It’s fair to say the pandemic has made us more conscious of life and death issues. While death is an inevitable part of life, it’s often a “taboo”, or at least avoided, subject in day-to-day conversation. That is, until someone meaningful to us dies.
Funerals are not what we’d generally call “fun” but they, too, cannot be avoided. They also serve an important purpose for those left behind. However, they don’t have to be morbid, stark affairs.
In another life – not so long ago – Yasemin Trollope was a high-flying beauty editor.
As media identity Zoe Foster-Blake’s right hand woman on then-website Primped, and later the editor herself, Yaz (apart from working her butt off!) lived a pretty glamorous life of attending 5-star events and trialling the best in beauty products, trends and treatments.
That began to change in 2015 when she was faced with her mother’s possible death. Today she is the much sought-after founder and director of bespoke Rite of Passage Funerals, on the Gold Coast, and now in Sydney.
“Rite of Passage Funerals are independent, modern funeral planners dedicated to arranging personalised funerals and unique end-of-life events,” she says. “Our fresh perspectives on funerals is the centerpiece of our operations.
“We don’t bind ourselves to tradition, etiquette or overhead ‘rules’ that would otherwise get in the way of delivering a unique and tailored end-of-life event. Instead, we work in partnership with our families to rethink the paradigm of funerals, in tandem with trusted suppliers and vendors.”
In 2015, Yasemin’s mother had a near-death experience after an allergic reaction to chemotherapy treatment and spent 10 days in intensive care.
“The doctor told us that Mum “could go either way” and in those moments of shock and fear, among many other things, I started to think how the traditional funerals I’d been to didn’t fit my Mum at all,” she says.
“In Western society we tend not to talk about death. It’s largely kept in the shadows, which often means that when the time comes people have no idea what to do and look to big-name brands to help them navigate the process of planning a funeral.
“Thankfully, she pulled through and I wasn’t required to plan her funeral then. But the seed was planted for Rite of Passage Funerals while she was in ICU.”
There was a gap in the market for a really modern, progressive funeral director. I wanted to create a more personalised approach to funerals
“I recognised that the way funerals are planned and executed could be updated.”
Later, while on a sabbatical in the US with her husband and young sons, Yasemin started to research the funeral industry, do her funeral celebrant training, find mentors and generally educate herself on the processes and planning involved in helping families experiencing loss. Slowly, the pieces came together to bring Rite of Passage Funerals to life.
“There was a gap in the market for a really modern, progressive funeral director. I wanted to create a more personalised approach to funerals and end-of-life events, which means educating my clients on all their options and guiding them through the process with love and compassion,” Yasemin says.
“I also use stunning venues usually reserved for events like weddings, engagement parties or 21st birthdays, and beautiful outdoor public spaces, none of which have time restraints – my biggest bugbear of all.
“Most funerals don’t that take place in a church are at a memorial park or funeral home, where you have 45 minutes to complete the service in a sterile environment. I wanted to change that.
“I add styling, catering and personal touches, and use the best celebrants available. My aim is to elevate the standard of funerals and bring more heart, empathy and compassion to these important events.
“There’s price transparency throughout, giving clients an itemised quotation to approve and sign off on beforehand. I oversee every step and work with the team on every project.
“I knew early on that my energy was best spent working with families and planning/executing the funeral services, as well as the marketing and business side of things. For that, I used my many years of experience in media, communications, marketing and PR.
“For the mortuary work, that requires a high level of specialised training, I utilise the skills of the best in the business to ensure my clients have the very best of care in all areas of the process.
“I’m proud to say that while our funerals look more expensive, they’re around 20-30 percent cheaper than big-name brands.
“I’ve had the pleasure of arranging some truly special send-offs. They’re all beautiful in their own way.
“For instance, baby Elke was born still and her family wanted a ceremony at their special place in Byron Bay – Little Wategos Beach. Access is by foot only, with hundreds of steps and a 10-15 minute walk from the parking area to the ceremony space.
“I worked with the family to create an incredible ceremony space, filled with floor rugs and cushions (that I carried!) and a beautiful table for Elke’s urn and pictures, and her mobile hanging over it, overlooking the ocean (pictured lead).
“The florist created the most incredible flower mandala that was placed in front of the table, and the celebrant, Susie Figgis, curated a ceremony for Elke and her family that was truly moving.
“Following the ceremony family and friends shared food from the grazing table and sat on the cushions, crying and laughing and sharing stories and endless hugs. It was truly healing for all involved and something very, very special.”