Graveside or Crematorium, Memorial Services, Natural Burial, Life Celebrations, Ceremony held prior to Death, Other Options
There are several choices of types of end of life ceremonies. They include: a traditional funeral held either graveside or in a crematorium; a memorial service; a natural burial service; or a celebration of life
No matter where it is held, a sensitively written and delivered ceremony will include personal stories of the deceased as well as the story of their life. Members of the family, young and old, as well as friends and colleagues may be involved in the ceremony in a variety of roles including speakers, pall bearers, musicians and ushers. The ceremony provides an opportunity to record important dates and events for the purpose of family history and the history of other organisations with whom the deceased was involved.
Possible locations for the ceremony – home, park, garden, beach, riverside, club, function room, graveside, church, crematorium chapel, funeral director’s chapel….the options are endless.
Graveside or Crematorium
The traditional funeral for the majority of Australians is held graveside or in a crematorium. A successful traditional funeral ceremony is one in which a caring professional celebrant guides the family and friends through a service tailored to their wishes. It will reflect the personality of the deceased through the eulogy and tributes, be honouring and respectful.
A memorial service conducted in a place that was loved by the deceased can be a wonderful way to say farewell in a gentler environment than a crematorium or graveside. The family can arrange a private, or an unattended cremation and then have the ashes in a container at the Memorial Service. Sometimes it is the case that the deceased has donated their body to science, or they have died and been buried overseas or perhaps they passed away in a state of Australia other than their home state in which case there may not be any ashes to have as a focal point.
In any event such a ceremony can be thoroughly personalised with an altar/memory table created with symbols, photos, flowers and a container with the ashes.
The program can follow whatever format the family and celebrant wish to co-create.
One piece of advice – if planning an outdoors ceremony in the open remember to plan for the weather, be it severe heat, rain or wind. Always have a back up option.
In Perth, Western Australia, there are currently natural burial sites in the Fremantle and Pinaroo Cemeteries. In the south-west there are natural burial sites in Albany, Denmark and Mount Barker.
The body is placed in a biodegradable coffin, dressed in clothing or a shroud of natural fabric and the coffin is buried in a natural burial ground. The body must not be embalmed but rather prepared with essential oils. Flowers must be fresh and not tied with wire or placed in synthetic foam and there will be no headstone at the gravesite. However there are options for a plaque nearby and, in years to come, loved ones will be able to visit a beautiful natural bush area to remember and reflect on their family member or friend who has passed.
This is a wonderful option particularly for people who are passionate about the environment and wish to reduce their carbon footprint in the final stage of life as they did whilst they were living.
For more information please refer to: www.mcb.wa.gov.au go to our cemeteries/ Fremantle/ natural burial
Celebration of Life or Funeral
It is really a matter of personal choice as to whether you use the title Celebration of Life or Funeral for a ceremony to farewell a loved one. The term Celebration of Life affirms that we are here to celebrate this person’s life whilst in no way diminishing our sadness that they have passed on or the grief we are feeling.
Ceremony held prior to death
Sometimes people suffering a terminal illness choose to gather their family and friends together for a celebration of their life at which they are present.
Burial at sea/burial on private property
Though currently relatively little utilised, these two options are possible in Australia. Special permits are required for both. Information on burial at sea can be found at www.environment.gov.au and for burial on private property at www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Your funeral director can advise you regarding the possibility of having an open coffin in the location of your choice. Coffins are not permitted at certain locations such as Kings Park Botanic Gardens. Memorial services can be held and is up to the discretion of the local council or relevant authority.
Urn with the ashes
After an attended or unattended cremation there are numerous options for placement of the ashes:
* placed in a container such as an urn or box and taken to a memorial service
* interred in a family grave in a graveside ceremony
* taken overseas to a significant place/s for scattering
* kept so the ashes can be scattered at a future time
* kept in the urn/box for the long term.
Environmentally friendly coffins
A range of biodegradable coffins produced from sustainable natural resources is available in Western Australia and indeed Australia-wide. They are made from pandanus, bamboo, willow, banana or rattan leaves or from cardboard. There is also a range of beautiful 100% wool coffins which have been expertly woven to offer a more gentle and tactile finish. The choice of one of these products for either traditional or natural burial or for cremation means that you are reducing environmental impact and making a positive difference to the health of the planet. For more information please refer to: www.serendipitycoffins.com.au
There is no obligation to purchase a coffin or casket through your funeral director. You can purchase an environmentally friendly coffin or have a simple plantation pine coffin with rope handles made (in accordance with the strict guidelines) and give it to the funeral director.
The process of embalming is very invasive irrespective of the care, professionalism and love of the embalmer. It is a personal choice and should be discussed with a funeral director.
Handouts at the ceremony
Order of Service/bookmark/photo/other
Irrespective of the type of end of life ceremony, one may choose to give something to the family and friends who have shown their love for the deceased and support for the relatives by attending their end of life ceremony.
It may be an Order of Service or Programme which may include one or more photos of the deceased. Sometimes a bookmark is created possibly with a message or quotation on it together with the name of the deceased. Other lovely options include handing a gift such as a packet of flower seeds or a seedling to the mourners or a photo or indeed some other memento.
I was deeply moved to co-write a funeral ceremony for a young mother of four who knew that her death was imminent. Kim was a loving wife, mother and friend and she planned to have cupcakes made and given to all who attended her funeral ceremony. On the beautifully created individual cake boxes was the message: “Cherish the Moment”. Kim’s explanation of that choice of message was:“I am of the belief that life goes on. You should be in the moment, enjoy it or find it hard but don’t stay stuck in it.”
See more of Kim’s story below.
Messages/gifts for loved ones
I have been privileged to know two young people who were suffering from terminal illness. They are an inspiration to me. I would like to share their stories to demonstrate how meaningful it can be to write letters or buy gifts to be given after your death.
Kelly wrote letters to her friends and purchased gifts for the closest of them as well. These were presented at her Memorial Service. They were also given a helium balloon by Kelly’s mother Janet who conducted the moving ceremony which she and Kelly had co-created. Inside the balloons were Kelly’s ashes and Janet invited everyone to set Kelly free when they were ready. We all stood with tears streaming down our faces and watched the balloons until they disappeared from sight into the clear blue sky.
Kim was pregnant with her fourth child when her cancer was diagnosed. She fought it bravely and her daughter was born in perfect health. Tragically Kim only lived another 14 months. She created treasure chests for each of her three daughters and a tool box for her teenage son. Inside the treasure chests and tool box she put letters for the children, little messages and notes, memorabilia, tiny gifts and anything else that took her fancy from time to time. The boxes were to remind them of their Mum and to encourage them to talk openly about her after her passing.
Kim’s sense of humour was also evident in the list she prepared for her wonderful husband Paul with instructions for things to do for the children in the years to come e.g. build a cubby house in the backyard of their new home but build it to her predetermined budget!