Pinegrove Open Night

    The Pinegrove Cemetery & Crematorium was a simple but fun night.  It was strange to have the open night at 6pm on a Tuesday, but it worked well. I enjoyed the night quite a lot and will definitely be at the next one.  An event well worth going to.

    I arrived a little early as usual, to get a look around and see who was arriving.  Not long after arriving I getting there someone I knew from fieldwork with another funeral home arrived, it was nice to bump into her again.  And she even introduced me to someone else from the funeral industry, so it was a good night for meeting new people already!

Me, standing by the sign.
Some interesting stats about Pinegrove that I discovered over the course of the night:  They do approximately 3,000 cremations and burials per year; and about 65% (2,000) of which are cremation.  More specifically, Pinegrove does about 160 cremations per month with both cremators working 7am to 3:30pm six days per week.  Meaning the majority of work for Pinegrove is cremations despite it being such a big cemetery.

    They guided us into the chapel for the presentation, standard of crematorium tours where it always starts with a presentation or speech in the chapel.  For the most part the presentation was fairly standard, crematorium speeches tend to cover the same content in the same order.  Such as how the nameplate follows the coffin and ashes through the whole process, how coffins are often kept for a few hours but the law states they must be cremated within 48 hours, and so on.

But a couple of things did stick out to me in this one.  I was interested when the speaker described Pinegrove as "first and foremost a memorial park" that works with families to memorialise loved ones.  Essentially Pinegrove sees itself (or more accurately presents itself) as a site of memories and mourning.  Not a place which buries or cremates bodies but a place of remembering the deceased.  This is how those who work at Pinegrove described it
Pinegrove display on the tables.
    As soon as the speaker asked if anyone had questions someone had their hand up, clearly there was something they really wanted to ask.  The question was whether Pinegrove would ever stop charging people when they watched a cremation (often referred to as 'witnessing an insertion').

    I will quickly say; witnessing an insertion does cost a decent bit extra, but it is a justified cost as I see it.  The crematorium must change its regular procedures for a witnessing, not only is the timing changed but tailoring the witnessing for the mourners/family.  Such as making sure no other cremations are taking place to the side, having extra staff available, organising the witnessing area/room, arranging the witnessing, and so on.  Personally I do not see any issue with the cost of witnessing as it currently stands with any crematorium.  The issue is that mourners would never see the extra work involved in organising a witnessing, they would simply see an extra fee.

The tea/coffee setup while people arrived,
more food came later.
    This was obviously not a comfortable question to the speaker, and not a great question to start with.  For the most part he gave a polite 'no' and moved on, but the tone was set.  For the most part the questions and answers were innocent enough, yet there was a defensive atmosphere in the air.

    The speaker particularly did not like questions about whether crematorium staff open the casket, an example was when someone asked if the pacemaker is removed at the crematoriums.  The speaker replied with "can I say, no" before going on to state how the crematorium does not "tamper" with the coffin.

    He made sure to emphasise how the nameplate follows the coffin and ashes at every stage of the process, so identity can never be mistaken.  That the only thing removed is the pacemaker, so the ashes the family get are the "loved one and casket", nothing more or less.  He also made it clear that "we treat it seriously, all care is taken with loved ones" and dignity is very important in cremation.

    Throughout the questions there were jokes and laughs made, so while there was an air of defensive it was certainly not a negative presentation or tour.  And the mood did lighten towards the end, so by the time the presentation was over everyone was relatively relaxed and happy.

Guardian hearse on display outside the chapel.
    For the tour they took us through in groups of about 15 due to the small areas inside, so those waiting outside got to eat and chat while they waited.  The tour itself was quite casual, we went into a room, the staff explained it, then we chatted a little and moved on to the next room.

    I was talking with one of the staff members who said Pinegrove does a consistent 10-20 cremations per day, and that there has been a rise in Saturday cremations.  It appears more and more people want to hold the funeral on a Saturday, while Monday is a relatively quiet day at Pinegrove.  Perhaps an indication of changing views on how important work is, or how weekly timetables have changed over time.  Who knows, but it sure was interesting.

Guardian display in the back of the hearse.
    Later on I was also talking with the staff about the 'burning drugs' scandal not long ago.  Basically at Forest Lawn the crematorium had been used by police to destroy drugs.  Something which I whole heartedly support for a number of reasons; from saving the police money, to more efficient uses of a crematorium.

    I wanted to see what the Pinegrove staff thought of this, and more importantly whether it also occurred at Pinegrove.  So I asked someone what they thought of Pinegrove destroying drugs for the cops and deliberately not mentioning Forest Lawn.  They answered that it was a rare but good thing.  Explaining how it helps the police, but that most others would dislike it so they don't publicise it at all.  While not a secret it is certainly not promoted publicly.

    At one point I noticed a couple of upset people chatting with some InvoCare staff, one woman was even in tears.  Later in the night I noticed them again, this time the woman was shaking the staff member's hand and looked very happy and incredibly relieved.  It was clear she had a funeral issue of some sort and the Pinegrove staff had talked with her about it.  I do not know if the issue was resolved at all, but she looked happy to simply be able to talk with someone who understood and could offer some helpful words.

    It was really nice to see the Pinegrove staff clearly helping someone so much.  InvoCare has a lot of good staff tucked away.  Personally I have always found InvoCare staff a pleasure to interact with, and Pinegrove was no exception.  All the staff were very friendly and polite to with me and everyone else there.

    Overall the open night was quite good, and I hope to see it grow in time.  InvoCare certainly know how to hold a decent event, but I felt as though this one lacked details.  It was good, quite fun and informative, just not quite up to tours by other crematoriums.  Rookwood Catholic had a very energetic and casual tour, Woronora had a large scale and broad scope, Eastern Suburbs had a friendly vibe.  Pinegrove was very good, yet faded from memory afterwards, it didn't leave me with a lasting impression like other crematoriums had.  A shame considering Pinegrove and InvoCare had obviously put effort into the event, and both are good organisations.

    Either way, I will definitely be back for the next open night and would highly recommend it to others!  This event will certainly appeal to anyone interested in the funeral industry and how it operates.  It was probably the best opportunity for the public to meet and chat with InvoCare staff that I have seen.


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