22 August 2023

You can't avoid death but planning will make it easier on your loved ones

| Jen White
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Operations Manager for Wollongong’s Memorial Gardens and Cemeteries Josh Saunders. at Wollongong Memorial Gardens.

Josh Saunders says people don’t like talking about death and dying, but it’s an important conversation to have. Photo: Jen White.

Josh Saunders has learned a lot about death and dying in his role as Operations Manager for Wollongong’s Memorial Gardens and Cemeteries.

Like many people he now meets in his day-to-day role, the former greenkeeper says he had never thought about the importance of talking with loved ones about end-of-life plans.

“Before I started in this job, I just thought, ‘yeah, I’d get buried somewhere’, but I’ve now decided I’d like to be cremated, with half my ashes going into a wall and half going to Lake Conjola,” he said.

“I’ve also had that conversation with my wife so I know that when the time comes, I’ll be doing what she wants and she knows what I’d like.”

Josh will present information and answer questions at an informal Death and Dying session at Wollongong Library on Thursday, 24 August. He will also be at Warrawong Library on 15 September for a Death Cafe with Jennifer Briscoe-Hough from Tender Funerals, end-of-life doula Carolyn Vaughan and Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District’s Bereavement Services.

“It is a subject people don’t like talking about. You’re not going to jinx yourself by putting these things in place, but it’s definitely worth the conversation,” he said.

“I often start the session by saying you can talk about eating chocolate and not get fat, just as you can talk about death and dying and not die.”

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The sessions were started after Josh and his team realised many people weren’t aware of how important it was to plan for end-of-life.

“It’s about having those conversations and putting things in place so you can have it all planned now so your kids don’t have to do anything,” he said.

“When it comes time to make arrangements and fulfil those last wishes, people know exactly what you want.

“It gives them a lot of closure to be able to fulfil those wishes, rather than trying to decide what they think you would’ve wanted.”

Josh said the sessions covered the legal side of death and dying, including wills, powers of attorney and enduring guardians, and the options people have to plan their end-of-life care and funerals.

Funerals and cemeteries have changed over the years, Josh said, and funeral companies such as Tender Funerals, which operates out of Port Kembla, were very proactive about granting people their final wishes.

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“People are thinking more and more about different and wonderful ways to celebrate end-of-life and Tender’s great in that way,” he said.

“Going forward, it’s only going to give people more options and that’s what they want.

“Cemeteries have also changed significantly over the years. In older cemeteries, you’ll see row after row of headstones and monuments, not a lot of space, and they’re not great for people with access issues.

“Cemeteries now are designed more like park areas, with shelters, rooms where people can have catering after a burial – it makes the overall space more aesthetically pleasing and more peaceful.”

To book for the Information Around Death and Dying at Wollongong Library on Thursday, 24 August, from 6 pm to 7:30 pm, click here.

To book for the Death Café at Warrawong Library on Friday, 15 September, at 2 pm, click here.

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