Even after 16 years in the funeral business, Martin Masson still receives surprising requests, especially when it comes to songs that families use as their last musical tribute.
As the closing track of a cremation service, a family memorably chose “Burn for You” by John Farnham.
“It probably wasn’t the choice of music,” Mr Masson wryly noted to Daily Mail Australia.
Other unusual picks were the rock anthem “Stairway for Heaven,” Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and perhaps more concerning to the soul of the late “Highway to Hell” AC DC.
As Mr Masson is managing director of Tribute Funeral Services in the western suburbs of Melbourne, it is no surprise that AFL club songs are also favorite requests.
Mr Masson (pictured left) is the managing director of Melbourne Tribute Funeral Services
Unfortunately, Mr Masson has to tell those who want both a footy song and a Catholic church service that the two don’t go together – only sacred or classical music is generally allowed in a place of worship.
Mr Masson said that in his work he had been able to see “the best and the worst of humanity”.
“We’re kind of like emergency services, we see people in times of stress,” he said.
“You have families who are really on and others who have no idea what they want to do or need to do. You need to hold their hand throughout the process.
John Farnham’s song ‘Burn for You’ as the closing track of a cremation service was one of the most memorable musical requests
He said funerals reveal the character of family relationships.
“Some are quite jovial,” he said.
“They say ‘mom’s 98 and she’s lived a long life and she’s awesome. She had an amazing time and we’re grateful she didn’t suffer.”
“But sometimes you have the family that is just against each other.
“I only had to slam my hand on the table once and tell a family to get out because they were just arguing across the table.
“They were more interested in when the will was going to be sent and how soon they could get the money than in resting their loved one.”
Mr Masson (pictured right) said it could be very rewarding to work in the funeral industry providing a welcome service to those in distress.
Mr Masson warned that, like families, not all funeral services were the same, with some operating only with a website and a mobile phone.
“We call them ‘bottom feeders,'” he said.
“They are relying on the company running the morgue, they are relying on hiring a hearse from another funeral director.
“They try to offer cheaper prices, but some of them don’t, they end up charging more than more established organizations.”
Masson referred to an exposé on questionable practices in the funeral industry that the ABC investigative program Four Corners aired in 2019.
“Very little has changed since then,” he said.
Mr Masson said dealing with the bereaved was very revealing of the best and worst of human nature.
“It actually got worse with the industry and the way it’s run.
“Nowadays you can just fill out a form and call yourself a funeral director.
“Community members are very vulnerable when a loved one dies.
“The average punter doesn’t do their homework, they just call the number closest to them or appear on Google as the biggest and best and they don’t know the difference.
“If everything goes pear-shaped for them, they are left dry. That’s what some directors do and continually get away with.
“Pear-shaped” can mean that the operators are not preparing the morgue properly, not dressing the person for the service, or even pressing someone into a coffin that is too small.
“Hollywood has a lot to answer for in how morgues are portrayed,” Masson said.
Mr Masson runs an independent funeral service in the western suburbs of Melbourne
“When you transfer people from the coroner, you have to strip them naked and get them ready for a funeral and dress them in something the family could have provided.”
Disturbingly, cheap operators find another way to save money when trying to get rid of bandages or soiled clothing.
“Part of the industry disposes of all of its medical waste in cremations,” Masson said.
“Instead of paying for the medical waste to be collected, they just put it in the coffin. He leaves the crematorium and burns himself.
“It’s just the way the industry works. There are ethical suppliers who maintain their standard.
“But there’s the Dodgy Brothers, like any industry, who are just in it to make money and don’t care how they do it.”
Mr Masson said the funeral industry is a business he “fell into” when he was made redundant in 2006.
“I was in my late 40s and needed a job,” he said.
“There wasn’t much for my age group with my limited experience running a business and no high school leaving certificate.”
“So I searched and after a few months I saw an advertisement for a funeral director with a company called Nelson Brothers.”
When Mr Masson first applied to work at a funeral home, he hoped to drive a hearse, considered one of the “coolest” jobs in the industry.
He applied to drive hearses.
“The perception then, and still is, ‘it’s a pretty cool job, driving cars and earning a little bit of money, cruising job,'” he said.
The company hired him but as a funeral arranger instead.
After doing that and other jobs at home, he left to start Tribute Funeral Services in 2012.
Prior to entering the industry, the only experience Mr. Masson had with funerals was attending family funerals.
However, he had previously worked in the family business which made artificial limbs for amputees.
Funeral directors, like doctors, need to emotionally separate themselves from their work, Masson said
He said experience in fitting prostheses meant he wasn’t put off.
It even allowed him to learn about “the different stages of grief” that people go through when they lose a limb.
Mr Masson said funeral directors needed to professionally detach their feelings from their work.
“You learn to separate just like the medical fraternity,” he said.
“You have a game face and you sort of separate yourself from the family. You are there to guide them, you are there to help and assist them as much as you can and direct them to the services they may need.
However, there was a type of burial that often penetrated his emotional defenses.
“When you’re having funerals for young people and especially when it’s a suicide and it’s a young person – it really hits home,” Mr Masson said.
“We have a real problem in this country with suicides.”
He said it was difficult in these circumstances not to think of his three sons, especially when they were teenagers.
Families who have lost young people to suicide have often been abandoned.
“They still don’t know why,” Mr. Masson said.
“It’s often about ‘what could have been’ if they had only been able to talk to someone and avoid them.”
“Unfortunately, it is often out of the blue.
‘Talking to some of the parents who say their child was fine when they dropped the sibling off at school or whatever.
“Then they found them in the garden or the garage. It’s devastating.
Very often, families do not know who they want to run a service, whether it is a civil service or a religious service. That’s why we do what we do.
As an independent operator, Mr. Masson takes pride in his business and providing attentive service, which can sometimes be lacking in the cash-driven operations of the large chains that dominate the industry.
“The funeral industry, most of the people in the industry are there because they want to be there and they’re fulfilling that need of families that they tend to ‘adopt’,” he said.
“It’s more the interaction and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you do everything right and the family thanks you at the end of the day.
“As they walk through the door they say ‘thank you so much, you’ve been amazing and I hope to never see you again’.