There is a lot involved with funeral planning. In addition to services, there are a myriad of tasks and events leading up to the funeral, and some that will need to be handled afterward. Therefore, it can be challenging to determine how long a funeral will last from beginning to end, including the time it takes for each funeral event.
That said, most funerals and their related events are completed within seven days of death. However, in the case of direct cremation, this optimized funeral arrangement can be completed over two to four days. A celebration of life event thereafter can be scheduled for days, weeks, or even months after that.
To help understand funeral timelines and durations of specific funeral events, we have compiled a guide outlining the general time frame expected for each event or service.
Here is a condensed summary of funeral timelines, tasks and events and how long each one typically lasts or is expected to take. Details for each funeral element follows below the list.
One of the first things to consider when planning a funeral is the documentation needed for any services to commence.
First, the death must be reported to the appropriate authorities. Depending on where the death occurred, this can include reporting it to a family doctor, emergency services, or local coroner's office. This should be done as soon as possible, ideally within the first 24 hours after death.
After the death has been reported, paperwork needs to be submitted before services such as burial or cremation can take place. In many provinces in Canada, this includes death registration and a burial permit, which also allows for cremation.
To register the death in Ontario, Medical Certificate of Death and Statement of Death forms must be submitted to the local municipal clerk's office. Once that is complete, a burial permit can be issued. This paperwork can be handled with the assistance of a funeral provider or directly by the deceased person's family.
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Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have similar paperwork that must be completed beforehand. Both provinces need to have a Medical Certificate of Death completed to obtain a burial permit. A Statement of Death may also be necessary for certain services to begin. In Nova Scotia, a death registration form is also needed. These forms are the funeral director's responsibility and must be submitted to Vital Statistics.
Other paperwork, such as a Death Certificate, can also be obtained after the death has been registered.
Documentation is often filled out within the first couple of days after death. However, it can take anywhere from a couple of days to over 12 weeks to be fully registered with the provincial governments in Canada and to receive a death certificate.
After a death has been registered, further funeral planning can begin. The choice of a final disposition - burial or cremation - triggers the schedule for the funeral activities. Ideally, burial or cremation should happen within a week of death when possible.
In general, burials can take place shortly after death. However, it is common for other services such as a viewing or visitation to be held before a burial. Nonetheless, if these additional services are not selected, a burial can occur almost immediately after documentation has been completed. It may take a bit of time to find a cemetery and make arrangements, but after that, the only task left is to complete the actual burial. Burial or interment will often take under 30 minutes.
If opting for a more traditional burial funeral, the length of time will depend on how long the other services take. Another funeral process that may factor into this is embalming or refrigeration.
Positive-temperature refrigeration is usually used for services held within a couple of days, up to two weeks. With negative temperature refrigeration, the body can be preserved for several months. This may dictate the timeframe in which other services are held.
Embalming will also work for short-term preservation. The embalming process typically takes around two hours to complete. With mortuary embalming, the embalmed body is preserved for about a week or so, and viewings should occur within that time.
Cremation is a relatively short process. How quickly the ashes are returned to you after cremation depends on the type of cremation and the funeral provider's process.
Additionally, if a family opts to have services such as a viewing, visitation, or witnessing ceremony, cremation may take several days to be scheduled and completed. The funeral timeline can vary further depending on how long it takes to complete documentation. Nonetheless, after the paperwork is done, the turnaround for cremation is usually a couple of days, not more than a week.
Another factor affecting how long it takes for ashes to be returned is the type of cremation chosen.
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Flame cremation involves exposing the body to extreme heat to create ashes. The process consists of several stages that can take three to five hours. The timeline depends on the size and weight of the body and the type of casket or container used.
Aquamation - sometimes called liquid cremation - produces ashes through the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis. The body is exposed to alkali (potassium hydroxide), water, heat, and pressure, which creates a reaction that speeds up body decomposition. The length of time for this process depends on the temperature and pressure used by the equipment. However, it will often take anywhere from 6 to 16 hours to complete.
There are many services a family can choose to hold, and these can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. They can also be combined and span over several days. Below are common services and approximately how long each will take on average.
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