End of an era

End of an era

Robert and Denise Beavan this week handed over the family funeral business that has been in the family for the past 90 years. Graeme Burgmann (left) will be managing the business now with Andrew Fitzgerald (right) the new owner.
Robert and Denise Beavan this week handed over the family funeral business that has been in the family for the past 90 years. Graeme Burgmann (left) will be managing the business now with Andrew Fitzgerald (right) the new owner.

To work in a profession where death is a constant companion takes a special type of person, a person who must be able to comfort, advise and care for grieving family members at their most vulnerable.

A person who can attend to dead people in a reverent manner and a person who can remain full of life despite being surrounded by death.

Funeral directors Denise and Robert Beavan fit that mould.

Undertaking is in the Beavan blood. The business has borne the family name for the past 90 years with Robert’s father, Reg, passing it down to Denise and Robert and one of their sons, Brett, also working within the business.

It was love that delivered Denise to the parlor door and love for the family and the work that has kept her happily working in the business all these years.

“I really couldn’t imagine spending the past 40 years doing anything else,” Denise said. “We stepped into the funeral business to give Reg a break.

“I guess I fell into love with Robert then into the funeral business.”

The Beavans have this week handed the reins of the business over to a new owner, Andrew Fitzgerald and his associate Graeme Burgmann who has moved to Tumut with his wife Lyn.

Although looking forward to spending additional time with her 16 grandchildren and taking life a little easier, it is with a heavy heart that Denise steps away from the funeral business.

“I will miss it tremendously,” Denise said. “I don’t think Robert will mind not having it, but I miss the people and helping people. It will be hard to leave.

“Life certainly has been busy. The funeral business is a 24/7 job and we haven’t had two weeks straight off in 27 years, so it will be good to have a break.”

Apart from the work, Denise has enjoyed being able to live on the premises and have her children and then grand children close by.

“I live for Robert, our lovely sons and the grandchildren,” Denise said. “It has been a good lifestyle and the work is very satisfying. You are helping people when they need it and we get lovely feedback.

“I am happy we did this with our lives.”

The work of a funeral director is often not talked about, as many people are uncomfortable with discussing death candidly and about facing their own mortality.

For the Beavans it goes with the territory. They are not blasé about it but accept it as an unavoidable part of life.

Unlike Robert who had grown up living above the Richmond Street funeral home, Denise was literally thrown into the deep end. But reflecting her strong and dependable character, Denise took it all in her stride.

“Robert and Reg were in Sydney when we received a call that a home death had occurred,” Denise said. “I was the only one here so I was thrown into the business that day.

“I remember that first dead person still but I didn’t have a problem with it. People say I was born to be a funeral director.”

Whilst Robert handled the heavy lifting, outfitting the coffins and a lot of the funeral day proceedings, Denise manned the front office and helped people to plan what they needed to. They both looked after the bodies. Once Brett became involved it was evident he too was born to be in the business as well.

“Brett really is a natural, he is gifted with how he deals with people,” Denise said. “Our other son Jase would help and was very good as well as Adam. Todd was never keen on it, which was also all right with us.

“Our boys have been a great asset as have our casuals. They are the greatest casuals you could ever hope for, they have always been here to help. They will be staying on to assist Graham.”

The funeral parlor is nothing like one’s imagination would conjure it up to be like. It is bright, quiet and almost inviting if you forget for the moment why you were there. The ease in which Denise and Robert talk about their profession is comforting and it is easy to understand why they have become an invaluable part of the community.

“I really couldn’t imagine spending the past 40 years doing anything else,” Denise said. “We stepped into the funeral business to give Reg a break.

“I guess I fell into love with Robert then into the funeral business.”

The Beavans have this week handed the reins of the business over to a new owner, Andrew Fitzgerald and his associate Graham Bergman who has moved to Tumut with his wife Lyn.

Although looking forward to spending additional time with her 16 grandchildren and taking life a little easier, it is with a heavy heart that Denise steps away from the funeral business.

“I will miss it tremendously,” Denise said. “I don’t think Robert will mind not having it, but I miss the people and helping people. It will be hard to leave.

“Life certainly has been busy. The funeral business is a 24/7 job and we haven’t had two weeks straight off in 27 years, so it will be good to have a break.”

Apart from the work, Denise has enjoyed being able to live on the premises and have her children and then grand children close by.

“I live for Robert, our lovely sons and the grandchildren,” Denise said. “It has been a good lifestyle and the work is very satisfying. You are helping people when they need it and we get lovely feedback.

“I am happy we did this with our lives.”

The work of a funeral director is often not talked about, as many people are uncomfortable with discussing death candidly and about facing their own mortality.

For the Beavans it goes with the territory. They are not blasé about it but accept it as an unavoidable part of life.

Unlike Robert who had grown up living above the Richmond Street funeral home, Denise was literally thrown into the deep end. But reflecting her strong and dependable character, Denise took it all in her stride.

“Robert and Reg were in Sydney when we received a call that a home death had occurred,” Denise said. “I was the only one here so I was thrown into the business that day.

“I remember that first dead person still but I didn’t have a problem with it. People say I was born to be a funeral director.”

Whilst Robert handled the heavy lifting, outfitting the coffins and a lot of the funeral day proceedings, Denise manned the front office and helped people to plan what they needed to. They both looked after the bodies. Once Brett became involved it was evident he too was born to be in the business as well.

“Brett really is a natural, he is gifted with how he deals with people,” Denise said. “Our other son Jase would help and was very good as well as Adam. Todd was never keen on it, which was also all right with us.

“Our boys have been a great asset as have our casuals. They are the greatest casuals you could ever hope for, they have always been here to help. They will be staying on to assist Graham.”

The funeral parlor is nothing like one’s imagination would conjure it up to be like. It is bright, quiet and almost inviting if you forget for the moment why you were there. The ease in which Denise and Robert talk about their profession is comforting and it is easy to understand why they have become an invaluable part of the community.

“I have never been scared of living above the bodies or being in the downstairs areas,” Denise said. “Robert and I and the kids and grandkids have never been afraid. I’ve never had a nightmare, but we talk about it a lot and sometimes things might play on your mind especially if you were close to the person.

“It does makes you more aware though how quickly life can change.”

The hardest part of the Beavan’s work is not picking up the body, washing and dressing them ready for the family or even helping to organise the funeral. It is coping with the emotional side of the business. With the people who have lost a loved one, people who more often than not the Beavans either know or are friends with.

“It is difficult for us because you know everyone,” Denise said. “But on the other hand it is easier for them because they know us and they feel comfortable.

“Death is very emotional but you have got to deal with it, it’s our job. When friends lose babies and children it is so difficult but we are able to help them during that difficult time and that is very rewarding.”

An area of the business that is often wondered about is the preparation of the body. Once it has been released back into the care of the Beavan’s, the body is washed, including the hair that is then blow-dried and styled. Men are shaved clean and make up is applied to the woman, if the family wishes.

Denise explained she always consulted the family as to what they would like.

“We can make up the person how the family wants but a lot of people don’t bother because the skin becomes so beautiful,” Denise said. “The face relaxes and the people lose the stressed look or the pained look they may have had and look very natural and peaceful.

“I often get a picture of the person to make sure their hair is right and often when the family come and view they tinker with hair and things like that anyway.”

Whether a family should view or not is also treated very delicately by the Beavans. It always comes down to a personal choice and guidance from Denise and Robert and often the local religious minister.

“Most people do view the body afterwards,” Denise said. “But it really depends on the circumstance. Sometimes they just can’t or you recommend they don’t because it is not going to be helpful for them.

“We are also so lucky in this town with our clergy. They will come and give the body a blessing and then recommend whether the family should view them. The clergy are so good here.”

Denise, Robert and Brett are discrete. Whilst they may discuss disturbing deaths with each other, often talking together as they prepare the body, they never share any gruesome or private details with anyone else.

“Some things even families don’t need to know, particularly if the death is gruesome,” Denise said. “We are often in a councillor role, it seems to come naturally to us. People often just need someone to listen. We have learnt as well that if we are upset by the death, because it’s someone we know or family, you have to let it out.

“You can’t hold in your grief or you’d go nuts.”

The future for the Beavans will still be in Tumut, Denise and Robert may take a few trips but neither could imagine being away from their family for too long.

Currently they are enjoying a break at the Riverglade Caravan Park in their van, as the sale of the business occurred so quickly, they are yet to work out where they will live.

Brett will continue on with the TNT delivery business, with the new owner of the funeral business happy to have him on the team if he wishes.