Funeral directors look to the future of death as New Zealand cemeteries run out of space

Source: 1News

New Zealand is facing a grave problem. As towns and cities get bigger, cemeteries are running out of space.

The shortage is just one of the problems being faced by the funeral industry as they look for new ways to adapt.

Seven Sharp headed to the Grand Millenium Hotel in Auckland to attend the Australian and New Zealand Funeral Directors' Conference to find out more about the future of death.

Things are changing in the industry, reporter Julian Lee learned, including talks of a process of “aquamation”, or getting dissolved in liquid instead of being cremated or buried.

“I haven't [done an aquamation] yet personally, but I've seen one and it's very unusual,” one funeral director said.

Over the ditch, the Australians are experimenting with more personalised funerals.

“The requests are based on what they like, so golf clubs, footy fields, all that kind of stuff. They're very themed," another funeral director said.

Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand CEO David Moger agreed that attitudes are changing on both sides of the Tasman. 

“We now have, for example, some funeral directors who will ask the family, 'What do you want me to wear? Do you want me to wear the traditional funeral suit or would you prefer a more relaxed, casual style?'” he said. 

The laws in New Zealand are old, the funeral directors say, and there’s a sense here that the rules need to be relaxed about where and how you dispose of a body.

“One of the key things around that is being able to make sure families get what they need, because the process of a funeral and a meaningful funeral and the process of grieving are very, very personal," Mr Moger said. 

Another change in the industry is the age of the directors themselves.

At just 25, Bradley Shaw is one of New Zealand’s youngest funeral directors.

“They expect the older man with the gray hair and the top hat and the cane, you know?" Mr Shaw said. “We're a changing industry. A lot of younger people are getting into our industry now.”

In other ways, however, the directors feel some rules need to be tightened, including "station wagon" funeral directors, or people who become funeral directors by setting up a Facebook page.

“At the moment, our industry is not regulated at all. Anyone can join our industry at any time," Mr Moger said.

The Funeral Directors' Association has since sent their ideas to Government.