How to create a DIY Funeral
Update: we have just completed our fourth funeral and we've learned a lot. The following is information is vital:
The big thing is this: it is a huge kindness to prepare for your own death.
Otherwise, your family is left with loose ends that are relatively easy for you to arrange but very difficult for them. It just isn't fair. After you have been in an accident or told you have a terminal illness is the WRONG time to think about these things. Do it while you are strong and healthy.
1. Make a will and take it easy on your executor.
Use a lawyer so that, if possible, your family can avoid probate. Do you want them to use your funds for final expenses? This needs to be set up in advance with your bank. If they will be selling your house and disposing of your assets you save them time and money by thinking ahead.
2. Express your wishes.
Many times people leave instructions in a will about what they want. This is too late! The will is often not opened (perhaps not even found) until after the funeral so that's the wrong time for the people that love you to find out what you wanted to happen. Cousin Joe will have gone home with your grandfather's WWII medals even though you promised them to your sister Emma. Worse still, you've already been buried instead of cremated, or vice versa. Oops.
3. Put important papers together so your loved ones don't have to spend hours or days tearing apart the house looking for (and perhaps never finding) them. Oh yes, and tell a few people where they are! Preferably in writing.
Whether you are thinking ahead for yourself, doing something for a friend or for your family, the following general information works in Quesnel, BC, Canada. If you live elsewhere, you should check with your local authorities. Funeral practices are fairly standard these days but details differ:
1. Arrange for someone to build the casket. There may be a woodworker in the family who wants to do this. It can be elaborate or simple, according to tradition or utterly unique. Baha'is, for example, use hardwood and that requires a bit more expertise and better tools than a pine box. Sometimes, an artist will make it beautiful. Mostly a simple finish looks great. There are people who build their own and store stuff in it until the time comes!
2. Here we have only one cemetery presently in use so we choose the plot, then buy it (and the grave liner which is not yet required everywhere) at City Hall. The work crew has to be scheduled and normal hours are before 2 p.m. on weekdays. Other times can often be arranged but will cost more as overtime is paid. If the person may die on the weekend, ask about getting the grave dug beforehand.
3. Gather up identification: medical card, birth certificate, SIN card, driver's license, marriage certificate, if you have one handy. If there is no driver's license, a birth certificate, passport, BC Indentification card, residency card or citizenship papers will be useful. Utility bills showing name and current home address may come in handy.
4. After the passing, you will need to act fairly quickly. Let people help!
- if the dying takes place at home, the doctor must be notified; he may send a hospice nurse but the medical certification of death will come from him;
- the body must be washed and shrouded (for Baha'is, more on this can be found on The Baha'i Funeral page) or dressed; a duvet makes a nice liner for the casket;
- call City Hall at 992 2111 to arrange a time for the burial;
- keeping the body cool is important if several days will intervene (for example, if the death occurs on Friday at 5 p.m., the burial probably can't happen before Tuesday because of the paper work to be done on Monday); airconditioning (and/o ice) may be needed in summer and you may have to think arranging for a funeral provider to provide cold space (not all will do this); of course, if the passing occurs in hospital this is not a worry;
- you will have to decide whether viewing the body will be possible and/or encouraged, since it will not be embalmed unless you decide to have that done; Baha'is don't embalm or view so that's not a problem for us;
- family and close friends should be told of the death even before the funeral plans are finalized; there should be a list of names and phone numbers (and help with phoning) so that no one is forgotten.
5. As soon as possible after the death (Monday to Friday), take the burial plot information, various forms of identification you have collected and the medical certification of death to the office of the Government Agent at Service BC (in the Courthouse on Barlow St.). As of 2012 (and we hope for many years to come) the Government Agent is Mike Boreen and he and his wonderful staff will help you figure out the system and meet the requirements. They are truly competent and compassionate people and we love them! Call 250 992 4313 or email Michael.Boreen@gov.bc.ca -- it would be a good idea to call ahead or go in and introduce yourself.
The staff will help you fill out the registration of death form, then fax it to Victoria. A response usually takes a few hours so start the process as early in the day as you can. They will then arrange for the Burial Permit (City Hall needs this) and Transportation Permit. There are rules about transporting a body but they are reasonable. If your friend is going to die in the hospital it would be sensible to make sure the right people know you are handling the funeral arrangments yourself. They are used to dealing with a licensed funeral service provider and might not know what to do with your requests. IF THAT HAPPENS you can call Funeral Practices BC (in Victoria). The people there know all about the laws governing funerals and burials in BC and will help you. The number is 1 888 777 4393.
5. Other important stuff:
- decide on the service you want (family only? by invitation? pallbearers? graveside service? reception? photos? eulogy? a time for sharing?), then make a schedule and let people know what's happening (when and where). Ask for help and assign jobs to people you know you can trust: music, readings, flowers, food, tea and coffee, and so on. You will probably want to put a notice in the newspapers locally and, perhaps, other places. The newspapers have forms that help with this.
You also might decide to have a very private funeral or graveside service and follow up with a memorial service hours, days or even a month or a year later. Many people prefer a 'celebration of life' style funeral or memorial rather than something very sad. This can be easier after some time has passed.
So much is personal choice and, if possible, should be discussed in advance. Some people want to plan their own funerals and others don't. Some family members and friends very much want to help and others don't. Most people are willing to help if asked but some need reminders or aren't very reliable.
Preparing the body is an individual matter. Some family or friends find this a very special and healing time when they can say goodbye and offer a final service. Nurses are great to take a lead in this task. It's best (but not always easy) to talk about these things rather than guess how others feel.
In all cases, those who were closest should be given the greatest consideration and input. Involving everyone can lead to chaos while people will usually defer to the immediate family or the siblings to make needed decisions. Even if you've taken on organizing the funeral, it's best to defer to their ideas. If they want you to do something you can't or won't do that's the time to back away and let them take charge of that aspect of the job. This is often the best way to handle difficult and unreasonable requests. Usually, criticism comes from people who are just trying to help aren't very skillful at finding a way to get involved.
6. Here, at the grave site, the City crew will watch from a distance and (once everyone starts to leave), will discreetly move in to lower the casket and fill in the grave.
7. Finally, don't let ANYONE tell you that a diy funeral is impossible or even too difficult for a person who is well organized to accomplish. These folks are not telling you the truth or they just don't know the laws and regulations (even if they say they do). You DO NOT have to use a licensed funeral provider. You also don't need to be trained or certified to help with organizing a diy funeral of a family member or anyone else. If you are a professional organizer who wants to charge for your help, you will need to investigate the regulations that might apply. If you don't charge (and don't do anything very technical like embalming) you'll be fine. This is the way it is most everywhere so check it out if anyone tells you different.
In BC, the people at Funeral Practices 1 888 777 4393 know all about ALL the rules and regulations that apply here. They are most helpful.