Wendi Murray is a funeral and wedding celebrant based in Sydney.
The following is an account of my personal experience as a grieving mother and a funeral celebrant. On this particular journey, those identities could have found themselves on a collision course; thanks to Picaluna Sydney and The Last Hurrah in Melbourne, that was not the case. In fact, as heart breaking as this whole experience has been, those two entities provided a space for healing and a place for learning. My deepest gratitude is spilling out of me with the words I type.
My 49-year-old son, my beautiful boy, on the morning of Thursday 18th November 2021, as fate would decree, found himself with enough time to hang back at home with his family in Ascot Vale before his first job that morning. He got to actually say goodbye to his 14-year-old daughter, Phoebe and 11-year-old son, Jack, before they left for school that day.
That never happened, as a rule. Nor did the opportunity for Brenden to join his beautiful wife, Emma, on her daily walk. That day it did, then he walked out the front door, waved to Emma and drove off to work.
Brenden was never to walk through that front door again. At around 10am that morning, our beautiful boy was involved in a horrific workplace accident that he was not able to survive. One awkward move resulted in the death of a most amazing human being. Brenden was so very much loved and revered by every person who knew him, He had been elevated to ‘legend’ status by the close community surrounding their family.
Here’s the thing. We, his closest family, had no idea of how highly he was regarded or what he had done for or brought to the neighbours, the kids he coached cricket and footy, the siblings of those kids, his teammates, his work crew, or the barista at his favourite coffee shop. We would probably never have learnt of his generosity and leadership, his kind heart, his empathy, and his endless spreadsheets, if it wasn’t for the opportunity to honour him with a funeral befitting his beautiful spirit. And that’s where Picaluna shone through.
Nobody who hasn’t lost a child, no matter what age, can ever imagine what that initial phone call or knock at the door, feels like. The drive to Melbourne the day after the accident is still a foggy memory but the one thing that did kick in, was my experience as a funeral celebrant, and the determination to give my son Brenden a Picaluna style sendoff he’d be proud to be a part of, actually, the star of; he was a little vain, our beautiful boy.
Instinctively, I knew that Emma wouldn’t, at this early stage, be up to making funeral plans, so I called Picaluna to seek their assistance in putting me in touch with a funeral director in Melbourne who would emulate Picaluna’s ethos, their culture, and their values. I needed to be sure that whoever we engaged would be open to the needs and wants of Emma and the family.
Having worked as a Picaluna celebrant, I was confident that they would understand and follow through with a funeral director they would have been happy to have working for them. And they did. I was put in touch that day, with Kimba, from The Last Hurrah. What a blessing. One phone call was all it took for me to feel comfortable that Kimba and her team would be a perfect fit for us, so after getting Emma’s permission for me to “handle all that” I booked The Last Hurrah, and arrangements were made for a face-to-face meeting with my daughter, Karen, Emma, and me to plan a cremation or burial, a funeral or memorial service. Whatever Emma thought Brenden would want to happen, I was going to make that happen.
Thank you so much for leading me to The Last Hurrah. Kimba’s philosophy proved to be just what we needed. She took exceptional care of our family, just as Picaluna do in the same situation.
From my experience working with Picaluna, I needed assurance that Brenden would be taken care of in the most respectful and loving manner before he was to be transported to the place where all of us, his parents, his wife, his children, his sister, his niece and nephew, his in-laws, his friends, and close community were waiting to view his body as a last goodbye. I need not have been concerned because, as is also Picaluna’s way, I was put in touch with the Last Hurrah’s embalmer to confirm that my beautiful boy needed to appear asleep only, no make-up, no hair gel, no full smile. It was important to us all that his deep dimples were obvious, his nose hair had been clipped, and his hair was looking perfect. Just as he would have insisted, had he had the opportunity to make that particular call.
I need not have been concerned; everything I asked for was carried out to perfection. Even those of our group who were at first reluctant to walk over to Brenden’s coffin were soon joining us to say a last goodbye to this man who had touched so very many lives beyond our own.
I think I was the only one to actually touch my son’s handsome face, stroke his cheek and ruffle his hair a little, but the experience of feeling the coldness of his body didn’t faze me one little bit. That was Brenden laying there. That was my son, the one who I always thought had a sweetness about him that most didn’t see, he certainly had my number, and he damn well knew which of my buttons to push, but we both knew that we loved each other, always.
So, after quietly reading to him my deepest truth of the love I had for him and how much I would miss him, I tucked that copy of my eulogy into his suit pocket, just above his heart. I asked God to please wrap him tightly in His arms and then gently kissed my beautiful boy one last time. Standing there, in that moment, I realised that I really didn’t know how much I loved him until he was gone. Is that how we all feel? Is that the way love is?
I recognised just after that had happened that, as a Celebrant, I had not really ever encouraged a family to view their loved one before the funeral. I now truly understand the benefit of such an encounter, so when next working with Picaluna, I will do my very best to support those who have no wish to do so and encourage the families who are undecided to avail themselves of the opportunity to do what I did, that day in November 2021.
Brenden’s funeral was held at a local football clubhouse. Brenden’s life had to be celebrated at a venue big enough to hold at least 250 guests; an outdoor funeral with live streaming to interstate and international family and friends. I spoke to Kimba about Brenden’s reputation as a player/coach of football and cricket, his love of the youngsters he coached and his standing in the community.
The Tullamarine Football and Cricket Club opened its doors wide to honour and celebrate the life and times of one of their own. Arrangements were made, without any explanation required, to be sure that this day would be an exceptional one. Brenden was an exceptional individual.
Family and friends streamed through those open doors and out onto the footy oval, where the electronic scoreboard stood out unashamedly with a huge photo of Brenden with his pearly white teeth that he’d been ‘bagged’ about ever since returning from Bali with a newfound confidence and a smile that required sunglasses to be worn by the ‘looker’ until the glow subsided.
The playlist was directly from Brenden’s phone; everyone was handed the drink of their choice upon entry and we all sat around tables as you would at a presentation night. The finger food, hot pies and beers were free-flowing right from the start. This was exactly what Brenden would have wanted – this was surely the way it should be. Picaluna had proved that to me the Last Hurrah was delivering my boy’s farewell seamlessly.
Because we had the advantage of an open-ended time limit, eulogies were presented by the family and Brenden’s admirers in a no-fuss, proud and loving way. I cannot fully grasp, even now, how much the opportunity to hear from Brenden’s friends, teammates, and parents of kids he had coached until the day before he’d died has meant to me. To be sitting in a room with my family that was full of people who counted Brenden as their friend, coach, confidant and mentor, or their neighbour, coffee connoisseur, social organiser, gardener, boss, employee, just an all-round great bloke, a legend, was an overwhelming experience for this mother who, although she knew of his caring ways, was absolutely blown away by the stories these people were telling, with tears streaming down their faces, in an effort to explain what my beautiful boy meant to them.
That would not have happened in a world other than what Picaluna and Last Hurrah had provided. I understand that this type of ceremony is not for everyone but I also know that as a parent of an adult son whose life was full and happy, whose business was powering along beautifully and whose wife and three kids were content and in love with their husband/dad, I had very limited knowledge of the man Brenden had become. I mean, what adult child calls their parents every night to discuss what they did for a friend that day or how the Melbourne lockdown was affecting the kids he coached, or how he made sure every one of those kids had his mobile number in their new phones so they could call him anytime at all. Really? I (we) was blown away by what we were hearing that day. And then, to watch as those young kids formed a guard of honour out to the footy oval for the hearse to drive him on a lap of honour around the ground, now that really did ‘do me in’.
I came to realise that all that had happened that day would not have been remotely possible without the expertise of Picaluna’s recommendation to the Last Hurrah and Kimba’s enthusiasm to make it happen just as we wished it to look.
It’s been a foggy number of months for my family and me. Nothing will ever be the same without him here to provide his own special brand of happiness. We tried to re-start our fortnightly games nights over zoom a few weeks ago, but it was too soon. Where there were 13 of us online, there were now 12. There’s not a void inside of us, but when we’re together, a void amongst us. We must learn to live around the void and be thankful for the love of Brenden we’ve all shared and will continue to grow as our family of 12 looks forward now.
The enigma is that, as a celebrant, has my career been intensified by this experience? I truly believe it has, in many ways, but the most profound, by far, is the learning. We are so grateful for the opportunity to have been in that room to hear how very much our beautiful boy was loved and revered. We would not have known that about him had I not called Picaluna for support. As Brenden’s mother first and then a celebrant, I’m at peace with how my beautiful boy was farewelled and remembered. Thank you to the Picaluna team.
I wish nothing but success and growth to Kimba and the Last Hurrah in Melbourne. You treated our family with the utmost care and compassion throughout the entire journey.
Picaluna peeps, my wish for you is to continue to be the amazingly empathetic, successful unit that you are, to continue to grow your business and to continue to work with the best crew of celebrants and planners in this country. I expect your reputation will reach far and wide as the months pass us by and I’m sure you’ll find your niche in Melbourne alongside, not in competition with, funeral directors such as The Last Hurrah.