Belinda Hassan at Machu Picchu - a trek she did to raise money for Interplast anbassador Turia Pitt.
Belinda Hassan at Machu Picchu - a trek she did to raise money for Interplast anbassador Turia Pitt. Contributed

Loss of grandson encouraged woman to trek up Mt Kilimanjaro

YOU probably expect a funeral director to be calm and serious.

You may not expect them to jump out of planes and trek some of the highest mountains in the world.

When it comes to Belinda Hassan, you can expect the unexpected.

Behind the serious job and the adventures for charity is a quietly-spoken woman of only 44, with four grown children, who lost her only grandchild in tragic circumstances.

Belinda has managed to turn that grief and loss into helping others.

At 16 she fell pregnant and had her first baby just before her 17th birthday.

"It was kind of the done thing then (to marry). My mum had always had heaps of babies around. I sort of knew what I was doing. You either do one or the other. Most people go off and do all their travelling, settle down, get married and have kids. Now mine are off my hands, I'm still young and I can go off and travel," Ms Hassan said.

Working with victims of domestic violence at Mackay Women's Centre, Belinda was busy preparing for a trek up Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, when her grandson Corbyn, tragically drowned in her backyard pool.

It was January 2012 and Corbyn was only two.

Belinda Hassan at her campsite when she climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.
Belinda Hassan at her campsite when she climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. Contributed

 

Belinda described her grandchild Corbyn as, "The light of my life. Corbyn was my little friend. He lived with me with his parents, so he'd come running with me, he'd sleep in my bed."

Belinda wanted to cancel her trip but a friend encouraged her to continue.

There were many tears shed on Mt Kilimanjaro as Belinda grieved for Corbyn and for her daughter's loss.

"You're going through two losses - I'd lost a grandchild, but my daughter had lost her baby and you can't do anything to help them. Climbing mountains is as much about the mental as the physical. It's freezing cold, you're trekking at night and just walking for hours and hours. It was intense.... I think it was cathartic. It gave me time to think. I cried a lot on that mountain," she said.

Before the trek, she noticed a job vacancy for a Funeral Director but hadn't got around to applying.

"I needed a change. I think when you've been through a trauma and tragedy yourself, it gives you a different empathy for people," Ms Hassan said.

Helping to organise Corbyn's funeral was her first experience of the funeral process.

"It's such a difficult time, so we try and do everything. I thought I could help people. Everyone experiences grief differently. I don't like the word process, because it's not a process, It's a rollercoaster. Being a funeral director suits me. I'm a little bit reserved, I'm not out there. I'm quite calm and practical," she said.

Belinda is not scared of death "Not at all. I want a pink coffin,"she says calmly.

She is fascinated by how different cultures deal with death and often sees unusual burial rites overseas.

In Nepal, she watched local men wrap, wash and cremate bodies by the river, and she dragged a friend through cemeteries in Paris. "I take photos of headstones, they are so interesting. It's people's stories," she said.

When she worked on the funeral of Naomi Chinnery, who died suddenly from a rare blood disease, Belinda was so affected she skydived for the Leukaemia Foundation.

She has cut her hair, collected blankets for the homeless and hiked Machu Picchu in Peru, all for charity. "I like adventure, I like doing something different," she said.

"I've learnt there are a lot of good people around. Locals in Peru, who are poor, will give you their last cob of corn if they think you're hungry. I had so much support when Corbyn drowned. People are inherently good. If I'm going to travel, someone might as well benefit from it."



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