Posts tagged: death

By , March 20, 2012 12:07 am

This was written by Rachael Wallace but it could have been written word for word by me.


I first thought about taking pictures at funerals when a close friend died 11 years ago. I stood there watching everyone in their smart bright clothes (no one wanted to wear black – too dark, too final), taking in the beautiful flowers, the sentiments and eulogies expressed by friends and family, the glorious spring day with such vibrant colours reminding us of the life continuing outside the cemetery and her husband and sons – in a dream world that day – oblivious to what was going on around them. And I thought how, maybe, it would be good for them to be able to see the people who had turned out that day, from near and far, to show their love and support and pay their last respects.

How perhaps there would be small but important details that they would have missed, such as people’s accessories – special colours the deceased would have loved, the dressing of the church, the smiles on their faces at some of the memories, the respect and reverence from the funeral directors, the special moments and the love reflected all around by the ceremony itself and those attending it.

I knew that by taking photographs on such an occasion would mean breaking an enormous taboo, but I also knew in my heart, that it could be such a great comfort to the bereaved by choosing to have these precious last moments recorded that it would be worth doing. And so it has proved.

Those who have chosen to have my presence at their loved ones’ departure ceremony (and there are many reasons for their doing so) have been so delighted with the pictures that I have chosen and placed in their memory book that they have smiled, and hugged me and I have felt I have brought a little light into their dark times.

The photographs will also enable them to talk more easily to others about their loss as it is far simpler to start and continue a conversation around a book of photographs. In this way the taboo of talking about death is able to be broken down a little more. It isn’t easy. I am met with shock, and revulsion at times when I mention what I do but once I have explained the caring and respectful way in which I work, and how my work aids the bereaved, I have seen people change their mind. Most people think it an excellent idea and a comment I often hear is that they wish there had been someone like me around for their husband, parent, child’s commemorative service but that they felt too embarrassed to ask, or uncertain who to ask, or wanted someone with experience and couldn’t easily find them.

After a BBC radio interview with Anne Diamond I had several people call me to say how pleased they were to hear of the service I offer and was immediately booked by a wonderful gentleman for his wife’s funeral. It has been hard convincing those in the funeral industry of the demand for such a service, and I think it sad that there are still few out there who know it can be arranged, but I feel sure that before too long it will be a common thing on the list of requests offered when planning a funeral. I feel proud and honoured to be present at such personal occasions, and I know that the books I produce are of great comfort to people. And that, ultimately, is the service I am offering at a time of great need.

She said: “When a person is grieving they do not notice what is going on around them and who is there because they are so busy on the day.
“By creating an album of photographs — a memory book — people can see all the people who turned up to wish their loved one farewell.
“It is helpful afterwards and is a nice focal point for people to think that the book is coming. Some people cry and some do not but it is amazing to sit with people and go through it. It is very healing.”
Mrs Wallace says her job at a funeral is to seem invisible.
“It is so important to be really discreet and sympathetic,” she said. “I creep around with my two cameras, trying not to make a noise and get in the way.
“I do not take photos during the prayers, or of people crying, and I try to look for a moment of happiness in the eulogies.
“I will do ‘open casket’ if requested and that does not bother me.



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….

How to plan your own funeral

By , September 3, 2010 10:53 am

This note was sent to me by an old friend today, and it gave me an opportunity to speak to you about your funeral.

The President of the Colostomy Association where I volunteer passed away and I went to his funeral and didn’t like what I saw.

The whole service from start to finish including the coffin disappearing behind the curtain took only 30 minutes. Not much for a bloke who gave so much to the community during his life. The celebrant even made an announcement at the start that someone’s car was blocking another car and could they move it.

So I came home and planned my whole funeral: where, what music, who should speak, what poems etc; down to what colour hearse.

You only get one funeral so I want mine done right.

Many people may be unaware that around Brisbane and in other cities most crematoriums only have an hour booking for your funeral.  This gives the funeral director 15 minutes to set up your coffin, set up the DVD or PowerPoint presentation of your life, any music, flowers; and to welcome guests, sign the Condolence Book and so on.

Then you are given 30 minutes to actually have your funeral, then another 15 minutes to tidy up, exit the Chapel/Crematorium and leave it clean and empty with no lingering mourners, so that the next funeral can take place.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not long, is it? It’s a busy world, even with funerals.

 Death is something we all have to do, no one has a monopoly on it, and we all shuffle to our mortal end eventually.  Are you ready? More importantly, is your family ready, and do they know what you want for your own funeral?

Do you want to be buried or cremated?  Do you want your ashes scattered, or left in a brick wall, or taken home in an urn?

Below is a quick check list of ideas.  I will add to this when I have the time, but for now, it’s a start.

Don’t forget to select your music, (3 – 5 songs) and any photographs you would like to be remembered by.

Choose at least 30 – 50 images, more if you want.  Personally I’ve told my kids I expect lots of crying and lots of photographs, haha. Actually, I wouldn’t like them to grieve to much; I’d like a celebration that I was here.  I existed.

And you? What would you like to be remembered for?

To Do Immediately After Death.

When someone close to you dies, most of the time the hospital or other authorities are there to take care of the medical necessities and formalities for you.

If someone dies at home, you should contact the person’s doctor who will explain what steps to take to get a Death Certificate.

What do you do when someone dies?

This depends on where the person has died and the cause of death.

When someone dies at home, his or her doctor is the first who you should call. The doctor will prepare a death certificate. Then call the Funeral Director to arrange for the deceased to be transferred to a funeral home.

When someone dies in a nursing home, the home will call the Funeral Director nominated by the family at the time the now deceased first took up residency.

When someone dies in a hospital, the family calls the Funeral Director of their choice who will make all the necessary arrangements with the hospital, transfer the deceased to the funeral home, confirm arrangements for cremation or burial and attend to all the details involved in arranging the funeral.

When a death is sudden and unexpected, accidental or a suicide, the doctor or the family must notify the police who will arrange transfer to the John Tonge Centre (Brisbane) by the government contracted undertaker.

In these circumstances the cause of death, possibly involving a post mortem, will be ordered by the coroner. Funeral arrangements may be delayed until necessary documentation has been completed.

When someone dies interstate or overseas, the local procedures must be followed and local authorities will liaise with your Funeral Director while making arrangements for the deceased to be brought home.

Because so many Australians are migrants, there are those who wish to be interred in the lands of origin. Your Funeral Director will attend to this responsibility on behalf of the family.

  •  Check for any written instructions for the body disposition, funeral plans and other details.
  • Contact family, friends, and co-workers who may not be aware of the death.
  • Gather information for obituary and contact newspapers.
  • Contact deceased’s employer.
  • Take security precaution.
  • Assign a house sitter.
  • Remove valuable items from deceased’s house.
  • Forward mail.
  • Cancel newspapers.
  • Remove any jewellery from deceased.

 Funeral Arrangements to be made.

  • Select clergy.
  • Choose funeral home.
  • Decide the location of the service.
  • Burial or cremation or Memorial service?
  • Decide on place and time of funeral service.
  • Inquire about special religious services.
  • Choose a burial container.
  • Choose a burial site (find burial property documentation of ownership)
  • Decide either outer burial container or crypt.
  • Pick out clothing for the deceased.
  • Choose scripture to be read.
  • Choose individual(s) to read eulogies.
  • Pick type of flowers and music.
  • Photographic presentation of life.
  • Choose pallbearers.
  • Order a funeral limousine.
  • Find type of religious, fraternal or military service of deceased.
  • Choose the memorial type and inscription.
  • Sign necessary papers for burial permit.
  • Choose a charitable organization to receive donations.

 Personalizing Your Ceremony.

Provide guests with small gifts to remind them of you:

  • If you love to cook, provide guests with a stack of your favorite recipes
  • If you’re a photographer, provide guests with some of your favorite snapshots
  • If you love to garden, provide guests with a packet of flower seeds so they can plant them in your memory
  • If you’re an avid wildlife person, ask your guests to release wildlife in your memory (pheasants, butterflies, birds etc.)
  • If you absolutely love ice-cream (or any other type of food), throw an ice-cream social after the ceremony (or for the ceremony, if you prefer)
  • If you’re all about being Green, invite guests to plant several trees in your honor
  • If you do a lot of volunteer work, provide guests with the information of the places you volunteer at and ask them to continue doing your work
  • If you were a firefighter or other type of serviceman, have your funeral procession led by the respective vehicle
  • Animal lover?  Invite your guests to bring their pets to an outdoor ceremony
  • If you plan on having a very small, intimate funeral ceremony, consider writing all of your guests a personal note
  • If you’re a music writer or song composer, provide your guests with a pre-recorded version of one of your songs
  • If you’re a writer, write your own obituary and funeral message.  That way it’s you speaking to your guests, not someone else speaking about you
  • If you’re an artist, create a self portrait of yourself which could be photocopied and given to your guests
  • Compile your favorite photographs and create a slideshow that could be shown during the ceremony or reception.  That way, you’re the one in charge of sharing the memories you want to with your guests.  
  • If you participate in an activity or sporting event (softball, basketball, triathlon, broomball etc) ask individuals to create a team in your memory and play or participate for a season
  • Provide postcards that are addressed (to family, for example) and stamped, then, ask guests to take a few home with them and when they think of a special memory, they can write it down on the postcard and mail it.  That way, special memories and stories can always be shared with the family
  • Instead of having your casket covered in expensive flowers, encourage family members and friends to bring in memorabilia to lie on the casket instead (IE: old sport jerseys, handmade blankets, pictures etc).  This allows all funeral guests to share in special memories.  

 Facts to Find for Obituary.

  • Given name – favorite pet name, nicknames (Johnno, Bluey)
  • Date and birthplace.
  • Mother’s maiden name and birthplace.
  • Father’s name and birthplace.
  • Those who have proceeded in death.
  • Survivors and relationship to deceased.
  • Occupation and employer.
  • Hobbies, interests.
  • Schools attended.
  • Armed services number

Other Things to Do Before Funeral.

  • Meet with funeral director and clergy or celebrant.
  • Write a eulogy.
  • Search for special wishes included in will.
  • Keep a list of callers, flower tributes and donations.
  • Pick out clothing for deceased to wear (men usually wear a suit, women would like makeup)
  • Arrange care for infants or other minor children.
  • Meet out-of-town attendees.
  • Provide lodging for out-of-town attendees.
  • Answer phone calls and letters.
  • Prepare your home for family and friends.
  • Remember to eat!
  • Have a glass of something special, to toast your Loved One and to ease your own stress.

Documents to Locate

Always a good idea to place allof your special documents in a drawer or file, and tell your next-of-kin or executor where to find them.

  • Will.
  • Birth certificate.
  • Insurance policies (health, life, property)
  • Property deeds.
  • Income tax returns (past two years)
  • Disability claims (if any)
  • All documents necessary for deceased’s taxes (ask your accountant)
  • Military discharge papers.

Notify the Following

  • Doctor.
  • Family members.
  • Close friends.
  • Cemetery and funeral home.
  • Attorney, accountant, executor of estate.
  • All insurance agents.
  • Religious, fraternal, civic organizations.

Bills to Be Paid

  • Funeral director.
  • Family burial space.
  • Clergy.
  • Interment/burial services.
  • Florist.
  • Memorials.
  • Funeral services.
  • Limousines and funeral hearse.
  • Newspaper notices.
  • Refreshments.
  • Clothing.
  • Medicine and drugs.
  • Others (rent, mortgage, taxes)

 There are many ways and many ideas, these are just a sample few.  What are your thoughts?

Don’t know what to say on your Sympathy Card?

Here are some well known sympathy quotes taken from this helpful site:

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. ~From a headstone in Ireland

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing. ~Robert Ingersoll

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahlil Gibran

A human life is a story told by God. ~Hans Christian Andersen

To live in hearts we leave behind. Is not to die. ~Thomas Campbell, “Hallowed Ground”

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. ~John Taylor

He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. ~Rossiter Worthington Raymond

Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains. ~Kahlil Gibran

He kept at true good humour’s mark. The social flow of pleasure’s tide: He never made a brow look dark, nor caused a tear, but when he died. ~Thomas Love Peacock

Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow. ~Rita Schiano, Sweet Bitter Love

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. ~Author Unknown

If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to Heaven And bring you home again. ~Author Unknown

It is the will of God and Nature that these mortal bodies be laid aside, when the soul is to enter into real life; ’tis rather an embrio state, a preparation for living; a man is not completely born until he be dead: Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals? ~Benjamin Franklin, 22 February 1756

With what a deep devotedness of woe. I wept thy absence – o’er and o’er again, thinking of thee, still thee, till thought grew pain. And memory, like a drop that, night and day, falls cold and ceaseless, wore my heart away! ~Thomas Moore

And with the morn those angel faces smile. Which I have loved long since and lost awhile. ~John Henry Newman

The angels are always near to those who are grieving, to whisper to them that their loved ones are safe in the hand of God. ~Quoted in The Angels’ Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman, 1994

Good-night! good-night! as we so oft have said. Beneath this roof at midnight, in the days. That are no more, and shall no more return. Thou hast but taken up thy lamp and gone to bed; I stay a little longer, as one stays. To cover up the embers that still burn. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality. ~Emily Dickinson

Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy. ~Author Unknown

When he shall die. Take him and cut him out in little stars. And he will make the face of heav’n so fine. That all the world will be in love with night. And pay no worship to the garish sun. ~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Although it’s difficult today to see beyond the sorrow. May looking back in memory help comfort you tomorrow. ~Author Unknown

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. ~William Penn

While we’re mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil. ~John Taylor

He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. ~From a headstone in Ireland

In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing. ~Robert Ingersoll

Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains. ~Kahlil Gibran

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. ~Unknown

Good men must die, but death can not kill their names. ~Proverbs

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. ~William Penn

Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow. ~Rita Schiano

I look at life as a gift of God. Now that he wants it back I have no right to complain. ~Joyce Cary

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahlil Gibran

Unto God, the Lord belong the issues of death. ~Psalm 68:20

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa

Blessed are those who mourn; for they shall be comforted. ~Matthew 5:4

For some moments in life there are no words. ~David Seltzer

A grave is braced not just by a tombstone but by angels as well. ~Adabella Radici

Death— the last sleep? No the final awakening. ~Walter Scott

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. ~Kahil Gibran

He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. ~Thomas Campbell

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you. ~Winnie the Pooh

They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies. ~William Penn

Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger Generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life. ~Albert Einstein

While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die. ~Leonardo Davinci

As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death. ~Leonardo Davinci

Dying is something we human beings do continuously, not just at the end of our physical lives on the earth. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. ~Seneca

The greatest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. ~Thornton Wilder

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. ~William Penn

Such a beautiful human blessing to cover hurt and longing by words. What was your favorite?


Funerals, a chance to confess and redeem?

By , February 27, 2010 9:30 am

This is an extract from Father Bob’s wonderful website:

There were even more at a funeral on the same day – about 400, in fact. A working class man, David, aged 40, had succumbed to life’s pressures.

He had been in care for some childhood years, one of 10 siblings, but had, miraculously, gotten a trade, married and raised 3 children. The family had a house of its own.

The other siblings had struggled and battled just to survive. We buried one other brother late last year. David’s siblings asked me to state at the funeral that he had succeeded in his main aim of giving his 3 children the security and opportunity he never had.

They also asked me to tell the 400 mourners “No-one is to feel guilt over David’s death.” It was like a public confession and absolution.

Funerals, I believe, need that element of forgiveness and reconciliation. Funerals are like Lent – opportunities for “cleaning house” and starting a “bran nue dae”.
As we left the church for the cemetery, another local man approached to say his own brother, Mark, also aged 40 had been found dead that day and I should be ready to make arrangements for that funeral of yet another man I’ve known to struggle since we met in 1973. Rest in peace comrades.


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