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On this page
Detailed Menu for this Page
Summary Overview
A Short History of Post-death Care and Funerals
Why Consider an At-Home Family-based/Home Funeral Option
Basics on Post-death Care At Home and Video Series
Timeline and Post-death Physical Care
Shroud Designs
Death Journeyer's Remains

Post-Death Care and
Home Funerals


Have you ever had a friend or relative die, and wished you could have kept them at home for a day or two, to take care of the body yourself and say your farewells without pressure?   In fact, you can.   

Caring for your deceased loved one at home is simpler than it may seem, but certain tasks (including the filing of paperwork) do need to be done at specific times — see General Timeline below.   Embalming is usually not necessary, and in most places there is no legal requirement to make use of a funeral home.

Post-death care includes getting the body from the hospital or hospice (unless your Death Journeyer died at home); washing and dressing the body; cooling it with dry ice or Techni-Ice packs; making or buying a simple shroud or coffin, and decorating it as you choose; putting the body into the coffin or shroud; and then finally transporting it to a crematory or burial ground.  See Post-death Care at Home below.

Resources to support you in post-death care can vary greatly between provinces/territories.   Please check with your local Hospice or other advocacy groups to find out what resources (such as grief counselling) are available in your area.   If you have difficulties, please contact us — we may have, or be able to find, further specific information.   


Detailed menu for this page
Summary Overview (link)
    Right to care for your own dead
    Canadians can do it at home
 
A Short History of Post-death Care & Funerals (link)
    Delegating care to funeral homes
    The tradition of embalming
    The urban custom
    Denying the reality of death
    The cycle of life
    Endurance of post-death care at home
    Alternative death-care providers
 
Why Consider an At-Home
Family-based/Home Funeral Option (link)
    What is a 'home funeral'?
Is use of a funeral home necessary?
Choosing a coffin
'A la carte' services
Costs of funeral home vs. at-home care (PDF)
Saying goodbye
'Community of grieving'
Children and death
 
 
Basics on Post-death Care At Home (link)
  Post-Death Care/Home-Funeral Care videos
   
General Timeline (all sections in one PDF)
    In advance of death Within 1-2 days
Just before death  Within 3-4 days
Right after death  Within 5-10 days
Within the first few hours  
   
Post-death Physical Care (all sections in one PDF)
    Dealing with the body Moving the body 
Dealing with rigor mortis Dry ice & Techni-Ice
Supplies for post-death care  Shrouding the body
   
Shroud Designs and Sewing Patterns (link)
   
Death Journeyer's Remains (link)
 
  If choosing burial
  Kinds of burials  Requirements  Cemeteries
 
  If choosing cremation
  Kinds of cremation Timeframe Requirements
  Scattering ashes  Urns for ashes 

 

Summary Overview
of At-Home Post-Death Care and/or Home Funerals

Right to care for your own dead    Most North Americans — especially urban people — assume that the law requires that the body of a deceased must go to a commercial funeral home shortly after death.   In fact, in most cases, this is not true — families have the right to care for their own dead until the body is buried or cremated.   Again — in most cases — you also have the right to return the body to your home after your loved one has died in a hospital, hospice or residential care facility.   Post-death care is not that difficult, nor that different from pre-death care — and most of the documents needed are available to families from your local Vital Statistics office. 

It is important to note that the law allows for multiple options (such as the rights above) that are not actually spelt out in it — that is, it does not restrict  such options.    Much of what is considered 'law' in our culture is only common practice — which then leads to misconceptions of what is possible and what is not; and even funeral directors are often misinformed by their training.   For example, in B.C., the only restriction on time of burial or cremation is that a body cannot be cremated before 48 hours (to allow for investigation of cause of death, if necessary).   Also, the following statement from the city of Prince George, B.C., clarifies that: "There is no law that states a specific time-frame for burial.   The timeline is usually determined by the need to secure all permits and authorizations, notify family and friends, prepare the cemetery site, and observe religious and cultural rituals." (Death in the Family — Chapter 2; also available at under 'Forms', "A Death in Your Family")

Many people find that keeping their loved one at home and doing the post-death care themselves (or with the guidance of an alternative death-care provider) is a significant last act of loving care.   It allows for the whole of the family (including children), and their closest friends, to organize the post-death events according to what is personally meaningful to them (and/or the Death Journeyer).   Thus they can create a personalized continuum between the pre-death process, and the final burial/cremation and funeral/memorial.   It can also be considerably less expensive — especially if the family does not choose 'direct cremation' (where the body is moved directly to the crematorium after death).  

Water — remembrance flower mandala by Elli Boray

   
There are definitely situations in which delegating post-death care to a funeral home may be very appropriate:
    It may be required by, or customary to, your faith.
    If the death occurred as the result of a disfiguring accident, or if the Death Journeyer died alone and wasn't found for days afterwards (in which case the body may have begun to decompose).
    The family may wish the funeral held elsewhere — either where more of them can attend, or in order for the Death Journeyer to be buried in the family plot (in which case, embalming may be necessary).
    There may not be any suitable home (belonging to family or friends) in the area, to bring the Death Journeyer home to.
    Or it may simply be the case that it would be awkward for any family member or friend to do the post-death care, because of family dynamics or their own practical situation.

[Note 1: The body can be brought directly home from the hospital or residential care facility — if a family member or friend is willing to take on post-death care — but the transfer must be authorized by the next-of-kin, Representative, or person with Power of Attorney.]

[Note 2: It is possible that a funeral home facility — once in possession of the deceased body — will allow the body to be taken to the family home for a short period of time (2-3 days).   However, they might insist on embalming the body first.   In such a case, the family needs to consider whether the value of having the body at home outweighs the carbon-footprint of embalming.]

[Note 3: Funeral Homes who use more ecologically-friendly products are listed on the Green Burial Council site under Approved Funeral Providers.    The degree of 'greenness' is denoted by the number of green leaves beside a listing — graduating from pale to darker green, with the darker leaves given to those who offer the most ecologically-friendly options.]

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Canadians can do it at home     It is important that Canadians know that at-home family-based post-death care is a realistic, accessible, and legal option — if it is their wish.

    Especially with the advent of extensive hospice/palliative care, more people can die at home with all the 'comfort care' that the Death Journeyer requires.   Where such care is available, the palliative-care teams can — within the person's own home — supply most of the nursing/caregiving services and basic medical equipment that would otherwise be provided in a hospital or hospice.
    If the Death Journeyer dies in a hospital, hospice, or residential care facility, you have the right to take the body home after death — although you may need a Permit for Burial or Cremation, and possibly a Permit to Transport the Body, with you.   [Note: The Permit to Transport the Body may also be known by other names, such as Private Transfer Permit or Body Transport Permit.    It may not be required in your province to date, we are only aware of such permits being required in B.C. and Ontario.    See the CINDEA page on Resources in Canada Post-death, section Post-death care information]
    Washing/dressing the body is usually fairly simple (instructions are given in the Post-death Physical Care (PDF) and videos below).   There are, in fact, many things done when the Death Journeyer is still alive (inserting IVs, changing bandages, caring for dry mouth) that may not need to be done afterwards.
    Rigor mortis usually takes several hours to set in, and relaxes again within about 36-72 hours.
    A dead body can be kept at home for 3-4 days, without significant deterioration, with the use of fans and dry ice or Techni-Ice packs (order from Techni-Ice Canada).
    All documents and permits are available to families.   [Note: you may need to persuade the Vital Statistics office to give them to you; but as post-death care/home funerals become more common, that should become easier.   See Resources in Canada Post-death, section Post-death care information for goverment and other links for access to these documents.]
    As long as a coffin meets some general standards, you can make it yourself — or buy a standard cardboard/pressboard one and decorate it according to your own wishes.   There are coffin-building companies who are beginning to offer ecologically-conscious coffins — made from wicker, recycled wood or cardboard, etc.   You also do have the right to buy a coffin from a business other than a funeral home (for some options, and blueprints to make your own, see Eco-Friendly Coffins, Shrouds, and Urn or CINDEA 's Shroud patterns).   Some cemeteries also accept simple shrouds (i.e. without a coffin at all) — and for some religions, shroud-burial is, in fact, a requirement.


CINDEA has attempted to provide the necessary information on how to deal with all of the elements of at-home post-death care — on this page, and on its 'Resources in Canada' pages.

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A Short History of Post-Death Care and Funerals

Delegating post-death care to funeral homes     In North America, it has become customary for professional funeral directors to handle all care of the body after death, including the documentation and funeral ceremonies — so much so that most people believe it to be required by law.   In fact, in most cases, it is not required — the primary exceptions being when

    the body needs to be transported a long distance, (and therefore may need to be embalmed),
    non-organic devices (pacemaker, etc.) may need to be removed before burial or cremation, or
    there is a question as to the cause of death (in which case the body needs to be investigated by a coroner).
Even in these cases — depending on the specific circumstances — you have not need to use a funeral home.   For example, if the body is being transported immediately and is kept cool, it may not need to be embalmed to be taken to another city or province.    Theoretically, there is no reason why an autospied body can't be brought home after the coroner has closed the body.   If your loved one's death is likely to incur any of these circumstances, it is wise to check out the rules of your municipality or province in advance: and if you are having difficulty getting clear answers or permission, please feel free to contact us — and we will do as much as we can to help you figure out how to have your loved one's wishes granted.

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The tradition of embalming     Embalming has become so popular that many people believe it also to be required by law — which it is not, except perhaps when the body needs to be transported long distances.   [Note: in some funeral homes, bodies are embalmed to "allow" for formal viewing/visitation even though a cremation will happen soon after the death.   However, informal visitation with no embalming can often be arranged.   Embalming may be required, if you choose to take the body home after the funeral home has taken possession of it.]   Since embalming can only be done by licensed professionals in certified facilities, it became common to assume that a deceased body had to be moved to a funeral home soon after death, in order for it to be embalmed.   It is notable, however, that Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bahá'í, and other traditions forbid embalming — and often require that the body be buried within 24 hours, which would preclude embalming in any case.   In many countries, the body may be embalmed or not, but is always returned to the family home — if the Death Journeyer died in a hospital or residential care facility — for the final ceremonies.

Earth — remembrance flower mandala by Elli Boray

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The urban custom     Moving the body to a funeral home shortly after death, and having it remain there until burial or cremation, is primarily an urban custom — although it was eventually picked up by small towns.   Over time, the funeral home's responsibilities evolved to include:

    semi-automatic embalming (unless prohibited by one's faith tradition)
    the washing and dressing of the body (usually in the Death Journeyer's favourite or best clothes)
    the application of make-up (on both women and men) to make the Death Journeyer appear 'alive, and only sleeping'
the use of more and more elaborate coffins as a status symbol — often encouraged by the funeral home as 'truly honouring one's dead loved one'
open- or closed-coffin visitation (although closed-coffin visitation is becoming much more common)
a funeral ceremony (often in the funeral home's chapel — or in one's church, though usually without the body being present) and/or a graveside service
and possibly a later memorial (usually not held in the funeral home)
the funeral home dealing with all of the paperwork — copies of the Death Certificates, etc.

All of these elements became a status symbol — as family members were encouraged (and sometimes even intimidated) to choose the more elaborate services, ornate coffins, prominent gravesites, and ornamental tombstones (even if cremated, the ashes may be buried under a tombstone) — designed to 'prove that they were truly honouring their loved one'.   As a result, even fairly modest funeral and burial/cremation services can easily cost as much as $8,000 or more (especially if buried), once all of the services are tallied.

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Denying the reality of death     Our society has developed a set of conventional practices intended to remove death from our consciousness.   When a dead body is moved to a funeral home, it disappears — although we know it isn't true, it can be easier to (unconsciously) believe that our loved one has simply gone away on a long trip.   If we were not able to be present at the death or shortly afterwards to say our final 'goodbyes', funeral homes may charge $100-$200 for a single-person visitation/viewing.   If we do see the body again (at the visitation or open-coffin funeral), it has been made-up to look like our loved one is alive and only sleeping.   All of this is actually meant to encourage us to believe that the death is not entirely real — that our loved one's last breath was not final.

We may have contributed our own personal eulogies at the funeral; but customarily, the main rite is spoken by the clergy or funeral director — who may have never known the person that we treasure so deeply, nor witnessed any of their moments that are weaving through our minds as we recognize that these will never be shared again.   Our loved one lies in a non-customized coffin — not made by our hands, nor placed there by us.   We may watch the coffin being lowered into the grave — but not cover it with shovels full of sweat and tears, knowing that this act is the final 'goodbye'; or watch it being rolled into the cremation furnace, but not push the button that ignites the flames that consume it so finally.

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Death is no longer part of the cycle of life     When we delegate post-death care to a commercial funeral home, we separate ourselves from the reality of the death.   As a result, we isolate ourselves from the concept of death being a sad, but necessary, part of the cycle of life.   We perpetuate the cultural myth that we (if not other people) will live forever; and in doing so, fail to face our own mortality or prepare for our own dying/death.   Also — as so many near-death survivors have affirmed — when we face death, it significantly changes the value we put on our daily lives.

Moreover, our grieving can become a private and lonely affair — uncomfortable to share with even our closest family and friends, and hard to commemorate with them in the years to come.   Friends who are not close relatives may be left wondering whether it will be acceptable to the family to mention the death on its anniversary — even knowing that that acknowledgement might be intensely meaningful to the family — for fear of inadvertently offending, if the reference to the death is unwanted.   And for the close family themselves, if they did not call their friends together to share grief at the time the death occurred, they may feel that they have no right to do so on following anniversaries either.    The very act of caring for body ourselves creates a community of grieving   When you're caring for someone at home you and your family need support also....   It's easy to imagine that you're the only one with such your worries, as we talk so little about death and dying in our society.   Be assured though that others in your situation have very similar concerns.   It's just that people don't always have the courage to talk about them.   [From Virtual Hospice article Dying at Home — My father would like to die at home.   What can we expect? ]

In effect, our culture (albeit somewhat inadvertently, since the intention is actually to protect us) tends towards encouraging us to continue on as if the death never happened — and although not really intending to, as if our loved one never existed (except, perhaps, for a tombstone acknowledging where their body was buried).   For most people, the worst fear about their eventual death is not the pain and suffering involved in dying (especially now that modern medical technology can alleviate most of that), but the fact that we will no longer exist — even in the memories of our dearest friends.

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Endurance of post-death care at home     However — especially in some rural areas, or in intentional communities — the tradition of the family caring for the deceased has continued into the present day.   Particularly in the 1990s, even urban families began questioning our cultural funeral customs for a number of reasons: 
 

 

Dying at home helps not just the dying patient, but society as a whole...more free hospital beds for patients who can benefit from hospital services.   Additionally, "aggressive, expensive, painful and futile" care in hospital is often avoided when patients are able to die at home.   Donna Wilson, professor of nursing at the University of Alberta — from the CBC News project A Good Death, a co-production with students from the Graduate Program in Journalism at Western.


About 25 percent of all health-care costs are devoted to caring for patients in their last year of life....  Almost 70 percent of people die in the hospital, including some in high-tech intensive-care beds, which cost about $1-million a year to operate.   Many patients fail to complete advance directives or communicate preferences.... they could be subject to costly, invasive treatments they did not actually want.    Lisa Priest November 29,2011 How much does dying cost Canadians? [from the Globe and Mail  'end of life' series]

    Items and services that weren't necessarily appropriate (or that didn't fit the values of the Death Journeyer or their family) added to the overall cost. 
 
Given the demographics of the baby-boomer generation and their increasing longevity, families became concerned that personal and health-care funds might not be available to their children or grandchildren — funds used for
 
    a series of what are likely to be unnecessary treatments, and artificially maintaining lives beyond any 'quality of life' (it is estimated that a person uses twice as many health-care dollars in their last year of life, as in the whole of their life beforehand) — and
 
    customary, but unnecessary, post-death services. [Memorial societies were created to reduce these costs, and support families to only choose what they felt was appropriate or necessary from a funeral home.]
 
Although funeral directors are generally caring, compassionate individuals, they have limits imposed on them as to what they can offer, in terms of personalized choices — by law, customary practice, or their professional association's standards.
 
    There are increasing ecological concerns about both conventional burial practices (concrete, wood, or metal grave liners; non-biodegradable substances used in coffins; etc.) or cremation (which has a significant 'carbon footprint' — estimated to be 92 cubic metres of natural gas, or anywhere from 15 to 29 kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is the equivalent of the energy demands of an average Canadian home for nearly two weeks).
 
   

Urban people began to recognize that rural families often did their own post-death care, or heard about family/friends who did so out of an intuitive sense of its 'rightness' for them. 
 

    Perhaps most importantly, many of us wished to continue direct/hands-on care after the death, and to personalize the whole of the post-death process — in keeping with our own sense of honouring the Death Journeyer.

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Alternative Death-care providers     As a result, some individuals — with direct experience of, and/or a particular concern for, an at-home/family-based post-death process — began offering their services publicly, training others to support families in the same way (Final Passages in the U.S. being amongst the first to do so), and even publicizing the necessary information on post-death care on the web (see our Resources in Canada — Post-Death pagePost-death care information, Resources ElsewherePost-Death Care information, and our own PDFs on Basics on Post-death Care At Home below).   Those who focus on post-death care support are most often called Home Funeral Guides — although Death Midwives and Thanadoulas also include this support in the whole pan-death continuum of their practice, and some Death Doulas may offer post-death care as well.

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Why Consider an At-home Family-based (Home Funeral) Option

What is a 'Home Funeral'?    By dictionary definition, a funeral is a ceremony, or group of ceremonies, held in connection with the burial or cremation of a dead person.   It doesn't include the other elements of care or documentation that funeral homes provide (washing/dressing the body, embalming, make-up added to the face, Death Certificates, etc.).

The new term 'home funeral' may or may not incorporate a funeral ceremony specifically at home (and usually doesn't, if a significant number of people would be attending); but generally does include support and guidance for the family to complete the post-death care themselves, including

    washing and dressing the body
    arranging any death vigils/wakes/lying-in/etc. wished for by the Death Journeyer or the family
    preparing the coffin (building and/or decorating it)
filling out and filing required documents (including body-transport permits)
arranging the funeral and/or memorial service (which might be held elsewhere), and the burial or cremation
making the arrangements for burial or cremation directly with the cemetery or crematorium

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Is use of a funeral home necessary?     In our culture, dealing with a dead body is considered both taboo and dangerous to the health of the caretakers (although this is only true with highly infectious diseases — in which case, it is unlikely that the deceased would have died at home).   Therefore, it has been assumed that only specially trained professionals are capable of handling a dead body.   Most people worry that their final days will be filled with pain and agitation.   Usually the opposite is true.   In the days and hours before people die, they typically spend most of their time asleep or resting.   It's rare for pain to get worse or for distressing symptoms to appear.   Most often, the various body systems just gradually and quietly shut down.   [From Virtual Hospice article Dying at Home — My father would like to die at home.   What can we expect?]

In fact, it wasn't until the early 20th century (and after embalming was popularized in WWI, for soldiers being returned home for burial) that dead bodies were customarily moved into funeral homes shortly after death.    Until then (and for tens of thousands of years of our species' history beforehand), most post-death care was done at home — perhaps with the assistance of a local doctor or midwife; but in any case, with the help of those in one's community who had experience dealing with dead bodies.

Practically, caring for a dead body itself is not that different from caring for the same person while they were dying — and in fact, often much simpler (see Basics on Post-death Care At Home PDF below).   Especially if the Death Journeyer had dementia, or another condition that prevented them from doing any of their own care, it is likely that the family caregiver has been doing equally extensive and intimate care for them (e.g. cleaning private parts) to what is required by post-death care.

Given all of the above, it is quite possible for family members, or a group of friends, to do all of the post-death care — whether the Death Journeyer has died at home, or in a hospital or residential care facility — with or without the support of an alternate death-care provider.   Today her greatest wish is that "dying might become a community event again.... it would be good to see it become a natural part of daily life."   [From "The silence of the dying" Sunday Times  (PDF article), on Sara Douglass nurse and fantasy-writer — on dying from ovarian cancer.]

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Choosing a coffin     Most funeral homes carry only a limited number of less ornate coffins, and encourage the family to choose from amongst their wider array of more elaborate ones.   By law, you do not have to choose any of them, and can order your own from another business.   Most funeral homes carry cardboard coffins (generally used for cremation) — and even though you are unlikely to see them in the showroom, you have a right to buy one and decorate it according to your wishes.   Some cemeteries may refuse to bury cardboard coffins; but with the growing trend of green burials, they may be open to doing so simply to build some PR as 'ecologically conscious'.

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'A la carte' Services     Some funeral homes may be willing to provide one or two specific services (rather than their usual full range of care) if you choose to do most of the post-death care at home.   Of course, that is not what their business is set up for.   However, particularly those focusing on simpler or less expensive services may recognize that — as at-home post-death care becomes more popular — they can provide an important support service.   For example, if the Death Journeyer has a pacemaker, the funeral home may be willing to remove it before burial/cremation.   In all likelihood, they would wash and re-dress the body as part of that procedure, but then might be willing to release the body (with proper documents) to be taken home for the 'lying in honour'/visitation before burial or cremation.   They might also be willing to provide transportation services, if you don't have a vehicle available that is appropriate for transporting a body.

It would be wise to contact the funeral homes in your area, well in advance of the death, to find out which ones might provide 'a la carte' services, in order to avoid potentially uncomfortable negotiations at the time of deepest grief.   If you have an alternate death-care provider locally available, they may be able to provide information on which funeral homes are most likely to offer 'a la carte' services.

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Comparative costs of funeral home versus at-home post-death care [Downloadable PDF]

Note: the above table only uses two particular funeral homes' prices — two of the less expensive ones in B.C.   Some of the more expensive funeral homes will charge higher fees for most of these items — possibly more than double the prices given on the left side of this comparison.    It is only intended to give you a very general idea of the parallel cost of the most inexpensive funeral home usage, as compared to 'Post-death Care by family at home'.   You will need to compare prices with funeral homes in your own area.   The 'Post-death Care by family at home' column does not include any fees or donations to a private alternate death-care Provider, and neither column includes the costs of the actual burial or cremation (which will be variable depending on where you live; and what kind of coffin and burial plot you choose, if choosing burial) or required taxes.

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Saying goodbye    Many people find — despite some initial concerns about the taboo against handling a dead body — that continuing to care for their loved one after death is a critical part of accepting the death, alleviating the shock/numbness (common even if the death is expected), and beginning to release the grief.

Hospitals and residential care homes — now recognizing this — may offer several hours for the family to 'say their goodbyes' before moving the body: and even some funeral homes may recommend not calling them until hours after the death.   However, several hours may not be long enough — and simply 'saying goodbye' may not have the same effect as the testament of love that one gives when actually caring for the body after death.   

Many find doing post-death care for their loved one to be very comforting; and it is traditionally considered to be one of the final acts of respect to the Death Journeyer.   

 

AfterWards
Take her not from me.
Let it be this hand
Who wipes the folds of her flesh

A final encore to fading days.
With each tender stroke,
May her seasoned soul unwind its threads
from this mortal coil.
With each grieving caress,
May her enduring love weave more tightly
into the whole of my being.

Take her not from me,
Until the last essence of who she was is truly gone,
And I have captured only what she left for me —
In this hand and heart.


Pashta MaryMoon

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Community of Grieving    In Western culture, grief can be very isolating.   Especially over the past century, we have lost many of the traditions that our ancestors brought from other cultures, which provided ways of grieving within a community and/or ethic setting.   When we lose a loved one, we often feel that we are losing a significant part of ourselves — and truly, our personal world  has changed.   This can end up creating unfathomable wells of grief — that we ourselves don't entirely understand, and may be afraid of delving into.    We tend to assume that no one else would understand the depth — or kind — of grieving we are dealing with, leaving us feeling very isolated in our bereavement.    And out of empathy, we may be worried about setting off a 'grieving episode' in another mourner, by speaking about our own feelings — so we don't; and then inadvertently contribute to their further isolation.

The actual act of doing the post-death care tends to evoke tears, and stories, and even humour — that cannot be held back; and so become shared, while doing a particular task together.   In the process, post-death care — done at home —  can also create a 'community of grieving' that may last for years to come.    Families and friends have the opportunity to become comfortable with sharing whatever element of their grief is coming to the surface at the time — creating a 'safe space' to do so again later, one-to-one.    They are also more likely to visit the grave, or where the ashes are spread, together later; or plan other kinds of 'anniversary of the death' events — continuing the 'community of grieving' in whatever way, and for as long as, is needed.

  ... our grief-stricken loved ones (are left) feeling isolated, judged, misunderstood, and alone. And though grief is deep and personal, it is not meant to be experienced all alone.   In fact, families and friends who are able to share their grief find they have gained a depth to their relationship that would never otherwise have been found. (The Do's & Don'ts of Helping Others Through Grief, April 14, 2012 by Dr. Christina Hibbert )

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Children and Death    Our culture teaches us to protect children from the reality of death.  Children (particularly younger ones) live in a world of immediacy, action, and direct consequences — not abstract theory.   The combination of their infinite imagination and lack of habituation to 'basic life rules' can result in children taking on responsibility for the death — as if something they did caused it (not obeying a parent, saying something untoward to their friend, etc.), or at least that there was something that they could/should have done to avoid it.   They rarely reveal this sense of responsibility until much later in life (and often initially, only to a counsellor) — after they have carried the guilt or shame of it through all of their developing years.

In fact, children are more likely to understand death as a normal process — and NOT take responsibility for it — if they are allowed to be directly involved as much as possible with the whole of the pan-death process.   This would include direct contact with the Death Journeyer before death and during the death vigil; and then being involved (in appropriate ways for their age) in the post-death care of the body, decorating the coffin, and participating in the actual burial and the funeral or memorial services.

  ... even very young children can sense when something is wrong within the family....  Children who are shielded from the truth are likely to worry, rely on overheard bits of conversation, or make up something in order to make sense of the unusual behaviours they’re observing....  Many experts who work with children and youth believe that young people are better able to cope with situations if they know what is happening....   No matter how difficult a situation seems, children and youth are remarkably able to cope and integrate illness and death into their lives.... Often families do not want children to be around someone who is dying.   However, this avoidance may lead to more questions and possibly some fears developing about illness and the end of life.   Making death a natural part of life for children and youth will help them integrate this experience into their lives.
[From Canadian Virtual Hospice article "Talking with Children and Youth about Serious Illness" ]

As much as this may seem a very somber activity for a child, they can take delight in the simplest offerings to the Death Journeyer (before and after death): and this allows them to remember the death with joy, as well as sorrow.   This participation then also makes it easier for them to take part in later commemorations (one grandmother has her grandchildren make flower wreaths at the anniversary of their grandpa's death), and thus they can remember the Death Journeyer with a sense of joyfulness and peace.

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Basics on Post-death Care At Home


The many details of post-death care may seem overwhelming, but it is simpler than it appears.   CINDEA has produced a series of short videos, shown below, that demonstrate the primary steps of what needs to be done (because "a picture is worth a thousand words").   The written instructions in the PDFs "Post-Death Physical Care" and "General Timeline" (below the videos) describe the process in more detail.

Most Death Journeyers have a wider support network than you may at first be aware of (friends, faith communities, political/social-issue groups, online communities, hobby/interest groups, etc.) — and those people may appreciate an opportunity to help.   There may also be a Death Midwife or other alternative professional available in your area to guide you through the post-death care.   See our Resources—Post-Death page under Death Midwives, Home Funeral Guides, and Funeral Celebrants, or contact us with any questions you may have.   

Legal requirements are slightly different in each province/territory.   The required documents are usually only issued to the next-of-kin, designated Representative or Power of Attorney, or funeral homes — however, an alternative death-care provider may also have copies.   CINDEA provides links to sites where the family can access most of those documents themselves, for each province and territory — see our legal information section.   Your local hospice society may be able to provide further information, or contact us if you need more help (CINDEA may be able to provide some local information or ideas on how to find it).

You may want to do some but not all of the post-death care yourself.   There might be a funeral director in your area who is willing to perform specific tasks (such as transportation or dealing with the paperwork), instead of their full package of services.   However, it is unwise to just assume that this will be possible — phone around to different funeral homes to check beforehand.

Whatever your choices are, please take care of yourself, and commit to only as much of the post-death care as you feel able and willing to do.

 

CINDEA 's "Post-death Care At Home" video series

[Click here for the page containing all the videos below (plus some general information), or click on each thumbnail below for a specific video.]

Part 1:
Moving the body
Part 2:
Washing the hair,
face, and mouth
Part 3:
Washing the body
Part 4:
Dressing the body
Closing the eyes
and mouth
Part 5:
Moving the body
into casket, or
Shrouding the body

General Timeline for
Post-death Care & Arrangements (PDF)
Post-death
Physical Care (PDF)
Click here to download the PDF,
which includes all of the following sections:
Click here to download the PDF,
which includes all of the following sections:
    Well in Advance of the death
    Just before death
Within the first few hours
Within the first day or two
Within 3-4 days (just before the burial/cremation)
Within the next week to 10 days
    Dealing with the body
    Dealing with rigor mortis 
Supplies for post-death care
Moving the body
Using dry ice and gel packs
Shrouding the body 

 

The National Home Funeral Alliance keeps an updated list of written and visual/video materials.   We also recommend Donna Belk on home funerals and How to have a home funeral.

Note: For direct support from an alternative death-care provider in your local area (Death Midwife, Death Doula or Thanadoula, Home Funeral Guide and/or Funeral Celebrant), please visit our Resources in Canada Post-death Page or contact us for further suggestions.

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Mock shrouding with queen-sized bedsheet and four ties

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Shroud Designs and Sewing Patterns

CINDEA has provided 6 different designs for shrouds, with graphic and written instructions.     These shroud designs have been approved for use at the Royal Oak Burial Park Woodlands green burial site (Victoria, BC, Canada).

It is possible that a traditional (non-green) burial ground would accept a shrouded body instead of a coffin; and allow it to be buried without a cement liner, because the ground may not collapse over it.   We recommend that you
talk to your local cemetery about the use of shrouds, especially if there is no green-burial ground available in your area.


               

Click here to access all 6 of the downloadable patterns, in PDF formats.

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Death Journeyer's Remains
Note: further information is available our Resources in Canada — Post-death page
and on our Greening Death page (not completed yet).

If choosing burial
    Kinds of burials
Check if any of your local cemeteries offer green burials or hybrid burials (cement liner on top, but not beneath — as is traditional for Jewish and Muslim burials).   Also check what conditions they require for the body and coffin (for example, a fully-green burial may not allow for any metal on the body or in the coffin — either shrouds or coffins may be acceptable, but both must be made from a biodegradable material).   You can check the Green Burial Council site for specific areas in Canada where green burials are available.
Burial at sea is still possible, and would be considered 'green' — but because of strict regulations and the expense, it is now virtually prohibitive. [Note: the only information we have found on burials at sea — where the whole body is given to the sea, instead of scattering ashes — is at Burial At Sea.   Thanks to Carnell's Funeral Home for posting this information.]
 
    Requirements
  You will need to obtain a Permit for Burial or Cremation (received from Vital Statistics, and issued for free after both the Medical Certificate of Death and the Registration of Death are filed). [see CINDEA's Post-death care information for access to documents for your province/territory.]
  If you are transporting the body yourself, apply to your local provincial/territorial Consumer Protection office to see if you require a Permit to Transport the Body (these may be available on-line).   There should be information accompanying the permit to clarify what the requirements are for transporting the body — including what kinds of coffins can be used.
  Prior to burial (especially a green one), there may be a requirement to remove any pacemaker, prosthesis or other mechanical or radioactive device (check with your chosen cemetery in advance).   In the case of a pacemaker (or any other internal artificial items), you may need to have the body taken to a funeral home to remove the device, unless that has been done at the hospital (if the Death Journeyer died there).   It may be difficult to get the funeral home to allow you to then take the body home — if you have problems with this, please feel free to contact us for suggestions on how to get official support.
   
Cemetery considerations
  Green-burial sites, and perhaps some traditional cemeteries, allow for shrouds or cardboard or pressboard coffins that can be painted by the family/friends with biodegradable paints (check your local art stores for which brand would be best).
  Some cemeteries may allow the family/friends to fill the grave — but if you choose this option, make sure that enough soil has been left by the graveside to do so.    Some may also allow the family/friends to lower the body into the grave — but paid employees will likely need to be present for safety's sake.   You will need to negotiate with the cemetery as to how they will supervise the lowering of the coffin — in order for them to do so adequately, without interfering with the burial ceremony.
  Find out if a representative of the cemetery needs to be involved in the graveside ceremony, and negotiate with them re how involved they are.

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If choosing cremation
    Kinds of cremation
Regular cremation (by intense fire) is usually available and inexpensive.
Open-air cremations are traditional for some ethnic groups (such as Hindus), but are rarely available in urban areas or even elsewhere in North America.   There is a movement to re-introduce them in Canada, but we are not aware of any available at the present time.
Resomation or Aquafication (bio-cremation — by chemical dissolving) has 20 times less carbon-footprint than regular cremation. The first bio-cremation system is expected to be available in Toronto — check Transition Science Inc. for more updates. [Note: Promession (freeze-dying) is also being developed, but not available in Canada to our knowledge at this time.]
 
    Timeframe
  In many provinces/territories, a body cannot usually be cremated — by law — until 24-48 hours after the death; which allows for a possible examination by the coroner, etc., if deemed necessary after the death.
   
Requirements
  You will need to obtain a Permit for Burial or Cremation (received from Vital Statistics, for free, after both the Medical Certificate of Death and the Registration of Death have been filed).   [see CINDEA's Post-death care information for access to documents for your province/territory.]
  If you are transporting the body yourself to the crematorium, apply to your local provincial/territorial Consumer Protection office to see if you require a Permit to Transport the Body (these may be available on-line).   There should be information accompanying the permit to clarify what the requirements are for transporting the body — including what kinds of coffins can be used.
  Prior to cremation, any pacemaker, prosthesis or other mechanical or radioactive device must be removed, because they will explode in the cremation chamber.   In the case of a pacemaker (or any other internal artificial items), you may need to have the body taken to a funeral home to remove the device, unless that has been done at the hospital (if the Death Journeyer died there).   It may be difficult to get the funeral home to allow you to then take the body home — if you have problems with this, please feel free to contact us for suggestions on how to get official support.
   
Other considerations
  It may be possible to rent a regular coffin for visitation purposes, but the body will generally be in a cardboard coffin when cremated.   If you choose only the cardboard coffin, it can be painted (with biodegradable paints) by family/friends.
  Crematoriums often have chapels where a service can be held at the time of the cremation — sometimes available free of charge.
  Some crematoriums may allow a family member to push the button that starts the cremation fire, and/or otherwise witness the cremation — but you will need to specifically ask if this is possible.    There may be an added charge for witnessing the cremation and/or pushing the button, although not necessarily.
   
Scattering of ashes
  There are generally no laws prohibiting the scattering of ashes by land, sea, or air — but you should check the municipal by-laws.
  There may be specific conditions for scattering in public parks, or rules that ashes can only be buried there — which then requires a permit.
  You may need a special permit to scatter them at sea (at least within the national boundary).
  Ashes should never be scattered on private property without permission (including commercial private property — golf courses, etc.).
  Ashes are usually scattered in a place significant to the Death Journeyer or family; but it is wise to remember that the use of that land may change in the future (for example, be dug up to build housing, etc.).
   
Urns for ashes
  Generally, 1 pound body weight equals 1 cubic inch ash
  Unless special urns are arranged in advance, the ashes will come to you in one or two cardboard boxes or plastic bags/tubs (depending on the size of the Death Journeyer).   You should always check to make sure that the box or bag is labeled with the Death Journeyer's name, or some other coding that ensures that you have the right person's ashes.
  Urns can be made of almost any substance.   Your local funeral homes and crematoriums are likely to have a wide variety.   You may wish to have an artisan friend make one (or more) for you.   If you plan to bury the ashes in a green-burial ground or a garden, the urn will need to be biodegradable.   [Note: if you can't find a biodegradable urn locally, see the Green Burial Council's page 'Finding a Provider' — at the bottom under 'Approved Products', check the pull-down menu for 'urns'.]
  If you choose to bury the urn in a specific piece of land, make sure that you have permission to do so.
  Your family members may choose to divide the ashes amongst them, as they may wish to either each retain part of the ashes, or scatter them in different places.   Usually, arrangements can be made with the crematorium to have the ashes divided into several containers (either cardboard boxes, or pre-purchased urns or ones that you provide yourself).   Although holding the ashes for a while can be comforting, many families find that it then becomes awkward to decide what to do with them for the long term, and when to make that decision.   However, if the family wants to scatter or bury them together, you might want to pre-choose a date — possibly the first anniversary of the death — to jointly make a decision as to the final disposition of the ashes.

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