Category: Funeral Photographer

On royal Births, and death bombing.

By , July 17, 2013 6:48 am

With the world waiting for the birth of William and Kate’s baby, I wonder if the young prince will stay overnight in the maternity hospital with their new baby, once born. It reminds me of my own birth experience at Boothville Mother’s Hospital, Windsor. Since closed, it was run by the Salvation Army as not only a “home for single mothers” but also as a natural Birth Centre for low-risk mums-to-be.

In the late 1980’s – long before social media existed, Boothville was welcoming new dads into the labour room and encouraging them to stay the night.  It was the only way dads could become involved in the care of their child, and help as added support to the new mother.

When my own husband would visit me at 6am and then reluctantly return to our empty house, I said to my doctor: “Help! He’s exhausting me.”

The hospital was under constant threat of closure due to low patient levels, and Dr Charles Elliott suggested I push for a family room to be added to the hospital, as a way of attracting families.

As hospital closure loomed over our heads, we passionate supporters began a five-year marketing campaign and a relentless promotion to engage the public and tell the story of “Brisbane’s Best Kept Secret”.

On the Private Hospital Board with me were two young women and now lifetime friends; Christine Jackson and Fiona Guthrie.  Together we well-intentioned birth consumers began what is now taken for granted in some hospitals: the father stays overnight, bonding with his new family. Two special family rooms were created, and many young couples made memories and a healthy, loving start to their family life.

Recently a young friend delivered her second child at the Royal Women’s Hospital, and her partner stayed overnight. I wondered if she knew the story of my own husband, and what an ongoing  effect it had on her own relationship, 27 years later!  If the London Paddington Hospital has no family room perhaps Kate might just Skype Wills from her bed?

I understand that a special reclining chair has been requested so that William may rest, no doubt exhausted from his own shouting of Push Latey Katie, push!  Giving birth has evolved to become a social gathering of friends and family with Twitter updates and the obligatory selfies for Facebook.

With television shows such as Call the Midwife, or reality show, The Midwives, it’s easy to see how birthing has evolved from an isolated young mother and her doula, to a more social occasion, shared with birth photographers, support people, and friends.

At the other end of the spectrum of birth, is death. Will we see a rise in death- support people as we age?  The days of dying alone or with only close family may be limited.

I heard author Jesse Blackadder  telling of a ‘third person involved with assisting and supporting my mother’s passing’.  It seems this friend became involved and helped family to bury personal grievances before they buried their mother, so to speak.  She gently allowed each person to spend special time with their mum, before she passed. Sometimes families need that extra person.

As ageing Baby Boomers are used to creating their own traditions, death might become a passive spectacle, viewed with bored family texting Facebook updates: “No change yet, breathing still regular”.

A new tradition may emerge: Death-bombing. Just like Photo-bombing, described as: “An otherwise normal photo that has been ruined or spoiled by someone who was not supposed to be in the photograph.”

Death-bombing might be the art of overstaying your death-watch welcome, witnessing your loved ones passing, all in the name of being social.  Added family members might have good intentions, but their very presence disallows others to have quality one-on-one time to whisper messages and make memories with their immediate family.

Sometimes death demands privacy, not an audience, with many oldies refusing to go until the family leave the room.

It’s a time that can never be re visited, so perhaps a neutral Death Warden; aiding and directing death-bed traffic, to ease family congestions and smoothing the path towards the Light, might be the birth of a whole new industry.

Nursing her elderly mother after a fall, Patty Beecham reflects on the reversal of roles as she becomes carer

By , February 7, 2013 4:19 am

This article was published in the Courier Mail, Brisbane, Queensland.

My elderly mother stands over my bed and whispers in my ear. “Are you awake?”

“Not really”, I mumble. I can see she is smiling at me, even though I am asleep.

It’s 5.20am and I remember that my mother is actually critically ill in Rockhampton, 700km north of my home. She was admitted last week after a horrific fall that shattered her thigh bone. Osteoporosis and old age; it ain’t for sissies.

The doctors tell us “she’ll never walk again, never be able to bare any weight on her leg”. They delicately performed her first ever operation, gluing her “mushy bones, like nailing sticks of butter” back together.

Mum is 93. A widow for nine years, a soldier’s bride and the mother of us four rowdy adult kids and enough great-grandchildren that we gave up counting them.

The family gathers. We sleep in our old family home, in a disarray of mismatched pyjamas and T-shirts, ready to spring into action; to drive to the hospital. We listen for the telephone, every inch of us straining to hear, ready to pounce.

Exhaustion takes its toll. Siblings squabble. We snap and leave rooms, words unsaid. We huddle and cry, wring our hands with helplessness. We cook, shop, eat, going through routines. I can taste nothing but chew methodically and swallow.

When the phone does jangle us awake we leap with angel wings to grab the receiver before the second ring.

At the hospital, Mum is sleeping. We wince at the sight of her and her poor, injured leg. Gently, we rub her feet. Tenderly, we kiss her cheek, her face, her forehead.

Each day more bruises appear on her arms. She has so many tubes and needles and veins and black and purple marks, it hurts to count them all.

Nurses come and whisper to us. My medically trained sister and niece translate doctor’s talk for the rest of the family, so we understand.

We stand in dismay at our situation. No one wants her life to come to this. This is not what was supposed to happen. Fighting our inner voices, we gather and pray for her life to end. Struggling with moral choices. Is it wrong to want your mother to die? Priests are called and we are grateful.

We discuss her life, remembering old memories, laughing at our own contributions. Gently, gradually, we come to accept. She fights on, grimly breathing and trying not to cough.

Only weeks ago, I bathed her. We dutiful daughters had taken over the task of showering her after she became agitated with the daily rotation of home visit nurses. No matter how cheerily they would arrive to care for her, it became too much. “So many new faces,” she would say and blush. She’s a proud, private woman.

Undressing her is an art in itself; gently removing her trousers and shoes, unbuttoning her floral blouse, being careful with her arthritic bones.

I know every inch of her soft body. Every curve of her dowager’s hump, every unidentified lump, every wrinkle and fold where once smooth skin lay pale, unseen. We inspect her for bruises. Her delicate, paper-thin skin demands our full attention. Gripping the handles we have installed with trembling hands, the fear of slipping and falling frightens us the most. It’s constantly on our mind, the elephant in the room we cannot avoid. Already, she’s broken her wrist, and once slid off a chair when her dressing gown proved to be slippery on the leather seat.

I powder her chest, easing on fresh clothes and walk her gently to her bedroom. Now fully dressed, she lays on top her bed, exhausted. “I’ll just rest a while” she says, her eyes closed.

Bathing mum gave me opportunity and wisdom to see hands-on old age and dignity. It taught me patience and respect, returning my mother’s love and care.

I stand next to her bed and discuss the day’s events; recalling memories, quietly chatting as our roles are reversed. My mother is my child, my delicate doll with the blue eyes.

And now this. The Big Fall that was always going to happen, no matter how much we loved her. It’s a train wreck and we are taken on a ride no one bought a ticket for. This nightmare of old age that refuses to leave.

With life, comes death. My mother is teaching me gently, still.


Country rain – from Switzerland to Nigeria.

By , December 8, 2011 12:54 am

Driving through stinging rain. Grey clouds hang like a shroud, whilst further to the south, sweeping sheets of white cover the hills and fields, causing small streams in paddocks to run, puddling at fence lines.

Today I am going to film a small country funeral for a Swiss woman, who so loved her family that she travelled each year to stay for a 3 month visit. This year she celebrated her 80th birthday, and then passed away very suddenly.

Today and forever her heart will be part Australian.

Already, I am lost. I drive swinging to the right, as I watch open mouthed as my turnoff to Toowoomba veers to the left. I’m confused by the prolific and complicated road works that jam the Ipswich highway. No matter, I have plenty of time, and I take the opportunity to drive through Ipswich and have a good look around though my sweeping windscreen wipers. I’ve heard that Ipswich has changed a lot – a dynamic mayor with his tea cup collection – and innovative city changes, but today I can’t really see anything new. It’s the same old highway, same traffic, same curious collection of white rocks stacked into a pyramid to my right hand side. Very odd. I don’t get it.

Pulling over to the side of the road, I stab at my new android phone for Google maps, and a strange woman’s voice tells me which way to drive. With my phone propped up within the dashboard, it leads me out of this town and back towards the main highway, where my little Astra competes with huge and fast-speeding semis and trucks.

Water everywhere. Thanks goodness for new tyres. Eventually the turnoff to Laidley appears, and I pull left and enjoy scenery. I always imagined living in this small town, I’m not sure why, something about it pulls me towards a slower life. Children in bright gumboots digging within a muddy garden. Cats sleeping in warm window nooks. Dark grey pigeons abridge rooftops watching the town centre. No sooner had I read all the Christian signs and anti abortion posters *country dream popped* than I am driving out of Laidley, heading towards the small crematorium and chapel.

The rain doesn’t ease, and the paddocks surrounding the gorgeous little cemetery are filling with rivers and brown streams of water, anxious to travel and flow. I hop from my car, from small island to small island of mud. My shoes are already soaked. It’s going to be a long day. A large gregarious caretaker called Barry meets me and together we chat for the next 30 minutes about this and that. He tells me of speeding through the cemetery (no clients of course) and how three special black marble headstones glow in the dark. I shiver with delight. “It’s just reflecting the building lights of course” but I won’t listen, I want to hear how they glow and my goose bumps build up and down my legs and arms.

Eventually the family arrive, huge umbrellas are shaken and stored, and raindrops are dusted off black coats. We’ve lost our Catholic priest, a new young man, fresh from Nigeria. A few phone calls later, it seems he has driven to the Plainlands cemetery instead. He’s on his way. We sit and fiddle, adjusting my video angles, rehearsing. Paula, a young blonde Funeral Arranger, tells me that in her experience, a lot of priests “give these families nothing. Nothing! No comfort, nothing.”

Grosse Gatt wir loben ditch plays. Our young priest arrives with an embarrassed face, he quickly changes into his priestly garments and the Service commences. Firstly, a long explanation and deep apology to everyone for keeping them waiting, and soon we all warm to this likeable, sensitive young man with the dark skin who travelled from Africa, performing the Committal rites to an old woman who travelled all the way from Switzerland to die. I love the journey!

He gives them comfort, and hope and faith. He gives them everything!

The widower speaks no English, and seems happy although a little dazed. It must be a shock: she went too quickly. I am there to film so he can take his wife’s memory back home, and show his neighbours that “he did the right thing.” In thirty minutes, it’s over; we exit the Chapel to Ave Marie. Outside, the hugging begins.

I film as gently as I can, without intrusion, and then head back inside to photograph the detail of the flowers. He wants everything preserved in my camera, and I oblige, clicking petals and the silver Cross and the details that catch my eye. The family are so relieved I’m there, and grateful. Umbrellas are popped open and dribs of black-dressed families huddle together, making their way to their cars. Someone takes my own umbrella, by mistake. Oh well, it can be my gift to them.

They are driving now to a local pub, where a long afternoon of schnapps and toasts will begin; and I leave them to their memories, and drive home; through the concrete canyons of Ipswich Road, past the wonky bridges and enormous overhead highway signs, winding my way through the suburbs to arrive to my own home and find a roast pork dinner – complete with homemade apple pie – all ready to be thrown into the oven. Thank you to my son and his girl, for being so thoughtful. I squeal with delight as I see my kitchen, with dishes full of salads, bowls overflowing with potatoes ready to be roasted, the seasonings, the flavours that beckon. Bottles of red wine are opened, and my husband and other son arrive for dinner.

It’s a perfect ending to a lovely day.

Jacquie’s Funeral – Thoughts.

By , October 27, 2011 9:36 pm

Driving through canyons of concrete and kilometres of road works, I am relying on my GPS to take me to a large Maori family at Redbank Plains, to film their beloved daughter and sister who died quickly and tragically of an undiagnosed tumour in her chest. She was 37, she had only been in Australia for five weeks, and she was the mother of three delightful children.

As I turn the final corner, a white ute drives past me slowly, the driver locking eyes with mine. Justify your existence is written in heavy old English font. I pull my wheel to the right and park on the footpath, adding to the automobile count.

I am greeted by her older sister Danielle, who has been living in Australia for the past 25 years. She has lived here so long she has forgotten her Maori language; in fact later she admits she never understood it.

It only takes one generation to wipe out a culture.

Danielle is totally Aussie to the point she has changed her Maori name Danille, to Danielle. There’s a difference and her husband points this out later to family. He’s an intelligent, well spoken and widely travelled business man. “I sold my corporation and now I am in the position of having too much spare time and drinking too much.” We both laugh softly at the prospect, to some that would be a dream, but he is a thinker, a planner, living with an over-active mind. He sooths this twice a week by babysitting his grandson, with long strolls around the park in a fancy pram. He loves it but he’s bored silly.  He needs to get back to work.
The cardboard sign taped to the fridge placed in the double garage read: NO SMOKING IN THE SHED! and various mobs of family wander to stand in the long driveway and puff away their grief. There’s no alcohol but cigarette packets lay everywhere. An aunty hacks away with a cough so bad I want to slap her on the back to help. Family groups return back to work after a visit. “Better get back to it, keep it all going.” ‘Yes sister, keep it all going, eh!”

I had little idea of the culture of mourning until I quickly googled this morning, but at least I am aware that a bowl of water is placed at the door, and it’s expected of me to wash my hands and face each time I enter and depart the room of Jaquie. I watch the little children plunge their hands in and wash, giggling and happy to be among other children. Finally a mum comes out and scolds them. ‘That’s enough now, eh! Enough now, eh!”

Fresh ferns are strung along the door lintel, acting as an entrance to the other world. It’s beautiful to see.

The children kick a large soft ball around to each other, absorbed in a new game. Platters of food are placed carefully under a new white marquee: ham, salads, watermelon and breads. Tables and chairs are set up; they are catering for a crowd of 50 people who ebb and flow, cars constantly coming and going. A couple struggles in with 4 bags of ice for the large eskies, and cans of lemonade. Later, two men bring in cartons of steaks, and slabs of beer. ‘This isn’t going in the fridge, eh”.

It’s my job today to set up a Skype connection to distant family in New Zealand, who have hired out the local hall (marae) to watch the ceremonies on a large projected screen. They are also catering for a crowd of 50 friends and family. It’s taken me a week to try to set this connection up, I’ve done as much as I can by installing new drivers, defragging and buying a new HD webcam, but it’s their connection I have no control over. The Skype stutters and jerks annoyingly. It’s the best we can do; we are all doing what we can.

Family members drift off to eat, sitting in the back garden’s darkness with another feast of food. Soon, a husband’s emotional farewell. I’ll film it, sitting in the corner before realising to my horror I had left my shoes on. As soon as there’s a break in the proceedings, I’ll dash out and remove the offending footwear, but for now, I continue to film and archive a families loss.


Remembering Daniel Morcombe

By , August 23, 2011 11:00 am

Build strength in Tibrogargan:
Grasp the earths core and call out to ancient spirits;
Fly home to mums loving arms and your fathers heart.

For eight years you’ve slept and dreamed of home,
Now is the time.

Your time to shout and be heard.
Call out!

Be known, and rest again in love and peace.


Daniel, we have you now,
Your work is done.
Sleep well sweet boy,
Draw strength from your earthly parents,
And your bond to Tibrogargan’s core x

Daniel Morcombe Foundation

Bruce Buckham Funeral Highlights

By , August 20, 2011 8:04 am

The Celebration of Bruce Buckham’s Life, with RAAF Guard of Honour.

I had the pleasure of filming Bruce Buckham’s large funeral last week, and here is the short version of it. The family assured me it would spectacular, and it was. Bruce was a war hero, pilot and highly decorated. The RAAF formed a beautiful, dignified Guard of Honour for him.
Kerri Jessep covered the still images, whilst I filmed.
Michael Hutchinson Funeral Director, Brisbane

Patty Beecham Productions – Showreel

By , July 11, 2011 11:34 am

Helping you celebrate your life and milestones!

Franco’s Funeral

By , June 23, 2011 9:08 am

I’ve just finished editing a beautiful funeral; it was a small, intimate gathering of 40 for an old, much-adored, rascally Italian chef, who managed to produced a couple of families and leave a roomful of laughter and tears behind.

The Service was performed by his own family, no celebrant or Priest, and was a very touching and memorable event.

As he was a former chef, sprigs of Rosemary were placed on his coffin by everyone as a mark of remembrance; it was beautiful to film and I know the DVD is to be sent over to his hometown in Italy.

Some of the gorgeous music played was Adagio by Il Divo, Time to Say Goodbye by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, the DVD I created used the always stunning Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and we walked out to the gentle Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly.

The numerous young grandchildren said a special goodbye to him, and the young boys looked terrific in their matching suits and ties. More and more I am finding that men in particular colour match their outfits now, morel like a wedding than a funeral, but it shows they care and have made the effort, and the results are always very smart.

Speaking of weddings, even the far back pews had the most beautiful (there’s that word again!) bunches of flowers and lilies tied to them, and before the coffin stood proud bunches of red and white flowers, lilies, and foliage.

During the Service the Superintendent of the Nursing Home came up to speak unexpectedly, she wanted to publicly acknowledge Franco and the delight he created within the nursing home with his booming laughter and happy disposition.

What will people say about you on your funeral day?

Will you be brave enough to write your own eulogy or will you leave it on the to-do list for your family to write?

What music moves you enough to represent your life at your own funeral, and finally, what tributes do you want left to be remembered by?

Funeral Directors were George Hartnett Funerals39 Bay Terrace ,WYNNUM QLD 4178 Phone: 07 3396 4219 Fax: 07 3893 2469

A mourning of winter sun.

By , June 22, 2011 7:59 am

It’s been two years today since I found him, lying with his face to the sun.

A father's note to his son

He was still warm, probably from the streaming yellow winter sunshine filling his bedroom with a golden light. He wore grey trousers and a Singlet with an unbuttoned shirt over it. On his feet were tattered slip-ons, and he had a happy, relaxed attitude; his left arm placed loosely across his chest in a comfortable position. One imagines he simply lay on his bed to wait and rest. And so he did.

I had been making a surprise video compilation for a friend of ours, to celebrate his impending 50th birthday. Driving around Brisbane over a few weeks to video record various family members and friends, I had spoken to his elderly father only the day before, to ask permission to call around and video his birthday message for his son. He was excited, and insisted he also buy a birthday card for his youngest boy. “I must write him a message!” he laughed, “Come tomorrow, I’ll even unlock the outside gate for you”.

“But you sound so good” I bargained, “why don’t I call around now, it will only take 5 minutes?”

“Tomorrow,” he insisted, “tomorrow I’ll unlock the front gate” he chirped. Having an elderly mother I know how important it is to grab them whilst they are fresh and vibrant, but it was no good, his insistence that I arrive at 9am tomorrow stood firm.

So there I was standing at my friend’s father’s old home, only one block from my own house, knocking on his front door. Sure enough, the front gate had been unlocked and opened. Grinning to myself, I called out. “Hello? Yoo-hoo?” but there was no response, no cheery reply.

Bored, I take photos of his gate, the letterbox, and some flowers.

I wait. A small black bird flies around. Not a crow, not a magpie or peewee, just a small black bird. I take more images.

More knocking. How odd. Perhaps he went to the bathroom? Perhaps he is out the back? I wandered around; knocking on outside walls (is he deaf?) banging on the back kitchen door, peering through windows to an old house, noting the plastic flowers in vases, a statue of Jesus standing in blue and white robes in the far corner of the lounge room, and pictures of family and grandchildren, but no sign of the old man.

Eventually, I ring the other son, the one I had recorded the day before. “I think you’d better come, he’s obviously been up, but now there is no sign of him anywhere, perhaps he’s fallen over?”

Thirty minutes later the eldest son arrives, flustered. He goes into the front room first, stops, and turns to me. Gesturing for me to approach the bedroom, he stands there with his face slumped and his arms hanging down.

He died with his face to the sun. On the chair beside the single, high iron bed, there’s a note.

“When the days make you frown
because they are all the same,
and it’s pouring with rain,
I hope you look back, smile at your thoughts, and be glad remembering
just what a good birthday you had.”
it reads, a shaky hand determined to show his youngest how much he meant to the old man.

Asking permission to take some images, I photograph the note, and a couple of quick pics of the room, in case there is an inquiry. I wait with the son until the Police arrive, answer some questions, and then I drive home. Such a beautiful day for death.

In a way it was a privilege to be there to find him quickly; with the winters sun on his face.

Rest now, in peace.

Here is the final video: Colin is a fine karaoke singer, so I thought it only natural we should sing to him! It took a lot of phone calls to Cairns, Hobart, and driving all over Brisbane, but I was happy with the results, enjoy.

Letting Go…Signs of Passing

By , June 8, 2011 9:02 am

Have you had any personal experiences of your Loved Ones passing over? Would you be prepared to share them with us? At a time of grief many of us are sensitive to the other world, and perhaps we see into things too much, or perhaps they are really there.

Perhaps your Faith helped you in your time of distress? We all have a spiritual side to us, and one we should honour and respect.

Perhaps that breath of wind on your face that made you smile was really…what?

That flicking light, the bird at the window, the rainbow?

I know when my father passed over, we had many, many signs – which gave us all great comfort. If you would like to share your story, please email me or comment below.

You do not have to use your name if you like, I understand.

Blessings, always….

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