By Tamsin Ramone
Recently an article was released that criticised do-it-yourself (DIY) funerals and discouraged the reader from attempting one, suggesting that a funeral without a funeral director is not possible in Australia.
This is untrue. A DIY funeral and burial is completely legal and attainable in all states of Australia and there are many funeral professionals who will not only support you in this venture but actively encourage it.
Let’s take this opportunity to explore some of the ‘issues’ with DIY funerals raised by the article in question.
Initially this article seems to subtly suggest that you will not be able to hold a DIY funeral because you need a funeral director to embalm the body. Robert Larkins, author of Funeral Rights: What the Australian ‘death care’ industry doesn’t want you to know, stated that “[t]he standard technique to get you to agree to an embalming is for the funeral director to talk about embalming as if it is done as a matter of course. You are likely to be presented with a piece of paper granting permission to go ahead with the embalming and simply requested to ‘sign here’. Most people, unthinkingly, do just that.”
However, embalming in Australia is rare, and not required by law unless the body is being buried in a mausoleum or repatriated by plane. It is not required for hygiene as, unless the deceased died of a serious communal disease, like Ebola, only basic hygiene practices are needed for washing and dressing. With cooling aids and correct body care, the body can be kept hygienic for days without being embalmed, and in-home body preparation, and shrouding or encoffining can be a thoroughly cathartic experience.
Paperwork is never fun, unless you’re an accountant or a lawyer you’ll probably try and avoid it as much as possible, and when a person dies you might be forgiven for assuming there is a small avalanche of forms and certificates you will need to organise. The article in question inflamed these concerns and doubled them by saying that even if you can wade through this quagmire of bureaucracy there’s a high chance that you will still be turned away at the cemetery gates.
The fact is that although the permits and forms that are needed do vary from state to state they are not unmanageable. You are able to contact the cemetery or crematorium directly and they will help to ensure you have all your boxes ticked. If you are feeling very unsure about this you can employ a funeral director or death doula to help you complete the paperwork but leave all the hands on care and organisation to you.
This article frowns on cost cutting, citing it as a cause for mental exhaustion without considering the emotional and stressful consequences of paying for a funeral you can ill afford. Larkins indicated that “[t]he biggest challenge for a customer at an arrangement conference is to resist thinking that the amount spent on the funeral should be directly proportional to the love and esteem they felt for the deceased person.” Currently this type of thinking is being given less gravity, as people are becoming increasingly aware that the financial aspects of a funeral do not reflect the value of the deceased. .
DIY funerals are going to be considerably cheaper than one organised and run entirely by a funeral home. There’s a good chance it’s going to be somewhat, let’s say, rustic, not the polished experience you should get from a funeral service. However, after speaking to many bereaved people a common complaint of professionally run funerals is that they can have sterile, clinical feel to them, so having the opportunity to create a deeply personal final send off might be worth its weight in gold. Another aspect to consider is the possibility of an incredibly holistic and meaningful experience when DYI-ing a funeral and burial, especially when pulled together by a loving and supportive community of family and friends.
Leave it with the professionals:
Throughout this article it appears to suggest that people should be confronted and afraid of death and must be protected from the reality of it. It goes on to imply that the world of funerals is a deep dark spider web of choices and options that the average Joanne could not possibly hope to unravel without professional guidance.
A quick google search will show you that it is possible, with lots of stories from people who have experienced them all over Australia. If you have a whimsical idea there’s a good chance you can make it happen, after all, a guy got buried in a cream donut shaped coffin. Planning a funeral is not that different from planning a wedding, there’s paperwork to be completed, legalities to be attended to, pick out an outfit for the guest of honour and choose some canapés. The big difference between the two is that one is planned with reverence and excitement, it’s openly discussed and eagerly anticipated and the other is a taboo subject. Mostly we don’t discuss death or burials or funerals when we are out to dinner with friends or at the gym and, as such, we rarely learn much about them. We don’t tend to know what we can or can’t do. Most people wouldn’t have any idea that it’s perfectly legal in Australia to transport a deceased family member in your personal car, or bury them without a coffin – but it is!
The take away from all of this is to ensure you discuss your end of life wishes with the people you care about and encourage them to discuss theirs. A DIY funeral will not be for everyone and luckily there are many wonderful funeral directors who can arrange everything for you. However, know that a DIY funeral is possible, either on your own if you wish or with the assistance of a funeral director or death doula. Maybe you want to keep your person home with you but want to hire a cooling tray, or pay to have the body transported, or have the funeral professional to organise the paperwork. You have a plethora of options open to you and, if you’ve discussed your wishes with your loved ones, the choices can be liberating rather than overwhelming.
Further reading and resources:
Funeral Rights: What the Australian’death care’ industry doesn’t want you to know by Robert Larkins – https://www.penguin.com.au/books/funeral-rights-9781742280424