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Funeral Practices Open Their Doors

Funeral Practices Open Their Doors

New Zealand's first National Funeral Practice Open Day is being held this Sunday (sub editors: 2 March).

For a gold coin donation to Victim Support, the public will be able to find out what happens in a funeral practice.

"Until a few years ago, death was the last taboo - the one thing that no-one talked about in social conversation," says Wayne Lyons, president of the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ).

"Today, it holds great fascination. The 'Six Feet Under' TV programme and big changes in the ways funerals are commemorated are obvious signs that attitudes have changed."

If public attitudes have changed, so have funeral practices.

Funeral directors were once simply undertakers, preparing the body for burial or cremation, liaising with the priest and family, fulfilling legal requirements and placing a notice in the paper.

These days they're also function organisers - often providing personalised service sheets, a venue, music, sound or video recording, a recommended celebrant or priest, as well as catering.

There's also a greater acceptance of the need for counselling of the bereaved. A small but growing number of funeral practices now have after-care bereavement support available to families.

Even for religious families, a church, mosque, synagogue or temple is no longer the automatic venue for a funeral service. More and more, they're held at home, in parks, in 'special' places, and in purpose-built chapels at funeral practices - a trend which makes life more challenging for funeral directors.

"The old tradition of a closed coffin, dark-clothed mourners and a stiff, formal service is going by the wayside," says Mr Lyons. "It's almost as if New Zealanders have embraced elements of the Irish wake and the Maori tangi. Most funerals are now a much better balance between a life celebrated and a loss mourned.

"There are times - such as the loss of a child - where the emphasis is on mourning. But, in both religious and secular ceremonies, priests and celebrants usually provide a much better opportunity for friends and family to say goodbye in a way which is meaningful for them."

Mr Lyons says that for most families, this means viewing the deceased. Indeed, a growing number like to have the deceased at home until they make the final goodbye. Maori normally have the open casket lying in state on the marae for up to four days.

For these reasons, embalming has become routine in New Zealand funeral practices. This hygienically preserves the body for a week or so, enabling the deceased to be presented much as they appeared in life.

"Funeral directors and embalmers take a great amount of care and pride in preparing a body for viewing. It's one of the big positives about being in a profession which can also be quite stressful at times," Mr Lyons says.

Professional training is now a big part of being a funeral director or embalmer. But Mr Lyons says most people are amazed to learn that funeral directors and embalmers are not legally required to be qualified.

"In the absence of licensing, the Funeral Directors Association has taken it upon itself to set very high standards for its members.

"National certificates in funeral directing and embalming are the two main tertiary qualifications. In addition, FDANZ funeral directors and embalmers have to participate in ongoing professional development.

"Apart from qualifications, FDANZ members are bound by strict codes of conduct and ethics, and have their premises independently audited. They also have to comply with a binding disputes resolution process, and to meet strict standards for the investment of any pre-paid funeral funds.

"On top of that, most of our members have achieved 'Griefcare' accreditation, the ultimate assurance to the public."

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