Public info sessions highlight funeral director furphies

I’ve recently been involved in some valuable public information sessions where I heard stories about the conduct of some funeral directors that really annoyed and disappointed me.

Two of the stories involved unhelpful funeral directors who were either ignorant or who told untruths to increase their profit margin.

The stories, which I’ll get to in a minute, reaffirm the importance of arming yourself with knowledge so you are aware of what is and what isn’t achievable when it comes to your or your loved one’s funeral.

The Conversation

That’s why I was stoked to be invited to be a guest of The Conversation – a series of casual catchups and information sessions run by a group of like-minded people who want to help people open the dialogue on the topic of death, dying and funeral options.

Most people don’t know the options they have at the end of their lives and it can be tricky to talk about or even bring up the topic for discussion. (That’s why I wrote The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – so people could be informed and let their wishes be known).

Based in the Queensland Southern Downs, The Conversation group holds regular, free public info sessions and can also speak to clubs and groups on request. The gang is keen to travel a little further afield in 2023.

The Conversation: funeral celebrant Roz Thompson, end-of-life doula Debbie Anderson, and funeral directors Justin and Ulick invited me to be a guest of their awesome sessions (I’m on the left)

Anyway, back to those stories that got me riled up.

Funeral Furphy #1 – you can’t use a cardboard casket

  1. A man who wanted to fulfill his mother’s wish to have an environmentally conscious funeral. He was told by a funeral director that his dear mum couldn’t be laid to rest in a cardboard coffin because cardboard coffins don’t meet Australian standards for coffins.

This is absolute BS on so many levels. There is no legal reason prohibiting the use of cardboard coffins or caskets anywhere in Australia.

Sure, coffins do need to meet certain standards to be accepted at crematoria and burial grounds. Depending on the state or territory, these standards are usually that the:

  • coffin needs to be impervious so as to prevent the escape of bodily fluids;
  • sturdy enough that it won’t buckle or collapse when being handled.
  • and won’t damage a cremator or emit organochlorides when combusted.

Secondly, cardboard coffins and caskets have been viable options in Australia for years. One brand is even owned by funeral behemoth Invocare.

You’d be excused for thinking this funeral director wanted to sell this man a coffin from his business’ own range so as to make more money. (The mark-up on coffins is considerable.)

(I took a video of Ulick from Rest Funeral Services discussing the cardboard caskets he likes to use here.)

Funeral furphy #2 – ‘You have to buy one of our coffins’

A funeral director telling an elderly man that the coffin he and his terminal wife bought months prior to her death couldn’t be used. The coffin itself had special significance to the couple. Having come to terms with her mortality, the gentleman’s wife enjoyed showing off the coffin to family and friends and even posed for photos with it.

The grieving and polite elderly husband didn’t want to make a fuss so bought another coffin, this time from his (unfortunately) chosen funeral director. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

There is no legal reason why a funeral director can refuse to use a previously-purchased coffin. Not all funeral directors will allow their use but that’s when knowing your options and negotiation come into play. People are often so grief-stricken and confused they aren’t comfortable pushing the point.  

Disturbing story #3

“I got ripped off, didn’t I?” Years after her husband was collected from a hospital by a funeral director and taken directly to a crematorium, a lovely woman confided in me and asked me if the $4000+ fee for this service was excessive.

Damn straight, it was . Grrrrrrrr.

The role of funeral directors

I want to be clear here. Funeral directors can play a very important role when someone dies. Their guidance, patience, diplomacy, expertise, and organisational skills can be invaluable to a grieving family. They’re not cheap though. A good funeral director works with the family to ensure they’re able to mourn and celebrate the life of the deceased in their own special way. A good funeral director will move mountains to use your choice of coffin. As directed by legislation in several states, a good funeral director will give you an itemised costing of their services so you know what you’re in for. It’s at this time you can start to cut out any extras, find savings, perhaps even find another provider.

When you’re calling funeral directors, if using your own coffin is important to you, make that the first question you ask. If they say no or are not open to negotiation, then they’re not the funeral director for you. Yes, it’s ok to shop around. Take your time, get quotes. Follow your gut and your budget.

Shop around

 The Australian Funeral Industry State of the Nation 2021 report found that two in three (63%) of 602 respondents said they didn’t get a quote before agreeing to a funeral service. Of those who did ask for a cost beforehand, most accepted the first quote they were given.

Emotion was a motivating factor in respondents not getting more quotes, if any. A third (36%) said they felt too overcome with emotion to look elsewhere, while 27% said they felt it wasn’t right to price-match for a funeral. Twelve per cent felt pressured by the funeral director to proceed right away, however, two thirds (62%) said they were happy to accept the service promised. (Source: Bare’s Funeral Beliefs and Values Study, n= 567)

Ulick Baumann from Rest Funerals presenting at The Conversation in Warwick, Qld.

Want to be part of the Conversation?

If you’re in Qld’s Southern Downs and the Granite Belt and would like to have the Conversation visit your community or local organisation or club please get in touch via or drop me an email via the bottom of this page

You’ll learn heaps, there’ll be hearty and informative discussions, lots of laughs (believe it or not), no question is off limits, and there’ll be tea, coffee and treats! (Pics below: Allora CWA provided scones that celebrant Roz and I enjoyed! And Barbara was at one of the Warwick sessions with her filled-in Bottom Drawer Book. I was stoked to meet her and to know that she had written down her funeral plans and life’s reflections. Be like Barbara. x)

It’s all about getting informed and knowing your options.

About the author

Author Lisa Herbert

Lisa Herbert is a death awareness advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and audio producer, and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: the after death action plan – an informative, modern, and quirky workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. The third edition is available in Australia for $29.95.  For international buyers, The Bottom Drawer eBook is AU$11.99 on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Booktopia and Google Books. To purchase, click HERE.

2 Responses

  1. I love your approach to dying! I would love to become a doula as I feel a real draw to it and am keen to learn as much as I can. I’m in NSW so not really able to attend a session, they do sound interesting. I wish we had more forward thinking people around here. Maybe we do and I don’t know. Anyway. Love your work.

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