Traditional funeral homes reluctant to embrace new Aussie technology that helps families connect with funerals

Ever organised or been to a funeral that had a photo tribute during the service and wished you could get a copy of it so you could watch it in your own space in your own time?

A Brisbane company has come up with the technology to do that and it’s pretty cool and simple to use. The same technology also provides easy access to the video recording of the funeral and the funeral’s order of proceedings.

No, this isn’t a paid advertisement. I’m blogging about this because anything that helps people mourn and access funerals during these restrictive Covid times is worth talking about. The fact it’s an Australian idea makes it even better.

It’s called KeepAR (pronounced Keeper. The ‘AR’ stands for Augmented Reality) and it’s an App for your phone or tablet.

Who’s behind KeepAR?

Lynette Barlow is a Brisbane business developer and tech whiz who came up with the idea after her sister Sally died in 2018.

“I realised there was no easy way to get access to or share the photo tribute, the order of service or the actual recording of the actual funeral service,” she says.

“With KeepAR you can do all of that and share it to a mobile device with anyone anywhere in the world which is obviously really important during these Covid times.

“When my sister died, I needed the ability to sit in my car alone, or under my blankets and watch her photo tribute, listen to her favourite songs and have a good old cry because I missed her. That is one of the reasons this exists,” Lynette says.

How it works

The promotional spiel says “Keep memories close with Keepar. Connect photos, booklets and invites to video memories through simple and engaging Augmented Reality (AR) technology”.

Lynette says, “the Keepar app assists families to feel connected to a funeral service of a loved one.”

It allows the user to access funeral memories on any mobile device anywhere in the world through the free App, as long as the funeral director is using the technology.

I like that there’s no need to sign up to the App, no need to register your email address, no password, no data collection.

When you open the free KeepAR app it starts scanning. You simply let your phone scan the photograph on the order of service and straight away the photo tribute starts playing on your phone or tablet.

Lynette’s sister Sally sadly died of breast cancer aged 52. Scanning this photo with the KeepAR app will take you to her memorial video and funeral recording.

After scanning the photo of Lynette’s sister Sally on the order of service booklet featured in this ‘how to’ video, I was able to immediately access the 7-minute photo tribute to Sally and her hour-long funeral too. There was no buffering or delays at all.

I’m pretty impressed with how it works. It was so easy to use. Open app, scan, watch, share. This video will also give you the idea:

Tradition getting in the way

The funeral industry in Australia is very traditional. I know Australians like to think of ourselves as progressive, but our society remains very conservative when to comes to death, dying and funerals. And many of our funeral directors reflect that.

For now, only the more progressive funeral homes that are using the KeepAR technology.

“It’s been quite interesting because it’s an ‘old school’ industry and some funeral directors say that this isn’t for them because their clients are older. What they seem to forget is that it’s a younger generation who are going to those funerals,” says Lynette.

“Those memories are important and funeral homes need to ensure they are available whenever families need them, wherever they are in the world,” she says.

So if you’re planning a funeral, ask your funeral director to engage KeepAR so the people mourning your loved one can access the memorial video presentation once the funeral is over. And, if the funeral has been recorded, people who couldn’t attend the funeral can watch it at their convenience on their phones or tablets.

It’s easy for the funeral home to engage the technology. They pay a one-off set up fee and then there are a few ongoing plans they can sign up to, depending on the volume of users. They simply send the file of the funeral service recording and video memorial files to the KeepAR people via Dropbox and those files are uploaded quickly (within an hour after the funeral ends). For now, those videos are then available to mourners for three years.

When you go to a funeral where KeepAR is used, you’ll see the logo on the order of proceedings so you’ll know that you can access the memorial video in your own time.

Cool, eh?

Other cool Aussie technology

I wrote an earlier blog about beacon/Wifi technology connecting graves and urns with an App to reveal the story of the deceased.

The modUrn App provides a central place for photos, videos, voice recordings, music, documents – all sorts of things. You can read that blog here.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a death literacy advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). 

Journalist, author and death literacy advocate, Lisa Herbert.

Funeral photography and memorial photobooks: telling your loved one’s story

A photo of your loved one in their coffin might be confronting for some but, for funeral and end of life photographer Mel Noonan, it’s an important part of the story. After her father’s funeral, she created a photobook to document his life. And that included his funeral.

Peter Noonan’s daughter photographed him at his funeral and then made a photobook of his life, telling his story and compiling photos of his life and friends.

“It’s part of their life, part of their story, so therefore documenting it is important for those days when you’re in a haze at the funeral. Looking back on that day with a bit more clarity can give some kind of peace and calm to the situation when you’ve lost a loved one,” she told me.

“It finishes that circle of life for that person. You have photos of births, new borns, Christenings, birthdays, the 40th, the 50th, why not their funeral? It can still be a celebration of their life that I feel should be documented.”

I met Mel at Palliative Care Queensland’s Good Life Good Death expo late last year. She showed me her unique work and she, like me, has passion for telling the stories of the dead.

I love that Mel is using her photography skills to help families memorialise their loved ones. Check out her amazing photobook of her late father, Peter Noonan, here. It’s pretty cool. https://vimeo.com/388977046. The huge response to that labour of love has convinced her that there is a market out there for families, just like hers, who want to document their loved one’s funerals, wakes, or final days.

The front page of Mel’s photobook tribute to her father.

A photographer for 12 years doing commercial photography, family portraits and happier occasions, Mel has also volunteered her photography expertise with HeartFelt, an organisation dedicated to giving the gift of photographic memories to families that have experienced stillbirths, premature births or have children with serious and terminal illnesses.

“Me and other volunteer photographers get calls to go into the hospital and we’ll take photos of the baby, the siblings, parents holding hands with their baby – it’s very driven by the family and what they would like,” Mel said.

Mel’s Brisbane-based new end of life and funeral photography services are driven by whatever her client, the family, wants, be it photographing just the funeral, or the wake, or a viewing, or a person’s last days. Whatever they need.

“It’s really driven by the family. I can stand back and be invisible to them while they’re with their loved one and the open casket. If they like I can come closer and take shots of them holding their loved one, with their head against their loved one. Photographing and documenting the letters and cards that children or grandchildren have written that are in the coffin with the deceased is nice to show as well.

“From my own perspective, I had the done this with my own father and I now cherish those photos and always will. “

Mel admits that, because the subject of death and funerals has become taboo, funeral or end of life photography is not for everyone.

“But we have to talk about it. It doesn’t have to be morbid. For me, just looking back at the funeral photos of my dad’s funeral – the amount of people packed into the church – it shows what kind of person he was and shows who they touched in their life. It’s nice to document that and look at that later.”

Mel and her dad Peter.

I met Mel Noonan and really liked her work and could tell it was coming from the heart, having experienced her own loss. This is not a paid endorsement – as you know, I’m a big fan of telling the stories of the dead (hence my cemetery wanderings and blogs). Funeral and end of life photography is one of the ways of doing that.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.

More Aussie deaths this winter to boost Invocare’s profits

Australia’s largest funeral provider has today told shareholders that things are looking up in 2019. Yes, death numbers are on the rise!

Yay, the flu!

Yay, a cold winter!

In a performance update to the Australian stock exchange, Invocare, says “the soft market conditions had started to improve, with the number of deaths beginning to revert to the long-term trend”.

What’s the long-term trend? This chart taken from today’s presentation to shareholders shows it clearly. Look at the solid orange line. They were last year’s deaths. The doted line is the five year average which is what Invocare shareholders will be pleased to know is returning.

More deaths = more revenue. Yay!

Invocare (IVC) owns many, many, many funeral businesses, cemeteries and crematoria across Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. The best known funeral brands are owned by this huge company – Simplicity Funerals, White Lady, Guardian. Here’s a list but this is growing all the time. Here are the company’s most recent acquisitions. You’ll note many of these were small town, family businesses:

What does this tell us?

Invocare’s statement to the ASX and its presentation to its shareholders tells us there’s money in funerals. BIG MONEY. While Invocare’s profits were down last year because of fewer deaths (damn that warm winter!) and some business acquisitions and renovations, the company made more than $41 MILLION profit. These are the highlights provided to shareholders today:

Be prepared. Do your homework now.

Funeral directors have a very important job. They provide a great service to us when we’re at our most vulnerable, when we’re confused and when we’re grieving. No-one can deny the significance of their role.

But funerals are big business too. Do your homework, be prepared, shop around. Perhaps even visit your local funeral director and ask questions before you need their services. Get to know them. Get to know what services they provide and for what cost. Understand what services you need and don’t need. Demand transparency. For example, do you really need the funeral director to print the order of proceedings for $250? I’m pretty sure one of your family can whip it up on their laptop and print 50 copies at home for $30.

With a little knowledge and understanding, when the time does finally come, you and your loved ones will be prepared and the process of organising a funeral (and paying for it!) won’t be so confronting.

Tell your family what you want

Give permission for your family to buy a cheap coffin and spend the money they save on a holiday or lots of booze for the wake. Let them know you don’t want a big fuss. Or tell them that you do! It’s your funeral. Have it your way. The key is simply communication.

Books like The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan can help with this conversation. It’s a colourful and informative workbook that lets you write down what kind of a funeral you want, if you want to be cremated or buried, what music you’d like played, whether you want the church involved, and even what you’d like to wear at your own funeral. (Personally, I will come back and haunt anyone who buries me wearing heels!)

The book is an Australian publication and sells online for $18.95 delivered. More information are thebottomdrawerbook.com.au.

The Bottom Drawer Book author Lisa Herbert.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.