Guest speaker: Taylor & Forgie Funeral Directors
Our meeting location for week 5 of the Eco Coffin Project was again via zoom. We are in the midst of the global covid-19 pandemic; creating new routines and ways of being. In addition, at a local level, we were all shocked and saddened to hear that one of our Eco Coffin Group members died suddenly and unexpectedly during the week. Just incredible and so shocking. I am working on a memorial post with his partner, also a member of our group, to honour his memory and share how our group came together to decorate his coffin as he had designed during Eco Coffin Project. Life and death are very much entangled now that sudden death is back in our everyday lives – both locally and globally – it’s everywhere. It seems timely to be having a chat with our guest speakers this week, Claire and Margaret, from our local family owned Funeral Directors, Taylor & Forgie.
Claire Forgie is a 6th generation funeral director and the General Manager of Taylor & Forgie (T&F) which opened its doors in 1855. Margaret has been in the funeral industry for nearly 29 years with 13 of those years working for T&F. These kind, caring, compassionate and extremely experienced and skilled leaders understand the industry and our local community needs. They generously stayed with us for 1.5 hours; considerably longer than originally expected, and it was a Sunday. No question was out of bounds. It was like the ABC TV series: You Can’t Ask That. Here is a summary of what we learned.
Interestingly, Funeral Directors are currently not considered an essential service during the pandemic. T&F are working hard to understand the new rules, how they apply to funeral director services and how they can keep their staff and clients safe while keeping their doors open to keep serving our community. You can see that Claire and Margaret were practising physical distancing in the zoom photo. They explained that T&F have two types of Covid-19 strategies; what happens if someone comes into their care who has died from corona virus, and what happens if someone in their workplace or a family member of a staff member contracts the disease. T&F have split their staff into 2 teams – a morning crew and an afternoon crew. So if one crew had to isolate then there would still be another crew to keep working. The new rules allow a maximum of 10 people per funeral service in the same physical space with 4 meter squares per person as a minimum which includes family, friends, staff and celebrant or minister.
There is a portable hand washing station at the front of each chapel which everybody is asked to use before they come into the chapel. Seating is 1.5 meters apart and everyone is reminded to keep a 4 meter square distance around themselves. Live streaming is available at their Adelaide Road chapel for an unlimited number of people.
Part 1 – Body care
Having the body at home
During the week Claire emailed our group handouts which she explained in more detail during our zoom session. One of the files was: The dying person’s bill of rights. We can have a person at home from the time of death for a few days as long as they are in a room which is kept as cool as possible with air conditioning. There are some cultures that part of their funeral ritual is to have their loved one at home. So a person who died in say a hospital or aged care facility can be transferred to their home for a few days. This allows for family and friends to come and say an intimate goodbye before the more public funeral service. The body can be transported directly from their home to a burial site or crematorium.
There is no legal requirement to use a funeral home or transfer the body away from their home on their death, unless the Coroner is involved. The body needs to be formally identified and certified as deceased by a GP within 24 hours of death. A GP needs to also provide certificates for burial or cremation. So as long as those legal requirements are fulfilled, there’s no requirement in the regulations to have the person taken from home.
Care of a deceased person immediately after death
Basically. it’s just keeping a person in a cool environment, raising their head, and doing gentle things to close their mouth and their eyes so it looks like they are sleeping. You can also dress the person. You can be as hands-on or off as you would like.
We had a few questions around body leakage. Everyone is different. The stomach contents is important, whether they have just eaten. When someone is moved they may have a little bit of fluid come out of their mouth and this is called purging. In terms of their bowels, that’s also a possibility, usually when moved. So it’s suggested to have an incontinence sheet or something under the person, just in case.
Sometimes there is air still in the lungs after death. When the body is moved or the muscles relax, which could be hours later, the lungs will express the air and it sounds like a groaning or a moaning. That’s just the body relaxing the muscles as it expels the excess air from the body.
Here are 7 steps to care for the body immediately after death:
- Step 1. Wash the deceased person
- Step 2. Place teeth in the mouth
- Step 3. Raise the head by using a pillow
- Step 4. Place a sandbag or rolled up towel under the chin
- Step 5. Close the eyes
- Step 6. Do not tie the limbs
- Step 7. Dress the deceased person
Why are plastic liners used?
It’s a health and safety issue. Plastic liners stop leakage from the body and/or condensation escaping the coffin or transport receptacle. People handling and transporting bodies do not want to come in contact with bodily fluids. If leakage occurs inside a hearse, that vehicle is taken out of action and cannot be used while it is cleaned and decontaminated; a costly outcome.
One of our participants shared how she was grateful that her Mum’s hair was coloured for the viewing which covered her grey roots. T&F said it’s their goal to make the final memory as natural as possible. Sometimes a person’s worst time is in the lead up to their death, when they’re having a slow decline. They aren’t eating, they become drawn out from being in a lot of pain so they take a lot of comfort when people tell them that their Mum/Dad looked better than she/he was. Mortuary work includes body preparation such as washing, dressing, hair, applying makeup and embalming if required.
Sutures from autopsy
A participant shared the poignant story how she saw the stitches under her brother’s chin after the autopsy and would have thought it would be standard practice to hide them or to tell the family before the viewing.
A coroner’s investigation such as an autopsy will leave lasting effects, especially in and around the face, neck or head area. T&F advised that generally they do speak with the family advising them about suture lines or other marks. They will ask families to supply high necked clothing or a scarf or hat to try and cover the marks. T&F Mortuary staff spend up to half a day carefully preparing and presenting the person the best way to be possible after a coroner investigation.
Why do Coroner Cause ff Death reports take so long?
The partner of our participant who died this week was told by the Coroner that the cause of death report will take about 18 months. T&F said there are 2 parts to the Coroner’s reports. The body is released with a death certificate with no cause of death so that probate, the funeral service and burial or cremation can go ahead. Like all Government departments they have a backlog of cases so they are dealt with on first in first out. It can take up to 2 years. Then an updated death certificate is posted out with the cause of death.
Part 2 – Burial Grounds
We’re going to talk about different types of burial in Australia: earth burial, vaults, capellas and natural burial.
- Earth burial means the body is buried in the earth. You can have single, double or triple depth, meaning 1, 2 or 3 coffins on top of each other in the same grave site. There are no restrictions on coffin or clothing materials.
- Vaults are concrete-lined graves in the ground.
- Capellas or mausoleums are individual vaults in walls above ground.
- Natural burial:
- grave depth 1.4 meters to allow 1 meter from tip of nose to top of ground,
- no embalming,
- no headstone – GPS markers for body location,
- biodegradable materials for clothing and coffin or shroud
- Indigenous plantings on grave
Click in the interesting links below for more information
- Adelaide Cemetery Authority (ACA) fees
- Natural Burial Ground: Terms and conditions
- Legislation for transporting bodies in SA
- Legislation for coffin requirements in SA
Part 3 – Coffins and Shrouds
T&F range of eco coffins and shrouds include:
Coffins made from:
- wool with organic cotton liners
- plantation radiata pine (from Victoria) with rope handles and calico lining
- wicker basket (fumigated at customs)
Shroud made from:
- 100% biodegradable unbleached bamboo
- 8 jute carry handles, 4 each side
- pocket for a body board
Bring your own:
T&F do not have a problem with people using their own coffins or shrouds. All they ask is that they can look at and test the coffin beforehand to ensure structural integrity for handling and transport. They just want everything to run as smoothly as possible and avoid emotional glitches on the day that will live in people’s memories for a log time.
T&F have tested the coffin-in-a-box that we are using for the Eco Coffin Project. Mark Forgie, Director, 6ft tall, was pall beared by 6 of his staff into a hearse and back agin onto the ground with no problem at all. The flat-pack eco-coffin fitted perfectly so now T&F are happy to use this coffin. It is just incredible to think that so soon after the test, it is now being used by our participant who died suddenly this week. Life is certainly very uncertain.
“It’s normal if it’s right for you“
T&F gave some beautiful, encouraging advice: “So don’t hesitate to ask if you can do it. I often get asked, what’s normal or what does everybody else do and my response to that is, it’s normal if it’s right for you. So we’ll do what we can to accommodate everybody’s family’s wishes. If it’s a bit different, that’s great because it makes it more personal.”
So the message is as long as you stay within the relevant state based legislation and regulations you can be as creative as you like with dying and body disposition in Australia.
As far as timing goes, some people feel that they just want to get through the arrangements quickly. The person has died and they have people going away at the end of the week. So they feel let’s get it down and then they can privately relax and start dealing with the grief. Some people need a lot of time to analyse and go over things about the decisions and choices which is okay too – in saying that once a person has died if they’re kept in a cool environment, the service can be up to 2 weeks after and they don’t need to do a funeral in 3 days.
Ideally a shroud will have an inner pocket to insert a base board to make handling and transporting easier and more dignified. A base board as part of the shroud supports the head and ensures the body will not fall off the platform during handling and transport.
The shroud can be used for cremation as well. There is no regulation about a person having to be cremated in a coffin. Bodies must be transported in a solid container as per act. T&F have a coffin used just for transporting shrouds. It’s a bit wider and larger as it’s a rectangle shape.
T&F always have a stock of shrouds on hand. Over the years they have used about 40 shrouds and have about 15 natural burials a year, which can use either an organic shroud or biodegradable coffin.
T&F have the majority of their transfer from hospitals and aged care facilities with less than 4 a week of home transfers. With more people being cared for at home maybe this number for people dying at home will start to increase over time. It is interesting to note the language Claire ad Margaret use, for instance they use ‘transfer’ rather than ‘pickup’ as they feel to pickup something implies the item is an object rather than a person.
View the charge
View the charge means watching the body being placed into the cremator. People like to do it because they want to be part of that final bit of seeing their loved one off, similar to being at a graveside burial. It becomes a cathartic process and T&F offer that service is a safe and respectful way through a glass viewing window.
Show ‘n Tell
In the second half of our zoom meeting, each person gave an update on where they were at with their coffin or shroud. With the sudden death of our group member and adjusting to our new way of being in this world with Covid-19, it’s been a really tough shocking week. Our shared stories centred around how we each had been adapting. Some of us in the group had been helping assemble and decorate the coffin for our group member who died but more on this in the special blog post we are creating to honour our friend.
Here are few snapshots of various group member progress.
The Eco Coffin Project is only possible thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners: