In some sense, this has always existed. When a police officer is killed in the line of duty, the Policy family is there for all to see. When a soldier is killed when fighting, so too does the military family.
I was reminded of this not that long ago when my friend Ian Carlson died (cancer) and as the Tweed Heads SES Controller and holder of the SES Commissioner's Medal, his funeral had a huge number of the SES family, many of whom had travelled great distances.
These types of funerals are the exception, most of us don't died under such extreme circumstances through military action, police shooting or Community Service, rather our funerals traditionally are family based with a smattering of church, work, sport and social functionary colleagues.
Today's family however can be very different. Many estranged family members no longer consider it appropriate or encumbered to attend the funeral of someone they barely knew or who through circumstances beyond their control, ostracised them.
The nature of family relationships today is very different. Go ask a Centrelink staffer. They are the ones who have to somehow hang the pieces together from marriage / defacto relationships as to which children from whatever relationship, are entitled to what.
Go ask a judge in divorce and defacto separation settlement cases as to who are dependents and who are not. Ask those lawyers who specialise in 'Will' disputes as to where the bodies (excuse the pun) lie in such cases. My eldest daughter is a lawyer who specialises in this area of the law. The judicial decisions are based on working it all out. A good lawyer is essential.
As 'Wills' are now days not usually read immediately after the funeral as the period piece television programs lend us to believe, who turns up at the funeral is neither here nor there in relation to such perfunctory legal matters.
Who turns up to a funeral today?
The immediate family and a splattering of past family members
If a Christian funeral, the church family is engaged
The work family will more than likely attend
The sport family
Social network families
What therefore are these other families? Recently I was part of a family funeral, my brother-in-law died from a stroke, he was 58. Four family groups attended his service and then only immediate family the grave side. .
John was a Christian and the funeral was conducted in his local worship place, an Anglican community in Canberra. Many of the congregation members were there.
There was his work community. He was a guide at the National War Memorial and so a friend and work colleague spoke of his esteem within that community.
There was his sporting ties and someone from that community spoke and there were people from that family.
Then there was family – family members travelled from Adelaide and Queensland to Canberra to celebrate his life with these newer family members.
But sadly, for many funerals today, it is these newer family members make up the bulk of those attending funerals. They are the new family. It is they who knew the person best. Is they they who reveal his character. It is they who reveal something of his heart and his soul.
Christian Churches today have a remarkable ministry to this 'lost generation' of blood family members and to this newer form of family in their one-off opportunity during a funeral service. Such paradigm shifts within a culture are open doors for ministry into the lives of searching individuals who are asking – is this my lot when I die?
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at