The smell, the presentation, the sharing of food and drink, bring us together, nourish our spirits, warm us from the inside, and help us to feel a little more whole.
After all the raw emotions of a funeral, gathering in a more relaxed atmosphere with others who have loved and lost that person has a uniting and healing effect that Sandy Lee has seen repeatedly over almost 23 years as catering manager at Burstows Funerals.
Grief expert Dr Alan Wolfelt describes the reception as "an informal time of release after the more formal elements of the funeral ceremony. The gathering is also a transition, a rite of passage back to living again. It demonstrates the continuity of life, even in the face of death".
For Sandy, the reception is a time of bonding; a place where memories come alive. It's a place to tell stories, talk about the deceased, their interests, their passions, perhaps their foibles, share your pain, to catch up with each other, and simply start to feel that life will go on.
It's a place for hugs, for laughter, for introductions and old friends.
"So often people today only really gather at weddings and funerals, so it is a special time for family, for classmates, old friends and neighbours to catch up," Sandy said.
"When families are going through so much, Burstows' Pioneers Room is a lovely, peaceful place. With the gardens outside, the Pavilion, and even the children's playground, it has a wonderful warmth and homeliness. There's the smell of coffee or tea, of freshly baked cakes and scones ... it's not exotic but it's food made with love and it's very comforting, I think."
When receptions couldn't be held during Covid, or gathering restrictions were in place, Sandy said "the hardest thing was no hugging or contact ... a lot of people just need that touch at a time when you have lost someone so dear to you".
Like the funeral, the reception is different for everyone, depending on the deceased's character and the circumstances. Perhaps the death could be foreseen due to age when, despite their sadness, people can rationalise that the deceased "had a good life" and "lived well", or it may be an unexpected tragedy. Regardless, those closest to the deceased need support - to know they are not alone.
In a campaign against loneliness, cooking guru Julie Goodwin said it perfectly, "Food connects us, it nourishes us, and the sharing experience creates wonderful memories and strong communities".
While there is often some tentativeness on first arrival at the reception, as people wonder what is expected, Sandy said the welcome they receive quickly puts them at ease, and the room is soon full of chatter.
Those organising funerals have told Sandy said that knowing the Pioneers room was there, rather than having to make more decisions when your mind has so many things to think about, eased their stress. And for those attending, it is a relief to just take those few steps from the Burstows Chapel to the reception ... no need for farewells, nowhere else to drive, nothing to co-ordinate.
At times, families have special requests to include in the reception a favourite food, colour, hobby, sports theme or music of the deceased, and the Burstows team "do everything we can to help make that happen".
Reception costs, including use of the Pioneers Room, start at $15 per person (plated), with a minimum of 30 and maximum of 150 people; $19.50 for a buffet, and $45 for hot options, with "always an abundance of food, and bottomless coffee and tea".
For herself, Sandy says being involved in what many would see as a difficult field, is very rewarding. "I can truly say that, although there have been challenges at times, I've really enjoyed my years here, the team I work with, and being able to help people through this process of grieving and put them on that road to healing ... it's very special."
For inquiries regarding the reception or any aspect of funeral planning, please contact Burstows Funerals on (07) 4636 9600.