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.
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!
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.
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 $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 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.
Writing a hit song is a creative process for any musician. So it comes as no surprise to hear of the unusual, yet innovative, ways the ashes of two country singer/songwriters have been scattered.
Sharing stories around a fire during a Facebook live concert this week, Bill Chambers, father of well known Kasey Chambers, spoke about what happened to the ashes of good friend Audrey Auld.
Audrey, a Tasmanian musician based in Nashville, was 51 when she died of cancer in 2015.
Bill describes her as “an unforgettable character”. She was described in one record review as “sweet voiced but tart-tongued and no nonsense”.
“After she passed away her husband Mez came out to Tamworth, as he often did, and he brought Audrey’s ashes will him. He gave us all a little cylinder with some ashes in it which I carry in my guitar case.”
The Association of Independent Funeral Professionals is calling for the reclassification of funeral workers and related industries as essential or critical care.
Association president Carly Dalton argues death workers should be given priority access to personal protective equipment to ensure they’re offered the same protections as health care workers.
“We face the same exposure and risk to the disease as those within the health care environment. We should be given priority access to all the personal protective equipment that is required for our workforce to undertake their roles safely and professionally,” she said.
These include “individuals who work in the industry of proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains should be included in the health care/public health category with doctors, nurses and others in the healthcare industry”.
In a letter today to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Carly said, “The ability of death-care professionals to safely carry out their duties during a mass-fatality incident is paramount. The government must recognise our role as funeral directors, cemetery, crematory and coffin manufacturing workers as critical to responding to a pandemic response.”
“The safety of these individuals are truly on the front line in helping to care for pandemic victims and their grieving families,” said Carly.
She hopes the Victorian Premier can lobby his Federal counterparts to make death workers essential service providers. I’ve sought comment from the Prime Minister’s office about this.
Just a few days ago the National Funeral Directors Association of Australia expressed similar concerns to the ABC.
He said new health guidelines stipulated eye protection, mask, full-body gown, gloves and leak-free body bags to be used when moving a body suspected of having coronavirus.
But the guidelines failed to take into account the equipment was in short supply and reserved for hospital and nursing home staff, not funeral home staff who retrieve the deceased.
Meantime, Carly Dalton has taken to social media to request homemade masks.
“Who has sewing skills and could start making washable cloth masks? Our whole industry is in need of masks and so is the public. There are no masks anywhere in the shops.. so this really is something that anyone with sewing skills can assist us with. Need to be breathable cotton, high thread count and perhaps 2 or 3 layers,” she wrote on Facebook.
In the meantime the Federal Government has given guidelines about dealing with the deceased. That advice can be found here.
Federal Government guidelines regarding COVID-19 contain some contradictions.
“Family members should be advised not to kiss the deceased. If family members touch the body, they should wash their hands immediately afterwards or use an alcohol-based hand rub.”
But the guidelines also say, “there is no evidence of an increased risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 during cremation and routine body handling”.
Yet the advice also says, “It is not clear whether embalming is safe to do on people who have died from, or with, COVID-19. Embalming is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19”.
Clear as mud?
Australian funerals limited to 10 people in total
As of March 25, 10 people can attend funerals. That includes funeral directors, clergy and cemetery workers. That leaves room for about six or seven mourners.
In Italy, where Covid-19 is overwhelming, funerals are not taking place at all. People are being buried or cremated without a funeral. That is a real possibility here and one that many funeral directors are preparing for.
Now, more than every before, technology will play a substantial role in funerals in Australia. Webcasting or the live-streaming of funerals is nothing new and funeral directors are well prepared for this.
Carly Dalton from Greenhaven Funerals in Melbourne says “virtual ceremonies” using a videographer and a ‘virtual ceremony’ may provide limited comfort at this point of time, but a memorial may be held at a later date.
“In six months time, on an anniversary of the death, perhaps a memorial can be held once this cloud has lifted from us all,” she suggests.
Carly says despite these confusing times, she’s seeing the best in people within the funeral industry.
“We have funeral celebrants who are now out of work putting their hand up to volunteer with us to ensure that people are laid to rest in the best circumstances possible.
“This is new territory for us and everyone is coming together to help grieving families as best we can,” said Carly.
“We’re doing everything to comply with the new rules, despite not being categorised by government as an essential service.
“I’ve got a funeral on Friday and there are 30 immediate family. We are doing our best to find a solution for those mourners. We’ve moved the location to ensure we can ensure a space that caters for four metres for person and we’re seeking clarification about whether we can have the mourners in the cemetery in groups of 10, perhaps 15 minutes at the graveside per group.
“These people are bereft after losing someone and all this on top of that grief they’re having to deal with this.”
If this blog has upset you or you are concerned your loved one won’t get the send-off “they deserve” because of Covid-19, now is your chance to change the way you look at death and funerals. Say what you have to NOW. Record a video and send it to your elderly loved one telling them what you like about them and how you remember them. Don’t grieve for a funeral that might not take place. Celebrate a life while you still can.
It wasn’t what I was expected when I arrived at my local mosque. Beside the entrance to the mosque was what looked like a mortuary. A regular visitor to funeral homes and mortuaries, it wasn’t a new sight for me. But what was a mortuary doing at a mosque?
During an open day at my local mosque yesterday (30 March), hundreds of visitors were shown all aspects of the mosque and had all their questions about Islam answered. Yes, we were even shown what I thought was a mortuary. It was described to me as “the cleansing room”. I’ve since learned it’s proper name is the Ghusl room.
When a Muslim dies, his or her own community is responsible for the funeral process. It is their duty. Cremation isn’t allowed in Islam. And time is of the essence as Muslims are buried as soon as possible after death, preferably within 24 hours.
The process involves three steps: washing and shrouding the body (Ghusl and Kaffan), the Funeral prayer (Janazah Salah), and the burial itself (Al Daffan).
Just as the living cleanse themselves physically before entering a mosque to pray (washing their extremities, their face, their mouth), the cleansing ritual of the deceased (called Janaza) is an intrinsic part of Islamic tradition.
Only people who are adult Muslims can wash the deceased. And it’s stipulated that they must be an honest and trustworthy person. The person doing the washing must be of the same gender as the deceased. For a child, either men or women can carry out the Ghusl.
The washing ritual has many components but I’ll just stick to the basics here.
The washer cleans the body with water and soap, starting with the head (hair, face and beard in men), then the upper right side of the body and then the left side. After that, the lower right side is washed before washing the lower left.
The hair of a deceased woman is washed and braided in three braids and placed behind her back.
The washing of the body is done at least three times. If needed, more washes are carried out in odd numbers eg. five, seven. The final wash uses camphor or perfumed water.
The body is then towel dried and the shrouding begins.
The Kaffan (shrouding)
The deceased is then wrapped in several sheets of material (three for males, five for females), most often cotton. Just like the washing process contains ritual, so does the process of shrouding. Each of the sheets has a special name and use.
Once the bodies have been wrapped, the sheets are then tied with pieces of cloth or rope. There’s one tied above the head, one under the feet and two after the body.
The Funeral Prayer
As a non-Muslim I’m not even going to pretend I know enough about Salatul Janazah to write about it. All I know is that the deceased is prayed for after the body has been washed and shrouded. No praying takes place during cleansing process itself.
The body or bodies are placed in front of the person leading the prayer.
It’s preferable that this is done outside the Mosque or the Musallah (prayer room). The prayer is said silently by the congregation and there are certain times of the day that the prayer should not be said (eg. from sunrise until the sun is fully risen).
Muslims aren’t buried in coffins
So why are there coffins in the Ghusl room?
In Australia, all bodies are required to enter cemetery grounds in a coffin of sorts. A body in a coffin is also easier to handle and transport than just a shrouded body. So the coffins I saw have been re-used countless times to take the deceased to a cemetery where the body is then removed from the casket for burial.
This is where things get hands on. The body is put into the grave by the deceased’s male relatives.
According to Queensland’s Muslim Funeral Services the body should enter the grave from the direction of where the feet will be (ie. from the rear of the grave). And the body should rest on its right hand side (supported by sand, for example) so the deceased’s face will face towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia (technically it faces the Qiblah – the direction of the sacred shrine of the Ka’bah in Mecca). Once in the grave, the ties or ropes around the head and feet can be untied.
The body is then covered with wood or big stones so that soil will not be directly put onto the body when the grave is filled in.
In the photo below you’ll note the ladder and the aluminium grave boards that are placed around a freshly dug grave to provide a safe and secure foundation for graveside services. I took this photo in the new Muslim section in Brisbane’s Mt Gravatt Cemetery. The ladder is obviously used to get the men out of the 1.7 metre grave after they’ve laid their relative in the grave.
While Christian graves often point east to west, Muslim graves run north to south to allow the deceased to face Qiblah – the direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca).
A WORD OF THANKS
I’d like to thank those who welcomed me so enthusiastically to the Oxley Mosque yesterday and answered my questions. Two weeks ago, the day after the Christchurch shootings, I had laid flowers at this same mosque. Subsequently the mosque opened its doors to the community as a way of saying thank you for its support during such a terrible time, and to teach people about Islam.
Just like death, the more we learn about it, the more accepting of it we become.
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.
Facebook remains ahead of the pack when it comes to managing
the social media accounts of those who have died.
With well over 30 million dead people still on Facebook (and predictions there will soon be more dead people on Facebook than those alive), Facebook has today added an extra layer to its memorial pages. I’ll get to that soon.
First, let’s go back to basics.
What happens to your Facebook page if you die?
When you die a family member or your executor can request your Facebook page be either deleted or memorialised. They will have to provide proof to Facebook that you have died, most likely with a death certificate.
Having your page memorialised means your friends can still post on your wall and the page can then become a place of mourning or remembrance. (But that’s only possible if your privacy settings allowed them to post on your wall in the first place.) Your page will look similar to what it always has, though the word ‘remembering’ will be displayed next to your name.
No-one will be able to log into your memorialised account and, importantly, your memorial Facebook page won’t show up in the ‘people you may know’ section, nor will your friends get a reminder about your birthday.
Legacy contacts: Giving a trusted friend a bit of control
Four years ago Facebook introduced what’s called Legacy Contacts. This is when you nominate a friend to manage parts of your account if you die. Don’t worry, they can’t access your messages in Facebook messenger and they can’t delete any unflattering photos of themselves that may be on your page.
Your Facebook Legacy Contact can pin a post on your page eg. your funeral details. They can also change your profile and cover photos and respond to any new friend requests.
How you nominate your Legacy Contact seems to differ
depending on whether you’re on your desktop or using the App on your phone, but
it’s not too hard to find.
On my desktop this morning I’ve clicked on ‘Settings’, then ‘General’,
then ‘manage account’.
On my android phone, I’ve gone to ‘Settings and Privacy’, then’ Settings’ then ‘Personal Information’, and then ‘manage account’.
Today Facebook has given your Facebook friends and your Legacy Contact a bit more power to add content to your memorialised Facebook page.
Tributes is a space on memorialised profiles where your Facebook friends and family can post stories, commemorate your birthday, and share memories. Facebook has just begun rolling out this feature so you might not see it on all memorialised profiles yet.
Posts made after the date your page was memorialised are now included in the tributes section. The introduction of this tributes section seems to have come about in a bid to separate the timeline posts you made while you were alive and the posts that have since been added by your mates after you passed away.
Facebooks says, “We do our best to separate tribute posts from timeline posts based on the info we’re given”.
It also gives someone (your Legacy Contact) the ability to control what’s being said on your timeline – just in case cousin Jerry gets really pissed one night and posts what he REALLY thinks about you and your family and the affair you had with his sister.
Your nominated Legacy Contact can change who can see and who can post tributes. They can also delete tribute posts or remove any tags of you that someone else has posted.
Sure, you’re probably not going to die anytime soon, but it’s not going to hurt to get a little prepared. So, you have to decide what you want done with your Facebook page when you die.
Once you’ve decided TELL YOUR PARTNER OR A FAMILY MEMBER or you can write what you want in The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan, written by yours truly. It’s a colourful read with lots of practical information and room for you to write your funeral wishes and life’s reflections.
So get to it. What do you want to happen to your Facebook page when you die?
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$9 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..