Memorials During COVID

Wollongong Memorial Gardens - photo: Wollongong City Council
Wollongong Memorial Gardens – photo: Wollongong City Council

What exactly does it mean to memorialise someone or something?

John Chilby, Operations Manager at Wollongong Memorial Gardens and Cemeteries explains what they are and why they are important: “Memorialisation is something we learn throughout our lives and is something we teach our children.”

“When a pet dies and when we bury that pet bird, dog or cat and provide a cross or stone or whatever, this action is for respect and to acknowledge the pet’s memory,” he says.

“We drive past those sad roadside memorials from road deaths that make us stop and reflect and we also memorialise significant events within our communities with plaques for opening of bridges and buildings. Over many years, we have memorialised and remembered those who fought and died for our country through many wars.”

John says it is important for people to memorialise at the current time but also important for those who come after us.

“Memorialisation is very much a part of the grieving process and it is important for family and friends to have a place to reflect on the memories of loved ones. I often say a memorial is for the people left behind. It is for the friends, family and the loved ones left behind and the generations that follow – to reflect back on a history that tells a story of life.

“As I have often said to people, it is not about you. Those who die have moved on and the memorial is for those who are left behind. Memorials are a sign that a person once was here, a sign that you have lived, and the memorial will be there for future generations to come.” 

Wollongong Memorial Gardens is a cultural and multi-faith hub for memorial services and unfortunately September has seen two well supported community services cancelled due to COVID-19, the memorial services for Father’s Day and Children’s Day.

The postponed services form part of a rich calendar of services that include Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, a Stillborn Baby Service and an ANZAC Day Service to honour fallen soldiers.

The gardens’ key to success lays in its engagement with communities and its ongoing commitment to supporting their needs and cultural practices in the diverse city of Wollongong.

Wollongong Memorial Gardens - aerial view - photo: Wollongong City Council
Wollongong Memorial Gardens – aerial view – photo: Wollongong City Council

John says working with the many different cultural and faith-based communities such as Aboriginal communities, Islamic, Greek and Bahai reflects the communities in Wollongong.

“Different cultures all have their specific requirements when it comes to dealing with the death of a loved one and the burial or cremations processes. Consultation with community leaders is essential and needs to happen from the start so we can provide the required infrastructure and requirements to accommodate community needs.”

John has been working with communities to offer culturally appropriate memorial services for many years. “Ongoing consultation and maintaining positive community relationships is of the utmost importance in providing a positive outcome for communities in a special place for their deceased,” he says.

He acknowledges the impacts of COVID-19 not only on the cancelled September services but on those community members impacted by death.

“It has affected many families and friends. During these difficult times, consultation with community leaders has been very important as we work to follow changing restrictions and how they impact funerals. While I fully understand the importance of the restriction for the protection of the community, it is still extremely difficult for all families, friends and loved ones who are grieving.”

John has a practical approach to death and encourages people to plan, talk and prepare themselves for this important topic.

“As I say to people, if you talk about chocolate you do not get fat, so if you talk about death you are not going to die,” he says.

Triple J’s Hack recently discussed memorialisation of a different kind— the digital post-mortem of social networking.

We really love these sixteen practical tips for continuing bonds with people you’ve lost.

And do take a peek at our recently updated Good Grief story Flowers for Jean on how one family used flowers at a service to celebrate their loved one.  

Leave a Reply