When a person dies, it is their family’s responsibility to handle their final affairs and put them to rest. Traditionally, in centuries past, family-led deathcare was the norm. A funeral was a family affair where funeral duties were conducted by relatives of the person that had died. These family-led, do-it-yourself funerals were common, as the professional deathcare industry wasn’t established until the late 18th century in North America.
In those days, families handled all aspects of a funeral. From preparing the body after death and committing it to the earth or in some traditions to fire. In modern times, those duties have been turned over to funeral homes staffed by professionals that handle death care for a family. However, today a family can choose to handle many end-of-life duties themselves. This article will outline what you need to know about family-led deathcare.
As the name suggests, family-led deathcare is post-mortem care or funeral services conducted in-part or entirely by family members of the deceased, typically without or with little assistance from a funeral home. This includes tasks such as body preparation, death registration, transportation to a crematorium (the most common form of final disposition these days) or to a cemetery.
There are many services a family can provide (see this complete list) on their own. However there are some exceptions because of legal limitations, such as embalming a body, that must be done by licensed professionals. Even embalming is not necessary in some deathcare plans.
With family-led funerals, families can choose to handle most deathcare tasks independently or, in part, with guidance by funeral service providers.
One of the first tasks of deathcare is reporting the death to the necessary authorities. If the death is expected, families can call the doctor who was caring for the deceased. If the death is unexpected, emergency services should be called first. If there are no available doctors or emergency services in the area, then it should be reported to the local coroner's office. If you are unsure about the circumstances or who you should call, be sure to contact the local coroner's office. In the province of Ontario that is the Chief Coroner’s Office.
Report the death as soon as possible. This is essential for legal reasons and if you are planning organ, tissue, or body donations. Organ donation has a window of as little as four hours and in some cases (depending on the organ) 24 to 72 hours after death. Therefore, reporting the death as soon as possible helps ensure the viability of organs and tissues if they are going to be used to save a life.
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One of the critical and principal deathcare tasks is body preparation and final disposition. A family can choose to wash and dress the body and place it in a casket or wrap it in a shroud themselves.
Final disposition means burial, cremation or aquamation. Depending on the choice, this final care might include embalming, which is chemical preservation of a body, if it will not immediately be cremated or buried. However it is not mandatory and refrigeration of remains can be an alternative method to temporarily preserve it.
Embalming and final disposition services need to be handled by licensed funeral providers. Therefore, it is necessary to contact a direct cremation company such as Eirene.ca or a crematorium or cemetery. However, some final services can be completed by the family. That can include body preparation, selection of cremation services, cemetery location, choice of coffin or urn.
In Ontario is is legal to transport a body in a private vehicle. This is usually referred to as a “transfer” in the funeral industry. Transportation is usually conducted from the place of death to the location where it will be prepared for cremation or burial, as well as to the location of its final disposition, like a crematorium or cemetery..
However the province of Ontario allows for that duty to be conducted by a private individual.
Another important aspect of death care is the paperwork involved in death registration. The documents can be completed by a family member or by a funeral director. Death registration in Ontario involves the submission of two documents to the local municipal clerk's office:
After the death has been registered, a burial permit must be obtained. The staff at the municipal office where the death is registered can help families get the permit. This is necessary before final disposition of the remains can be conducted, including cremation. It is also required even if the burial or funeral arrangements are to take place in a different province.
If the death occurs outside of the province, but funeral arrangements will take place in Ontario, both a burial permit and transit or removal permit from the jurisdiction where the death occurred is necessary.
The death registration and the burial permit are the more time-sensitive pieces of paperwork, as they are needed to initiate further funeral arrangements.
Another vital piece of paperwork to be considered includes a death certificate. This can be completed any time after the death is registered. There are no restrictions on who can apply for the death certificate, but only the next of kin can apply for a certified copy of death (learn more about this here. A death certificate is often needed to complete other deathcare paperwork such as:
When it comes to arranging a funeral, there are many options available to family-led death care. Funerary services can be held in many locations, including at a funeral home. However, a popular choice for families that want to handle their own death care is arranging a home funeral.
A home funeral is a blanket term used to describe death care that family and friends of the deceased partially or entirely carry out themselves. That also means the use of a funeral home and commercial services is largely avoided or minimized.
Death care for a home funeral includes body washing, dressing, hair, makeup, keeping the body cool, posing, and more. Many of these activities can be completed solely by family. However, some things may be more challenging, such as transportation. Families may seek the help of a funeral home if they do not own a vehicle capable of successfully transporting the body.
Nonetheless, a home funeral also allows family and friends to control most or all decisions. Most funeral homes will allow for some customization with a celebration or ceremony. However, with a home funeral, there is more freedom to personalize the process.
Whether you choose a home funeral or use a funeral home, it is essential to make arrangements beforehand. This includes contacting crematoriums, funeral homes, and cemeteries ahead to ensure they can accommodate any specific requests or needs.
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One of the primary reasons to choose family-led death care is that it provides a meaningful and loving way to say goodbye. It allows friends and family to be directly involved in their loved one's end-of-life care.
Family-led death care also allows for more time for closure and healing, encourages bonding and cooperation, and gives the family more control over planning and decisions. Although funeral homes can provide a space for an appropriate send-off, the process may seem impersonal. This doesn’t mean that the deceased is not being cared for or respected, but it is just one of many funerals that day.
Family-led death care can also save money. The services provided by funeral homes are often expensive and include options that may not be needed or wanted by the deceased or their family and friends. Products and services can be excluded with family-led death care, saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
More considerations when choosing family-led death care include: