Farewells can be in many forms, as long as they are meaningful says industry expert Robert Nelson.
Farewells can be in many forms, as long as they are meaningful says industry expert Robert Nelson. Jarvna

Tips for organising an on-trend funeral

FUNERALS these days are an event where choice is on the table for clients to look outside the norm for a variety of ways in which to say a fond farewell.

Robert Nelson of the Melbourne institution Robert Nelson Funerals is a fifth-generation funeral director. A former member of the national board of the Australian Funeral Directors, he's been in the business for 30 years. While his background is traditional having come from a family that started as carpenters, hand-crafting the coffins and French Polishing their finish, these days he is an industry disruptor as he looks for ways to make the funeral experience more relevant to the person who has died and to the people who are attending the event.

"Today's funerals have become quite expensive. We have expensive vehicles, land holdings and facilities, and staffing infrastructure." Consequently, these costs have to be passed on to the clients. "I have come out of that structure and begun to say how can I afford a funeral. And, I looked at the structure and types of services that people were wanting today."

He now starts with telling his clients, "do and choose whatever you want". "There is no right or wrong with any of this."

Make it meaningful

Have you attended a funeral where you have wondered just whose life you were acknowledging; the person who had died or someone completely different? "People today don't necessarily need the quite formal or official closures," he said.

"That's where the meaningful aspect comes in. It's common to go to funerals and if they're not organised properly, people come out thinking, 'whose funeral was I actually at?'"

Mr Nelson believes that if they are meaningful and relevant to the deceased person the event will also be meaningful to the people who are attending. This may mean its location and structure, plus the messages and forms of recognition are representative of the person's story and provide closure to all attending.

Funeral or cremation

Mr Nelson is seeing more people choosing not to attend a cremation, but rather gather with friends and family in a location that has relevance to the deceased person.


Clubs of any kind are now the favoured locations for memorial services. "People are not wanting what was once considered traditional," Mr Nelson said.

Cardboard isn't the best enviro option

The problem is when the coffin is put into the cremator, it forms part of the fuel for cremation. But, cardboard doesn't burn well, so more energy is required to burn as opposed to a particle board coffin. "The reality is, the cost of a custom board coffin isn't much different to cardboard," Mr Nelson said.

The newest material available is willow. They are made from plant material, like a wicker basket, and are relatively inexpensive.

Get a quote

Always ask for the breakdown of the costs so you can make a choice as to what options you want and can afford.

Capture a person's story

Mr Nelson suggests a family member, for example, videoing a person, while they are still well, as they describe their life. That video can then become part of the eulogy.

"You are trying to capture the essence of the person and have them describe in a very normal way about their life, childhood, school years and work," he said. "Don't do it at one time, but at various times." He has done this for clients, superimposing the live footage over historical photos, and even using some of the voice track in the memorial presentation.

Send the ashes skywards

Ashes to Ashes is a comapny that organises for the ashes to be scattered in the sky through a fireworks display. "Cremated remains weigh about 3kg," Mr Nelson said. "They get loaded into 300 or 400 commercial-grade fireworks, and then put on a whole show when they set this stuff off."

Diamond memory

This is where ashes are turned into 'cremation diamonds'. The processing can take anywhere between about three and eight months. Whatever is produced could become a family heirloom Mr Nelson suggests. "When you think about, in the last century people did wear mourning jewellery," Mr Nelson said.

Don't forget

  • Tell your family and friends what you want at the time of your death Mr Nelson enthused. If you don't tell, they won't know.
  • Talk to a funeral director in advance, before death.
  • If you aren't happy with a funeral business, chose another.
  • Shop around for a funeral provider for costs and choice of services.
  • Search the internet for business contacts.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for what you want.
  • Make the funeral meaningful and relevant to the deceased person, their family and friends.

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