3 December 2022

Do-it-yourself funerals offer a more conscious approach: Experts

End-of-life doula Rebecca Lyons is seeing more clients who are interested in alternative funeral practices. Image: Supplied.

Kirralee Nicolle

11 July 2022

Rising funeral costs are driving Australians to find more affordable options, industry experts say.

Faith-based funeral practices are still largely determined by family culture, but environmental concerns have also begun to impact on people’s choices around cremation, burial or embalming.

Greenhaven Unique Funerals managing director Carly Dalton said that over the past few years, she has seen an increase in requests for cremation due to the expenses involved in a burial.

She also said that the portability of ashes meant that family wanted to have the option of keeping their loved ones nearby.

Ms Dalton also said that the environment was a factor for many considering their own funeral.

“There’s a huge component of the community that want to be more eco-friendly in life and they take it through to death,” she said.

Traditional burials may be a pollution risk. A 2012 study in the Water and Environment Journal found that traditional burials posed “a severe pollution potential” due to leaching of formaldehyde and other chemicals used in the process of embalming the body.

For this reason, many people may be drawn to cremation or alternative burial practices.

But Ms Dalton said that environmentally conscious funeral practices were not always more affordable, and that in fact, an environmentally friendly burial may be more expensive.

Ms Dalton said natural burials, where the body was treated with natural products, dressed in cotton or linen and buried in a shroud or an untreated coffin in an area of bushland ranged vastly in price depending on the location of the burial ground.

But she said that with enough forward planning, those who wanted to be environmentally conscious about their after-life care could find an affordable balance with the right information and assistance.

She said involving family and friends to organise the food and source their own flowers was another more affordable, potentially sustainable option.

“We always say there [are] 50 shades of green [when it comes to funerals and sustainability]. You choose what you want to prioritise,” she said.

“If a natural burial or natural funeral is something that is of interest, start to research early, talk to people and make sure that you’re comfortable with who you are talking to.”

St Barnabas Balwyn assistant curate and aged care chaplain Reverend Kirsty Brown said that for most funerals in which she was involved, family culture and ritual still played an important role in choices around burial or cremation.

She said how for instance, she had recently performed a burial ceremony in a mausoleum, where the deceased was interred next to their spouse.

But she said she believed that trends around funerals would soon begin to shift to account for other priorities.

“I think the next couple of generations will be quite different,” she said.

Natural Death Advocacy Network president and end-of-life doula Rebecca Lyons said that a do-it-yourself approach tended to be cheaper, more environmentally friendly and emotionally healthy for those grieving.

She said that she offered her clients the opportunity to spend time with their loved one in their own home, wash and dress the body themselves in natural products and arrange for a natural burial or cremation without mortuary costs.

She also said that choosing to use a shroud instead of a coffin lowered costs by up to $2500.

Ms Lyons said that over the past several years, she had noticed that people were thinking more deeply about what was possible with funerals and death practices, and that having an advocate helped when having tough conversations.

She also said that the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognised complicated and long-term grief as a mental health issue.

She said that the do-it-yourself approach was redefining how grief was processed and handled.

“I’m seeing a gentler kind of bereavement,” she said. “What we find is that the grief is experienced in a much [gentler] way.

“I can honestly say that grief is an emotion that needs something to do.”

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