Mourning has broken

Trudie McConnochie interviews funeral celebrant Rach Michael for Seniors Funeral Insurance.

When funeral celebrant Rach Michael found herself standing before mourners wearing a flannel shirt and holding an unopened can of VB, she knew this was a funeral she’d remember for a long time. 

“He was a biker,” she recalls. “There’s a bike hearse – like a sidecar, that you can put a coffin on – so he had that. It was on his property, and everyone had ridden their bikes out, and they were just leaning on their bikes in the paddock with their beers and their eskies next to them. That’s probably one of the most unusual ones I’ve done.” 

Non-traditional funerals like this are part of a growing desire to capture a loved one’s personality and honour their life authentically after they’ve passed. 

Striking a chord

Music has always had the power to stir emotions, and Rach is seeing it used even more creatively in funerals. Recently she attended the service of a woman who loved the ABBA song Waterloo. 

“Her best friends were wheeling her out of the chapel, and they were singing,” she says. “People all clapped along to Waterloo. You could feel the joy in that.” She has also led a funeral for a postie that included the song Please Mr Postman – “Everyone had a little giggle at that!” – and one for a Scottish-Australian man who wanted AC/DC’s Highway to Hell played on the bagpipes. 

Scott Duncombe, funeral director at Sydney Funerals Co, says he sometimes brings in musicians, choirs or specialised singers for services, such as a tenor or soprano for an opera-lover’s funeral. “It’s about making it more joyful music rather than sombre music,” he says. “We even do ones with drag queens when representing the LGBTQI community; drag queens welcome the guests as they come into the venue, and some of them perform as well.”

Setting the tone 

Senior woman wears purple to a wake

Many families now ask funeral attendees to wear not black, but a certain colour to represent their loved one, Scott says. “That will flow through to the colour of the coffin to the colour of the booklets and flowers as well,” he says. “So there’s a bit of a theme going through if somebody liked pink, red or purple, for example.” 

Coffins, too, are increasingly embracing colour and creativity. “You can actually get coffins now that are covered in a decal, and you can get anything – clouds, swans, flowers,” Rach says. “I’ve seen one where a lady did watercolours, and they actually got that put on [her coffin], which was beautiful.” She has also seen a car lover sent off with decals of their favourite make.

Changing the venue

These days, Scott is increasingly leading funerals in unconventional venues – surf clubs, parks, wedding venues and even people’s homes. “Twenty years ago, we would all be in churches for the majority of funerals, but the tide has changed – the majority of funerals now are outside of the church and even coming outside of chapels and crematorium properties.” 

Rather than weekday mornings or afternoons, some funerals now take place in the evening or on weekends. “This allows everybody to attend and not have to worry about taking a day, or a few hours, off work,” he says. “When you do an evening funeral service, it changes the whole atmosphere from a funeral to ‘actually, this is a celebration of life’, especially when we’re at their favourite club or venue, or even home.” 

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