Funeral Fun - Leaky coffin

    We set off to the crematorium, the regular driver of this hearse was on another job as a car driver.  So today two conductors were in the hearse with me.  Upon arriving at the crematorium we got the coffin out, carried it inside and puit it on the catafalque.

     After placing the coffin down I turned around and saw one or two pinky splash marks on the floor.  I instantly knew they were most likely from the coffin.  They looked fresh and where right where we had carried the coffin.  I immediately told the conductor, who then very subtly went up and felt the coffin.  It was dry around all sides, so if it had leaked it was not still leaking.  Next we went to inspect the hearse.

    Sure enough there was a small puddle in the back where the coffin had been.  The pink and sticky fluid sat there proudly.  Better still it had also slipped through the rollers into the underneath of the hearse (where we kept many handy things such as tables, umbrellas, chairs, and so on).  In other words this fluid was all through his hearse.

    Due to the schedule this hearse then spent the rest of the day sitting in the summer sun.  Nobody had time to clean the fluids out, so they baked on.  When we brought the hearse back to the garage and informed the driver he was not happy.  He always tried to take care of his hearse, always looked after it and felt for it.  So to find it with sticky and not hard pinkish fluids all through made him upset.

    Naturally we all suddenly had lots of work to do and were unable to help him clean the fluids.  But we did pop by every now and then to tell him if he had missed a spot.

    Overall it was a rather funny and unusual event.  Well, funny for everyone except the hearse driver, although even he saw the humour.


Funeral Fun - Emptying the crypt

Gates into Waverley Cemetery.
    This was perhaps my favourite day at W.N.Bull.  It was also one of the hardest and dirtiest and even somewhat dangerous.

    Basically the job was to move five coffins in a crypt so it could be renovated.  I had never been in a crypt before but had heard stories.  People described them as dark, damp, dirty, small, boring and slippery.  So I  was actually rather excited and looking forward to it.

The day before we took the stretchers out of the transfer van and filled it with things we might need.  Such as boards, ropes, torches and so on.  Just a variety of things that might be handy if needed.  I was put in the van and sent on a funeral first.  This meant I had to bring a more 'practical' set of cloths as my three piece funeral suit would not be suitable for pulling coffins out of a crypt.

    After the funeral I made my way over to Waverley Cemetery where the crypt was.  As usual I was the first to arrive and so I had plenty of time to sit and eat my lunch.  After all I would soon need my energy.  I sat near the gate so that it was in sight but I was hidden.  It was starting to turn into a miserable day,  it was cold, overcast and looked like rain.  Hardly the sort of weather we wanted.

    Not too much later everyone else started to arrive and we made our way to the crypt.  As they set up I changed into the more suitable work clothes.  It had started to spit rain very lightly and then stopped, I remember one of the other undertakers commenting that he hopped the rain would keep away, even for a little bit.

    When they had opened the door and set up we went inside to assess the situation.  The job involved taking four adult coffins and one baby coffin off shelves and then taking them down one level into a room underneath the crypt.  Unfortunately the door to the basement room under the crypt was directly infront of the door to the crypt itself and actually very small.  It was not so much a 'door' as a small and steep hole with some stairs.  Even better this hole was right in front of the door to the upper level.  So we had to cover it up with boards to be able to get in and out of the upper level.  Then we would have to uncover it to get to the bottom level.

Three crypts at Waverley, the one of the right is very
similar to the one we worked out of.
    The room with the coffins was fairly small, there was not much standing room at all.  And two of the coffins were quite high, at about my head height.  The coffins themselves were also quite heavy, they were solid timber or oak and had an inch of lead lining inside.  Plus half of them had no handels and thus had nothing to tie ropes to.  All of this meant it would be a difficult and somewhat dangerous job.  We had to drag heavy coffins off high shelves in a dark and slippery stone room.  Then we had to slid them through a step hole not much bigger than the coffins themselves.  Finally we would have to lift these heavy coffin up above our heads and onto the shelves in another small and even darker room.

    And there were only four of us.  The grave diggers were not allowed to help due to OH&S issues.  They obviously felt sorry for us and helped how they could, in fact a couple got quite actively involved.  But they were council employees and council diggers cannot by law do certain things.  Such as move coffins (like lowering or carrying them) and so on.  All due to OH&S and insurance issues.

    But what could we do?  There were only four of us and the poor family had waited months for the job to be done.  But our boss had been putting it off.  And a family member was present through the job, he was obviously very upset at seeing his family being moved about but he was also extremely grateful.

    We set to work and moved the two easiest coffins out first.  I remember thinking how difficult it was, that these two coffins were so heavy and how little room there was.  Little did I know that this would be the easiest part of the job.  After taking the  two coffins out we loaded them into the back of the van.  Then we uncovered the hole to the bottom level and started to take the coffins down.

    Here was the trouble, the hole was just big enough to fit the coffins and very step.  We had to tie the coffin with rops, lower it foot first down the hole, then send the smaller person to squeeze between the coffin and the hole and direct it as the others continued to lower.  Guess who was the 'smaller' person, me!  I was to squeeze myself down the hole and direct the coffin until there was enough room for the others to come down and help me.

    This is how we got the first coffin into the room.  But then we had to get it on a shelf.  Because of the lack of room and steepness of the hole we could barely raise the foot end of the coffin to get it onto the shelf.  It kept getting caught on the walls, and with its heavy weight we had a lot of trouble.  But we did it, the first two coffins were on the shelves and done.

    Now it got hard.  The next two coffins were bigger, heavier, had no handels and were higher.  We lifted them up onto sticks while still on the shelves, then we tied ropes around them.  Next I climbed up to the top shelf of the crypt (which had nothing on it except debris and dirt).  I had to lie on this shelf as it was close to the roof and then take a rope to help swing the coffin out.  So there I lay, in the dirt on a cold shelf in a crypt.  All while swinging a heavy coffin down.

    With a lot of trouble and effort we got the last two coffins out.  But they were larger, so getting them down the hole was more difficult.  I remember at one point another undertaker getting his pants caught on the coffin as he tried to squeeze past it to get down the hole.  It was quite funny actually, seing him stuck there by his pants to a coffin!  Even he thought it was funny.  But then the supervisor reminded us that the family was watching and we had to stop giggling.

    In the end we got the job done, but it was very dirty and a lot of work.  When we finished the family member thanked us all personally, he was very grateful for the job and thought we had done well.  And I had so much fun doing it, we all did.  As difficult and dirty as it was it was also very rewarding and seing the job finished was so satisfying.  I really enjoyed the day and the job with good people.



Attending a Funeral - Cemetery tips

    A few people have recently asked me about cemeteries.  It appears many are unsure how to act, how to behave, how to dress at a cemetery.  I would say many are unsure how to be.  I thought that a simple little guid could be useful for mourners.  Follow the things here and your trip to the cemetery for a funeral should be much easier and more pleasant.

    One big thing to remember is that the cemetery is almost exactly like the beach.  It is hot in summer and cold in winter, the ground is soft and slippery, there is limited parking, there is basically no shelter from the rain or sun.  Overall think of going to the cemetery as going to the beach in formal clothing.

Do not worry: Unfortunately a lot of people have issues with cemeteries.  However cemeteries are not spiritual, not creepy, they're just a place.  And they're everywhere.  Sydney Town Hall Station is built on an old cemetery and when they were building Town Hall they never found all the bodies.  Cemeteries are scattered and forgotten under many cities, especially older cities.  So chances are you walk through them regularly.  Cemeteries are just spaces, and often quite beautiful spaces.  Waverley cemetery is one of the most beautiful places in Sydney with the right light.  In the end a cemetery is what you make of it.  So make it what you want it to be.

- Look up the time and location: As with almost all my funeral tips knowing where and when you should be is key.  Look up the address and directions before the day.  It is rather embarrising to get lost on the way to a funeral  Most cemeteries cannot be put into a GPS, and even then people get lost within the cemetery grounds.

Find the grave: Do not bet on following a cortege to find the grave.  If you get lost, separated or there is no cortege contact the cemetery office.  The office details can be found by simply 'googeling' the cemetery name.  Many cemetery websites also have downloadable maps to help navigate the place.  Cemeteries are like mazes, there is something that makes most of them difficult to navigate.

- Umbrella: Bring one or two even if there is no chance for rain.  They are a great source of shade which will keep you cool and comfortable.  The funeral directors should provide umbrellas if you ask (you can even keep it if they aren't looking as you leave).  However do not rely on this and be prepared.

- Water: This one is obvious but so many people forget.  Bring a small bottle of water and sip at it just before, during and after the service.  Being in a cemetery is surprisingly dehydrating even in cool weather.  And it is always better to risk needing to go to the bathroom over risking fainting due to dehydration/heatstroke (which I have seen happen).  Australia is hot, be read for it.

- Sunscreen: Again, this should be obvious and if you do not bring and use sunscreen on sunny days it is your own loss.  Skin cancer is a big issue in Australia and sunscreen is cheap and easy, so why not?

Chairs: Funeral homes and cemeteries should provide some chairs.  But does not always happen, and even then they will usually only provide 4 to 6 chairs.  So if chairs are needed make sure the funeral home knows before the day and how many they will need.  Or bring a few chairs yourself if you are able.

Food: Bring snacks to have shortly before you arrive at the cemetery.  You may not think about it but this does make a difference.  A few biscuits are good, or a couple of mints.  Lollies or other high sugar and 'quick to eat' foods are not good for the cemeteries.  You want to get the sugar and food, but not too much or too quickly.

Stay out of the way: Keep out of the way of funeral and other staff.  If they look like they need help then offer, but otherwise let them do their job.  This makes everything go quicker and smother for everyone.

- Keep up and keep together: Most cemeteries are big or confusing places with narrow and twisty roads.  It is incredibly embarrassing to get lost only a corner away from the grave.  So do not fall behind and stay behind the hearse.

- Do NOT get out until the right time: At almost every cemetery the cortege will stop by an office to get paperwork before going to the grave.  These offices usually have a car park and toilets, so quite often people will park thinking that this is where they should stop.  Next thing they know the hearse and other cars have gone leaving them lost and alone.  It happens too often, even if the funeral staff warn people.  So STAY IN YOUR CAR until you either see the grave itself (make sure it is the right one though) and/or it is obvious that the cortege has arrived.  You know this has happened when all the undertakers get out of their cars/hearse and not just one person.

- Walk: You do not have to park right next to the grave.  Sometimes you it is dangerous or inappropriate to park close by and you will just take a space of an older or less able person who cannot walk far or over rough terrain.  Other times your car will get in the way of staff or other funeral processions, so do not park on corners, do not park too close together and be ready for a short 2 minute walk.  I will say I find it is generally but not always SUVs (o four wheel drives) that park inappropriately in their attempt to get as close as possible.

- Wear appropriate shoes: The ground at cemeteries is spongy, slippery and soft, so wear shoes for this.  The most common inappropriate shoe is a stiletto.  I have seen women seriously damage their ankles because of their shoes.  And I have no sympathy for them.  To wear high stilettos to a cemetery is stupid and dangerous.  It will inconvenience everyone and just make the person with the shoes look silly.  It is better to wear sneakers or boots and look a little strange than bend an ankle in front of everyone.

Clothing: Obviously one should wear what is appropriate according to the funeral.  Some funerals are more formal than others.  Yet either way think of the weather when choosing clothes.  A three piece suit might not be the best option in the heat of summer.  A thin dress might not be suitable in winter.  Look up the cemetery on Google Maps.  If it is near the coast or on a hill you can assume it will be windy.  If it is in a forest or gardens it will be shaded and cool.  Know where you are going and what it will be like when deciding on clothes.

- Mud, live with it: Cemeteries are dirty places, there is a lot of digging going on and as such there is a lot of lose dirt.  So when it rains there is a lot of mud.  Live with it and deal with it later.  There is no point holding people up while you scrape the mud off your shoes before you get in the car.  Simply get the bigger lumps off, get in the car and more out of the way of others.  Once the mud dries it will scrape off very easily and usually as people try to clean it off their shoes they spread it over their clothes.  If desperte use the corner of gutters or grates of drains to scrape away mud.  Tissues are also handy.

- Know how to drive: Most cemeteries, especially old ones, tend to have narrow streets.  With tight corners, slopes, and dead ends.  Driving through a cemetery may mean squeezing down a narrow street between graves and cars.  Or perhaps you will have to go around an incredibly tight corner.  Either way, knowing how to drive will help.

    Just remember, think of the cemetery as the beach.  Prepare for it in the same way except you will be wearing formal clothing.

    If there's any specific questions or concerns not addressed here feel free to contact me and I if I can I will help however possible.


An Unregulated Industry

    One thing that shocked me about the industry was the sheer lack of rules or regulations.  There is pretty much no governing body to watch over what goes on and no real repercussions in many cases.  Talking with several undertakers they all spoke of a desire for more regulation and how others have tried over the years and failed miserably.  They said the industry has never been regulated and have depressingly resigned themselves to the thought that it never will be.

    You need no qualifications to join the industry, a drivers license is useful but not essential in certain situations.  There is also no age restriction, one undertaker now a veteran in his own ways told me how he joined the industry at 15 as part of school work experience.  His first transfer was a gruesome affair where the deceased had been cut in half in an industrial accident.  The job involved buckets and scooping, and this was one of his first days at only 15.  Now, some may think that this was quite a while ago yet it was only in the late 1980s that this happened.  I have no doubts that there is potential for this to still happen at certain companies.  Anyone can join the industry at any age if the company is willing to employ them.

    The pay for an undertaker (also known as "assistant funeral director") is little more than minimal wage. The wage is about $20 per hour for full time staff, at the entry level.  I have heard that conductors with some companies earn an extra $17 per week on top of this.  These are the people who run the funeral on the day.  When paying so little one cannot expect high quality staff as anyone who wants more than this and is able to earn it will go elsewhere.

    Some of the larger funeral companies such as InvoCare are pushing more and more casual staff to save money.  The situation with embalmers is not much better.  These casual staff have less experience and training, being casual they only work when needed where needed.  The situation is not much better for embalmers.  While there is a shortage of embalmers across Sydney they are not paid enough and companies are going for contract or casual embalmers.

    The lack of experience of staff is an issue for some companies.  As no experience or qualifications are needed some join the industry with nothing to help them.  They need to be trained from scratch in everything.  Many might think of this as a normal thing for most companies, many join jobs without experience or knowledge and leran as they go.  In itself this is not too much of an issue for the funeral industry, however there are certain things and hazards people need to know before starting.  this makes starting the job safer and easier for new staff as well as easier for further training the new staff.  I remember in retail there is an briefe induction course before starting work, with Target it was over two days and with BigW it was a more intense one day course.  These courses covered basic OH&S, security, policy, practices and so on.  Basically all the little and important things that should be gotten out of the way.  Yet in the funeral industry where there is exposure to infectious fluids, lots of manual lifting, driving, etc there is no induction course or training.  I will say InvoCare is outstanding in providing these courses to staff, but it is done after they join.  Instead it should be before they join the industry.  What good are these courses to someone who has almost a years experience?  By then they would have learnt most of what is taught and been exposed to the hazards the courses aim to warn about.

    Another issue with the delegalisation is that ordinary undertakers are the ones who transfer bodies on crime scenes.  With murders, suicides, accidents or so on it is an undertaker who will arrive with their van and move the body to the coroners for examination.  Letting just anybody move the body means that the government has no real control over how the body is moved.  Evidence could be compromised or outright destroyed with mismanaging the body as the undertakers are not trained in forensic techniques.  Many undertakers formal education stops at finishing high school and there is no training provided or needed for police transfers.

    There is also little to no protective equipment provided to the transfer crews.  On a police job they have shower-caps on their feet, but otherwise it's like any other transfer.  They have basic gloves and nothing else, and these gloves are not even sharps/puncture proof like the police gloves.  An undertaker told me of how he had to transfer a body from a murder.  There was blood and needles everywhere and the deceased had HIV and hep C.  The police refused to lend him their sharps proof gloves for the job.  Another undertaker told me of how the deceased had died on train tracks in a tunnel the city.  As they were getting the body one of the police yelled "train" and they had to squeeze against the walls as a train went past.  CityRail has extremely strickt rules and requirements about who can step on the tracks, especially active ones yet these were not applied to the transfer crew.  Nor was the track shut down.  And this was not an old story, it happened in the 80s-90s.  An undertaker also told me of another police transfer where a family member had "lost it" and killed the family violently, they had also brutally killed the family cat.  He said how everything went as usual, they removed the bodies of the people, yet the cat was different.  The police put it in a garbage bag and left it on the street for the garbage truck.  While not directly related to the lack of regulation in the industry it does speak of how things are sometimes seen or done because of this deregulation.

    There are no official governing bodies to watch over the industry and few laws or regulations directed at it.  Nor are there any real consequences for violating what rules there are.  There the Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA), yet membership is voluntary and from what I see they do not oversee or enforce much.  So long as certain basics are met and fees are paid membership is guaranteed.  The infamous story of 'bricky' is a good example.  I explain in detail in this post here, but basically he is an undertaker who buried a coffin of bricks because he cremated the wrong body.  So now the industry refers to him as 'bricky'.  When they exhumed the coffin the person in charge opened the lid further than allowed and this meant the health department no longer had jurisdiction.  Instead it had to fall under a commercial framework and was taken to court that the family did not get what they paid for.  Bricky was found guilty, fined a few thousand and let go.  The case was very public making national news at the time.  Yet his business actually increased, not only was he able to continue in the industry with nothing more than a light punishment but he was better for it.  He later went on to stalk a woman with a hearse at night, but that's a whole other story.  I also heard of another much older story where the owner of a funeral home opened all the windows in a nursing home in the middle of winter.  He was at the nursing home on a transfer to remove a body and while there he thought that he might try to increase his business.

    Not all funeral directors are decent people, although most are.  Some are not even real funeral directors having never worked on a funeral in their lives.  They do not even have a physical business and yet they sell funerals.  They're called "briefcase funeral directors" as all they have is a briefcase and a phone.  Everything else they rent out, they rent a temporary transfer crew (as one would rent a courier), they rent a hearse and a space in a mortuary and have no ownership over anything.  As a result they have no quality control or even the ability to check the process and I have heard of serious mistakes being made.  The reason they own nothing is it is cheap, they do not have to pay for staff or facilities and save a lot of money compared to funeral homes.  However these savings are not really passed onto families, they may pay less than with other funeral places but the briefcase funeral director will still make a large profit.  Lack of quality control, room for mistakes and over charging mourners are the outcomes of this type of business.  But what of the AFDA as many would assume their job was to oversee the industry?  As I outlined membership is optional and even then not difficult to acquire.  Furthermore if a company is not a member most mourners would never know or care.  Thus there is plenty of room for just anyone to become a funeral director, even if they have nothing.

    There is a union for those in the industry, however despite my best efforts I cannot find a website for it, perhaps one does not exist.  Also few people in the industry I met were part of this union.  Thus I find it hard to look into the union.  From what I found it does help people, one undertaker told me of how it really had his back in a pay dispute with a company and if it wasn't for the union he would have lost a lot of money.  However I do not think the union has as much influence as it should.  I will briefly say that I am a capitalist through and through.  But capitalism needs unions to give companies perspective and help keeps things safe and decent for staff.  I was surprised how the union was almost hidden from staff, the boss at WNBull would deliberately not put up and remove any notices from or about the union.  I was reminded of my time in retail where all staff were told of the retail union in their initial training, in fact we were actively encouraged to join the union by the companies.  Target and BigW both advertised and encouraged membership officially and unofficially despite butting heads with the unions on several occasions.  Instead with the funeral industry the AFDA is completely optional and the union has low membership.  Thus there is little influence or power from these groups.  I saw that InvoCare monitored and protected its own staff more than these groups.

    There is a story of an ex-InvoCare employee who would make a small cut on the bodies they dressed or prepared.  Quite a 'strange' and completely immoral practice.  InvoCare fired this person on the spot as soon as they found out, walking them off the premises and making sure they never worked in another InvoCare funeral home ever again.  Unfortunately they did not take it further, I personally think that they did not want it to become public as it would give InvoCare a bad name.  Yet I think they handled it well, firing the person the very moment they became aware and making sure it would not happen again.  This shows how InvoCare regulates itself with nobody to watch over them.  While they do a decent job certain people can walk away without punishment or inquiry that is deserved in order to protect the company.

    If anyone is going to change the industry for the better it would be InvoCare.  Due to their dominance they have the power and potential to implement and effect changes.  And after my briefe time with them I honestly believe that many of the higher ups do care.  For example the head of HR was a lovely woman who gave me the impression that she did not just implement OH&S because she had to but because she thought of the welfare of her co-workers.  InvoCare has more potential than any other group to make the changes that are needed.  While I hope they do start to change things I know they wont.  Not because they do not want to but because there is no profit in it.  It is not a cruel company, it is efficient and the heart of InvoCare is 'profit' (like any other business).  There is no profit to be made (or lost) in regulating the industry and so they will not do it.  Simple and regretful as at the end it is everyone who suffers.  Staff risk their safety, the companies risk efficiency the deceased risk their dignity, mourners risk quality and the legal system risks evidence...

    I honestly believe that a license is needed to be an undertaker, that it could reduce the risks and issues.  Or in the least weed out the people not appropriate for the industry.


An Inside Look: Waverley Cemetery

    Waverley Cemetery is one of the smaller and more historic cemeteries in Sydney.  Established in 1877 it is also one of the most beautiful places in Sydney, able to compete with Hyde Park or the Harbour Bridge.  It is unfortunately under appreciated as many just write it off as a cemetery.  In doing so they either avoid it or give it special meaning it does not have.  Instead we should all appreciate it for what it is, a beautiful place with a rich history.

    The scenery is amazing, with glistening white angels and crosses backed by a pure blue sea it is a sight worth seeing.

    Waverley is council owned and operated.


How to - Carrying & moving the coffin

    After seing my previous post about how to attend a funeral someone recently asked me about how to move a move a coffin.  So here is a little guide on how to move and handel the coffin.

    Foot first.  This is something which a lot of people do not notice and do not do.  But it is a key thing which should always be done.  When moving the coffin take the foot end first.  In a car the coffin should have the foot end towards the driver so again, it travels foot first even when being driven.  This has a symbolic meaning in that it represents the person walking.  As though they are still moving of their own to the next place.  However it also has a practical reason in that it prevents the body from 'purging'.  Purging is where the body basically throws up fluids.  So keep the head raised will keep the fluids down.

    Turn clockwise.  This is symbolic of the moving of life.  It directly represents the turning of the clock and the passage of time.  However always turning clockwise also means you will know what everyone is doing.  There will be no surprises if you follow a pattern.

    Wheel by the thumbscrews.  When wheeling the coffin always hold the thumbscrews and not the handels.  Holding the thumbscrews will be daunting to the inexperienced yet it gives much better grip and control.  The handels are too low for most people so it will mean bending awkwardly and possibly bad for people.  This also does not look good.  To see the paul bearers bending awkwardly as they wheel the coffin.  More importantly holding the handels give little grip which could lift the coffin off the trolley.  For better control and comfort hold the thumbscrews.  It does not just look better but is better.

    Keep in step.  Many people struggle with this, and while not essential it does help.  Keeping in step prevents treating on anyones toes and looks nice.  To keep in step just copy the person in front of you.  Move as and when they move and everything will be fine.  If you are at the front of the coffin (the foot end) copy the person leading the coffin, be they the conductor, a priest or whoever else might be in front.  If nobody is leading the coffin just walk evenly and do not worry too much.

    Keep it level.  When going up or down stairs keep the coffin level as much as possible.  By keeping the coffin level it makes sure nothing on top (such as flowers) will fall off.  It also makes it much easier and safer for everyone involved.  To keep the coffin level those at the low end will have to lift it up as much as practical. 

    Carry by one handel.  Unless you are picking up, raising, or placing down the coffin only use one handel.  Sometimes people try to use both hands to carry the coffin, but this never works and just makes it awkward.  You should only ever need to use one hand on one handel to carry a coffin safely.  Simply use your hand that is closest to the coffin.  If carrying coffins regularly swap sides to prevent strains or developing a 'preferred side'.

    Face the foot end.  The coffin should always travel foot first.  I cannot stress this enough.  Thus you should always face the foot end when carrying the coffin.  So if you are getting the coffin out of a hearse or off something face the foot end.  It is amusing to see people getting a coffin out of a hearse and they instinctively face away from the hearse.  Away from the foot end.  Instead they should face towards the hearse when pulling the coffin out.  As shown in the picture above.

    Do not stress or worry.  Carrying the coffin can be a worrying thing for a lot of people.  Yet it is not that difficult.  Nobody has dropped a coffin as far as I know.  There are stories of close calls, where a handel came off as they were carrying, yet in every case the coffin was caught.  So the chances of you dropping a coffin, or tripping, while carrying it is very, very, low.

    Keep out of the way.  Do as the funeral conductor instructs when they instruct.  It is better to do nothing than to do something wrong.  So sit tight and wait for a signal, either from the conductor or a pre-determined point in the service.  I have seen families jump up too early to carry a coffin.  They're too eager and nervous.  Then they got in the way when the funeral staff moved up to turn the coffin, which made the family feel bad.  So sit tight, stay still and be where you are suppose to be.  That way everything will be fine.

    Following this stay out of the way and move away when you are done.  Especially at the graveside when the funeral staff tell you to move away then move away.  Often the conductor will be holding the coffin, on his own, so it is heavy and awkward.  The last thing he needs is someone standing in the way asking if he has the coffin.

    This of course is not everything to do with moving a coffin.  But it is a start and should help the nervous or inexperienced.  Look to the conductor, or the hearse driver, if you are unsure about what to do.  In he end it is an easier and less stressful task than one would think.



How to - Attending a funeral

    While recently attending my grandfathers funeral I realised how tricky going to a funeral can be.  Most people have relatively little experience with funerals, and even then they are not often mourners.  At my grandfathers funeral I was unsure where to go, where to stand, how to behave and so on.  Despite the fact I have been to countless funerals.  So even though I have been to funerals changing roles meant the whole thing was completely different.  Thus it must be even harder for people with no funeral experience at all.  So I made this post to help people through attending a funeral for the first time.

    Know is the location and the time.  Double check when everything is mean to start and where they will be located.  Then make sure you know how to get to the location.  This is a big source of stress or worry for people.  They get lost, get there late or have trouble finding parking.  So avoid this by looking everything up.

    Be punctual.  Do not get there too early or too late, instead aim to be there about 15 minutes before it is due to start.  This means even if you have trouble finding parking or something goes wrong that you will not be too late.

    Park smartly.  People will sometimes park inappropriately or dangerously, especially as the time to start draws closer.  It is simply because people panic and did not manage their time or look up the locations properly.  Even if you are late do not park dangerously or inconsiderately, there is no excuse to park in a disability space.  Nor is there a reason to park right on the corner in a no stopping zone and partially block traffic.  Think of others when you park.

    Go in.  Something a lot of people do is group by by the doors.  This blocks the passageways and means people will move in clumps rather than an even flow.  So upon arrival sign the condolence book, collect the order of service and go inside.

    Sign the condolence book early.  By signing the book as soon as possible you save having to line up later.  And while the undertakers will let you sign the book after the funeral they will not like it.  They are busy running about getting stuff done as when the funeral ends it is rather busy for them.  Getting the funeral staff to let you sign the book after the funeral holds up the funeral itself.

    Do not worry.  This is something people do, we worry, about what others think, about making mistakes, about too many things.  However you should not worry at a funeral.  As long as you do not do anything incredibly silly or inappropriate people will not judge you.  As an undertaker I saw many strange or silly things on funerals.  I also saw how the other mourners would either let it slide or not even notice.  As a mourner I realised that the mourners are too busy, focused on the funeral, to worry about what other people are doing.  So relax and do not worry what others think of you.

    Practically.  The most dangerous thing for a mourner is their own shoes, particularly with women.  Nothing looks worse than a women who wore stilettos and insists on carrying the coffin.  Or when they try and walk across a cemetery.  You know you are going to a funeral, if you want to carry the coffin or walk across the grass do not wear heals.  As a mourner or undertaker it is incredibly annoying to see someone with inappropriate shoes.  Wear something more practical (especially at the cemetery) and even if it does not look as good people understand.  Men also wear inappropriate shoes, but it is less common and generally not as dangerous.

    Do not touch the hearse.  The hearse is a very expensive vehicle, there is little excuse to touch it without permission.  Having said that do not be afraid of the hearse.  If you and the funeral staff have time they will probably be happy to show it to you.

    Watch the funeral staff.  They will quite often make little mistakes, watch them closely to see what you are getting.  Many mourners do not notice the mistakes, they are nothing to most people, yet it is important.  Just remember everyone has their off days, and everyone makes mistakes.  So watch but do not judge.

    Funerals are not special.  Well, this is only partially true.  But funerals are not as big a deal as many make them out to be.  Yes, they can be sad, but they can also quite easily be happy.  In the end a funeral is what you as the individual make of it.

    In the end I can describe and explain as much as possible, but this is something best learnt through experience.  This is perhaps the most important and helpful suggestion, to go and attend funerals.  The only way to become comfortable with funerals is to go to them.  So do not avoid a funeral because you are worried about it.  Instead attend and make it a a decent or happy event.

    If you have any specific questions or concerns about a funeral, or about funerals in general post here and I or someone else will be happy to help!


Working Funerals - Decomp

    Decomp is short for 'decomposed'.  It basically refers to what you think, a body that has gone 'off'.  This is a briefe post the aspects of a decomp body and how to deal with them.

<> This post might be a bit much for some people, but I have avoided the details or anything graphic, and there are no pictures.  There is nothing too bad in this post, but it does deal with a subject some find touchy or disgusting <>

    There are many different stages to a 'decomp' body.  But it basically comes down to the same thing.  A body that has or is becoming 'ripe'.

How to spot a decomp:

    The main ways to spot a decomp body (which is not hard):

    Smell - decomp bodies will almost always have a certain "off" smell to them.  This smell can be quite faint or it can be extremely strong.  It is usually strongest on bodies that spent time (a few days or more) outside of a fridge.  With bodies that decompose inside the fridge they tend not to smell too much.  I would describe the smell as like rotted meat.  Quite honestly it is a rather unlearnt smell with the power to penetrate through the body bag, fridge and into the mortuary.  There is little point in me describing the smell as it escapes words, but it is instantly recognisable.

    Colour - this is perhaps the easiest way to identify a decomp body.  They will be going green or have turned green "like the Hulk" as one guy said.  The 'greenness' starts in the stomach, this is where the body begins to decompose.

    Texture - a decomp body will also become bloated, damp and 'loose'.  The texture of the body is slippery and to be frank not very pleasant.  The limbs will be loose as there is no rigor mortis at this point.  The worst part is that the skin will feel damp and lose on the body.

    Bugs & Fungus - the bugs on a body are usually maggots and other similar looking small white things.  These bugs normally only start on bodies that have decomposed outside of a fridge.  However when bodies sit in a fridge for a long time they get a strange fungus, either bright orange or pure white.  But they do not get bugs.

    Weight - decomp bodies generally weight noticeably more or less than other bodies.  This is because they can bloat up and weigh more, especially if they decompose out of a fridge.  On the other hand decomp bodies can weigh less than other bodies.  They become smaller, there is less to them, this is especially the case with bodies which sit inside a fridge for too long.

How to deal with a decomp:

    Take a deep breath - this might sound odd and go against all desires but it is by far the best thing to do.  The smell is the worst thing about a decomp body, so getting rid of it makes everything else so much better and easier.  The fastest way to get rid of it is to adapt to it, this is done by breathing in the smell.  One or two deep and long breaths later the smell is nowhere near as strong.  After a few more minutes the smell might be completely unnoticeable.  Trying to keep the smell "out" of your nose will only make it last longer.

    Poly bag - the main and best thing to do with decomp bodies is "poly bag them".  'Poly bag' is simply putting the body in a special bag then sealing the end with an iron.  The bais made of a clear and mostly stiff plastic which is air and leak proof.  This is the best thing to do with a decomp body, especially if there are bugs or fluids as it will keep in the bugs and fluids.  However, while the poly bag does help reduce the smell it cannot completely contain or remove it in bad cases.

    Open slowly - when opening a body bag which contains a decomp body always do so slowly and carefully.  Quite often fluids will pool at the bottom of the bag and condensation will collect on the sides.  So open and close the bag slowly to prevent splashing any fluids about.

    Odour neutraliser - there are several products out there to reduce the smell of a body.  One of the best according to the embalmer is a product called something like VM3.  It is an all natural product which significantly reduces or completely removes smells.  Further more it has no real odour of its own.  Another great option is baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate).  Mix it with some water and it will make a great odour neutraliser.

    Mints - eating a mint shortly before or while working with a decomp can make the job a little more pleasant.  This will reduce what you smell and make everything slightly nicer.

    Kerosene - putting kerosene on bodies with bugs is an old trick.  The kerosene will kill most of the bugs overnight.  It will even kill many of the bugs inside the body, not just the ones on the surface.  This will not kill everything.  Unfortunately this is something one can only do in the mortuary.  On the transfer you will have to suffer the bugs as bug sprays will not kill the things inside the body.

    Masks - some people wear masks when handeling decomp bodies.  This can help, and more importantly it makes the whole adventure appear nicer or safer.  However they do not actually make much difference in terms of safety or pleasantness.

    Double glove - this is more a safety measure which can be used on transfers or in the mortuary, but with decomp bodies one should wear two gloves on each hand.  Doing this not only makes it less likely for something to get through the gloves but also means that if the outside pair get 'dirty' you can take them off and still have gloves on.

    Aprons - in the mortuary one should wear an apron when handeling a decomp body.  This prevents any unwanted 'bits' getting on your person.  Unfortunately this is rarely available or practical on transfers.

Things to watch for:

    Skin slip - this is rather unpleasant.  It is basically where the skin or flesh of the body slips as it is picked up or moved.  It can happen with elderly bodies, however it is much more likely and much more unpleasant with decomp bodies.  So watch how you hold these bodies.

    Smell - the smell can almost literally hit you when you first encounter a decomp body.  If going into a room or opening a bag that contains a decomp body prepare yourself for the smell.  It can hit hard but will fade fast (especially if you let it in).  The first few moments are the worst but after that it becomes better.  The worst thing about the smell is how it can penetrate and cling.  It can get through a body bag and a fridge then will stick to your cloths.

    Bugs - they are very unpleasant.  But there is little to nothing one can do to manage the bugs outside the mortuary.  As with smell the best you can do is know about it ahead of time and mentally prepare yourself.

    Fluids - this is exactly what it sounds like.  Bodily and other fluids can pool and accumulate, especially in body bags.  Be aware of this when dealing with decomp bodies.

Some last words:

    In the end you can do what a lot to manage a decomp body.  Yet it will never be a pleasant job and will often be difficult, physically and mentally.  Decomp bodies can be heavy, they can be lose and there can be fluids.  But in all honesty decomp bodies are not always as bad as they sound.  Yes they can be extremely unpleasant but generally it is not too bad and often down to personal taste.



An Inside Look: Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park

    Eastern Suburbs Memorial park (ESMP) is also known as Botany Cemetery.  Founded in 1888 it is a nice cemetery and crematorium located in the Eastern Suburbs.  The cemetery caters to a lot of Greeks, Russians, Polish, Catholics and so on.  It is both nice and diverse.

    ESMP is independently owned and operated.

    ESMP's address is 49 Military Rd, Matraville.  The funeral home is 61 Military Rd Matraville.

Getting there:
    Putting the exact address into a GPS can be difficult, so just put in Military Rd Matraville.

    To get to the crematorium drive along Military Rd and enter the driveway where the signs indicate.  It will be the second driveway on the left when driving South along Military Rd.  Once you enter the crematorium grounds turn left for the car park.  Do NOT go straight or turn right and head towards the crematorium building, this is for funeral cars only.

West Chapel in the sunset.
    To get to the cemetery enter Cemetery Ave off Military Rd, this is the driveway between the florist/cafe and the funeral home.  Or enter via Forest Ave off Bunnerong Rd if you are on the other side of the cemetery.  These are also the exits from the cemetery.

    I have seen people enter the crematorium grounds while obviously looking for the cemetery.  They just turned one driveway too early.  It's rare but happens and is understandable.  Most people simply go through the car park and exit straight away.  However I remember one car that obviously panicked, late for a funeral and not sure of the area.  The car headed towards the crematorium building, entering the road for funeral cars only (which has signs) as that is the direction the cemetery is.  This car then saw the one-way road was blocked by a funeral and tried to do a u-turn, mounting and bumping the curb several times.  They went through the car park a few times before giving up and driving down the one-way road again, this time going through the funeral.  So look up the directions before you head off, otherwise you look like an inconsiderate idiot.

Getting out:
    This is for authorised funeral cars only.  To get out of the crematorium chapels you follow the road South towards the cemetery.  Upon reaching Cemetery Ave (the first cross street and the cemetery itself) you turn right.  Follow this road all the way to Military Rd.  Turn right on Military Rd and this will take you to an intersection where you can easily do a left towards the city and Botany Rd or a right for La Perouse.

    For mourners or others simply follow the car park and the signs to the exit where you can turn right on Military Rd.  This will take you to an intersection where you can easily do a left towards the city and Botany Rd or a right for La Perouse.

The main crematorium building.
    There are two chapels at ESMP named after points on the compas (like Northern Suburbs).  Both chapels have their advantages and disadvantages.

    One big disadvantage with ESMP is the services provided.  While the staff are nice they do little for mourners and are focused on funeral work.  If you need help with the AudioVisual system they will show you but also charge a lot for this.  And they will not stay through the funeral, they only show you quickly then leave.  I remember a rural funeral home who had no experience with the AV system, so we showed them how to run it rather than them being charged a few hundred by the crematorium.  Compare this to Macquarie Park where they run the AV system for you and for no additional cost!

Inside the South Chapel.
South Chapel:
    The South Chapel is at the Southern side of the building.  To get to this chapel the funeral cars will enter the special road at the right of the car park, then immediately turn left at the fork.  They follow the road for a short distance then turn right to park under the cover.

    This is the larger of the two chapels and features an overflow room and a cover over the driveway.  It is the only chapel to have this cover of the driveway and thus is the better chapel in summer or in the rain.  There are also toilets very close to this chapel.  This chapel has an AudioVisual system at the back of the room and some mints in a jar on the table.

Inside the West Chapel.
West Chapel:
    The West Chapel is on the Western side of the building.  To get here funeral cars enter the special road at the right of the car park then turn, then immediately turn right at the fork.  They follow this road a very short distance and park at the front of the steps.

    This is the smaller of the two chapels and does not have cover over the door or driveway.  It is however closest to the courtyard (which does have cover) near the car park and is in many ways closer to the car park itself.  Along with the two ramps makes it a better chapel for disable or less mobile people. This chapel has an AudioVisual system at the back of the room and some mints in a jar on the table.

Car Park:
    There is really only one car park at ESMP.  This is the one at the crematorium.  It's a decent car park, not too far from the crematorium and easy to drive around.  However there are not a lot of spaces so if two big funerals come in at the same time it can fill up.  Also there is little in the way of parking by the reception room.  As for the cemetery the roads are narrow and the intersections tight.  So pople can get parked in very easily and still end up a decent walk from the grave.  If you think the funeral is going to be big I would strongly recommend getting there 15 minutes early.

The cemetery at ESMP.
The Cemetery:
    The cemetery at ESMP is quite old and mostly quite beautiful.  With the blue beach in the background and the historic graves in the foreground it makes for a lovely walk.  There is a nice beach bordering the Southern side of the cemetery.  So you can park in the cemetery grounds and go for a nice walk to the beach.

    An issue with the cemetery is the narrow roads.  Much of the place was designed before cars, so like Waverley Cemetery it is full of narrow streets and tight corners.  This is only an issue if there is an on-coming car.  But otherwise hearse's and trucks drive through here all the time, so a regular car should get through fine.  Just be mindful of other cars and make way for funerals.

Reception Room:
    ESMP does have a reception room.  I have never been inside but hear it can be either very practical and good or cumbersome and awkward depending on how the caterers set it up.  The biggest issue is that the reception room is located by the cafe on Military Rd.  While this makes it easy to get to from Military Rd there is not much parking nearby and it is a decent walk from the crematorium.  So if you park at the crematorium for a service then go to the reception room for the wake you will be in for a walk.  The other thing is ESMP does not provide a courtesy shuttle (that I know of) to help people get between the crematorium and reception room, unlike other places such as Macquarie Park.  I have seen funeral cars and taxies make people walk from the crematorium to the reception room, in the rain and the sun.  The walk itself is not bad, it is flat, had a nice path and through a lovely garden.  But it is a longish walk.

Main Office:
    The main office is located on Military Rd, near the cafe and florist.  Here is where you  can talk to the reception desk for any questions or information.  If you arrive early to a cemetery funeral and need to know where the grave is this is where you go.  They are nice and will happily give you a map and even highlight the way if you smile.

Funeral Home:
    ESMP also owns and runs a funeral home (called Eastern Suburbs Funeral Services) which is located on Military Rd, at the entrance/exit of the cemetery.  I know nothing about this funeral home except that they market themselves to Greek clients.  If you are keen on using ESMP I would suggest talking to this funeral home as they might offer packages or discounts or even get preferencial treatments.

The main farm buildings as seen from ESMP.
The Chinese Market:
    At the back of ESMP cemetery there is an old farm area which is still in active use today.  It was listed on the national heritage register a few years ago and as such is now under protection.  However ESMP wants to take over the farm site for graves.  This is because the cemetery is quickly filling up and once full ESMP will run out of a considerable source of income.  And the farms are in the only area they could expand.  The Chinese farms are nice, tehy have a historic feel and look.  In fact the way the cemetery bleeds into farm land is quite a nice sight, so I recommend checking it out next time you are there.  The farms are located at the South Eastern side of the cemetery.

    As I said before a major issue with EMSP is a lack of services.  They can show you how to work the AudioVisual system in the chapels but will charge an additional fee.  Other places like Macquarie Park include someone who will not only show you the system but run it for you at no extra cost.

    Another issue is a lack of courtesy shuttles.  I do not know for sure that there is no shuttle service at ESMP but I have never seen or heard of it.  This is an issue for some when you consider the distance between the crematorium and car park to the reception center.

Useful Links & Information:

Phone: (02) 9661, 5655.
Hours: Gates open 06:30am to 20:00pm.

Crematory Office;
Phone: (02) 9661, 5655.

Eastern Suburbs Funeral Home;
Phone: (02) 9694, 9494.
Hours: 09:00am to 17:00pm.

Contact info.

Eastern Suburbs Funeral Home.

Cemetery homepage.

Crematory homepage.

Downloadable map.

    ESMP was once an award winning crematorium and cemetery.  The crematoriums have yearly competitions over who has the best garden and ESMP use to win regularly.  They have not won in years and it shows.  Overall the value for money at ESMP and quality is not great, you can get a better deal elsewhere.  The whole place feels as though it was once loved and cared for but is being forgotten.  However it is in a good location and has a nice historic atmosphere and they have recently made great improvements.



Body Bags

mortuary, body bag, bag, body, tray, trolley
Fig 1. A body bag on a tray in a mortuary
    When one thinks of body bags one usually thinks of a black plastic bag with a large zipper down the front.  This is however not what I found them to be.

    The body bags in NSW are made of blue tarpaulin, as shown in figure 1.  I remember how surprised I was to find body bags were made of exactly the same stuff as the tarpaulin in my car.  Even down to the colour and feel they are identical.  Occasionally body bags will be made of brown tarpaulin, or a white or brown heavy cloth. This heavy cloth type is rare and more expensive, but some companies prefer it for nursing home or house transfers as it is a lot quieter than the tarpaulin bags.

    The other thing is that body bags do not have handels.  Well there are some with handels but these are rare.  This is because they are "noticeably more expensive" (as someone once told me) and as such groups like hospitals or funeral homes are reluctant to buy them.  The handels are made of seatbelt material and are stitched into the inside of cloth bags.

    Final thing is the zipper.  The zipper is not down the middle or at the front.  Instead it is on the side, slightly above the very edge of the bag.  This makes it much easier to get the bag under a body and then zip it up.  It means you do not have to lift the body into the bag but can simply roll the bag under the body.  This is great for small spaces, heavy bodies or just to save effort.  Plus having the zip on the side means it's less lightly to rip or break under stress.

    With infectious bodies some places use a special yellow body bag.  This bag is basically the same material as the tarpaulin type but a stronger and more leak proof material.  It is a great idea to use this bag as you immediately know by the bright yellow colour that the body is infectious.  However most places do not use these bags for whatever reason.

    Something I find interesting is that on the Australian Museum they have a section on body bags (where I got the picture).  On that page they say that there are special regulations for body bags and that extra precautions are taken for infectious bodies.  But in my experience I have seen bodies transfered while only wrapped in a plastic sheet and/or blanket.  Which apparently meets the legal and health requirements.  And with infectious bodies they are sometimes placed in a yellow bag or in two bags, but this is very rare.

    So that there's some information about the body bag.  It's not a black thing with a large zip on the front like in TV shows and movies.  It's most often a tarpaulin bag with the zip down one side.




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Essentially in updating some things with older posts and the blog there was a mistake and some content was damaged.  The article had an error and was not backed up correctly, so for the sake of simplicity it has been removed.

But don't worry, nothing important or relevant was lost! -- this post is for record purposes only.



Air-conditioning & Saving Lives

    Both summer and winter are traditionally busy periods for the funeral industry.  Which makes sense, the cold brings with it diseases such as the flu.  While summer can be quite stressful for many people, temperatures rise well above 30 Celsius for days on end!

    So summer and winter are where we see the extremes of the weather and thus also see a rise in deaths, mainly of the elderly or sick.

    However in talking to a couple of funeral directors they said these spikes are not as high as they once were.  Less people die with the changes in weather than in the past.  And the reason they (and I) argue is due to air-conditioning.  Yes, better health care has helped, but it is air-conditioning that I believe has reduced the spike in deaths.

    With modern air-conditioning, which is in all hospitals and almost every nursing home, one can set the temperature of the room.  So even in the hottest or coldest days the room can sit at an even and comfortable temperature.  This reduced the exposure to high or low temperatures as well as the sudden changes which can all kill people.

    Take Japan for example, many use baths to keep warm in winter.  For the Japanese the bath is more than just a way to keep clean but also a way to relax and keep warm.  However there were approximately 14,000 deaths in the bath over 2011, while only about 4,000 died in traffic related accidents (Ryall, 2012).    It was found that most of these bath deaths was basically due to the shock of the change in temperature between the cold outside and the hot bath (Hayashi, Ago, Ago, & Ogata, 2010).  This proves how a sudden or dramatic change in temperature can kill, and can kill in significant numbers.

    So air-conditioning which redresses or removes this change in temperature can and does literally save lives.  Which has been noticed by funeral staff.  A couple of experienced veterans of the industry commented on how they saw the introduction of air-conditioning and saw a drop in deaths.

    This is a great example of how the funeral industry can be looked at to explore odd or unthought of ideas, mainly the idea of air-conditioning as something which does not just make us comfortable but saves lives regularly and significantly.

    Next time you see an air-conditioner think of this, how such a simple device created for pleasure has become a life saver and influenced the world around us without our realising.



Hayashi, T., Ago, K., Ago, M., & Ogata, M. (2010). Bath-related deaths in Kagoshima, the southwest part of Japan. Medicine Science and the Law , 50 (1), 11-14.

Ryall, J. (2012, April 30). Probe into Japanese bathtub fatalities after 14,000 die in one year. Retrieved May 11, 2012, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/9235564/Probe-into-Japanese-bathtub-fatalities-after-14000-die-in-one-year.html


An Inside Look: Northern Suburbs Crematorium

    I thought it was time for a follow up on my 'inside' look at Macquarie Park.  This time it will ne Northern Suburbs as it is next to Macquarie Park.

    Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens, simply known as 'Northern Suburbs' to many in the industry is a very picturesque and historic place, opened in 1933.  It is one of the nicer places visually, while not as practical or modern as other crematoriums it does have lovely gardens and buildings.

    Northern Suburbs is owned and operated by InvoCare, who do own most of the industry but are a decent company.

The stolen statue.
    An interesting fact is of the missing statue.  In the middle of one of the large ponds is a stone block with four holes in it.  Here once sat a large bronze statue, which was stolen.  Nobody is completely sure when it was taken but they know it was in early November 2010.  So somebody stole a large bronze statue, which was bolted down and in the middle of a big pond and then nobody noticed it was gone for a few days.

    It should be noted that Northern Suburbs is very different to Macquarie Park Cemetery and Crematorium.  Yet many people confuse the two quite often as they use to share the same name and are within 5-10 minutes drive from each other.  So make sure you are going to the right place!

    The adress is; 199 Delhi Rd, North Ryde.  I do not know if you can put this address into a GPS so do NOT rely on a GPS or following the cortege to get here.  It is an easy location to look up so look it up.  The entrance is on a bend in a bushy area, but it isn't hard to miss so long as you keep an eye out. 

Getting there:
    The gate is on a bend surrounded by bush and right next to 'Alen Mathews' Funeral home.  This makes it easy to spot from either direction.  Once you see the bright green funeral home sights you know the gateway is there to.

    You are able to easily turn left or right off Delhi Rd into the crematorium.  While there are no lights to help you turn there are often large gaps in traffic.  Many are large enough to let several cars through at a time.  And due to the bend there is good vision of the road in both directions.

    Once you enter the gate KEEP LEFT.  People make this mistake all too often entering Northern Suburbs, confused by the new location and running late they drive in without thinking.  Even though there are big arrows on the ground people end up going towards the main buildings and driving up a one-way lane.  Next thing they come face to face with a hearse and the hearse is not going to back up.  So as you enter keep left and then follow the signs further up.

    Also do NOT enter the roadway going around the crematorium.  This road leads in a circle directly to the chapels, but it is for authorised cars only.  As in funeral cars or hire cars.  Simply put if you are unsure if you're allowed to drive here then you are not allowed.

    Remember the rule at Northern Suburbs; to get in keep left, to get out keep right!

Leaving Northern Suburbs:
    This is rather simple but can be rather confusing and I have seen people get lost or realise that they cannot go the way they originally planned.  So here is how to get out.

    If you are parked int he car park or out front of a chapel it is the same procedure.  Simply follow the roads until you see the large fountain between the North and East chapels (the fountain will be on your left).  Once you see this continue on but keep right and go down the hill.  Left will take you around the road to the chapels (for authorised people only) but right will take you out to the main gate.  It's so simple you will wonder how and why people have messed this up, but they have and it can be more confusing in person.  Especially with cars going everywhere.

    Remember the rule at Northern Suburbs; to get in keep left, to get out keep right!

    Once back at the main gate you will notice that you should not turn right onto Delhi Rd.  Some can do it, but due to the traffic and short visibility this is actually dangerous and can take a while.  Instead turn left, safer and faster.  Then continue along Delhi Rd and turn left into Julius Ave W, it is the second set of traffic lights along Delhi Rd.  You will come to a round about where you can do a U-turn and then go back to the lights which will let you do a right back onto Delhi Rd.

    There are four chapels at Northern Suburbs located and named by compass points, as in 'North Chapel', 'East Chapel' and so on.  The four chapels differ greatly in style and function, so one should think about the type of funeral when booking a chapel here.  All chapels have a hearing aid loop (as with just about every crematorium now).

    There is a large car park towards the front of the grounds.  To get here simply enter the gate, keep left and follow the road until you see the signs pointing to the car park.  The signs will direct you to the right at a fork, away from the main building but into the car park.  Because it is an odd circle you end up closer to the buildings that it appears.  If you need to drive closer to the chapels (because you are a hire car, funeral staff or driving someone who is 'unsteady') then continue towards the main building.

The Chapels:
    Most mourners will end up parking in the car park (as they should).  This is only a short and easy walk from the chapels.  However funeral cars or hire cars will and should drive right up to the chapels.  To do this turn left instead of right for the car park.  Continue straight towards the main building, then enter the circular road by keeping left and following the building itself.  This will take you around the circle and let you park at any chapel.  Note that you drive in an anti-clockwise direction around this circle.  The first chapel on the drive will be the North Chapel and the last will be the East Chapel.

    As the East Chapel is the last on a long and slow road you can chose to take a few short-cuts and make it your first stop.  There are two main options for this, the first is to turn right as though you were going tot he car park but follow the road which brings you right to the East Chapel.  The other option is faster but you will need to pass the chapel in the wrong direction then using the triangular traffic island do a u-turn to come back facing the right direction.

North Chapel:
    This is the second chapel people will see as they walk up to the main building.
Seats 100 in the main area and 30 upstairs, it also has a TV screen down at the front.  While they say it is a large screen it is 'tricky' to see clearly from the back.  There is also an electric piano at the front and an AudioVisual system at the back.
    There is wheelchair access through a side door.
Link to more information and a  floor plan.

East Chapel:
    This is the first chapel people see as the approach the main building.
Seats 70 people and says it has standing room for 100.  But in all honestly getting 100 people to stand in there would quite squishy.  There is a small TV at the front which is viewable but appears small from the back.  It is good for a nice slideshow but not suitable for a movie.  As with the other chapels there is an AudioVisual system at the back and electric piano at the front.
The East Chapel has been blessed as a Catholic chapel and can have crucifix's provided on request.  But every chapel at Northern Suburbs is suitable for any religious or non-religious ceremony.
    There is wheelchair access through a side door.
Link to more information and a floor plan.

South Chapel:
The South Chapel door from under the cover.
    This is reached by following the path around the building, located on the opposite side to the North Chapel.
Seats 80 and has standing room for 100. It has a decent TV at the front for slideshows and videos and an AudioVisual at the back.  And again there is an electric piano but also a marble table at the front.
Unlike the other three chapels this one has a cover outside the door for cars and people, which is a huge advantage in the rain or the heat.  This makes it arguably one of the best chapels and is certainly one of the preferred for undertakers.
    There is wheelchair access through a side door.
Link to more information and a floor plan.

West Chapel:
    This is at the back of the building, reached by walking around the path.
Seats 55 and has standing room for another 50.  It is perhaps the smallest of the chapels and this should be taken into account.  There is also an electric piano and AudioVisual system in this chapel.
    There is wheelchair access through a side door.
Link to more information and a floor plan.

Reception Center:
    InvoCare planned to open the reception center in 2011, but the date was pushed back to 2012.  So it should be open by now but I do not know for sure.  Nor do I know what it is like.  I do know it is located by the car park but away from the chapels.  There was talk that a shuttle service would be provided to people who needed it, but either way it is a decent walk from some chapels.

Main Office:
    The main office is located near the large fountain between the North and East chapels.  For undertakers and other funeral staff there is a special sliding window on the side of the building by the toilets.  Look for a little awning and a window, it is easy to spot.  This is where funeral staff take all the paperwork, let the crematorium know they have arrived, get help and so on.  Mourners on the other hand should enter the office through the door near this window and can talk with reception.

The Staff:
    The staff are InvoCare employees and as such most are quite cool, but a few are funny.  Generally the staff here are decent and helpful so long as you are polite.  A smile goes a long way at Northern Suburbs and if you stay on their good side (which isn't hard) they will usually make sure to give everyone a couple of lollies or mints.

    For mourners the staff are also quite nice and professional.  Be polite and do not hesitate to ask if you need help, try not to demand or ask too much but otherwise they are happy to help if they can.  If one needs assistance getting around Northern Suburbs, finding a name plate or anything else just go to reception in the main office and ask.

    If you want an all-in-one style service where the wake and committal are together I would recommend Macquarie Park.  The reception center and chapels are state of the art and modern.  And they are located almost next to each other, and there is a small fenced in playground within sight of the reception rooms.  Overall it is better integrated and offers more versatility.  However it is very modern, Northern Suburbs has a more historic feel and look to it.  It is a stylish and beautiful place with fountains and gardens everywhere.  Really it depends on what people desire and their budget as both are good locations and close to each other.

Useful Info & Links:

Phone: (02) 9887 2033

Cremation information.

Memorial Options.

Associated funeral homes - in other words other InvoCare owned funeral homes.



Working Funerals - Turning the coffin

    At my grandfathers funeral I couldn't help but notice the mistakes the undertakers made when turning the coffin.  The mistakes wren't serious or disrespectful and they went un-noticed to the other mourners.  But after working funerals I saw these little mistakes.  And this made me realise how many mistakes can be made when turning the coffin, so I thought a little guide might help.

    Turning the coffin is a rather important part of the service, and it is a part many overlook or dismiss.  It is also a rather simple procedure that has plenty of room for errors.

    'Turning the' coffin refers to the act of rotating the coffin at the end of a funeral service to take it to the next or final stage.  This is done while family, friends or other mourners are watching and is a part of the service itself.  Mourners or staff can turn the coffin, but it is usually the undertakers who do it.

    Any movement of the coffin is important and potentially emotional for most mourners.  So turning the coffin is very significant for most people.  It is also done infront of many people and its always watched intently.  As such it should always be done right.  Thus an article explaining how to turn the coffin could be helpful to mourners or funeral directors alike.

Here is my step by step guid on how to properly turn a coffin:

Fig1. Getting into position.
1. The hearse driver and other staff member will wait near the coffin before moving over and preparing it. This involves removing any symbols (items placed on top or near the coffin) or obstructions (such as the pascal candle or tables).  As they approach they should bow to the stage or coffin depending on tradition or practice.
Fig2. Getting ready to turn.
2. The staff move into position, the hearse driver goes to the head end and the other staff member goes to the foot end.

3. They pause for a moment and when the hearse driver signals they place their hands on the coffin.

4. The staff want to have a firm but dignified hold of the coffin.  It should not be grabbed and moved like a box or furniture but it does need a firm grasp to keep control.

5. After placing their hands on the coffin the staff pause and again wait for the hearse drivers signal.
Fig 3. Turning the coffin.
6. When the hearse driver signals the staff turn the coffin clockwise.  It must always be turned clockwise! Turning the coffin in this direction represents the passage of time, it is an old and symbolic tradition.

7. It might be necessary to perform a three-point-turn in tight spaces.  There is nothing wrong with this if movements are kept to a minimum where possible.  Be sure to discuss this with the conductor or hearse driver before going up to turn.
Fig 4. Finishing the turn.
8. The assisting staff at the foot end should make sure the coffin is straight.  To do this they pull the coffin down the isle towards them a very short distance.  Never pull the coffin too far in this direction and do not worry about getting the coffin perfectly straight.

9. The staff will move off as previously instructed by the conductor.

Some simple key things to remember are:

-  Pause after approaching the coffin, pause again after placing your hands on it and make a final pause after turning the coffin.  This makes the whole thing appear much more respectful and professional.
-  Look for the hearse drivers signals, move when they move and move as they move.  Again, it will look professional and like you are a team.
-  Do not move too far.  Restrict all movements as much as is practical otherwise mistakes can be made.
-  Flow steadily, do not move suddenly or jerkily.  Think of the process as like a dance, move with a rhythm and do not make sudden or unexpected movements.
If a mistake is made ignore it if you can.  Most mourners will not notice mistakes unless the undertakers make them noticeable.  So if you can get away with a mistake then do so.
Know the crew and other staff.  This is difficult with large companies who change crews and staff often.  But if you can get to know them do so.  It really helped me, to know how and when each hearse driver liked to turn the coffin.  Then I could match their styles and appear more professional and I would notice quicker if something went wrong.  We all have our personal tastes and touches, getting to know these will go a long way.
-  Communicate!  This is perhaps the best and most important thing.  Listen to the conductor and hearse driver.  Do no over discuss what is to happen but make sure everyone is on the same page and you know not only your role but what others are meant to do.  This means if something goes wrong or someone goes missing you can easily step in.

    Just remember not to worry too much about it and if you are unsure of what to do don't do anything.  A great rule for funerals is do nothing if you are unsure.  It is much better to do nothing than do something wrong.  When turning the coffin generally wait to see what the hearse driver or conductor are doing before you act.  And if you are the hearse driver or conductor you should know what you are doing and not really need this guide.