In light of hearse month I was reflecting on what my experiences with hearses has been like. And I’ve got to say I think they have all been great! On my first day of work experience at the funeral home I arrived at 8am. After some small talk with the manager I got the tour of the premises, and when we reached the garage I was introduced to another staff member. The conversation went exactly like this: “Hi I’m John*, want to come for a ride in the hearse while I take this lady for an early delivery to the crematorium, I’m about to leave?” Of course, I couldn’t say yes fast enough, and before I knew it I was sitting in the passenger seat of the hearse on our way to the crematorium. I sat there thinking to myself “Wow this great, I’m in a hearse. I can’t believe I’m in a hearse!” I was filled with pride to be seen in it, and very conscious of the fact that there a body directly behind me. But the thing that I remember the most was that the radio was on, and playing pink. I was surprised the it wasn’t silent, but then I’d never really thought about it.
Since then I travelled many hours in the hearse, in fact I’m sure if you totalled them all together it would be a solid week or twos worth. To this day I am still filled with pride as I sit in the passenger seat. It feels like a great honour to be taking the deceased on their last journey to their loved ones waiting at the church or crematorium. It gives you an air of importance as well as traffic stops for us, or police block off roads for us to pass through.
I have also become one of the people who drive the hearse as well. In doing so I have learnt a few key points to remember when driving:
· Don’t laugh at a joke, smile too much or use too many gestures. For me this is everyday life, but to the people I’m driving past, it would look like a funeral director showing no respect
· Slow down before turns. The hearse was originally a sedan and has been altered, however the engine is much the same. When it drives it is clear that it hates taking turns since it is so long and doesn’t like flexing. The driver must slow right down before entering the turn, as opposed to breaking in the turn. Usually this applies for all vehicles, but the hearse especially
· Take turns wide. It would be awful to scrape the curb
· Drive 20kms under the speed limit when there is a body on board. It’s the respectful thing to do, and also makes it easier for any cortege to keep up
· Turn headlights on when travelling with a body on board, but turn them off when arriving at the cemetery to signify arrival at the final resting place
· When stopping traffic (so that the entire cortege can proceed without being broken up) position the nose of the hearse in the middle of the road in the path of oncoming traffic. This should only be done by an experienced hearse driver, when there is enough space for the oncoming car to slow down to a stop, and when the other driver looks to be paying attention. Edge out far enough for them to see it is a hearse, and signal the driver to let them know that the people behind them are to follow. This cannot be done in all circumstances and should not be attempted if unsure.
· Do not eat in the hearse
· Always wear full uniform when travelling in the hearse, that means suit jacket too
I’m sure I’ve left a lot of the rules out, but it has all become so automatic I hardly think about it anymore. I love hearses and suspect I always will. New and old they all have a story, so next time you see a hearse out and about take a moment to appreciate it, and if its loaded perhaps even take off your hat as it passes as the ultimate sign of respect. It will give the funeral director inside the warm fuzzies to see the nice gesture, and if they family are following, I know they will appreciate it too.
* Name has been changed
- Death Correspondent