After Death Down Under Conference

Death Down Under Dunedin 2012

The Death Down Under Conference was convened by Otago University at the Otago Museum and attracted 140 delegates from around the world.

There were a range of presentations from: palliative care and effects of death on professional carers; memories, memorials and memoirs; grief, bereavement and mourning; loss of infants; the paranormal, near death experiences, alternative medicine; death and fashion, death exhibitions; natural burial, tangihanga, research projects on the funeral industry; funerals-while-alive and managing our digital legacy.

Of the sessions I attended, concentrating on funerals, the recurring themes were; consumer choice, enabling family participation and for authenticity and care of the environment.

Sally Raudon, recipient of the Winston Churchill Fellowship 2010 undertook research into contemporary funerals in five countries; New Zealand, England, Scotland, Sweden and Norway.

She identified and compared commonalities and differences in funeral practises and disposal. Her comprehensive report concludes with suggestions on ways the New Zealand funeral consumer can make more informed and better choices.

Sally raises an important point. From my experience, families most frequently ask ‘What is normal?’ when arranging a funeral. Most consumers will only ever arrange one funeral in their life-time so knowledge of what you can and can’t do is limited. Once informed of their options, families make more creative and relevant choices resulting in active participation in the care of the deceased and funeral ceremony itself.

Consumers who have done their research have already made informed decisions and are more likely to negotiate and expect transparency when engaging a funeral company, reclaiming their rite and responsibility to their deceased.

Penny Brander reported on her project to capture the reflections of funeral directors who have worked in New Zealand and Australia. This report gives current trends in the funeral industry from the perspective of commercial service providers.  In conclusion she indicated that there is a need for research into to consumer perceptions to balance this project.

It is interesting that the funeral industry attracts such scrutiny and who these reports will benefit.

I definitely benefited from attending the conference hearing the perspectives of academics, practitioners and professionals of death and dying in New Zealand.

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