By Patrick Wood
“I spent the best part of 20 years working in a very unusual environment,” John Merrick says.
By most standards, he’s correct.
The location was Glebe in Sydney. The “unusual environment” was the Institute of Forensic Medicine. Or, as we would call it, the morgue.
Mr Merrick’s job was to provide counselling and support for people whose loved ones had died, many of whom would come in to see the body after sudden and tragic accidents.
"I think death has often been really difficult across all societies and all cultures," he told ABC News Breakfast.
"Most Western civilisations don't cope with death terribly well.
"We whisk people away in dark cars, wear dark clothing and such as well, so it becomes a distant relationship in some respects as well."
Mr Merrick has just released a book, True Stories From The Morgue, detailing numerous experiences and he said some stories just ached to be shared, even if they're not always easy to hear.
Like the time he had to explain to a mother whose three children had died what an autopsy was.
And how he was involved in the repatriation of bodies after the 2002 Bali bombings.
Or how he helped people who felt guilt after a loved one's death — particularly if it was from suicide.
"It's extraordinarily confronting for people," he said.
"I've broken the news of death to a number of people over the years as well and you can see them crumble. It's just awful to see.
"They crumble because all the control in their life has been taken away as well so you have to try, in some way, to give some of that degree of control back to them."