2013-02-08

Ask an Undertaker

     This is a post dedicated to allowing people to anonymously and publicly ask and answer questions about the Australian funeral industry. Anyone can ask a question in the comments below, and either I or someone else with experience will do our best to answer it.  Feel free to ask anything, or to even answer someone else's question!  I also have two other sections of this blog which might be useful;

Advice for mourners: Tips and information to make attending a funeral easier
    This section gives advice for people attending a funeral, from how to design an order of service to funeral industry terminology - simply click here.

Working Funerals: Tips and information on how to be an undertaker
    This section discusses and explains the work of funeral staff, from how to conduct a transfer to why feet first - simply click here.

     You can also contact me privately through my email: theothersideoffunerals@gmail.com.

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56 comments:

  1. Anonymous8/2/13 18:10

    I have been to a few funerals for my family members and really hated it. I wouldn't optionally go to a funeral. So I wanted to know isn't it really sad working in a funeral home?

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    1. Personally I don't find it sad, but everyone is different, most mourners I drove were rather happy, and we would talk about others things. When we did talk about funerals or the funeral industry the majority were quite happy, in fact most were keen to hear about it and learn a little, especially as it was so relevant for them right then. Or if we did talk about the deceased it was usually funny stories and happy memories.

      Overall I enjoyed myself in the funeral industry, and to be honest working in it was easier than studying it in some ways. I find talking and thinking about the funeral industry while not being directly involved in it is very different. Seeing funerals from the undertaker perspective is very, very different, there is less focus on death and grief as it has a more practical dimension.

      Of course, this is not the same for everyone, just my personal perspective! :)

      An~

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    2. I used to hate funerals until my aunt died from cancer and the family discovered she didn't want a funeral. Her thoughts were that the family had suffered enough with her illness. She didn't want to burden us with a funeral. I think funerals are an integral part of the grieving process... to me, at least. It took me a long time to accept that she was gone because a huge part of the 'saying good-bye' process was missing for me.

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    3. i have been to undertaker's funeral
      http://www.wwe-wrestle.com/2016/06/the-undertaker-news-update.html

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  2. Anonymous10/2/13 11:13

    Nice Blog! Death is such a delicate topic, but your insight in fk the subject is very interesting and informative. Can you upload some more pictures of inside the mortuary and the prep room? also the sorts of protective equipment you would wear, as I have seen some people head to toe in disposable suits, gloves, masks etc however the next is in their suit with only a pair of gloves.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! And I'm looking to get more photos of a mortuary and equipment, to have a series of posts about the mortuary and prep work. But for now I'm focusing on the ethics paperwork for my honours work. So hopefully in the near future!

      The equipment worn in the mortuary tends to depend on the place, but for the most part it's just gloves and a disposable plastic apron. Unless they're embalming, then the staff wear masks and goggles. I've seen the full suits on TV, but not in person so far, for the most part a plastic apron type thing and gloves is plenty. You can get away with just gloves in most cases; depending on the type of work and the condition of the body.

      ~

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    2. Forgot to say; here are a few posts I already have focusing on the mortuary:

      - Inside a mortuary, including videos:
      http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/inside-mortuary.html

      - Another post with photos inside a mortuary, including photos of some tools:
      http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/inside-mortuary-again.html

      - Inside Lady Anne Funerals, you can see the aprons and stuff in the background of a few photos:
      http://theothersideoffunerals.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/inside-funeral-home-lady-anne-funerals.html

      An~

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  3. Death Correspondent10/2/13 20:57

    I am a Funeral Director/Mortician currently working in the Sydney funeral industry. I've also done a guest post recently. In answer to the two questions posed so far..
    1)Q: Is working in a funeral home sad?
    A: I get asked this a lot actually. I personally don't find it sad, in fact it is quiet the opposite. The job is so rewarding. At the end of the day I can truly say that I have helped a family at a time when they needed it the most. That alone is very satisfying. I am also somewhat desensitised as well, which means for someone who is not used to it, simply looking at a coffin will make them sad, however i stare at a rack of coffins while I eat my lunch. As a funeral director I have less 'sad triggers' then most people. I hope that answers your question anonymous.

    2)Q: What mortuary PPE is used?
    A: Like AHandy said, i think it varies between mortuaries but as a mortician I wear 2 pairs of gloves, plastic arm shields, a plastic apron and a face mask (similar to the surgeons ones). When I assist the embalmer we wear a gown with long arms that ties up at the back, safety glasses and gumboots. I know other morticians where scrubs under this PPE. I however have never been provided with any.

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    1. Hi...I just wanted to know; are morticians ever called out to a crime scene?

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  4. Anonymous14/2/13 10:59

    From a funeral directors/attendants/undertakers perspective, is shedding a tear or two at a funeral, considered inappropriate or unethical? Especially if you are new to the industry

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    1. How can crying in the presence of sorrow be inappropriate, regardless of your role? It's a sign of humanity and, if anything, I think from a families perspective it would show compassion and understanding.

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  5. This is quite a good question I have wanted to explore! but never get the time to look into it properly!! :(

    Short answer: A little is acceptable. A lot is not. Female more likely (and accepted), younger more accepted.

    Funeral staff should not be crying away of the funeral. Shedding a tear, looking sad, that sort of thing is acceptable... But straight up sobbing or crying is not ok from my experiences. One conductor I use to know would deliberately cry on some funerals (especially children's) for the attention, to appear sympathetic and caring. None of the mourners appreciated it from what I overheard and often called it inappropriate.

    The funeral staff are there to do a funeral, not to mourn, they might be sad but at the end of the day they are working professionals. A single silent tear or subtle emotions like that is fine, in some ways is actually liked by many mourners. But strong or overt emotional displays (like sobbing, or continually wiping away tears) is not liked by most.

    We have certain expectations of certain rolles; for instance women are expected to show more emotion than men. Personally I have found men crying on funerals has never been seen badly, but women are more likely to cry due to this gender assumption. Thus female funeral staff would be more likely to cry, and most accepted. Again, younger people tend to cry more (pre-teen specifically), so people would be more excepting of younger staff crying.

    This is actually a really good question that digs into gender perceptions, age assumptions, and the roles we occupy (like mourner or funeral staff).

    An~

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  6. Anonymous15/2/13 01:57

    How important is attendance to Funeral Home (owners)? Or what are the 3 greatest benefits Funeral Homes receive as a result of higher physical attendance / awareness?

    James

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    1. Well, this is a tricky question :) Sometimes things are not clear cut, and this is a good example of that; many benefits from attendance are emotional based. They simply feel better than on an empty funeral...

      Many funeral staff feel 'bad' (for lack of a better word here) when attendance is low, for example on No Service No Attendance (NSNA) funerals staff still treat the coffin and the time with the reverence of a regular funeral. When the funeral home says they treat all funeral equally, from poor to fancy, they tend to mean it. I noticed that staff on the NSNA funerals felt a little bad in a way, sad that there were no mourners. There was one funeral I saw which is a good example of this, no mourners turned up at all, it was raining hard, and yet the priest and the staff conduced a full funeral anyway. Despite the rain and the fact nobody were there, the staff felt the deceased pay for a funeral and so they deserved one.

      So that's the emotional importance for funeral staff, from what I have seen and heard many staff (including owners) take emotional satisfaction from a funeral that is attended, even by a handful of mourners.

      Then there's the attention, some staff like big funerals, the bigger the better, as a chance to look important and get attention. This is not that common, and could be said for a minority of people in any industry or field, not just the funeral industry. But for some funeral staff the more mourner the more chance to show off and shine.

      Personally I think the most direct benefit for the funeral home is the marketing. The funeral is potentially a wonderful place to advertise directly to the target market. A chance to show off, to actually show people what the company really does and is like. These people then go home and talk about what the funeral was like, how good the funeral home was and then go back when they need a funeral. So far I'm finding that mourners find a funeral home based on: 1. physical location (they want local), 2. family/tradition (families/communities tend to stick to the same thing), 3. having seen that funeral company on a funeral and/or someone else saw them on a funeral and/or through the order of service.

      Admittedly this research is questionable at best... It's not really my focus area, nor have I had time to look into it. I simply stumble upon it as I research other things.

      But basically the funeral is a wonderful time to advertise and promote, a lot of companies put effort and time into subtle promotions on funerals for good reason (such as names on umbrellas, or contact details on the order of service). Quite simply the more than attend a funeral are the more that see the funeral, and the more that see the funeral means more chance someone remembers the funeral companies and goes back.

      Hope this helps! It's a tricky thing, sometimes the benefits are not clear cut and not what we would expect.

      ~

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  7. Anonymous9/3/13 01:35

    hiya i was wondering if you could answer a question i have, i live in the uk and have lost a family member and some people from the family want to bury the family member in one location and have already took the body to the location but the funeral isnt for afew days the rest of the family want the family member to be buried somewere eles can we change the location? or do we have to speak to someone from the funeral firm that the other family member has gone with as this has upset the rest of the family

    please can you help?

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  8. Death Correspondent9/3/13 21:26

    Here in Australia the excuter of the will has final say over the funeral details. They have more legal rights then the power of attorney or next of kin, so if that works in yOur favour then you may contact the funeral home and inform them. However they cannot change their plans for you in other circumstances since they need to follow the direction of their clients, who is the person who has already signed the documents/funeral contract.

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  9. Ive always wanted to work in the funeral industry as ive had many of jobs from security to building work but having to kids I can't get my head around directing a childs funeral ive often wondered when a body is badly burnt is the lid sealed with some sort of silicone to stop the smell seeping out or is the body sprayed with something

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  10. Death Correspondent3/6/13 21:39

    Stephen I would encourage you to consider pursuing your interest in the funeral industry. Children's funerals aren't that common, and depending on which funeral home, neither baby funerals. You can also request not to be on those difficult sorts of funerals.

    In regards to the badly burnt body I have only experienced one before. In their case they stayed zipped up in the body bag and were placed in the coffin like that, which was sealed the normal way (screwed down). In this case it didn't actually smell so no silicone was necessary. However in the case of a badly decomposed body (they have a terrible and unforgettable odor to them) the bottom of the coffin is lined with a layer of saw dust to soak up any fluids, then the body (inside the body bag) is placed in the coffin and an odor neutralizer is sprayed/sprinkled into the coffin. I've found that everyone uses a different product, as there are a lot to choose from. The coffin lid is then fasted with indeed a layer of silicon sealant to prevent odors from seeping through the cracks.

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  11. Thanks for the reply I want to take the job up but i dont np were to start and ive no experience or qualifications and now knowing that I can request not to work on kids funerals makes it more tempting its the type of job ive read about an watched clips on youtube on how to prepare the body and what it takes and the more I want to do it im not weird in anyway just intrested different from wanting to be a car technician when I was younger lol

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  12. Hi , I was wondering if u could give me some direction on starting a funeral company. My reasons are quite personal and I don't feel I would be able to acheive the level of care I want to give working for a standard funeral home. I know services in south aus are often conducted in the cemetry chapels so I don't feel like I need a place of buisness as most of my clientelle will need to be visted wt home or hospital to conduct the interbiew and discuss arrangements. But where would I store the deceased? Do cemeteries have morturaries and embalmers that u can sub contract so to speak. Or is a purpose built premise neccesary. And do you have any advice on how to start a funeral company or where to go or who to speak to regarding this. I have considered taking my propsal to local funeral homes to create a joint venture but I'm afraid they will take my idea but without the personal experience in this situation they will not be able to provide this comprehensive service. Any info or feedback will be greatly appreciated

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    1. starting a funeral home is not an easy task for a number of reasons, and even harder if you haven't worked in the industry before. I wouldn't really recommend starting a funeral home unless you have actually worked in the industry and understand it well. The type of work can be tricky there are legal things to take into consideration. Like what can and cannot go in a coffin for cremation (things with batteries explode and can destroy the cremator)

      To start a funeral home you would need to know where there is and isnt work. Some suburbs are well covered, either there are many funeral homes already, or there's a few established ones. Often the religious orders and groups have a preferred funeral home already. You cant simply walk into the industry you need to find and area or market to cut into if you want any decent business

      Profits within the funeral industry are actually quite low and costs high. Establishing a funeral home is costly and requires lots of things many don't think of (transfer car, stretchers, sheets, staff, insurance, etc)

      What you describe are called "briefcase funeral directors" by many in the industry (all they own is a briefcase) and have been around for a while, they dont own anything and hire the staff and services to arrange a funeral. You can hire everything for a funeral, from transfer crew to a fridge and mortuary. However, this type of business tends to be seen very negatively by the industry Which is a view I agree with in a way. This business is cheaper to run with a focus on profit, which isn't bad of itself (although it's still not as profitable as some think). But it has little quality control and personalisation everything is outsourced to other companies and can lead to issues. This is the opposite of a personal service aiming to offer a high level of care The briefcase system isn't as hands on or directly involved in the preparation of the body and sometimes funeral service. Higher levels of care tend to be the opposite and directly involved in the funeral. Lady Anne Funerals is a good example of this, the staff do everything themselves except make the coffin They know everything about the deceased and family and can customise the funeral in little or big ways easily

      If you want to start a business I would recommend working in the industry first for a bit. Not only to learn the laws, to understand why it operates the way it does. You shouldn't worry about the level of care from other funeral homes most funeral companies are quite good and trying their best. From what I have personally seen and heard over 90% of funeral homes are decent to great. Due to low profits and difficult work few get into this industry for the money. They really aim to offer a personal and caring funeral in many cases. Even InvoCare is quite good from what I have seen, especially behind the scenes. So rather than starting a whole new company why not see what the industry and current funeral homes are like

      An alternative is to try and become a funeral celebrant, but I don't know the details of this as it's another profession. There are celebrants who will work with the families, even before death. Celebrants can be involved in almost every stage of the funeral process, even helping to prepare the body and arrange the funeral somewhat. Or celebrants can simply conduct the funeral service and help with little things like the 'order of service'. Or something like Emerald Creative, a company who design various things for funerals. Emerald Creative makes different things from a basic order of service to DVD slide shows. This seems minor but is actually significant. The order of service is often kept by family and friends and sent to those who couldn't attend the funeral

      Hope this helps. I don't mean to be discouraging, but it isn't a simple thing to establish a funeral home, especially if you want to do it right and haven’t worked in the industry. People start funeral homes all the time so it's possible if you really want

      ~

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    2. Thankyou so much for your time in replying to me. sorry I didnt acknowledge this sooner I had trouble locating your blog again. you have given me much to think about and i thank you again for your thoughtful and comprehensive reply
      mel

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  13. How much do gravediggers gardeners get paid>?

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    1. It really depends where they work and what their specific role is. I'm not really sure as this isn't my area, but I suspect it would be anywhere between $20 and $30 per hour. Although I could easily be wrong about that.

      ~

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  14. Anonymous10/6/14 07:53

    Firstly, congratulations on such an interesting and informative blog, death is such a taboo but blogs such as yours really does shed some light on all things. My question is around ppe and the levels used in the mortuary and forntransfers etc.

    1) What kind of ppe is standard for transfers? I've seen undertakers dressed in the white forensic suits, thick household style rubber gloves, boots the works really then the next is lucky if they even have a pair of latex gloves on. Just wondered why there would be so much variation.

    2) similarly, whilst embalming, what kind of gloves are normally worn? Is it thick ones or surgical style. Could you post up some pictures of your protective kit and gloves?

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  15. Death Correspondent5/7/14 17:10

    Hey Anonymous. in answer to your questions

    1) As a funeral director who does transfers our standard PPE is simply a single pair of latex examination gloves. For very serious contagious cases (for example mad cow) I double glove and wear a face mask as well. If it was a cases with a contagious disease such as HIV I would consider simply double gloving. But since my funeral home do not have the police contract we don't do the particularly 'messy' or high risk transfers. I would presume those transfer crew that you have seen in the past that were geared to the eyeballs were doing a police job and taking the body to the coroners.

    2. As far as what gloves I wear during embalming the recommendation is powder free nitrile gloves as they are more resistant to the harsh embalming chemicals that we use, with 'safegrip' latex gloves over the top. This is for added protection as well as better grip.
    As for other PPE that is worn in my mortuary as a standard I wear a plastic disposable apron, a disposable face mask, plastic disposable arm sleeves, and two pairs of gloves. I also wear gumboots, and my colleauge likes to wear a hair net as well. Not all embalmers\morticians have the same standards and the level of PPE varies between companies and the opinions of the embalmers\morticians.

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  16. Hi, I was just wondering.. Before the person that passed away gets cremated can you see the body in the morgue before hand? You know, just to see them one more time???

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    1. You can ask for a viewing and the body and coffin will be set up in the viewing room for you to say your goodbyes

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  17. Anonymous2/9/14 13:15

    At every viewing I've been to the body smells the same, and I don't mean the flower scents they spray, but the body itself. What is that?.. I randomly smell it sometimes

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    1. Anonymous4/8/15 03:53

      i'm not in the funeral industry myself, but perhaps what you are smelling is left over formaldehyde? Does it smell a little like nail polish but not quite? Just a suggestion :)

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    2. Death itself has a distinctive smell, that may be what you're smelling.
      Or the cleaning solutions used to wash the body before dressing.
      Cancer also has a distinct smell to me but not all people can notice it.

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  18. What are the requirements for a body to be embalmed? As in how long is a body stored before it becomes necessary for embalming? Thank you :-)

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  19. Anonymous6/11/14 13:16

    Is it illegal to go into a morgue and ask to look at the dead bodies or do you have to have a good reason such as research for them to allow you in?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I don't know if it's actually illegal - but morally, I would say no.
      I've had people come through my prep and trimming rooms for career talks and taking photos and they were/are NEVER allowed to get anywhere near my cold room to have a look inside.
      They NEVER get to see any bodies in my prep room.
      The only people who are allowed in there at the Funeral Home I work at, is myself, Doctors and the Funeral Directors who measure the bodies before ordering their coffins.

      The only way the Families or public can see the bodies are via an organised viewing.

      A good way of looking at things is to imagine if it was yourself laying in there - would you like it if someone off the street wanted to come in and look at you?

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  20. While attending my sisters funeral I noticed that under her clothing she had some kind of plastic material on her arms and tummy areas....I was wondering why this was needed....it almost had the feel of a grocery bag or garbage bag....it was kind of thick and very lose on her arms.

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    1. There could be a couple of reasons for this:
      injuries / incisions may have needed to be covered to prevent accidental bleeding on the clothes or
      if the clothes given by the Family were too tight or of a type of fabric that doesn't allow to be dressed in easily, the plastic helps makes the clothes slide on.

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  21. Anonymous11/4/15 05:18

    Do black peoples color change when they die like caucasion peoples do?

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  22. I have been looking to get into mortuary school and have talked to our local funeral director....I know it is the saddest when it comes to children could you tell me the story of the first time you did a service for a child and what are some things to expect

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  23. I'm currently a student and I'm doing a project on the differences between funerals on Norfolk Island compared to funerals held in Australia. As I live on Norfolk Island, I've had no problems with gathering necessary information to complete one half of my project, however I have been unable to contact anyone in the funeral business in Australia. The isolation of the island prevents me from being able to reach and gather information, so anyone with help I would LOVE to hear from!! Here are some of the questions I would need some answers to - and in return, if any there are any questions regarding the happenings on Norfolk Island I would gladly answer :)
    - what are the process someone would take when planning a funeral?

    - are there any differences for people of different religion? If so, what?

    - are there differences in funerals for people of higher/lower social status? If so, what?

    - Are there any funeral regulations that must be followed?

    - What are some continuities of funerals that you have noticed?

    - What are some changes that you have noticed over time?

    - What changes do you expect to see over time, and what do you expect to continue?

    - what happens when the graveyard has reached its capacity?
    Thanks :)

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  24. Anonymous4/8/15 03:44

    Hello, i was actually researching educational requirements for a few different related careers when I stumbled across your page here. I was having a bit of trouble and thought this might be a good group to ask. I am having trouble finding a job title that either specifically indicates or very closely describes someone who embalms and prepares the bodies for services (ie draining, chemical preservation, makeup for the services when the body will be viewed), but does not necessarily conduct or take a major role in performing the public end of the funeral services themselves as would a funeral director. Is there a specific title for something like this?

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    1. I'm classified as a Funeral Assistant.
      I prepare bodies for burial (but we don't embalm at the Funeral Home I work at).
      I also transfer the deceased and trim coffins and sometimes help set up the grave sites with the lowering device, charirs etc. Occasionally I help out on a service, handing out Order of Service booklets.

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    2. An Embalmer & Mortuary Assistant are the professional names you are seeking.

      Delete
  25. Anonymous9/10/15 23:54

    Hello there,

    I'm just wondering how you prevent the deceased smelling over the period of time it takes to organise and have the funeral. I've been to viewings, some of which was for 3 days starting 7 days after the deceased passed (cultural tradition), and there have never been any odours. Is it some kind of chemical wash?

    Thank you in advance.

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  26. Is there a difference between embalming whites and blacks? My local funeral home refuses to embalm blacks and they say it's because there is a difference and they aren't sure how to do blacks.

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  27. Gday, Do we have to use a funeral company? Or is legal to bury your own ?

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  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  29. Hello, thank you for this blog it has been an eye opener, I really want to become an undertaker within the industry, or a hearse driver, my experience is none, I don't have any qualifications, I have worked for an abattoirs that is it, I am a family women but am keen to get entry in the the industry do you have any recommendations as to where to go or what I would need to study ECT I live nsw central coast thank you

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  30. Death is inevitable and I understand the views of those here. When you're around it 24/7 you see a different side to it. Theres a peacefulness to it and no one really knows if or what awaits us. Or if death is painful or not.

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  31. Anonymous3/12/16 11:12

    If a body is burned on the arm of the body what is it covered with before being dressed for the funeral

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  32. I lost my friend a few days ago, when we went to the funeral we noticed that under his clothes he was wrapped in plastic I was wondering if you could tell me why.

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  33. Hi,

    My life partner's father passed away, and he did not make financial arrangements for the funeral. I've been asked to make the spray for the casket. I watched several instructional videos, and I believe I can make a very pretty spray. My question is more about how to "use" the spray. Should I lay fabric or cloth under the spray? If so, what is the formal name for the cloth?

    Thank you,

    Pamela

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  34. Hi there, what is the professional recommendation timing of when a partial or full embalming is required? We have had quite a few customers ask us this on our website that lets customers find and compare funeral directors: www.gatheredhere.com.au. Thank you.

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Never hesitate to ask a question or comment on something, this is an open minded and free space.

If you want to contact me privately do so at: theothersideoffunerals@gmail.com

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