Slow, intimate, simple and family led. It’s the way most people want to say goodbye to their loved ones. Only two generations ago, most Australian families cared for the dead with their own hands. Today it’s a different story, says Rachael Dexter.
In, Death and the Institution: How one company makes funerals expensive in Australia (Catalyst July 25, 2015), Dexter writes: ‘The modern death process is clinical, corporate and incredibly profitable. According to market research company IBIS World, the Australian funeral industry makes over $1bn each year, and it’s not hard to see why. Funerals, hearses, undertakers, embalming, tributes, flowers; the avenues to posthumously spend our money are endless.
“It’s not like the funeral industry has been an industry for very long,” Jenny Briscoe-Hough says. Jenny is the manager of the Port Kembla Community Centre. Her mother passed away six years ago and her family did as much as they could: arranging flowers, making memorial cards, washing, dressing and caring for the body. But the funeral still cost $10,000.
Jenny realised Australia’s ignorance of death care often leads to monetary exploitation. The same warning also surfaced in a recent Grattan Institute report. Dying Well, warns poor planning, misinformation and reluctance to talk about death puts families through unfavourable and sometimes exploitative funeral experiences.
Death is more institutionalised in Australia than any other country, according to Dying Well. While the report highlighted a dearth of funding for community and home death care, it also revealed social taboos around death talk contributed to the rate.
“People need to empower themselves, the funeral directors aren’t all to blame,” says Natural Death Care Centre (NDCC) founder Zenith Virago. NDCC educates on the practicalities of dealing with a corpse. It’s not commonly known that in NSW, funerals can legally be a DIY affair. You can build a coffin, file the paperwork, store the body, run a ceremony and drive your own vehicle to the cemetery or crematorium.
She recommends approaching a funeral director like you would any other service provider. “If you went to a travel agent and they were bossy and controlling and they said ‘This is the only holiday we’ve got available and we think you should go’, then people wouldn’t stand for it.”
The resounding advice from many DIY and not-for-profit advocates is simply to slow down; embrace the process of death. “Death puts you right at the centre of life, you’re never more alive than when you’re at that edge, you’re suddenly completely awake, you know?” Jenny says. To get the full story log onto: http://rmitcatalyst.com/death-and-the-institution/