My life started in a very different direction. I’m originally from rural country Tasmania and I wanted to work in media and television production. At 20, I moved to Sydney to go to film school but I couldn’t cope with the change. There was also this feeling of spiritual unfulfillment.
While I was working in stand-up comedy management, I decided on a complete change of career and direction. As a child, I was curious about ‘behind the curtain’ stuff, about wanting to look behind the curtain at places I'm not meant to look so in my early 20s, I started applying for jobs in the funeral industry and eventually heard back from Walter Carter.
Right from day one, it felt like this was where I was meant to be.Training is mainly done on the job. With a lot of independent funeral homes, you often do everything from picking up the person that passed away, to meeting with their family, to arranging the funeral, to helping with the mortuary preparations, to trimming the coffin, to conducting the funeral, to driving that person to the crematorium or burying them.
In an average space of seven days you go through this very intense, intimate, surreal relationship with a stranger
You always remember your first start-to-finish case. In an average space of seven days you go through this very intense, intimate, surreal relationship with a stranger. It can be hard to leave them at the end. The first time, I was working with my mentor, Steve, who had to remind me to be stoic and practical after I teared up.
Dealing with grief can be very difficult. Certain deaths can be worse than others, especially the death of a child. Suicides, too. Funeral directors can be at risk for burning out. At one stage, I fell into a deep depression because I was so emotionally exhausted. You have to allow yourself to rest and recharge.
On the personal front, dating can be tricky.
People are very curious. They ask questions like ‘do you have to touch the bodies?’ Of course I do, I say, but I remind them that they're not going to catch death off me - I’m not the Grim Reaper.
“People are very curious. They ask questions like ‘do you have to touch the bodies?’ Of course I do, I say, but I remind them that you're not going to catch death off me - I’m not the Grim Reaper.
My current partner was my boss when I was working in comedy management, and when I called him up a reference, he said what’s the job, and I said funeral assistant. The line went silent and then he said, ‘you know what? That really makes total sense.’[Laughs]. I didn't know whether to be insulted or what.
What have I learned from working with the dead? Don’t take life for granted. Death can happen in the most unpredictable way. I’m terrified of losing people I love, and I now know that this grief will hurt but life goes on. Some of my colleagues are religious, others atheist - I guess I’m agnostic but I really do have genuine hope that we do get to see our loved ones again.
Basically, don't spend your life wondering too much about what happens after you die. Live life now. And life doesn’t have to be a big Instagram adventure. A good day doesn’t have to mean climbing mountains or doing anything life-changing. For me, I'm just happy to have a home to go to at the end of each day. Normal things.
Untold Australia Episode 3: The Secret Life of Death screens Wednesday, 21 August, 8.30pm on SBS and Monday, 26 August, 9.30pm on SBS VICELAND.