Reimagining death and funerals

We love to celebrate milestones. Births, christenings, 18ths and 21sts, weddings…what about death? Death is a major marker in our lifespan yet we typically rush through funerals and try our best to get to the “other side” of grief as quickly as possible.

Examining our thoughts and feelings about death isn’t easy. Mostly we actively avoid thinking about it – let alone accepting it as an eventuality. Many of us have had hard, if not traumatic, experiences with death or the funeral industry.

It’s forecast that in 2066 there will be an 89% increase in population and 117% increase in the number of deaths from 2022. That’s up to 49.2 million people living in Australia and 379,200 deaths. Our health and aged care systems are already under huge strain. Hospitals, palliative care, and residential care all struggling to keep up with demand. The current model of funeral service is outdated and unsustainable.

As our population swells, how are we going to provide quality end of life care? Support for bereaved families? What are we going to do with our dead? The answer may be in opening up to “new” practices which are actually ways of old. We have an opportunity to reimagine what is possible at the end of life, and to bring beauty, respect, hope, and healing back to caring for our dead. It’s time to reimagine death and funerals.

In today’s Western culture, death is often viewed as a medical event and the majority of deaths occur in hospitals or care facilities. Our dead are quickly transferred from the hospital to funeral home. Unfortunately, the cost of caring for our dead has become increasingly expensive and can take a toll on us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. The average funeral cost in Australia ranges from $4,000 to $15,000, and we often relinquish our power to the funeral director, leaving us disconnected from the process. However, it’s important to know that we do have options and it’s time to take control of our end of life choices.

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to lose touch with ourselves, nature, and the circle of life. This disconnection has contributed to our fear and denial of death, one of the biggest markers in our lifespan. But by taking the time to research end of life options and plan for our own outcomes, we can reclaim control and create meaningful experiences that align with our values and beliefs.

Maybe a traditional funeral doesn’t resonate with you and instead you’d prefer a celebration of life at a place that honours your way of living (botanic garden? Footy club? Where feels right for you?). Perhaps you envision a home vigil, which was common practice before the 1940s. A home vigil can be as short as a few hours or as long as multiple days, giving loved ones a chance to gather, light candles, say prayers, and share memories and grief.

Ceremony and ritual can also play an essential role in your end of life plan (and be incorporated into a traditional funeral service if that’s your preference!). Ceremony and ritual can be personalised to your values, preferences, and beliefs. For example, you might choose to have everyone draw or paint on your coffin or share memories over a bottle of your favourite wine. By embracing death as part of our journey and creating an end of life plan that resonates with us, we are creating positive outcomes for our loved ones. We are gifting them with a transformative experience of love and creating space for their grief to heal (in their own time).

It’s important to remember there is no right or wrong way to approach death and funerals. The decision is yours, and it’s up to you to make choices that align with your beliefs and values. By taking the time to plan for your end of life, you are empowering yourself and your loved ones to face death with grace and dignity.

Personal note from blog author, Jacqui Thomas [director + lawyer]

My great-granny, Ena Lee, was an amazing woman who lived a full life to the age of 90. Ena was an avid gardener and turned her assisted living unit into a beautiful urban oasis. Ena was a family matriarch through and through – always with something bubbling away on the stove “just in case” someone popped in for a visit. A woman of the Great Depression, everything in Granny’s home was recycled and repurposed.

When Ena passed away, I was a teenager and gave a eulogy at her funeral. Seeing her lying still and peaceful in her open casket was a powerful moment for me. I often reflect on the special place that she, and other loved ones who have passed, hold in my heart. I wish that my children had the chance to know them.

I acknowledge this blog is written from a Western perspective. It’s important to recognise that there are many cultures worldwide, each with their unique beliefs, rituals, and practices surrounding death and funerals.

As someone who works in the death industry, I understand that talking about death and funerals can be confronting. It can stir up difficult emotions and memories. Please know there are resources available if you need support. Consider reaching out to GriefLine at griefline.org.au or 1300 845 745, Beyond Blue at beyondblue.org.au or 1300 224 636, or talk to your GP.

Remember that discussing death can be an uplifting experience, too. It helps us appreciate life, celebrate the memories of those who have passed, and plan for our own legacy.

SWE circle

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