By Sandra Moon
In Australia, according to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, the religion with the largest affiliation is Christian with twelve million two hundred thousand people. At just about half that number, with seven million people, are those who claimed no religion at all.
In fact, ‘No Religion’ is noted by the ABS as rising fast. Thirty-two thousand Australians identified themselves as atheists and twenty-six thousand as agnostics.
So, with Australians’ religious affiliations still predominantly Christian how do those seven million people avoid the angst of funerals with Christian references?
Kimba Griffith and Nastassia Jones, the co-founders of The Last Hurrah funeral services, believe one way is to find a funeral director or service that will reflect the person and their beliefs – not one that automatically reflects the dominant religion in society.
What began as a chance meeting in a Facebook support group for death workers in Melbourne led the two women to opening the funeral service after realising they had the exact same vision for model of death care but the opposite skill sets.
Their service focusses on a family led model and offers a range catering to the religiously diverse. And that can mean stepping back from what has been culturally accepted as the norm in an industry steeped in religion.
Nastassia describes the many cultural references that can typically creep into funeral services as ‘sneaky Jesus’. Kimba says these are “comforting for a lot of people but not comforting for all people”.
The business owners have found the key to avoiding this effect is to find out about the person, what they would have wanted and how best to respect and reflect the spirituality of that person. Both agree working with the family and finding out what the family wants is also intrinsic to their process.
‘We are also trying to be mindful of attendees that may not have the beliefs of the deceased. Some elements of a service you may want to do before everyone arrives. For example you can do a smoking ceremony beforehand and people can walk through the sage smoke after that purification has happened,” says Kimba.
Nastassia adds “Sometimes it is not that the family doesn’t respect the dead’s beliefs it is the celebrant. So as a funeral service provider we are very careful about that.”
What has been the impact on grief of offering a religiously diverse funeral?
Kimba says that a lot of the feedback they receive is how well the person has been represented and how well the service is reflective of them personally. For families, being happy with the service greatly reduces stress during the grieving period.
The Last Hurrah service launched in 2019 in stark contrast to an industry plagued by rogue operators. At that time Funeral Director Jeff Boyle in A Current Affair episode described the industry as ‘a disgrace and out of control’. Mr Boyle went so far as to say it was ‘An overpriced, overcharged, unregulated industry.’
Services such as those provided by Ms Griffith and Ms Jones are a comfort not only to the religiously diverse but to families wanting a trusted experience for the final send off and last hurrah of their loved ones.
It’s always worth taking the time to find a funeral service that reflects your loved one, their religious or belief system and their family as it will help in your grieving process.
I first came across The Last Hurrah when I was researching eco friendly funeral options for Good-Grief cause that’s their jam too!
Watch the funeral industry whistle blowers on A Current Affair.
And for readers who missed out on Mary Hoang’s Death Meditation at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last week you can listen to some of her Darkness is Golden audio experiences on Spotify.