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.

Headstone symbol reveals convict past

Convict 51158 lies buried in Australia’s southern-most cemetery, with an indication of his crime etched on his headstone. The 1882 grave of Richard Mott is the earliest in the remote Cockle Creek cemetery, 150km south of Hobart.

Richard Mott’s grave (which includes a footstone) is in Cockle Creek cemetery, now part of Southwest National Park in Tasmania. His daughter Ellen’s grave sits beside his.

Convicted of breaking into a warehouse and committing larceny in 1844, he was sentenced to 10 years transportation. Richard had previous convictions for stealing three fletches of bacon and breaking a machine for which he had served twelve months.

On his headstone, there is a machinery cog and an emblem of the French Royal Family (the fleur-de-lis). The cog could have something to do with the broken machinery. The headstone was paid for by his French son-in-law which could be the reason behind the fleur-de-lis.

A machinery cog and the fleur-de-lis are symbols on Richard Mott’s headstone.

Richard was sent to Australia to serve his 10 year sentence on board the Maria Somes. The 1844 sea journey to Hobart took almost three months! There were 263 other convicts on board.

Convict records give a detailed description of Richard:

  • “Height [without shoes]: 5’8
  • Complexion: Ruddy
  • Head: Long
  • Hair: Light brown
  • Whiskers: none
  • Eyebrows: brown
  • Eyes: hazel
  • Nose: long
  • Mouth: medium
  • Chin: medium double
  • Protestant
  • Can read a little
  • Farm labourer who can plough
  • Stout made
  • scars on 3rd and 4th fingers of left hand.

Upon arrival he spent the first eighteen months on Maria Island on Tasmania’s west coast. According to government records he committed numerous minor offences, including being “drunk” on October 15, 1852, fine 5/-.

He had been married when he left England’s shores, leaving behind a wife and six children. Even though his sentence was ten years, convicts weren’t given return passage so they were stuck in Australia after they’d served their time. Some might call that a life sentence.

 The practice of remarrying was common among convicts who were unlikely ever to return to the United Kingdom, even though they were still married to another wife.  He was “certified free” on January 6, 1854, having previously made application to marry Rosanna Murphy, which was approved the year prior.  They married in St Joseph’s Church, Macquarie Street, Hobart on June 28, 1855 and had five children.

They were among the first settlers in the Cockle Creek area where Richard worked as a timber worker (a sawyer).

Mott Murder?

On 15 May 1882 Richard was found dead under mysterious circumstances. He was 74.

The following appeared in The Mercury on May 19, 1882:
“SUSPECTED MURDER.- A man named Mott died suddenly a few days ago at Recherche Bay. At first foul play was suspected, and the police went to the length of arresting a man on suspicion of murder; but by a telegram received yesterday, we learn that now  Superintendent Lambert is of opinion that death was caused by heart disease or apoplexy.
An inquest will, of course, be held.

The man arrested and then released was in fact his son-in-law.

Richard was one of the earliest burials in the Cockle Creek cemetery.  Wife Rosanna is also buried there as are two of their children – Ellen who died at age 19 years in a house fire, and Richard Jr. who lived in Catamaran with his wife Alice Doherty, and worked in a local mill.

It was about 8 degrees and dreary in the middle of the day when I visited Richard Mott’s grave. Imagine living and raising a large family in such a cold, remote place?!

Other cemetery residents

Bridget Strong and her husband William and their nine children. She was in her 50s when she died in the 1920s. Her grave at Cockle Creek is surrounded by an iron fence but there is no headstone.
Glimpses of Cockle Creek itself behind two unmarked graves in the Cockle Creek cemetery.
Thomas and Alice Field had four children but only William is also buried alongside Alice, but his grave is not marked. He was cutting timber for the coal mine and was killed when tree fell on him.
The Cockle Creek cemetery contains 12 marked graves and at least 10 others which are no longer marked. The earliest burials date from the early 1880s and the latest from the 1930s. Imagine raising children in such a remote, cold location?

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 is the author of The Bottom Drawer Book.

Funeral trains: All aboard at Sydney’s Mortuary Station

No, it’s not something out of a Harry Potter novel. It’s actually something very close to home… especially if you live in Sydney. Mortuary Station is a reminder of how funerals used to be. It serves as an example of the role of Government in the provision of burial services to the expanding nineteenth century city of Sydney.

Coffins and mourners got on the “funeral train” at Mortuary Station and were transported to cemeteries such as Rookwood further down the line.

The former Mortuary Station building is “aesthetically significant as a fine example of Gothic inspired design attributed to James Barnet, a style adopted for its religious associations in the construction of a funeral station”. Photo: John Wall.

Opened in 1869, the ornate Gothic Mortuary Station is heritage listed. It was renamed Regent Station at some stage and still stands at Chippendale, not far from Central Station, which was once the site of Sydney’s second cemetery. (Central Station was once the Devonshire Street Cemetery, the final resting place of 30,000 people. It closed in 1890.)

Historical significance

Mortuary Station 1872.
Pickering, Charles Percy (NSW Government Printing Office) , State Library of NSW

“The Mortuary Station demonstrates the removal of burial grounds to the outer suburbs of the city and the commitment of the government of the time to allow access to those cemeteries and a greater vision of providing a modern necropolis for the Sydney region. It is associated with attitudes to disposal of the dead during Victorian times in Australia, and in particular with the funeral trains which ran regularly between the city and Rookwood. It remains as the only substantial building structure associated with the operational workings of the original Sydney rail yard. “(NSW Department of Environment)

Not often open to the public, Mortuary Station is a hidden time capsule in the heart of Sydney. Photo: John Wall

According to the NSW Department of Environment, “The building was used as the terminus for funeral trains only until 1938. When the rail funeral business gave way to road corteges and motor hearses, rail services were restricted to weekends and finally curtailed. On April 3 1948, trains were withdrawn and the cemetery line closed. Trains left from the main terminus platforms over the final ten years of the funeral rail service. There being no call for the rail hearse, the Mortuary Station ceased to function in the capacity of its original purpose. 

In 1981 the former State Rail Authority decided to restore the Mortuary Station.
Photo: John Wall

“From 14 March 1938, Mortuary Station was used for the consignment of horses and dogs, and its name was changed to Regent Street Station. From February 1950 it was used as a parcels dispatch, at which time catenary wires were placed inside the rail pavilion and (apparently at this same time) the easternmost arches at either end were removed of ornament on the inner face to allow for the passage of larger rail vehicles.”

Crowds flocked to the Mortuary Station. Transport Heritage Expo 2019 this long weekend, including a former colleague of mine, John Wall. He was nice enough to allow us to see his photos.

Ornate symbolism

There is much symbolism at Mortuary Station. This sandstone ornamental etching depicts an hourglass and metaphorical wings, a symbol that human existence is fleeting, and that the “sands of time” will run out for all of us.

The ‘winged hourglass’ is a common eighteenth century symbol overseas. It’s not often seen here in Australia so I’m thrilled to see one preserved on the walls of Mortuary Station.
Photo: John Wall
It looks like something you’d see when taking the Hogwarts Express on platform 9 3/4, doesn’t it? Photo: John Wall
Mortuary Station is only remaining example of a Victorian railway funerary station in Australia. She’s gorgeous! Photo: John Wall

Mortuary Station is open this long weekend in Sydney (10/6/19)as part of the Transport Heritage Expo.

The old and the new. Photo: John Hall

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.

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

What a visit to my local mosque taught me about Muslim funeral rituals.

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?

The cleansing room at the Oxley 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).

Washing of the body takes place on a stainless steel table of sorts. Not all mosques have a ‘cleansing room’, but many do.

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.

Ghusl procedure

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.

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.

According to Islamic teachings, Muslim graves are not to be extravagant. It is permissible to put up a small headstone of sign on the grave to identify it.

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).

Muslim graves running north to south in the foreground, Christian graves facing east in the background. Mt Gravatt cemetery, Brisbane.
One of two Muslim sections in the Mt Gravatt Cemetery in Brisbane.

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.

Author and journalist Lisa Herbert wants to make death and dying less confronting for all.

Cemetery symbolism: what do the shapes, engravings, and symbols on headstones mean?

Branches, flowers, animals, urns, hands, letters, crosses and a myriad of symbols decorate graves across the world. But what are they and what do they mean?

Let’s look at some I’ve seen on my cemetery wanderings.

Angel dropping flowers – Menindee, NSW

The grave of a young boy and girl who drowned in Menindee in 1835.

In Menindee, a town on the Darling River in NSW, an angel drop flowers onto the grave of young siblings Patricia and Edward (Ted) Power. The 9 and 7-years-olds were taken to the river by their mother and governess to paddle but quickly got out of their depth and encountered a quick current and 18 inches of weeds. Their bodies were found almost six hours later. They were the only children of Mr and Mrs Pierce Power of Haythorpe Station.

The angel is a symbol of spirituality and it’s said the hand pointing downward symbolises sudden death or mortality. Perhaps the flowers are blessings being spread. Angels with wings symbolise the ascent of souls into heaven.

Obelisk – Bundarra, NSW

An obelisk in Bundarra cemetery, NSW.

Sadly there are eight children between the ages of 6 weeks and 10 years and 22 year old Laura Baker memorialised on this Anglican monument. The children were the sons and daughter of George and Mary Baker. The died over a 19 year period between 1868 and 1887. Originally seen at Egyptian temples, the obelisk is a common monument all over the world. When erected in cemeteries, they signify eternal life.

Broken chain, finger pointing down – Coolgardie WA

Robert Foweraker’s headstone (left) includes a hand pointing downwards and a broken chain, Coolgardie Cemetery, WA Goldfields.

Robert Foweraker died of typhoid fever aged 24 in 1896, a common cause of the death among gold prospectors at the time. The broken chain symbolises the death of a family member. The finger pointing down is said to represent mortality or sudden death and is the hand of God reaching down for the soul. The pointing hand and the chain are often used separately.

The Calvary Cross – Toowong Qld

The Calvary Cross – Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.

The Calvary or Latin Cross is the plainest of the crosses you’ll see in a cemetery. You’ll notice there are three blocks on the base. These represent the climb Christ made to Calvary where he was crucified. The three steps are said to be a reminder of faith, hope and charity. Some say the also represent the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.

The Celtic Cross – Toowong, Qld

The Celtic Cross after sunset at Toowong cemtery, Brisbane.

Celtic crosses have their arms enclosed in a circle. They were most often used by those of Irish heritage. The circle (ring or nimbus) symbolises eternity. Many believe St Patrick devised the first Celtic Cross, combining a Christian cross and the symbol of the sun which was worshiped by pagans. There are two theories behind the inclusion of the sun. One is that it was used by St Patrick to encourage pagans to Christianity. The other is that cross envelopes the sun to show that Christ is superior to the pagan sun gods.

The Eastern Cross – Toowong, Qld

Several Eastern Crosses – Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.

This cross is the symbol of the Eastern Orthodox religion. Orthodox crosses have three bars. is that They symbolise the cross Christ was crucified on.
The most popular theory about its meaning is that the top bar is the title board – the sign above Jesus’ head, the middle bar is the bar on which Christ’s hands were nailed, and the bottom, sloping bar is the footrest.

The Greek Cross – Menzies, WA

This headstone in the WA Goldfield’s town of Menzies depicts the Greek Cross and clasped hands.

There are two obvious symbols on this headstone. The cross’ arms are of equal length in what’s called a Greek Cross. It’s connected to eastern European cultures.

Clasped hands.

In the middle of this cross is the ‘clasped hands’ symbol. This can appear in a few forms. If you look at the cuffs, you’ll note the hand on the left has a frilled blouse cuff so that represent a woman. The right cuff is a male and the male is holding the woman’s hand. It represents a marriage or relationship and the person who died holds the hand of the other. The headstone’s inscription explains the relationship between the husband and wife.

The Fleuree Cross – Wilcannia, NSW

Several Fleuree crosses and two Calvary crosses at Wilcannia Cemetery, east of Broken Hill, NSW. (Note the cross with what looks like a dollar sign. See I.H.S below)

Also known as the Gothic cross, the Fleuree cross has three arms with floral or flared ends depicting three petals (the fleur-de-lis), said to resemble the French lily. The petals are said to represent the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity.

The Rock of Ages – Karrakatta, WA

The Rock of Ages, Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.

This is based on the original drawing that accompanied a hymn called ‘Rock of Ages’ written by Anglican Reverend Augustus Toplady in 1763. A couple of variations include a woman hanging to an anchor or pillar.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

Ivy – Bundarra, NSW

Ivy bordering the headstone of Daniel and Mary Ann Baker, Bundarra Cemetery, NSW northern tablelands.

I had to look twice at the border of Daniel and Mary Ann Baker’s grave. Is this a grapevine or ivy? Grapes and vines are an obvious reference to the Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist or when wine is sipped during communion. I think this headstone however is bordered by ivy, symbolising undying affection and fidelity.

Doves and olive branch – Bundarra, NSW

A dove and olive branch on 1888 grave of 41yo Mary Darby at Bundarra on the NSW northern tablelands.

The dove and olive branch aren’t necessarily always seen together. Doves are a well known symbol of love and peace. It also symbolises purity, resurrection and the Holy Spirit. Olive branches are representative of peace and hope. It’s said a dove carried an olive branch to Noah’s Ark as a sign of hope and to show the water level was falling.

Clothed urn – Wallabadah, NSW

Anything draped indicates sorrow or mourning. Wallabadah Cemetery, NSW.

An urn usually represents the soul or mortality. The cloth draped over it symbolises mourning.

I.H.S – Laidley, NSW

These three letters from the Greek alphabet spell out the first half of ‘Jesus’.
Picture by Taniah McMillan. Laidley Cemetery, Queensland.

Letters from the Greek alphabet are not uncommon on headstones. Here Iota, Eta and Sigma spell out the first three letters for ‘Jesus’. In some cases, the letters are overlaid (see earlier photo of several crosses in Wilcannia).

Sea shells – Lombadina, WA

Graves in the remote Dampier Peninsula community of Lombadina are littered with shells.

Shells are often used to decorate the graves of Aboriginals and Islanders.
I took this photo at the cemetery in the remote Lombadina community, north of Broome. The local Bardi people are ‘salt water people’, people who have a great affinity for the sea. For thousands of years the ocean has been a source of food and spiritual significance for the Bardi people.

Shells also appear on non-indigenous graves, Gum Flat cemetery, NSW.

One of the popular theories about sea shells on graves originates in Greek mythology where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born from sea foam and then was carried to shore in a sea shell. Regarded by some as a source of life, the hard shell protects a soft, living being. This can be an analogy for someone who’s died: While a human body may be devoid of life, the soul continues to live.

“Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and fertility her counterpart, the Roman goddess Venus. The myths say she was born from sea foam and then reached the shores of the earth in a sea shell. The shell was regarded by pagans as a source of life. Though the outside of a shell is hard and inanimate, the inside is soft and alive which can be an analogy for a human who passes away. The body’s dead shell is only a covering for the soul that is alive within.”

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.

Author and journalist Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer and blogger.
Colourful fireworks over Brisbane.

Ashes scattered by fireworks means loved ones go off with a bang.

As you look skywards tonight, you might just see some particularly special fireworks.

The scattering of ashes via fireworks is taking off. These days there are several companies that offer the service for both people and pets.

Fourth generation pyrotechnician Andrew Howard is co-ordinating 75 fireworks shows in towns and cities across the country tonight. While none of those events include someone’s ashes, he told ABC Darwin that ashes being spread using fireworks is becoming more popular.

“We got our first inquiry over a decade ago. It was a little bit weird but it’s certainly very common now.”

“We do several throughout the year but there won’t be any on New Year’s Eve this year,” said Mr Howard.

Ashes are put into handmade aerial shell fireworks that are launched high into the sky over the location sought by the client, usually somewhere of significance to the deceased or their friends and family. The colour of the fireworks becomes an important component of the ceremony, with the colour chosen to reflect the personality of the deceased.

In 2010 the Sydney Harbour New Year’s fireworks incorporated the ashes of two dogs, Gyprock and Zeus. They were the beloved pets of Craig Hull, who has since become a successful pyrotechnician. His company, Ashes to Ashes, specialises in “the scattering of one’s cremated ashes by way of a beautiful and spectacular fireworks display”.

Mr Hull’s first clients were Mikala and Stephanie Dwyer. The sisters sent their mum and grandmother up in fireworks in Sydney in 2014. Speaking to The Feed, Mikala said the ashes had been “hanging around for quite some time”.

“My grandmother’s been hanging around in cupboards since 1994 so this is a way of setting her free a bit,” said Mikala.

“My mother loved fireworks so this was the perfect thing.”

“It seemed totally right and I realise it’s not right for everyone, but for us it was quite wonderful,” she said.

What do you think? Would you like to go out with a bang at a memorial service with a difference? You can make your wishes known in your will or simply tell your loved ones or write down your wishes in The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.

I hope you have a safe and memorable New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the fireworks! And I’d love to know your thoughts about sending your friends and family skywards.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The second edition is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage. You can buy it here.

Lisa Herbert is a journalist and author.