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Hi, I'm Nicky!
Founder of G.Law.
I'm a wills and business nerd. Mum. Gardener. #Radbosslady and protector of legacies.
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[00:01] Voiceover: This is an ABC podcast.
[00:05] Emma Gray: He died at home, which meant that I found him and immediately phoned triple zero and proceeded to do what they said which was to provide CPR until they arrived but he was well gone by that stage and there was nothing they could do. It’s just an awful shock when you, I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just the last thing you expect to find.
[00:35] Jan Fran: So I’m Jan Fran and this is The Pineapple Project. And that, what you just heard from Emma, that’s exactly what this season is about – death. “But, Jan, why death?,” I hear you ask, because that is what we do on this show, my friend. We talk about the big stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that makes you uncomfortable and we, bloody, make it sweeter and easier to deal with. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “It’s too hard, Jen. It’s ages away, Jen. Surely the global financial system will collapse and the world will descend into climate chaos before I have to deal with it, Jen,” and look this is probably true. But in the event it doesn’t, you kind of need to be prepared. Otherwise, you are going to leave one mother of an admin headache behind and it’s not just your death that you need to be ready for. Have you ever played that fun game with your parents or your partner or your best mates called, “What happens in the event of your death?” Would you like to be buried, cremated, or turned into a diamond? Have you done a proper will? Because I can’t find it. Special bonus round: Will you look after my kids if my partner and I are both wiped out in a freak gardening accident? Prizes include peace of mind and a reduction in the logistical chaos and family resentment that can linger for years and also this 24-carat gold pin. Sheesh. No wonder we’ve been putting this off. So, you know why you and I are going to learn about wills and funerals and last wishes and how do you cancel someone’s credit cards and their Netflix subscription after they die. And I want to say straight up, this is not about grief. If you need help you can always speak to your doctor about finding the right service for you, but what you will learn in this series is how to sit down and actually, you know have a conversation about the awkward logistics with the people who matter most in your life. You’ll hear from experts and regular people who’ve been through it. So, let’s start from the start. What happens if somebody dies suddenly and you’re not prepared? Well, that is exactly what happened to Emma who you just heard before. She was in her early 40s. She was married to Jeff who was kind and solid, you know, dependable. Then one night Emma and Jeff went to sleep. She woke up and he didn’t.
[03:19] Emma Gray: I look back on it now actually and, and it really was a very ordinary night, but it was also following a weekend that had been particularly relaxed and happy for our family. I don’t know. It almost in retrospect, looks like we kind of knew something was going to happen, but we couldn’t, of course, have predicted this but it was just one of those really lovely relaxed weekends where we had a beautiful time together just doing, we went to a toy shop and got some jigsaw puzzles and then we went to a cafe and had hot chocolates and it was just a normal, everyday weekend and then back to work the next day. And we had actually all been sick with the flu at around the same time. And I believe that people with heart disease can struggle with the flu. But Jeff had no notion that he had heart disease hasn’t had his heart checked. We had actually gone to sleep in different bedrooms that night because we’re all sick and so I have had a little boy in with me as you do when kids are unwell. So Jeff was actually in his room, which was then I couldn’t use after that. I’ve since moved out actually because it was just too many memories in, in the house, but I’ve been in the room a couple of times and in the afternoon just to check how he was because he was off work. I found him and immediately phoned triple zero and proceeded to do what they said which was to provide CPR until they arrived but he was well gone by that stage and there was nothing they could do. And because this happened at home, they then had to call the police who came straight to our house and were there for several hours including extra team of investigators who came and I had to have quite a thorough police interview, of course, you’re in complete shock. At the time and and you know, nothing about the process of what happens when someone dies let alone when they die at home and it’s a little bit different there has to be a coroner has to become involved. You know, it look like natural causes so they have to determine the cause of death and it’s all kind of a blur now in my in my memory all I mainly remember is just that one minute. Everything was a normal family life and the next minute the house is full of police officers and ambulance officers and investigators and funeral directors and, you know, huge crowded, felt like a huge crowd of people.
[06:00] Jan Fran: Yeah.
[06:01] Emma Gray: But there were questions about what was our last meal, you know, they were checking the air conditioning vents and all sorts of different quite confronting things at the time. Although the police officer….
[06:14] Jan Fran: The police officers were checking the vent, did you say?
[06:16] Emma Gray: Yes the investigators who come, I think they just, it’s just their standard procedure to rule out foul play, I guess.
[06:24] Jan Fran: Right. So in the moment after your husband, your late husband, had died, suddenly you were dealing with the police. Did you think that that was something that would happen?
[06:34] Emma Gray: No, I didn’t really know what happened when this occurred because I don’t think we talked about and talked much about this sort of thing. I think our culture is really quite wary and, and scared of death and dying and grief. And it’s, and it’s an area that we don’t talk about widely. So I didn’t know what the process was. But the young police officer, young woman, who handled this for us that night, was absolutely brilliant at her job. She had clearly done this before, unfortunately, and she just paced her interview questions in a very calm way that you know, I would sort of just drift away from that conversation and start talking about ringing people and all of that sort of stuff that dawns on you when you first discover something like this.
[07:27] Jan Fran: What sort of questions were they asking you?
[07:28] Emma Gray: It was just about all the standard questions about all that contact details, age, how long we’ve lived there, what had happened, what medication he was on, had to go through all the events of the night in detail and timings, that kind of thing. That…
[07:51] Jan Fran: God. How are you able to recall all of those details?
[07:53] Emma Gray: I don’t actually. Well, I don’t know how I recall them at the time and I don’t know how I’m recalling them now either because it, it yeah, it was just extremely traumatic. I think that’s the thing when something like this happens unexpectedly, there’s no preparation at all. So you just launched straight into a situation unlike anything you’ve ever encountered before, more emotional than anything you’ve ever encountered. And you sort of just get carried along by the professionals around you.
[08:28] Jan Fran: Okay, so you might be thinking, “That’s never going to happen to me.” But somebody dies every three minutes in Australia. Look it up, the ABS says so. And each person’s death sets in motion a particular series of events. If it’s unexpected like it was with Emma’s husband, that’s when the coroner gets involved.
[08:48] Jodie Leditschke: People don’t realize that death can happen at any point in time. It doesn’t happen between 9:00 till 5:00. It happens 24/7 and we are 24/7.
[08:57] Jan Fran: That’s Jodie Leditschke. She runs the mortuary inside the Victorian coroner’s office.
[09:05] Jodie Leditschke: Exactly where I sit now is in the Coronial Admissions Enquiries office. And sometimes, I had to say, but it’s a little bit like a call centre. So there’s nurses, there’s administrative assistants all sitting with headphones on and talking on the phone. We get about 300, almost 400 sometimes, phone calls going in and out of day, so you’ll have someone talking to someone on the phone that may be really, really, really grieving or you might have a police officer ringing. And you’ll have different stories going on all around you. In the same instance, I’ve got a coroner sitting in an office right near me as well as a forensic pathologist. Not far away, I’ve got the mortuary. So that area is staffed by technical officers and scientists. And they’re admitting deceased persons and undertaking what the processes that need to happen in the mortuary. Very close by, I’ve also got what we call viewing rooms, where we may have family members arriving to view a deceased that has recently died, a person that has recently died.
[10:15] Jan Fran: So when’s the case going to the coroner then?
[10:18] Jodie Leditschke: So most people, a lot of people, because they look at the media think that the only ones that are reported to us are the suspicious death, are the homicides and all those cases but if based on probability, if a doctor can’t generally say why someone’s died, they must be reported to the coroner. They need to be reported to the coroner. So many of our deaths are deaths of an elderly person that has died and a doctor may not be able to say why that person has died. They may not have seen a doctor. So a lot of those sort of cases are reported to us. We also unfortunately, in the state of Victoria, do have a high rate of suicide. So those sort of deaths are also reported to us, suspected suicides. Unfortunately our drug overdoses, again, very high rates. They’re also reported to us. A car accident. Any person that died suddenly. A person that is found in the community and has collapsed or at home and has no reason are also reported to us.
[11:19] Jan Fran: So what would your advice be then to a family who has just had a loved one pass away very unexpectedly. What would you want them to know?
[11:31] Jodie Leditschke: In the first instance, I’d want them to know that where the deceased person is going to be transferred to a place that the people are very respectful and very professional. People have very funny different views about mortuaries. And I work at with the huge number of very professional scientists, technicians and caring people. So that’s the first thing to know that their person, that their loved one is being transferred into a very respectful professional place. The second thing I’d like them to know is that they can have access to information. We will provide them with as much information as we are able to. I’ll also inform them that we don’t do autopsies in all circumstances. But if we do, do an autopsy is because we really, really need to do one. It’s not a decision we take lightly. And that an autopsy or any medical investigation can provide answers to families, can help them. Many families actually are really wondering why someone’s died suddenly and unexpectedly. The cause of death may be as simple as that there has been a rupture of the heart muscle and cause bleeding around the heart and the heart has stopped pumping. It’s called cardiac tamponade. And we can ring the family and at least give them that, a little answer and maybe hopefully that may just put them onto rest that this is a natural event. And this has happened.
[13:02] Jan Fran: Now, are you guys keeping track here. So what Jodie is saying is that a death doesn’t have to be suspicious to wind up with the coroner. It’s more about determining cause of death. Realistically, not all deaths require the emergency services or a coroner. Most people will go straight to a funeral home. But no matter how someone dies, if you’re the next of kin the one document that you are definitely going to need is a death certificate. And in Australia, the only place that can get give you a death certificate is the very creatively named Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages. I like it because it doesn’t exactly what it says on the box.
[13:43] Amanda Ianna: We’ve got over 25 million records and they have to be kept in perpetuity. That means forever.
[13:49] Jan Fran: That’s Amanda Ianna. She’s the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in New South Wales. Now Amanda, how does one actually get a death certificate?
[14:01] Amanda Ianna: So we’re the only, Births, Deaths and Marriages are the only entity that can issue a death certificate. So what happens when someone dies, a doctor has to verify that someone has passed away. So they do what’s called a medical certificate cause of death or a perinatal cause of death. So that’s someone that’s under 28 days or the coroner issues a medical death certificate. So all that does is, say the person, what their date of birth was, where they died, and what they died of. So that feeds into to the death registration, which is what we keep along with the information that comes from the funeral director. We print the death certificate from that. So the funeral director will usually look after everything for you. So when it comes to registering the death, so interacting with Births, Deaths and Marriages, it’s all done by the funeral director. And they’re wonderful at it. And so they actually take, they look after the body, they look after the family as well, and they take all the information, and they send the medical certificate cause of death which is signed off by the doctor or the coroner’s orders, if it happens to be a coroner’s case. So sometimes it happens if someone dies suddenly and they send all of that into us via electronic methods and if all matches and we print the death certificate out and send it back out to the family.
[15:23] Jan Fran: Okay, does everyone have to have a death certificate?
[15:27] Amanda Ianna: They don’t actually have to order a death certificate, but it would be very rare that you didn’t need one when someone had passed away because you’d need it for the estate.
[15:35] Jan Fran: Sure. Like you can’t really proceed logistically without a death certificate. Can you?
[15:38] Amanda Ianna: No. You can’t. You need to have one.
[15:40] Jan Fran: Slight spanner in the works, what if you’re not the next of kin and you need to prove that someone has died?
[15:48] Amanda Ianna: Just say, you shared a house with someone you had a joint lease and you needed to prove that that person was deceased. We wouldn’t issue you a full one because it has too much information on it and you’re not actually entitled to it. So that comes back to us protecting people’s privacy and protecting the information on the register. And what we would do is just issue a, what’s called an extract, and it’s got the person’s name and date and place of death and you could use that then to change your lease, for instance. So there’s different documents depending on what you wanted.
[16:17] Jan Fran: So that’s what you guys are doing in those government buildings, huh? I have wondered. Thanks, Amanda. Jeez, one day you’re living your life and the next, boom! You got dead. It really makes you think, doesn’t it?
[16:31] Grimmy (Rhys Nicholson): Sure does.
[16:32] Jan Fran: Oh my God.
[16:33] Grimmy: What does it all mean? What’s my legacy gonna be?
[16:37] Jan Fran: I’m sorry. Who are you and what are you doing at my house?
[16:39] Grimmy: I’m here. Every time someone dies. You know me with my robe and my scythe. Wanna hold it?
[16:46] Jan Fran: No. No, are you, oh my god, are you the Grim Reaper?
[16:50] Grimmy: Well Grimmy for short. But yeah, pleased to meet you.
[17:03] Jan Fran: No, I don’t want to meet you.
[17:05] Grimmy: Oh, I hear that a lot. But everybody does. No one thinks it’s gonna be them. Next minute, they’ve cashed in their chips and it’s up to their de facto or whoever they’ve left behind to organize everything.
[17:16] Jan Fran: Like whether to cater lasagna or moussaka at the wake?
[17:19] Grimmy: Oh, honey, you’ve got no idea. Definitely happening all around us all the time and I’m constantly amazed at how shit you humans are dealing with it. Like let’s not talk about it. I’m in the room people. Let’s talk about it.
[17:33] Jan Fran: He is very unpleasant. But yeah, he’s right we’re talking about your legacy, babes. So when it comes to planning death, let’s start with these three things. One, every situation is different and the logistics of death can be complex. But, two, the death certificate is your key to unlocking that bureaucracy. So if you get one, for the love of God, remember where you file it. And three, there are lots of places that you can go to for help the Australian government’s HumanServices.gov.au website is actually a really good place to start. They literally have a section called what to do following a death, sweet acts!
[18:18] Grimmy: Now you’re getting it.
[18:19] Jan Fran: Oh, hi the Grim Reaper, Grimmy. You’re still here.
[18:22] Grimmy: Sorry. I had to pop out. I teach a casual Latin Fusion tap clap.
[18:27] Jan Fran: Oh, okay. Sorry. What is it that you do exactly?
[18:31] Grimmy: Look, it’s a mystery of the universe, but I am terrible at keeping secrets. So I’m going to be here with you holding your hand. Not literally, don’t you touch me. Back off! To help guide you through this dying business. To help prepare and plan things in advance so you can get on with living. Here’s a question to wet your whistle.
[18:49] Jan Fran: Hmm.
[18:50] Grimmy: Have you ever thought about your funeral?
[18:53] Jan Fran: Not really.
[18:54] Grimmy: What about a will, who gets the cats? I’m sure you got a bunch. You don’t want your relatives fighting over your sofa, do you?
[19:00] Jan Fran: Well, of course not.
[19:01] Grimmy: Are you paying the bills? Who’s gonna keep doing that if your nearest and dearest don’t have all your passwords?
[19:06] Jan Fran: Well, I just assumed that my husband would be so upset that he wouldn’t need electricity anymore.
[19:11] Grimmy: Oh and the most important one, your social media. Do you want people getting birthday notifications from beyond the grave? And what if you’re unconscious in a hospital and you can’t speak for yourself? Who’s gonna make a lot of decisions about what to do next?
[19:24] Jan Fran: Jeez, Grimmy, that’s full-on. But look, I think it’s okay. I think we’ve got this we’re going to answer all these questions about dying.
[19:32] Grimmy: Oh good. I mean people think my job is so easy because I do it with such grace but there is a lot to think about. Hold on. Has it been three minutes already? I gotta fly. Buh-bye!
[19:44] Jan Fran: Bye! The Grim Reaper. Well, I must end. I’m Jan Fran. This is The Pineapple Project and we are doing death better because it’s coming to you like it or not. Buh-bye. Next on The Pineapple Project, “How much thought have you put into your final hurrah, from cremation to cardboard coffins to Tibetan sky burial, there are a lot of choices to be made how to plan your own funeral and how to take care of business when you get the job of organizing someone else’s.” This is all the insider info dodgy funeral directors don’t want you getting your mitts on that is next on The Pineapple Project. The Pineapple Project is mixed by sound engineers Angie Grant and Krissy Miltiadou. It’s produced by Karla Arnall and Claire O’Halloran. The role of Grimmy, the Grim Reaper, is played by Rhys Nicholson. The host is me, Jan Fran. The podcasts executive producer is Rachel Fountain. Kellie Riordan is the manager of ABC Audio Studios. Hello, you! Yes, you. If you like The Pineapple Project you should check out another ABC podcast.
[21:10] Yumi Stynes: It’s called “Ladies, we need to talk.”
[21:13] Jan Fran: Oh, hi there talking lady.
[21:14] Yumi Stynes: That’s exactly what I was going to say.
[21:16] Jan Fran: “Ladies, we need to talk” is hosted by my friend, Yumi Stynes. Oi what’re you gonna talk about?
[21:22] Yumi Stynes: Everything we women avoid talking about. Like discharge, cheating, fat shaming, and the mental load, we even did a whole episode on poop.
[21:32] Jan Fran: Oh I just did a poop right now.
[21:38] Yumi Stynes: You can hear it on the ABC Listen app or wherever you get your podcast.
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