A memorial party? What will I wear?

My guest blogger is Ken Roberts, a retired nurse, artist, writer and renovator. A country town nurse for many decades, he’s seen his fair share of death and small town funerals. But a recent invitation to a ‘memorial party’ left him bemused. What is it? What do I wear?

This is Ken’s memorial party experience:

After the recent passing of a dear friend I was very grateful to be included in her farewell in these times of limited numbers of mourners. This was held in the city and was something that I had never experienced before: a memorial party.

Looking back, my experience with funerals was ordinary for me but maybe not for others. I attended a catholic primary school and hymn singing and going to Mass during the school week was common. It was usual that at the regular requiem masses for funerals, we would all march over, very orderly in double file, climb the stairs to the choir and merrily sing the hymns with a watchful Nun on guard to stop any shenanigans. Depending on where you were sitting you would glimpse the coffin and sometimes hear people crying. It was all very matter of fact.

Growing up in a small country town in those days, practices took a long time to change. As I grew, and coming from a large extended family, there were infrequent funerals to attend of relatives. They were always at a Church and usually followed by a boozy wake at some family member’s home.

Changing times: a non-church funeral

Nothing much changed until the local funeral director set up a new office which included a chapel. Some locals slowly began to use that option. It seemed very “modern” to be out of a church and in a building that had once housed the local video shop. I must be quite traditional because I wasn’t sure how I felt about this change. I think the fact that the funeral directors were locals and they understood people’s needs and they catered for what they wanted so very well made it an easier and more accepting transition.

When my mother died and I was helping to organise the funeral, we went the traditional route-church, cemetery and wake in the church hall. My parents were the only practising Catholics on either side of the family and so we honoured that but, keeping it in mind, we tried to make it as simple and less religious as possible. Unfortunately the local Priest had other ideas and he proceeded to include lots of scriptures, incense and holy water blessings! We were not happy.

The turning point: a short and sweet funeral for Dad, away from the church

As a result of this when a few years later my father passed away, we took a stand and bravely by-passed the church and held his service in the funeral director’s chapel with our much loved female funeral director celebrant reading the eulogy and running the no-nonsense down to earth service. Dad was a plain and simple man and wouldn’t have wanted a fuss. He had a plain raw pine coffin with rope handles. (It was good enough for the last Pope!) My sister, a former florist, made the flowers for the top of the coffin with natives from her garden intertwined with rusty barbed wire. (Dad used to make things from barbed wire.)

Somebody noted that it was one of the shortest funerals they had been to, 20 minutes tops. It was still a touching send-off but it was edited down to the essentials that we wanted. We went to another church hall for various reasons and had a simple traditional wake catered by the local church ladies.

I think that sparked a turning point for me in opening up my former conservative ideas about how to farewell people. I could see that as time progressed and people were less religious and less church-going, they wanted something more reflective of who they were in their former lives as an appropriate send off.

The Memorial Party

This was yet again another “new” step that I was interested to see. I wasn’t sure if you had to dress up or go casual, I didn’t know. I ended up doing nice casual, slacks rather than jeans with a jacket and coloured shirt. I needn’t have worried, it was a very casual no-fuss affair, which suited my friend’s former lifestyle. It was held in a function room at a suburban city hotel and, because of Covid restrictions, there were under 50 attending.

The family had farewelled her body at a private cremation a few days before. There was a guest book and a photo display and a brochure. I wondered if there would be speeches but apart from when a relative thanked everyone for attending and said some brief words, that was it.

I was glad that her adult children didn’t force themselves to speak because we all knew how upset they were. I was speaking to the three of them at one point and we all ended up both laughing and crying together. There was plenty of food and drink and time to reflect and chat.

I was amazed that three hours passed so very quickly. I thought it was a lovely, relaxed and genuine way to honour her life. It was loose, unstructured and free of any formality at all. She would have even said that was too much fuss. Her spirit was there in the words spoken between those who loved her.

It was a party, not a funeral

I think that this type of farewell was a very suitable “new” alternative and one that will be surely adapted in the future to suit each individual. It’s even gone beyond calling it a “funeral” because it actually was more of a party. I have no idea how traditions will develop but there is no closing of the floodgates and returning to days of yesteryear, times of mourning clothes and certain “standards” being kept.

Nowadays word of somebody’s passing is usually announced and spread via social media. As a child I remember mum used to listen to the wireless at 10 past 8 every morning when they would announce the local deaths and funerals. That was the social media of that day. Times and traditions will continue to change to suit the times we live in, there is no going back….

Ken Roberts (Central Gippsland artist, writer, renovator)

Some people plan themed funerals where there is a dress code, often bright colours. Illustration by Phil Judd for The Bottom Drawer Book.
Funerals are changing, often becoming a celebration of life. Illustration by Phil Judd for The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan.

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness 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 $29.95. The eBook version is available for AU$15.99 on Kobo, Apple book, Google Books and Booktopia.

The Bottom Drawer Book is now available as an eBook on Google Play, Kobo, Booktopia and Apple Books for $15.99
The Bottom Drawer Book is now available as an eBook on Google Play, Kobo, Booktopia and Apple Books for $15.99

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.

A song and a tattoo: the gift that Kelly’s mum left for her family.

This weekend marks the five-year anniversary of the death of Kelly’s mum. She was just 60 when she died of cancer. Before she passed away she gave her family a great gift and legacy: the gift of preparation.

This is Kelly’s story:

I remember mum telling me ‘everything you need to know after I’m gone is in The Bottom Drawer Book on the table next to my chair’.

I didn’t think much of it because there was no way my mum was going to die: she was only 60, I was only 30. Our lives were just starting! 

After a long and hard battle with cancer, she passed away peacefully with family by her side. I remember dad saying he had organised the funeral people to come by the next day. He had a lost look on his face: we all knew she wanted Michael Jackson played, but which of his hundreds of songs did she want?!

It was then that mum’s voice popped into my head. I raced over to the table next to her chair and there it was; ‘the Bible’ as we called it!! The funeral prep was done within half an hour! The director was amazed by the book and couldn’t believe we were lucky enough to have it.

All her wishes right there in one location, no hunting through music or trying to think about what she might like for flowers or what she wanted to be dressed in. It was a lifesaver.

We had no idea she wanted ‘wasn’t expecting that‘ by Jamie Lawson played. It went on to become a song that would play randomly on radio or the music channels when I was thinking about her – her little way of communicating with me from beyond! 

Kelly’s mother filled in her copy of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan after being diagnosed with cancer, letting her family know her funeral wishes and writing down her life’s reflections. One of the songs Kelly’s mum chose for her own funeral now has a special and permanent place on Kelly as a tattoo.

She had also picked the song ‘never can say goodbye‘ by Gloria Gayner, the words I would eventually get tattooed on me in her writing, in memory of her. I took the book to my appointment and the tattoo artist was stoked that we had it for him to trace! 

The idea of her social media never crossed my mind until it was in the book, or the fact that she wanted her ashes to be put somewhere where her family could visit. You have really thought of everything in this book and it was truly a blessing to our family, at what was one of the crappiest times of our life. I can’t thank you enough for creating this book, I’m a big fan and tell everyone about it.

I have actually kept mum’s copy of The Bottom Drawer Book in my ‘mum keepsake’ box so when I’m feeling sad or miss her, I pull it out and there she is: her writing, her humour and it always puts a smile on my face 🙂

Kelly.

ED NOTE. I’m so grateful to Kelly for sharing her story. It’s so wonderful to know that my little passion for getting people talking about, and preparing for, the inevitable has helped grieving families at a really difficult time. Kelly’s experience is exactly why I wrote the book. It’s the outcome that I had hoped for. xLisa

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 $29.95 and as an eBook for $15.99 (Apple Books, Google Books, Booktopia and Kobo). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life. 

Lisa Herbert: Author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan’.