoiding the topic leaves them without tools to deal with it later.  Thus in the ages shortly before puberty they are old enough to understand death but not taught about it or how to deal with it.

    When children are about twelve to thirteen they are much more dependant on the society in forming their emotional response.  Here they have gained tools to deal with death, but more importantly they are focusing on the group rather than themselves, they are becoming an active member of society.  This is also the time where gender starts to have its influence.  Boys become less likely to exhibit emotions, and when they do they are often not as strongly displayed as girls.  I just find it so strange that it is basically not until puberty that society has an influence on how children display emotion.  It raises all sorts of questions, such as whether emotions are socially dependant or influenced, what the role society actively has on our thoughts and so on.  But for now I do not have time nor room to expand upon, or answer, these questions.

    Adults are more predictable and follow preconceived connections when it comes to exhibiting emotions. Women are obviously much more likely to cry or show how sad they are.  While men do cry occasionally they never display their emotions as strongly as women.  Adults are also much more dependent on culture and the situation than children.  If their culture dictates they should cry (as some do) then they will.  And those that do not are looked at strangely and judged.  I remember one woman saying how it was customary to cry on funerals in her culture.  Crying, especially amongst women, indicated how strongly they felt about the deceased.  However at her grandfathers funeral, a person who she loved strongly, she did not cry.  Instead she told me how she had been too upset to cry.  She did notice how this gained her strange and quite judgemental looks from other family members.  they expected her to cry and her not doing so was the same as saying she did not care about her grandfather.  Another example is of a guy I once saw on a funeral.  Obviously distraught at the loss of the deceased he was crying away, not loudly, just sobbing to himself.  However the other mourners were looking at him like he was acting slightly inappropriately and strangely.  I do not know if there was more to the story, like whether or not he was known for being over the top or inappropriate but he was being judged as such.  It does however fit with the social convention that men do not, and should not, cry.  Here we see that crying and displaying emotions are strongly dictated by society.

    Displays of emotions on funerals are also very cultural, in fact all behaviour on funerals is very cultural.  Certain cultures will behave a certain way on the funeral.  The traditional white Australian Catholic funerals were a sober affair, people might be upset but it was much more a gathering of friends and family to them.  Everyone knew their place and stood in it quietly, knowing when and where to move.  They did not crowd around in big groups having to push each other to get anywhere.  Mourners were rarely extreme in their actions or behaviour and most often actually quite happy.  however they were very 'traditional' and tense in that everyone had to play their assigned roles just right.  They were also impersonal, mainly with the service itself which rarely focused on the decease instead glorifying the priest and the deceased commitment to faith.  Non-religious funerals on the other hand were less predictable, people were a lot generally more relaxed, not caring much for assigned roles for family, friends or even the staff.  They were more likely to display emotion and focused the service primarily on the deceased.  Now we come to the ethnic services and the "professional wailers" as they are called (who are always women).  They have to display emotion, they will cry uncontrollably, barely able to stand and then suddenly be fine, on their way for a coffee at the wake.  They go in and out of 'crying fits', all together at certain almost predesignated times or situations.  It is absolutely fascinating, and some who do not understand would look at it as though they were faking their upset in an attempt to garnish attention.  Yet this is not the case, they are not faking at all.  It is just their culture which dictates when and how they should display emotions, almost uncontrollably in one situation but then not in the next.  they are not switching "in and out of character" as someone once said, they are just following their cultural teachings.  Mourners on ethnic funerals will also be more involved, or at least appear to be involved.  They crowd around everything and get in the way, even around the coffin or graveside.  They will sometimes want to do things the undertakers should do, such as moving the grave cover, moving flowers about and so on.  In the end they mean no harm and just operate to ways unexpected by Australian traditions.

    The display of emotions on funerals varies quite considerably with different groups.  Children do not cry or get emotionally invested in the event until they are older.  Here they will cry and be emotional regardless of social influences such as culture or gender.  Once they grow up older children and adults are very much socially bound in their display of emotions.  For example gender has an influence, restricting men from displaying 'too much' emotion.  There are also cultural conventions on when one should cry and how this display of emotion actually shows how much one felt about the deceased (particularly with women).


LifeArt; A look at the modern funeral industry

     Funerals are quite a modern affair, much like the fast food, tourism or any other highly organised industry.  For example in this other post I (quickly and lightly) discuss how crematoriums can easily be linked to concepts from the tourism industry.  I find the LifeArt coffins to be another interesting example for the modern funeral and only exist because of how the funeral industry is a modern process  So here I intend to examine what the LifeArt coffin is and what role it plays in this modern process.

   The LifeArt coffin is an interesting and quite frankly strange thing.  It is basically and simply a cardboard coffin.  It is made from the same style of cardboard as pizza boxes and as such I have heard a couple of funeral directors call them "pizza box coffins" with destine.  The only wood or real non-cardboard material used is a few blocks of wood on the inside to reinforce the handles.  One would wonder what market a cardboard coffin would have.  Most people want "the best" for their loved one.  And this idea has been the basis for the coffin industry for many decades.  People pay high price with the idea they are getting high quality.  The result of which is that much of the funeral industry has become dependant on high profit coffins as a means to survive.  So along comes a cardboard version, and it is still more expensive than the cheapest wood coffins.  Thus we would doubt LifeArts place in an old and established market.
   So lets look at the advertising and marketing for this strange new coffin.  On the homepage of the LifeArt website we see the main image is of a child.  A strangely common image in the industry with the focus being on life (always depicted as young by the industry) rather than death.  But it also focuses on two ideas, environment and personalised.  These are fascinating ideas to the industry, as personalisation is very old and very important to funeral homes and families.

   Personalisation is an old idea which has been emphasised in the modern industry.  Firstly I will quickly clarify that by personal I mean two distinct things.  One one hand we have personal, which is warm, relevant and relatable to the mourners.  On the other hand I am also referring to personalised which is basically customising the event to meed the desires of the family and/or deceased.  The two are so intertwined and related in many ways that I will refer to them both at once to simply save time.  Looking at older style funeral home ads I found that a few would talk of "personalising the service" to cater to the family and/or the deceased.  The concept does appear and is important to funeral homes but it is not essential or emphasised over other concepts.  However in the modern funeral industry the idea of a personal or personalised service is almost essential.  Looking at the websites for Simplicity, Guardian and White Ladys, which are all owned by Invocare and Olsens and T.J.Andrews, which are independent we can see how important this concept of 'personal' is.  It appears several times on each website and each emphasise how they are prepared to personalise the service to fit the family or deceased.  Looking at just arranging a burial style funeral we can see exactly how important personalisation is.  Simplicity advertises the ability to personalise stuff on the funeral.  Such as having a set of golf clubs in the hearse with the coffin or that it is willing and able to get a horse drawn hearse, something I have never seen or heard of.  It is such an odd extreme and nobody I had asked ever saw a horse drawn hearse.  Guardian focuses more on how it will "personalise the service to your cultural, spiritual, emotional and personal preferences".  They chose to focus on advertising emotional and cultural personalisation without stating anything specific.  White Ladies even has a whole section on personalising the service.  They focus on 'little touches' and helping "achieve a truly memorable funeral service".  Here the whole company emphasis is strongly on personal service.  Even their motto "a woman's understanding" leads one to believe that they will be willing to listen and personalise the service.  These three websites are all for large national companies owned by InvoCare, which itself is a large international company.  Just looking at the sites at once one can see the similarities.  Their templates are almost exactly the same, the placement of information, links and art styles are all identical.  Knowing how to navigate one site means knowing how to navigate any of them.  Even the style of language and what is said is the same.  They all explain things, such as arranging a funeral, in such a similar manner.  Really, the only difference is the colour of the site.  One is left wondering how personal their services could be, if their websites are the same down to the language style and template used then they must all be so similar.  Thus we turn to the two large independent funeral homes websites to see if 'personal' is just an InvoCare thing or an industry wide concept.  Olsens is a mostly Shire and South Sydney company and has been established for many years.  Clicking on "what type of funeral" one is immediately confronted with talk of how they will personalise the service.  They state how they provide a "distinctly" and "carefully" personal service.  T.J Andrews does not explicitly talk of "personal" or "personalising" funerals.  They do however talk heavily of how chan change and customise funerals depending on cultural and individual needs or desires.  So while not explicit T.J.Andrews does place importance on personal services.  All of these websites spend time they could use advertising other things to emphasises the personal concept.  It really is an important concept to the funeral industry.  This is no different with the LifeArt coffin website.  A main advertising point is how the coffin itself can be personalised.  From having pictures or photos printed onto it in the manufacturing process to painting it, the coffin is very "customisable".  They differentiate themselves from other coffins by emphasising how people can interact with the coffin and make it into the image they desire.  I remember one time where a family painted the LifeArt coffin themselves, and although it did not look the best they were extremely happy with the outcome.  The outcome had little impact on them itself, what they really focused on and had meaning was the act of painting the coffin.

   One is left wondering why exactly this is such an important concept to the industry.  That the funeral homes pay so much attention to it and that LifeArt uses 'personal' as a main basis for its very existence.  Well, my thought is that it is based in the modernising of the industry itself.  Looking at the websites they are all so similar, mainly the InvoCare owned ones (which LifeArt is also owned by).  They are mass production companies no different to McDonalds.  In fact InvoCare companies all use the same facilities (of which there are only four main ones across Sydney) and often the same staff.  Staff will work a Simplicity funeral one hour then a Guardian one the next, all from the same location.  They even have magnetic company plates for the hearse so the same hearse can work different funerals in the same day from different companies.  I have heard of people working at the main InvoCare locations stating how cold these places are.  That they are heartless and "efficient production facilities".  This is the process of modernisation and democracy.  Everything is done on mass, efficiently, transparently and equally.  Think of apartments, the modern answer to housing, they are about providing accommodation to the masses (particularly in Eastern Europe) and this is where the whole idea for them comes from.  Apartments house many people at once in the exact same conditions and to the same standards.  This is democracy and modernity in action and is the same with the funeral industry.  Everything is the same amongst the various funeral homes, independent or otherwise, with little difference.  This leads to a need or desire to individualise, by carving out nieces (which I will talk of another time) and by talking about how personal their service is.  But basically because these companies are so similar, even going so far as to share staff and facilities, they need to separate themselves from each other.  When people find out about how the bodies are all treated the same and on mass they (even those within the industry who do this job) are against it.  People do not like the idea of the dead being treated on mass like other products.  We like to think that the dead are treated as individual people, not processed products.  Yet the truth of the matter is that this is how the modern funeral home handels bodies.  However the funeral homes do not want people to see or think of them as cold companies who just process the dead.  And to do this they highlight and perpetuate the idea that they are a 'personal' place and service who care for the dead rather than deal with the dead.  As a completely new product LifeArt is a great example of this.  They are literally mass produced by machines, no talk of "hand made" or individual manufacturing.  Instead they have a lot of focus on how they can be customised to suit the needs of families or the deceased.  There are three main sections devoted to personal coffins, "how to create a DIY (decorate it yourself)", "create a custom design" and "create personalised design" all of which are featured and accessible on the homepage or from anywhere else on the website.  The 'DIY' section talks of how families are able to decorate the coffin in different ways even featuring a testimonial from a funeral director.  He talks of how a family used "mum's gift" (the coffin) to come together as a family.  They took great joy in decorating it and shared stories about the departed mother while doing so.  LifeArt is depicted here as a way to help deal with the loss of a loved one and bring people together by personalising the coffin.  In the 'create a custom design' section they advertise how they turn peoples "ideas into a completely unique design" that are only limited by imagination.  The final part I looked at 'create a personalised design' even emphasises the concept of personal in the very title.  LifeArt held an exhibition a few months ago (which was publicised in the InvoCare magazine) where they got local artists to decorate their coffins.  This was to display the various things that can be done with the coffin and how people can interact with it rather than just look at it.  However in this section they talk more about text that can be printed onto the coffin (such as names, dates, saying, messages and so on), quite strange when the other two sections are wholly focused on images and visual of the coffin.   Either way all three sections talk of how the LifeArt coffin can be very personal, either through images or text.  A concept which was not important a few years ago gets the majority of the products website.  These are coffins which could not have existed even a few years ago.  For one the technology was no around to make them possible let alone viable and the attitudes towards modern funeral homes did not exist.
The visual variety of the coffins
   The main aim of LifeArt is about how it can be made personal, yet this is actually quite debatable.  They are literally mass-printed on machines from a set template.  Every coffin has to be the same shape and even size with no physical deviations between each other.  Even the handels and thumbscrews are the same for every coffin.  Indeed the whole thing is a result of a mass production system with the focus on efficiency.  One must wonder how personal they can be if they are all physically the same and have no options for difference.  The 'standard' wood coffins have options for different handels, different thumbscrews and people have a choice of many different types for each price bracket.  With variations in colour or type of wood, style of the lid and other physical details of the coffin.  Basically the only variation for the LifeArt coffins is what can be printed on the outside while the other coffins have a variety of physical differences.  And yet the LifeArt can be more personal than the other coffins solely through visual variations.  They offer printing oh specific photos, pictures or words and have the option to be decorated by the family.  None of these options are really available for the other coffins, although they have more physical variations and can be custom made from scratch they are not as personal.

   The other main aspect LifeArt advertise is that they are environmentally friendly.  Talk of 'green' burials or funeral processes has existed for some time.  I remember an article (which I cannot find) talking of how a biologist had developed a completely zero carbon footprint burial method.  It was 100% environmentally green.  Basically (and un-poetically) the process was to be buried in a bio degradable potato sack under a tree.  LifeArt is the next, publicly palatable step in this process.  The website states how LifeArt coffins take less fuel to burn in crematoriums, cutting emissions by 60%.  They are made from 97% recycled fibers (from both reused paper and sugarcane) and they require less energy and pollutant to make.  Indeed being green is important to LifeArt, and yet 'green' as a predominant environmental concept is only quite recent and modern.  Many products, such as cars, advertise themselves as 'green' and with a low negative impact on the biological and social environment.  Something no coffin before has done, or even tried to do.  And yet LifeArt has carved out quite a nice market in doing so.
   LifeArt are a product made possible by modern technology and processes as well as the very attitudes to these modern processes.  Through an ever modernising and democratising the industry a need has arisen to counter the impersonal and mass production of this process.  LifeArt is a great example of this with a majority of the website, advertising and even aim of the product devoted to how the coffins can be personalised.  The second focus of LifeArt is on how 'green' it is, another modern concept.  However both of these concepts are somewhat debatable.  Overall the funeral industry is modernising and the result of which is a desire to differentiate and individualise as they all become more and more similar.


    On an unrelated note LifeArt coffins were featured in this article on "Worlds Wackiest Coffins" over at Oddee.  It is interesting how the website talked of them as "going out in style" when really their 'style' is only superficial.


Transferring Medical Waste - What Becomes of the Cadaver

    Not long ago I wrote a post on the shortage organ donations, donations to medical research and the severe lack of space for forensic cases in Sydney.  To summarise we really lack bodies for research and the major of those who do donate themselves to research are people who worked in the field.  Anatomists, neuroscientists medical illuminati members and so on.  The general public (the majority of users of the research) are not the ones who donate.  Talking to people I find most do not like the idea of 'being hacked appart' or 'carved up'.  They think of it as grose, dirty and destruction of the body which is a part of themselves.  So it is like making themselves dirty or destroying themselves.

    I disagree with this for various reasons, one of which is that it is pointless, and that we want to benefit from research by receiving treatments, surgeries and so on while not wanting to donate to support the research.  The surgeon trained on cadavers to learn how to operate, the anatomist studied cadavers to develop better understandings of the body.  So every time we receive medical treatment we are all benefiting from the research done on cadavers.  Yet we find it difficult or unbecoming to donate to this research.

    Putting my personal ideas aside I thought it might not hurt to explain how cadavers are treated and removed after use.  It is actually one of the more disliked transfers to funeral staff.  They consider it grose, inhumane and just unpleasant work.  Basically a transfer van will arrive at the hospital where the cadavers are.  However the cadavers are no longer 'single bodies'.  They are usually several yellow biowaste bags filled with "a thick soup of bit".  It is not uncommon for a couple of bodies to be mixed together.  A single bag may contain one persons spine and their livers, then another persons hand or brain and so on.  Just whatever fills the bags most effectively is in the bags.

    The biowaste bags are put straight into special coffin.  What makes these coffins special is the placement of the handels, only two in total, one one the head and one on the foot.  This way the coffin can be carried sideways rather than the usual 'foot first'.  As such it can be loaded straight onto the rollers at the crematorium, no turning needed, and they saved on four handels (which are not cheap).

    These special coffins are all cremated with the biowaste bags inside.  How the ash is disposed of I do not know.  But I do know the gardeners consider it to be good fertiliser for the plants.  Next time you are at a crematorium and see the lovely gardens you now know one of their secrets.

    By now you may consider the process as a whole to be rather inhumane.  The cadavers are literally turned into medical waste and disposed of as such.  The only difference being they use a crematorium instead of a waste incinerator.  But really, it is the same thing.  Having seen this process most funeral directors would not donate their bodies to research.  They see how the cadavers are treated as waste and consider it to be grose and inhumane.  Yet despite knowing and seeing this most who work regularly with cadavers (those in the medical teaching/researching fields) end up donating their bodies to research.  They see the negatives of it, but also see the benefits, all the people helped, and consider it quite worth it.

    This difference is interesting and strange.  That those who work primarily with cadavers are likely to donate, while those who primarily work with the end result of the cadavers are less likely to donate.  Perhaps the fact that the researchers get to see the benefits of the research has an influence.  After all, the funeral staff only see yellow biowaste bags being dragged off to a crematorium.



How to Crash a Funeral

    Funeral crashers are rare, but do exist.  There was one person in particular that I saw a couple of times, and only when food was involved.  Many find crashing a funeral to be a terrible violation of ethics and morals.  But why?  What is wrong with turning up to a funeral just because you do not know who died?  Yes, taking the food at the wake is stealing and is similar to taking money from families who paid for the function.  But again, people see this as so much worse than similar theft outside funerals.  There is something about the funerals that makes any crime more unacceptable or unpalatable than in regular daily life.  The movie 'The Wedding Crashers' focuses on two guys who crash wedding to sleep with women.  Yet once one crashes a funeral he learns a lesson, and how low it is.  Even though we never see or hear of anything eventuating from his crashing the funeral, showing a funeral service for a couple of minutes total. So why is crashing a wedding an acceptable comedy but a funeral unacceptable and low?

    I personally do not care.  I do not say that anyone should crash a funeral, but I have no stronger objections than if they were to crash a wedding.  However I do find it an interesting was of looking at funerals, how to crash them that is.  How to sneak in under the rader and blend with the crowd.  It shows what it takes to 'belong' at a funeral.  So here is a short guid on how to crash a funeral.

- Dress appropriately.  This does not mean overdressing or void of colours, many people will be presentable and wear white or colourful things.  It is mostly black and plain semi-formal clothing and yet there is often variation between cultures and individuals.  So know your audience before arriving.  Some tips would be for guys to wear a plain black suit with grey shirt or dark grey suit with black shirt.  A simple tie, preferably dull in colour and matching the suit.  This should enable entry to most funeral without a second glance.  Women are a little more difficult as their funeral clothing is more specific.  If colour is desired then women tend to be brighter than guys, if no colours are required then women tend to be just black with simple gold or silver jewellery.  Either way, the key is to fit in without standing out.

- Pre-plan and research.  Read press notices, it is often the case that the family have printed in the paper all the details you need.  From the name of the deceased to the time and location of the service.  Also working out, through experience or information, if there is a wake will be useful if you are after the free food.

- Act confident and know what a funeral is.  This is perhaps the most important thing, just walk in as though you were meant to walk in.  Do not make obvious mistakes like going to the wrong part of the church, do not act awkward.  To do this go to a couple of funerals, watch the goings on and then it should all be obvious.

- Be punctual but not early.  Arriving late gets looks, but so does being the only one in the church as people arrive.  However if you walk in with the crowd then you are just one amongst many.  People should move in as large groups around 15minutes before they are due to start.  As you enter sign the condolence book and take an oder of service as everyone lese does.  If you do not want to sign the condolence book just say you will sign it later, after the service, if any funeral staff are nearby.  This will make you look like another mourner to the staff and family.

- Be vaguely specific.  IFF asked about your relation to the deceased do not get too specific lest you get trapped by fake details.  Yet avoiding the question could also be a bit odd.  Most people will not question you about the relation but should they then this is where some basic pre-panning comes in handy.  If they or their spouse were a member of a church or large semi-organised club then say you are as well.  Or you could be a friend of a mourner who has wondered off, here to support them and usure how they know the deceased.  The trick with a good lie is to not oversell and not hesitate too much and not worry.

- Do not just stand about.  Standing about awkwardly is not good as people will notice you.  When people notice you they are likely to question you and you being there.  So stand in the crowd, talk to someone (this is where a wingman is good) and appear as one of many.  Talking to older people is easiest as they are most likely to just chat.  Priests/fathers or brothers and nuns/sisters are good as they are experienced with funerals and are more causal than the average mourner.  They are hard to spot as they will often wear casual clothing to the funeral (both priests and nuns) if they have nothing to do with the service itself.  To recognise them look for the older people having more fun and being more relaxed than most.

- Go in pairs if possible.  Going as two is a lot easier than just one.  It will give you someone to talk with freely at the wake and someone help come up with excuses or ideas if needed.  Plus when chatting to others you can make a nice joke about each other here or there.  It creates a positive and happy atmosphere, indicating to people that you know each other and get along well.  All part of the idea of fitting in.

<> Remember, I am not saying you should crash a funeral, or even that this advice will enable you to do so.  This is more a look at how to fit in, how to belong even though you should not.  And what belonging at a funeral is and means. <>