Peta Morris only started providing her art-inspired death care service last year but believes it is something that has been calling her for much longer.

“I think for me it’s really been a lifelong experience,” she said. “You know that saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’.

“I think everything I have done creatively, from art to music, has allowed me to open up a space and use that for support.”

Morris is a trained death doula, a role described as a mid-wife for the dying and an advocate, educator and guide for families going through the palliative care stage with a relative.

She came to the role after caring for her mother Rae, who passed away in 2020 after being diagnosed with advanced motor neurone disease. Morris, who documented her mother’s final months, felt it was an area she could continue to help other families with.

Having previously had a career as an artist, an arts educator, and briefly a musician, she decided creativity needed to be at the centre of a heart-based end-of-life service. She launched Creative Death Care in 2023, a business that positions itself at the other end of the funeral services industry, which Morris describes as ‘corporatised’.

“The services I offer are gathering family or friends to paint the coffin of their loved one,” she said.

“I also offer a service called memory making where we can take objects and turn them into art objects that can be hung in the home. Another part of Creative Death Care is providing artist painted urns for loved ones.”

Studies show that art can have a beneficial therapeutic affect on people who are grieving or mourning the death of a loved one and that it can contribute to a family’s healing, alleviating psychological distress in a safe environment that encourages healthy and positive conversations.

Art allows you to suspend thought… it may just be about removing yourself from the heaviness of the grief you may be feeling.

The Australian funeral industry is dominated by InvoCare, which owns funeral companies such as Simplicity and White Lady Funerals, and operates in New Zealand and Singapore also, with an estimated turnover of $476 million per year.

According to the annual Australian Seniors’ Cost of Death Report, the average burial in NSW cost $17,722 in metro areas last year, and $10,538 in the regions. The average cost of cremations across the state was $3,000-$4,000.

“The funeral industry is corporatised,” said Morris. “I think it’s really hard to deliver heart-based care and empathy when you have target markets and when you’re dealing with people who are really vulnerable and then trying to convince them how much money they should be spending.

“Art allows you to suspend thought… it may just be about removing yourself from the heaviness of the grief you may be feeling.”

Friend Naida Entwistle said her connection with Morris helped her through the grieving process.

“She was just very gentle, and she took it out of my hands and said ‘I’ll take care of this part and you do what you need to do,’” she said.

Morris said society needed to take time to connect and engage in healthy discourse surrounding grief.

“Imagine if we were death literate,” she said. “Imagine if we could not just whisper on the sidelines?

“What if we could go ‘let’s organise this for them, let’s organise some meals… let’s just connect.'”

Main image by Ella Jones