The Modern Day Grave Robber

Tyres screeching as a thief takes off with a funeral home vehicle is probably the last thing you would expect during a service. But this is exactly what happened at the Bearden Funeral Home in the United States earlier this month.

As mourners gathered inside to farewell their loved one, it is reported that the custom extended Chevrolet van used to transport flowers to the cemetery was stolen from behind the funeral home. The community is reeling that such an act could take place during such an important and sensitive moment, some calling it sad and desperate.

The Funeral Home owner who is also the county’s coroner isn’t so shocked, saying he has also had porcelain ornaments stolen from the business, but the vehicle theft is certainly the first robbery of that caliber in his time.

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The van Bearden Funeral Home used to transport flowers to the cemetery following a service. Image courtesy of wsbtvnews.com

 

Also using death as a way to benefit their own situation was a woman caught stealing bouquets of flowers from a grave in Adelaide on Mother’s Day. Caught red handed on camera with an armful of colourful blooms, she insisted she had bought them from the nearby train station.

As funeral directors, it’s nothing new to be accused of profiting from other people’s grief. I’ve even been trolled online condemning me for using death as a platform for my stories saying I am disrespectful, heartless and dense.

What these people don’t realize is yes, while the Death biz certainly is a flourishing business, we wake each and every day to serve others and help the grieving through the darkest time of their lives. Many of us have tried other jobs but we always find our way back to the funeral home. It’s in our blood and there is no other job on earth we would rather do. These guys (and gals) thieving from the dead and their families are the ones disrespecting the deceased, and it’s sad to say that this is actually a very common occurrence.

Years ago as rain pelted down upon the cemetery, I found myself huddling beneath a small sheltered area with the operations manager awaiting the family to arrive for the burial of their loved one. The coffin hovered on the lowering device above the grave, the flower arrangement pretty against the backdrop of stormy sky.

‘They’ll be knocked off for sure,’ the cemetery grounds manager sighed.

‘The flowers?’ I felt my brow furrow, looking up at him.

‘Sure,’ he shrugged. ‘It happens all the time. That’s one of the reasons we have closing hours and the big gates at front, but it never deters the thieves.’

New to the industry I stood there in shock, shaking my head as he continued…

‘The porcelain vases, toys, even alcohol. Some family members may leave a bottle of wine or beer on a grave, but it won’t stay there long. I’ve worked at a cemetery were almost a hundred grand worth of materials were stolen, the bronze plaques mostly. They resell the metal.’

I watched as the family began to arrive, the headlights streaming through the gravestones, pondering how awful it would be to pay respects to your loved one to find the headstone plaque or vase gone. Fast forward some time and nothing really shocks me anymore.

 

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Thieves tend to target bronze plaques and vases to resell the metal.

In January this year a Cairns cemetery was targeted by the chilled hands of grave robbers, not only stealing expensive ornaments and vases but heartlessly vandalizing graves.

One woman was devastated when she visited her father’s resting place to find a sentimental cross she had purchased overseas had been torn from the headstone. ‘The thing is, the cross was superglued there. They had to actually rip it off..’ she said. It was the second time thieves had damaged the grave.

Another Cairns lady was horrified to find her late mother’s grave had been targeted. Everything was gone, including two butterflies the family’s children had put there.

As well as stealing precious items, the culprits had gone through the grounds making a mess, dumping ornaments from one grave to another and throwing shrubs and branches about to make their mark.

The neighbouring funeral home also had a trailer stolen and gardens damaged. They are currently updating their survellience system with improved lighting so these callous offenders can finally be caught.

 

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Senior Sergeant inspects the scene at a Cairns cemetery where someone has driven over graves. Photo courtesy Stewart McLean and cairns.com.au

It’s saddening also that some cemetery websites have included ‘How to stay safe when visiting’  precautions, warning visitors of potential theft from their vehicles while they are paying their respects to their deceased loved ones.

“While most people would think that others would respect the cemetery environment, unfortunately, some offenders see a cemetery as an ideal place to prey on distracted visitors” one cemetery writes. “Incidents or break-ins and the theft of property from vehicles are unfortunately not an isolated issue.”

The cemetery grounds then go on to provide a list of safety measures in order to keep belongings safe, including locking vehicles and reporting suspicious behavior.

To add to the growing list of reports, a distraught mother in the United States posted online that she lost her beautiful son only days after birth. He had been buried with her grandparents and the woman finds solace in handcrafting silk flowers for the graves. Following countless losses, the heartbroken mother laminates a note to include in the flowers, begging thieves to stop stealing her artwork. Her plead ignored, robbers continue to help themselves maliciously leaving behind the note.

So in conclusion, the next time you feel like lashing out at your lovely funeral director for charging too much for a casket, perhaps redirect your anger to the real villains. (Or pour a whiskey and meditate instead. Anger is bad for you).

We are here for you. We want to help you in any way we can. You can call upon us 24/7.

And adhering to this, I would like to offer you one word of advice. Your loved one is forever alive with you in your heart. While placing symbolic items on their resting place may bring you solace and some sort of relief from the pain you are feeling, maybe create a place in your home for these items. Build a shrine of photos, flowers, candles and that bottle of wine. Visit their grave often most certainly, but it’s a sad fact in today’s society, nothing is safe even in the places you thought was reserved for peace and respect.

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The Birds & the Bees & a Murder

The wind whistled through the soaring gum trees and birds swooped and chirped, pecking at the blooms that fluttered in the breeze. A splinter pierced my skin through my thick stockings as I sat waiting on the log. But I didn’t mind, as I inhaled the fresh air like I had just stepped into a bakery first thing in the morning and closed my eyes taking in the peaceful moment. It reminded me of the farm I grew up on when I was a kid. Living on forty acres my siblings and I were forever on adventures in the bush land, playing with farm animals and napping in long grass. I opened my eyes and gazed towards the gaping hole in the ground before me, the roots of life underground swirling in and out of the soil. The dirt was rich and tickled my nostrils. It was one of the most sobering moments in my life as I sat there peering into the grave, all alone deep in the bush.

‘I think it’s going to make it!’ Tony’s voice echoed, breaking my trance. I stood to my feet and peered up the hill, trying not to laugh as I watched the tubby funeral director bouncing about in the hearse driver’s seat as it crunched over stones in the uneven dirt driveway.

‘You sure we won’t get bogged?’ I ran, meeting him at the driver’s window. The aging service conductor wiped his specs, breathing heavily. ‘I’ll try get down a little closer, then we will carry him the rest of the way.’ He popped his specs back on his nose and I stood back and watched the hearse hobble down closer to the grave. At a regular cemetery, there are smooth roads paved through the headstones for hearses and visitor cars to glide through, to allow processions take place and even the grave digger can drive his tractor about the grounds effortlessly. At the Bushland Cemetery there were no roads. There weren’t even headstones. Just trees, long grass and plenty of wildlife. A kangaroo took off amongst the trees as the hearse came to a halt close to the grave. The Bushland Cemetery was one of the first green burial sites in Australia. Here, bodies are laid to rest wrapped in a shroud or timber coffin, which is why we were trying to get the hearse as close to the grave as possible. Mr. Anderson was wrapped in cotton so we had no handles to hold onto as we carried him from the back of the hearse. Mr. Anderson was also victim to a brutal murder- limbs detached violently in order to fit into a storage unit and was not found for some time. So it wouldn’t be an easy feat, carrying his decomposed remains that leaked through the material. The hearse stank, but we would sort that out later. For now, we had to focus on getting the poor soul into the grave nicely before the family arrived. Tony jumped out and we lifted the back of the death car.

‘Ready?’

I nodded. I took Mr. Anderson’s feet, the sweet and sour stench of decay scratched at the back of my throat and my eyes watered. Stones crunching underfoot we carried our dear deceased and gently placed him into his final resting place, only the shroud separating his rotting corpse from the soil.

‘Right,’ I’ll take the hearse back up top.’ Tony wiped his hands on his suit and reversed the gleaming hearse up towards the office at the top of the hill.

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Natural Burial is becoming increasingly popular in Australia with “green burial” grounds now available in the Gold coast Hinterland, Northern NSW and Sydney.

For ten minutes or so it was just me and Mr. Anderson, the birds and the bees and whistling of the wind. I felt so blessed, at one with the Earth. I’m regularly alone at cemeteries with the deceased as the Funeral Conductor checks in to the office. But with a grand flower arrangement on the pretty coffin and plenty of movement all around, from tractors to visitors attending to graves, you sometimes forget there is actually a dead person lying only inches from you. This day, I could see the shape of dismembered Mr. Anderson, I could definitely smell him, but with the richness of the soil and the freshness of the gum trees around us, it was one of the most beautiful moments in my career as a funeral director.

Adjoined to the grounds with native wildlife and flora, there is the regular lawn cemetery. Many who wander there reading stories etched in the headstones may have no idea what takes place down the hill. The Bushland Cemetery looks more like an overgrown paddock and as you explore looking for others who have been buried here, you really do have to keep an eye out for a snake or two. The burials are located using a GPS tracking service and all is used to signify that someone is sleeping forever is a stone. As you enter the grounds, there is a giant pile of rocks you can choose from to use as a headstone. As you search through the grass and trees you discover a stone here and there but presently there aren’t many. However people are catching on to the “Green Burial,” also known as “Natural Burial.”

If you are buried here, it is asked you use a timber coffin or shroud. No metals or laminates and bodies cannot be prepared with chemical preservatives. You are left to decompose naturally feeding the flora and allowing the wildlife to live comfortably as you decay below.

From my rotting corpse flowers shall grow. I remember seeing this quote on a headstone in a historic cemetery once. This is what happens here at the Bushland Cemetery and other natural burial sites around the world. There are over two hundred natural burial grounds in the U.K and approximately eight percent of the population are buried in this fashion. The United States are literally running out of room to bury their dead the traditional way and the natural burial is catching on here in Australia to minimize carbon footprint. It is also cost effective with the price much less than a well known burial with all the trimmings.

After the Priest and the family said their farewell to Mr. Anderson and discussing the horrendous way he died, I wiped a tear and hopped back into the hearse ready for the lengthy drive back to Brisbane. I took a mental note of where our friend was laid to rest, and that weekend I drove to Northern New South Wales to visit him on my own. For an hour I sat by the mound of dirt yet to settle, again watching the birds and listening to…nothing. So peaceful.

You can visit the Bushland Cemetery in Lismore for yourself. Pack a picnic, it truly is a peaceful part of the world.

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Food Forever

Open casket during the first part of the service, the chapel walls trembled with song and prayer. Oil was anointed on the deceased’s face, incense burned and food placed in and around the coffin like a flashy picnic. By the media controls at the back of the chapel, I watched the monitor intently. The camera allowed us to watch what was taking place and I bit at my shellac manicure nervously. Is the poor dead guy going to catch on fire? Look at all that amazing food! Would the guests mind if I popped up to the lectern and grabbed a buttered roll? I had skipped breakfast. Suddenly the family opened the deceased’s mouth and I cringed…loudly. “The mouth suture! They’ll see the thread” I panicked, turning to my colleague.

“It’s okay. They’ve seen it all before,” he assured me, polishing his specs as if this was totally normal. Well, to the Hindu family it was. And the more I watched the more I wished the western world could embrace death the way this beautiful culture did. In Australia and many other countries, death is commonly ushered out the door quickly, taken care of by the funeral directors. At viewings I’ve had family shudder when I suggest they partake in the viewing as if I had just advised they eat a can of worms.“Ugh, no. Not for me,” they quiver. And here was a family feeding the dead so they had food to take with them to the next life. Food forever. Now that’s love.

The second part of the Hindu ‘celebration’ took place behind the chapel by the cremator. Next to the retort four family members continued to chant and pray. The area usually reserved for staff had been tidied and trays of bones covered. My heart started racing when I noticed someone was being cremated beside us. Would they notice?

The family draped in colourful satin and dripping with jewels poured a whole bottle of what appeared to be vegetable oil over the deceased, and again I cringed. The beautiful makeup the mortician had spent time perfecting is ruined! Fire starters were placed in the coffin, set alight and the retort doors lifted revealing the sleepy glow. Embers scattered on the cremator floor, the coffin was pushed in and engulfed in flames as the family watched, howling and holding onto one another for support. I stood in my polished shoes in shock. When the door lowered they shook our hands, thanked us and returned to the rest of the family waiting in the chapel.

I was shaken but so grateful for being apart of such a rich cultural experience. That night I immersed myself in research, reading all I could on Hindu practises and discovered the Western world really could take a page from the Hindu way of life. Believing Braham, the God of all things is everywhere and in everything. Death, (Samsara) is a blessing and the ultimate life goal to meet with the God and to be reincarnated. Food forever! Colour, karma and Peace! I think I may be a Hindu.

 

pooja
http://www.hindubrahminservice.com