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The best possible goodbye

By December 8, 2023March 13th, 2024No Comments
Stations of the Cross - Rookwood Catholic Cemetery

The best possible goodbye

What you find with cemetery workers, is that they are not as sombre as you think they’re going to be. Colleagues at Catholic Cemeteries + Crematoria describe Mitch Ramsay who has worked alongside them for 12 years, as talkative, loud and easy going.

However, Mitch has a deep appreciation of “how serious our industry can be for families that have lost loved ones” and with providing the highest level of care and compassion. Mitch loves his job and fulfilment comes from helping families through a hard time.

Since January this year, Mitch has been the Transport Service Specialist at the new Sydney Crematorium. The job involves collecting the deceased from funeral homes around Sydney and transporting them to cremation centres at Rookwood and Kemps Creek.

Prior to that he started his working life in the cemetery services team, responsible for digging graves, cemetery maintenance and working in Sydney’s first Catholic crematorium. Even though the work could be physically hard, Mitch took great pride in it, as he knew it was important work.

Mitch describes himself as “a perfectionist.” When he was involved with grave digging he was driven to “Getting it right for the family to give them the best possible last goodbye”.  The team would take care to ensure “the lawns and surrounding areas look good, and the dig went as planned. “

Mitch hopes that the public understands that “The way the team do our work and how we conduct ourselves, is second to none. Our values, our goals and mindset are the same.  We have a great team across all our cemetery sites”

He has been fortunate to have experienced mentors at Catholic Cemeteries, who helped shape him into who he is today.  “They went out of their way to teach values and take me under their wing,” so Mitch could comprehend what the organisation offers and how they deliver it.

Mitch has taken part in cemetery Open Days, that would include a tour of the crematorium, as well as grave digging exhibitions. He would answer questions from the public and explain to groups what happens in a cremation. “It’s a good education tool for those who have misconceptions about our industry.”

“A lot of people are surprised that we don’t work at night, believing that cemetery staff work the graveyard shift. They don’t know what we do, and it is not until they visit a cemetery that they see how well presented they are and the work that goes into upkeep of the lawns and gardens.”

Mitch was involved in the early stages of the Waterway Chapel development at Rookwood.  It was a large project that involved laying turf and mulching. Now it is a key feature and asset for the community. It is used for outdoor funeral services, Stations of the Cross and also offers cremation gardens in a beautifully designed area.

The emotional side of the job, also pose challenges. Mitch explains “You put it aside to get the job done, but there are challenging services. Sometimes a reading at a graveside can affect you. A child saying goodbye to a parent. The staff are not robots and try to do the best they can.”

Often, it’s the small acts of kindness that make a big impact on our customers and their families, Mitch remembers six years ago at Rookwood, a funeral on a lawn with a beautiful reef of Australian native flowers.

He spoke to the family and learnt it had come from their garden. The family wrote into the cemetery, to thank Mitch for his personal service on the day. “When they say thank you before, during or after the service, it is the biggest compliment.”

It is an emotional industry to work in. Mitch has seen many things placed on top of coffins. From photographs, footy jerseys, work uniforms, flags, cards, cigarettes and even bottles of scotch. Some cultural groups throw money in the grave. Each one tells a story about the person being laid to rest and what their friends remember about them.

The workplace is completely different from when Mitch first started and he no longer finds it a grim place to work. He has  even changed his mind about what he would like for his own funeral plan.

He now wishes to be cremated. “I have a real appreciation of what happens on site. It is a bit more comforting to understand the process and be educated. That’s what the cemetery Open Days are for.”

Mitch would like people to wear bright colours and likes the idea of Stairway to Heaven or heavy metal. “Something a bit different, more a celebration of life. The funeral is to say goodbye and then I would like a get together of my family and friends. They can share their stores and have a laugh.”

After more than a decade working at Catholic Cemeteries + Crematoria and witnessing countless funerals, Mitch more than most people knows that everyone deserves to say goodbye in their own personal way.

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