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 afterward need to be handled. Therefore, it can be challenging to determine how long a funeral will last from beginning to end and time it takes for each funeral event.
That said, most funeral 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.
Funeral event timeline and duration summary
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.
- Funeral Documentation: 2 days to 12+ weeks
- Viewing, Visitation or Wake: 1-2 hours
- Funeral Reception, Repast or Repass: 1-2 hours
- Religious Funeral Service: 30 to 60 minutes
- Celebration of Life Event or Party: 1-3 hours
- Memorial Service: 1-2 hours
- Graveside Committal: 30+ minutes
- Funeral Procession: Variable, but 10-15 minutes usually
- Home Funeral: One day
- Burial: 30 minutes
- Flame Cremation: 3 to 5 hours
- Aquamation: 6 to 16 hours
- Ash Scattering: Under 30 minutes to several hours
- All Funeral Events (from reporting a death to final disposition): Usually within one week of death
Documentation: Two days to 12+ weeks
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.
Ontario death registration
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.
Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan death registration
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.
Burial: 30-60 minutes duration, after two or more days after death
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 be 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: 3-5 hours duration, within 3 to 14 days of death
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.
Flame cremation: 3 to 5 hours duration
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: 6 to 16 hours duration
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.
Funeral Services: 30 minutes to 2+ hours
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.
- Visitation, Viewing, or Wake. These events are formal social or religious gatherings held before a funeral where friends and family come to view or visit the deceased person's body. They will often last for several hours and may span over a couple of days. However, attendees are not expected to stay the entire time. Learn more about viewings and visitations. See also: What is a wake?
- Religious Funeral Services. The length of religious funeral services vary depending on the type of religion. However, religious services usually have a duration of 30 minutes to an hour.
- 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. The funeral portion is like a visitation, viewing, or wake and usually lasts for several hours. However, home funerals are typically held for one day due to body preservation concerns. Learn more.
- Graveside or Committal Service. This gathering is held at the cemetery or crematorium before the body is buried or interred. It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour. See more on interment here.
- Funeral Procession. This funeral rite is a procession held on the way to the final resting place after other services (e.g., visitation) have ended. It involves family and friends following a car containing the deceased person's body in a casket to their final resting place. The duration of a procession depends on the distance between the two locations, but since participants drive slowly, it usually lasts over 10 minutes.
- Memorial or Celebration of Life. A memorial or celebration of life event is a ceremony or party where family and friends get together to memorialize the life of a loved one who has died. Since these are held after the burial or cremation, there are no time constraints to these services. Therefore, they can last anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.
- Ash Scattering. A quick scattering of all the ashes all at once can take a couple of minutes. However, if family and friends are hiking to the deceased person's favourite spot or motoring out into a lake to scatter the ashes, the event can take a couple of hours. Additionally, ashes may be scattered at multiple locations. See also: What to do with ashes. Some people may choose to keep ashes in a cremation urn instead of scattering them.
- Repass or Repast or Reception. These terms refer to a meal shared by family and friends of the deceased after the funeral. The event usually lasts for a couple of hours. Learn more.
Related Funeral Resources:
- Make Cremation Arrangements
- How long after a death is a funeral held?
- Funeral Questions and Answers
- Funeral Planning Articles
- Funeral Etiquette Guide
- What is a Funeral?
- Understanding Funerals: What to Expect at the End of Life
- Cremation Questions and Answers
- Understanding Aquamation
- Guide to Urns for Human Ashes
- Grief and Support Articles
- More End of Life and Funeral Information on the Eirene Blog
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