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A Holy Death

None of us know when we are going to die. We don’t know where our death will occur, whether we will die alone or in the presence of our family, will it be sudden or prolonged, peaceful or painful, tragic or expected. As each of us grows older we begin to think about how we would prefer to die and in some circumstances are able to dictate how it should happen. For example, by completing a Health Care Directive or Living Will you can legally instruct your family and caregivers “not to resuscitate” or keep you alive using life support equipment.

How we die will depend on many factors. A homily given at a recent funeral service touched on the subject. In a Christian funeral service a homily or sermon follows the reading of the gospel and selected scripture readings. Usually delivered by the celebrant presiding over the service, it is often a skillfully crafted oratory that intertwines the spiritual lessons contained in the gospel and scripture readings with some of the personal qualities and attributes of the deceased. It may also address Christian beliefs about death and dying.

In describing the deceased’s final few days of life, the celebrant indicated that he felt she had experienced a “holy death”. Although she faithfully served her church both as a volunteer and parishioner, the reference was not spiritual in nature, rather it was defined by the following events that occurred prior to her passing.

  • She was advised that her death was imminent
  • She distributed her precious possessions
  • She shared her final wishes
  • She said her final goodbyes
  • She died in the presence of her family
  • She died at home

By considering each event more closely we will get a better understanding of what the celebrant meant by dying a “holy death”.

Imminent Death

When a person is terminally ill or in failing health, doctors are now able to provide some idea of how much longer he or she is expected to live. Such was the case with the decedent, who was advised by her doctor that her death was imminent. Having some idea when you are going to die, even if it is a few weeks before it happens, can be a wonderful gift if used wisely.

Precious Possessions

The importance of preparing a Will or binding document to assist in carrying out one’s final wishes and settling one’s affairs cannot be overstated. A Will is the legal document that will look after the major issues associated with one’s estate. In many cases, however, a Will fails to provide specific instructions regarding the disposition of one’s personal items or memorabilia that do not necessarily possess great financial value have significant financial or emotional value. Prior to her death, the decedent was able to distribute all her precious possessions to her children and grandchildren. In doing so, she was also able to explain the reason why each of the recipients were given a particular article and why it had special meaning for her and her family.

Final Wishes

As the decedent was predeceased by her husband, her family had a good idea about her final wishes. An urn containing her cremated remains would be interred next to her husband’s in their family plot. But she was also able to share with her family more intimate details about her funeral service that are often overlooked, in particular, her favourite hymns which formed an integral part of her service of thanksgiving and celebration.

Saying Goodbye

The massive out-migration of our population over the last two decades combined with people’s propensity to travel on business or for pleasure has had a profound affect on many families in this province. So much so, it is not uncommon for immediate family members not to be present during the death of a special loved one, such as a parent, sibling, close relative or friend. To die in the presence of our immediate family or special friends can be very comforting. At the time of her death, the decedent was surrounded by her family and was able to say her final goodbyes.

To Die At Home

Unless one’s death is sudden or unexpected, for example, as a result of a tragic accident or catastrophic medical condition, we do have some control over where we choose to die. Again one’s deteriorating health will be the determining factor. For those who are experiencing severe pain and require high dosages of medication or whose life is being maintained by elaborate medical equipment, a palliative care unit or an intensive or critical care unit in a hospital is usually where their death will occur. For many of us, however, to die in the comfort and familiar surroundings of our own home and in our own bed would be the most desired location. For the decedent, her death occurred at home.


Dying in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by those who love and care for you, while knowing your affairs are in order and your final wishes will be followed, is a death with dignity and compassion. Yes, a “holy death”.


This article details the types, origins of, and reasons for autopsies.

For a copy of the full article, please contact us.

Burial Vaults and Grave Liners

A casket is generally considered the final resting place of a loved one. However, caskets alone are not designed to support the weight of the surrounding soil. Therefore, in most areas, cemeteries require caskets to be enclosed within a burial vault or grave liner. Although the terms “vault” and “liner” are interchangeable, there are vast differences in these two products. Furthermore, other terms, such as containers and receptacles are also used to describe these products.

Burial Vaults

A burial vault is a sealed outer container into which as casket is placed prior to its underground interment or burial in a cemetery. Its use will provide added protection for both the casket and deceased, particularly where there are poor soil conditions and high ground water levels. It will also support the weight of the earth and heavy equipment that may pass over the grave, thus substantially reducing problems at the graveside and, in turn, cemetery costs.

There are many types of vaults available. Some are elaborately designed with high quality structural concrete cores and reinforced interiors and exteriors made of various materials such as high-impact plastics, stainless steel, bronze and copper. The concrete vault covers may also be encased in bronze and copper and include other features such as special emblems, accent bars and name plates.

These elaborate, handcrafted concrete vaults are not readily available in the province. Manufactured in the United States, and weighing over 2,300 pounds, the cost to transport them alone makes it uneconomical for funeral homes to include them in their inventory of products.

There are, however, at least three types of vaults currently available in the province. They are steel, concrete and plastic. With the exception of the concrete vault, which is manufactured in Conception Bay South, the other two are relatively easy to transport and set up and therefore, can be used anywhere in the province. Because of its size and weight, the use of the concrete vault is generally restricted to the Eastern Region.

Vault Construction

As mentioned, due to the difficulties associated with the transportation of the heavier concrete vaults, we are fortunate to have a Newfoundland company with the expertise to manufacture and deliver them to local cemeteries at a reasonable cost.

Their precast vault was designed using a standard industry mould and made out of high-density precast concrete poured over a heavy gauge reinforcing mesh basket. The inner dimensions of the rectangular concrete base are 30 inches wide x 30 inches high x 86 inches long, and will house all regular-sized caskets. The concrete sides and bottom of the base are two inches thick and the cover is three inches. A rubberized membrane is placed between the base and cover to ensure the vault is water-resistant once the cover is put on.

Prior to the availability of the precast concrete vaults, steel vaults were and still are used in local cemeteries. Their construction is quite different from that of the concrete vault. The primary difference being the manner in which the casket is placed inside the vault. In the case of the steel vault, the casket is slid inside through the end of the unit. A hinged door is then closed and secured tightly by turning a single bolt. Again, a rubberized membrane separates the steel door from the sides and once the bolt is fully turned, the vault is hermetically sealed. All other joints are welded. The exterior of the vault is gold in colour.

The lightest of the three vaults is the plastic unit. Dark in color and weighing approximately 90 pounds, it is fabricated in two sections: the base on which the casket is placed and a moulded upper dome which fits over the casket and interlocks with the base. After the two sections are closed, the surface contact points are sealed with a unique fluid seal made of polyurethane. Once applied, the seal ensures the burial vault is completely watertight, while also eliminating the infiltration of air and insects.


Due to the manner in which they are manufactured, each vault is installed differently at graveside. The concrete vault is placed in the grave and cannot be seen during the committal service. The casket is lowered into it and the cover is placed after the family has left the cemetery.

In contrast, the steel vault and the bottom of the plastic unit are placed on the lowering device and upon arrival at graveside, the casket is then put in or on the vault prior to the committal service. Unless otherwise requested, each vault will be secured and lowered into the grave after the family departure.

Grave Liners

With the exception of the Veterans Field of Honour, where concrete vaults are mandatory, most local cemeteries prefer that the casket is placed in some type of outer receptacle at the time of burial. The container used most often is a wooden shell with cover. It is commonly referred to by the funeral director as a “grave liner”.

Although this liner does not provide any substantive structural support or protection for the casket, once the grave is backfilled, it does support the sides of the grave when it is opened, particularly during inclement weather. It also improves the grave’s appearance and shields the casket from large rocks and gravel during the closing of the grave.


Like caskets, the prices of burial vaults or containers are determined by their design, ease of construction and the types of material used. The following is a range of prices for the vaults and grave liners used in this province:

  • Wooden shell $200 – $300
  • Plastic vault $750 – $950
  • Concrete vault $1,150 – $1,350
  • Steel vault $1,250 – $1,450

Urn Vaults

After cremation, most people prefer to bury the urn. Again many cemeteries prefer the use of an outer receptacle. Although there is a wide variety of choices available, an outer wooden shell is the one most commonly used.

Even though the selection of a burial vault is not mandatory in some local cemeteries, the added protection it provides can be a great relief for families. This is particularly true during winter conditions, when the soil is frozen, or when the groundwater table is high.

Burial at Sea

Being surrounded by water and having a rich nautical history and culture attachment with the sea, it is not surprising that many Newfoundland and Labrador funeral homes have received inquires about burial at sea. The National Office of the Funeral Service Association of Canada (FSAC) has also received several inquires, the most recent from the Royal Canadian Legion, Dominion Command in Ottawa on behalf of Second World War veterans.

In Canada the disposal of human remains at sea is regulated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Part VI. In 1992, Environmental Canada prepared draft guidelines to clarify their policy. Although these guidelines remain in draft form, they are the ones followed whenever the matter is raised.

Experiences in other countries have shown that a great deal of distress can be caused by the remains, once committed for burial, being yielded up or trawled up by a fishing vessel. Therefore, it is the government’s position that initial inquires about burial at sea should be discouraged, and those who ask should be requested to consider scattering the cremated remains at sea as an alternative.


For those opposed to this alternative, a permit application must be made at least eight (8) weeks, prior to the anticipated need. It is recommended funeral homes apply annually for this permit, thus eliminating the need to make application for each occasion. It has also been suggested that the FSAC take out a permit, which could then be used by its membership. To date, this has not been done.

Prior to making the initial application, the funeral home must also publish a “notice of intent” in the local newspaper. Proof of publication of this notice must accompany the application along with a $2500 application fee payable to the Receiver General of Canada.

The permit granted will include conditions to be met for the identification of the deceased and reporting of each time the permit is used.

Medical Certificate

Because of the possibility of waterborne infections, a medical certificate verifying the deceased was free from infectious or contagious disease must be obtained from the deceased’s family physician or hospital doctor for each use of the permit. If a physician is not prepared to issue a certificate, burial at sea will not be permitted. Furthermore, burial at sea of an embalmed body is not permitted.

Identification of the remains

The deceased must be identified with a permanently inscribed plastic wristband, which must also include the telephone number of the funeral home who carried out the original burial at sea. The body should not be dressed but shrouded loosely with cotton cloth.

Casket specifications

The casket should be of sufficient size to hold the deceased and at least 90kg of weighting material to ensure it remains on the seabed. It should be made of solid wood rather than a veneered board with butt jointed corners and right-angled brackets screwed internally to strengthen all joints.

The casket may be weighted with iron and steel or a weak concrete mix placed at the foot. Lightweight concrete blocks are not suitable.

At least twelve 2cm diameter holes should be drilled in each side and top of the casket and three (3) additional holes drilled in each end.

To ensure the casket survives impact on entry to the sea and arrival at the seabed, two (2) steel bands should be placed around its exterior.

Burial site

The location of a burial site should be chosen to avoid trawling grounds, the risk of recovery by dredging activity and currents, which might cause the casket to be moved. The site should be in at least 200m of water and located at least three (3) nautical miles from land (land being defined as baselines for measurement of the territorial sea).

Procedure in United States

Burial at sea services in the United States are offered by the Department of the Navy for members on active duty, retirees and honourably discharged veterans of all branches of the U.S. military. Also eligible are U.S. civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift command and dependants of members, retirees and veterans of the uniformed services.

Services are performed on Navy vessels deployed on official maneuvers. Therefore, it is not possible for family members to be present. The family will be notified by the commanding officer of the vessel and the date, time, longitude and latitude of the committal service.

To initiate a burial at sea, a Burial At Sea Request/Authorization Form must be completed and signed by the immediate next of kin, executor, or person legally responsible for arranging the final disposition.

As the remains may be held for long periods until a ship is scheduled to get under way, it must be completely embalmed and preserved for at least 60 days. A metal casket is also required, and it must be banded, weighted and a specific number of holes drilled into each of its sides. A diagram describing the procedure is available from the Navy.

Ports of embarkation include Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; and Corpus Christi, Texas on the Atlantic side, and San Diego, California; Bremerton, Washington; and Hawaii on the Pacific.

For those American veterans, their families and relatives living in Newfoundland, you may call 1 800 647 6676 (Ext 628 or 629) to obtain more information.


Although there are some similarities between the procedures followed in the United States and Canada’s draft guidelines, there are certain requirements, which completely contradict each other (i.e. embalming verses no embalming, wooden verses metal casket). As there would undoubtedly be a lengthy holding period before the burial could take place, embalming with the use of a metal casket would appear to be more practical. Nevertheless, with a $2500 application fee, it is obvious that the Canadian Government is doing all it can to discourage the practice.

Choosing a Casket

Often the most difficult and emotional part of funeral arrangements is the selection of a casket. Because of this many people are reluctant to spend much time in the selection room or to ask any questions about the merchandise they are about to purchase.

Unfortunately, a short time after the funeral service some family members experience feelings of doubt or regret about the casket chosen. Why did we select such an expensive casket? Will it provide adequate protection for the remains? Did we get good value for the money we spent?

The purchase of a casket is unlike any other purchase one might make. It is very personal and in many ways reflects a myriad of emotions held for the deceased by family members. Trying to balance these emotions while selecting the ‘right’ casket can be a challenge.

One way in which family members may become more comfortable with their purchase decisions is to learn more about the products that are available. It is in this context the following information is provided.

Types of Caskets

Traditionally there are two types of caskets used in local funeral services, wood and metal. However there are various types of woods and metals from which to choose.

Wooden caskets range from the basic embossed cloth covered plywood to solid hardwoods. Wood laminates with polished finishes are also available.

Metal or protective caskets, designed to resist the entrance of air and water, are constructed from solid steel, stainless steel, copper and bronze.

Wood Caskets

The most expensive wood caskets are solid hardwoods. The classification ‘hardwood’ means the wood comes from a leaf-bearing tree, while wood from needle or cone-bearing trees is referred to as ‘softwood’.

Hardwood caskets are available in a variety of species including mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, pecan, oak, popular and pine. Technically pine is a softwood but is grouped under hardwoods for ease of presentation.

As with furniture, the species of wood used will affect both the appearance and cost of the casket. Depending on the size and style of the casket, between 150 and 225 board feet of solid lumber are used in its construction.

Many hardwood caskets are created in the same tradition as fine furniture. The wood’s natural features are enhanced through the use of intricate, hand-carved details, multiple sandings and hand-rubbed finishes.

The next level below hardwood caskets is wood laminates. These are plywood caskets with hardwood strips laminated or glued to the surface of the plywood. The laminate material is then sanded and polished creating a satin or gloss finish.

The most inexpensive wood caskets available are cloth covered. These are usually made of plywood or pressboard covered with an embossed cloth that comes in a variety of colors.

Metal Caskets

As previously mentioned there are various types of metal caskets, the most common being steel. It was not until the 20th. century that the first protective steel caskets were mass produced by the Batesville Casket Co.

This casket features a one piece top formed by a single sheet of steel which offers superior strength. The bottom is welded into each casket using a continuous weld along the entire seam to insure a seal that air, water or any other element, found in the soil cannot penetrate.

In most casket selection rooms, the Funeral Director will show various styles of steel caskets each of which will have a designated gauge. The ‘gauge’ is its wall thickness or the thickness of the sheet metal used in its construction. The lower the gauge the thicker the steel. For example, the wall thickness of an 18 gauge casket is greater than that of a 20 gauge model.

Stainless steel caskets are constructed from two grades of stainless steel, series 300 containing chromium and nickel, which are corrosion resistant and series 400 which does not contain nickel but is protected by Batesville’s exclusive Cathodic Protection System.

Cathodic Protection is a method of retarding corrosion on the outer surfaces of all carbon steel and series 400 stainless steel. A bar made of a special magnesium alloy is installed in a channel formed into the bottom of each casket. Should a corrosion producing condition occur, the alloy stimulates an electro-chemical reaction which helps protect the casket from damage. When the corrosive condition ceases, the system becomes inactive. The same type of protection is used to protect pipelines and holds of ocean going vessels.

In addition to cathodic protection each metal casket is equipped with a one piece, solid rubber gasket. This gasket forms a highly effective seal between the top and bottom of the casket. When screwed shut each metal casket is hermetically or vacuum sealed.
Batesville was also the first casket manufacturer to mass produce bronze and copper caskets. Both bronze and copper are completely safe from rust.

Metal caskets range in price from the least expensive steel models to the elaborate and beautifully designed bronze caskets.

Notable Features

Other notable features incorporated in selected hardwood and metal caskets include an interior liner which is leak proof and puncture resistant; a lift and tilt bed mechanism which helps achieve an ideal viewing height; interchangeable corners with various themes such as sports, hobbies and religion; memory drawer which can hold pictures, letters and other memorabilia; memorial record system consisting of a small plexiglass capsule which screws into the side of the casket allowing families to add personal notes; and a Living Memorial Program where the casket manufacturer plants a tree seedling in memory of a loved one.

Cremation and Rental Caskets

Families who wish a period of public viewing and visitation followed by cremation may choose from a variety of cremation and rental caskets. Cremation caskets are similar to a traditional wood casket in appearance but are generally not as ornate as they consist of very few metal components.

Rental caskets are designed like a traditional casket with the only difference being the interior which is attached by Velcro™ in order that it can be removed along with the bedding after each use.


Generally a person making funeral arrangements may select from a group of 10 to 25 caskets ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Caskets will vary in price according to the materials from which they are made, the quality of the workmanship, the grade of the interior fabric and the special features provided.

The selection of a casket is an important element in arranging or planning a funeral. Take time to have a Funeral Director explain the different products and features available.

Note: The writer acknowledges with thanks the material provided by the Batesville Casket Co. that assisted in the composition of this article.

Consumer Protection Fund

One of the main purposes of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Prepaid Funeral Services Act and Regulations, which came into effect on December 22, 2000, is to protect consumers who have entered into prepaid funeral contracts from financial loss, in the event of the misappropriation of funds or failure of a funeral home.

Ironically, this mandate was challenged even before the Act came into effect with the bankruptcy of a Port aux Basques funeral home in November of 2000. As a result, a loss of $492,790 in prepaid funeral funds purchased by 88 elderly consumers was incurred.

Fortunately, the new legislation came into force shortly after and one of its key components was used to protect the consumers affected by the bankruptcy.

The protection referred to consisted of the establishment of an Assurance or “Compensation Fund.” The fund, known as the Consumer Protection Fund for Prepaid Funeral Services, has been used to pay claims arising out of prepaid funeral contracts sold by the bankrupt funeral home.

Currently, the Assurance Fund consists of money paid into the fund by funeral homes or sellers of prepaid funeral contracts, any monies borrowed under the Act and interest earned on monies in the fund. However, at the time of the bankruptcy and enactment of the new legislation there was no money in the Fund. Therefore, in order to honor any claims against the Fund, the government had to borrow the money. According to the Audited Financial Statements of the Assurance Fund for the period ending March 31, 2004, a $200,000 line of credit, guaranteed by the Province, was procured.

In addition to setting up the Consumer Protection Fund, the government under the auspices of the Department of Government Services and Lands’ Trade Practices and Licensing Division and in coordination with representatives from the Newfoundland and Labrador Funeral Services Association reached an agreement with the provincial funeral industry to honor contracts sold to the affected individuals.

As a result, when the death of one of the affected individuals occurred another funeral home in the area provided the services specified in the prepaid contract for the same amount paid by the purchaser to the bankrupt funeral home. Once the services were rendered, an invoice was submitted to the Department of Government Services and Lands. Payment was then issued from the Assurance Fund. As of March 31, 2004, thirty-nine prepaid contracts were administered in this manner with a total of $213,191 disbursed from the Fund.

After a criminal investigation into the loss of the prepaid funeral funds, the owner of the bankrupt funeral home was convicted of theft and false pretence and a full restitution order to repay the Assurance Fund was granted to the Department of Government Services and Lands.

Even though the Assurance Fund is still operating in an overdraft position, funeral homes and other sellers of prepaid funeral services who have all their prepaid funeral funds placed in trust are now paying an assessment fee of 1 (one) percent of the cost of each prepaid funeral contract sold since the proclamation of the Act on December 22, 2000.

For those sellers who have not placed their prepaid fund in trust, the fee ranges from 1 to 5 per cent depending on the percentage of pre-paid funds held in trust. For example, if a funeral home only has 20% of their prepaid funds held in trust, the rate of payment into the fund is 5%.

Funeral homes have 5 years from the proclamation of the Act, unless there are extenuating circumstances wherein the Minister may allow an extension to have all their prepaid funds placed in trust. As of March 31, 2004, the total value of assessments paid into the Assurance Fund by sellers is $96,948.00.

The Assurance Fund is administered by employees of the Department of Government Services and Lands. One of these employees includes a full-time accountant who serves as the administrator of the Fund. The administration costs, which are offset by licensing fees paid by funeral homes and other sellers, are paid directly by the Department. All other costs and expenses, such as bank overdraft interest and service charges are paid from the fund. In future, the Minister of this department has the option of establishing a board to administer the Fund.

Monies paid into the Fund are invested in accordance with the Trustee Act. As mentioned, certain costs and expenses are paid from the Fund. Otherwise all interest, dividends and other income earned must remain in the Fund.

The Assurance fund is required to be audited annually and a report of the audit submitted to the Minister not more than 90 days after the end of the preceding fiscal year. The year-end selected for the Fund is March 31, which is also the government’s fiscal year end. Therefore, the audit report must be completed and in the hands of the Minister no later than June 30 of each year.

Other Provinces

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador is one of only four provinces that have established compensation or assurance funds in conjunction with their prepaid funeral services legislation. The others are New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan. In New Brunswick’s case, the Fund was set up after the discovery of misappropriated prepaid funds by a funeral home owner.

Rather than borrow money like the Newfoundland and Labrador Government, the New Brunswick Government assessed each funeral home a one time fee of $75.00 per call to ensure there were sufficient monies in the fund to honor claims against it. In addition to the initial assessment, New Brunswick funeral homes also pay an annual assessment of approximately $20.00 per registered death.

Ontario funeral homes and other sellers began contributing to a compensation fund in 1990. Contributions to the Fund, which is administered by the industry’s Regulatory Board, are made by licensees who pay a fee of $5.00 per registered death at the time of their license renewals. A lump sum Fee of $180 is also levied on any new business or change in ownership. With over 80,000 deaths a year, Ontario’s compensation fund grew rapidly. By 1994, contributions of $5.00 per call ceased once the fund hit an established threshold of $1 million.

In comparison, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Assurance Fund has not been capped and contributions are linked to a percentage of the pre-need funds collected rather than on a fee per registered death basis. With approximately 4500 deaths occurring annually in this province, a maximum $5.00 fee per call would only realize $22,500, while contributions based on a 1 to 5 per cent rate applied to prepaid funds will be significantly higher.


As the value of prepaid funeral deposits continue to rise into the billions of dollars in North America, more and more legislators are creating or considering the establishment of compensations funds. As demonstrated in this province, if a funeral home fails or a funeral home owner defaults on a contract or misappropriates prepaid funds, monies accumulated in an assurance or compensation fund can be used to pay for the funeral or to refund the money to the purchaser. With similar protection being offered by the insurance, banking and securities industries, the absence of same in some jurisdictions within the funeral industry should not be condoned.

Consumer Tips for Funerals

The subject of death and final separation from your loved ones is a subject few people are willing to think about, much less discuss. Yet if you wait until this time of stress and grief, it can be hard to make the necessary decisions. In Canada, regulatory control of funeral and burial services comes under the jurisdiction of the provincial and territorial governments. Each jurisdiction has specific legislation governing the provision of funeral, burial, cremation and memorialization services and there are also laws governing prepaid funerals.

For more information, please contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office or the National or Provincial Funeral and/or Cemetery Association.

Cost Considerations

When a loved one dies, family and friends want to pay tribute in the best way possible. Whether that means a traditional funeral with viewing, visitation and earth burial or a memorial service with cremation and scattering, survivors deliberate over the smallest details. Often, the selections made are influenced by cost and funeral directors and cemeterians work within every family’s budget to ensure that the final farewell to a loved one is unique, sensitive and fitting.

Because of the uniqueness of each funeral home and cemetery and the wide variety of products and services offered, specific costs are difficult to pinpoint. In general, the cost components of a traditional adult funeral and burial service fall into four categories; professional services, merchandise costs; out-of-pocket expenses, and cemetery and memorialization costs.

In most jurisdictions funeral homes and cemeteries are required to provide families with a detailed cost breakdown of all the products and services they provide. This will enable you to select only those which you require and can afford. All out-of-pocket expenses such as, flowers, honoraria and funeral notices will also be identified and in most cases paid for on your behalf by the funeral home or cemetery.

Choosing A Casket

One of the most difficult decisions you must make when planning a funeral is selecting a casket. As it can be a very personal and emotional decision, some people have a tendency to select an expensive unit because they want to do their best for the deceased.

The price of a casket can account for over 30% of the total cost of an average traditional funeral service. Prices can range from $550 for a cloth-covered casket to several thousands for metal or hardwood units.

When choosing cremation, instead of purchasing a casket, some funeral homes offer rental caskets. They look similar to a traditional decorative casket and are used during the visitation and funeral service. After the service, the deceased is removed from the rental unit and placed in a wooden or cardboard cremation container.

Planning a funeral in advance allows you to make difficult decisions when your emotions are at rest. It will also give you an opportunity to make selections that you can afford or have budgeted for. To help in the planning process, consider asking a trusted friend or relative to accompany you.

Embalming: Is it necessary?

Embalming is the art of disinfecting remains and thereby slowing the process of decomposition. It involves the removal of bodily fluids and replacement with a chemical mixture determined by the cause and time of death. The embalmer also does restorative work and cosmetizes the remains.

Legally, embalming is not generally required for disposition. It may be required when sending the remains out of the province or country, unless contrary to religious beliefs. It is also required by many common carriers prior to shipment.

In some jurisdictions the funeral home must seek permission to commence embalming procedures. Most funeral directors follow the same procedure if funeral arrangements are delayed. Embalming is not necessary if immediate cremation is chosen.

Burial or Cremation?

There are many options available for the final disposition of human remains. Burial of casketed remains is the traditional way. Cremation, however, is growing in popularity and depending on your circumstances, may offer more practical advantages than burial.


Human remains must be buried in approved cemeteries. There are two methods of burial; traditional earth burial where the casketed remains are lowered into the ground and entombment of the casketed remains in a mausoleum or tomb, above or just below ground.

Cemetery costs vary widely. Before entering into an agreement with a cemetery, ask for a written statement of their costs and a copy of their rules and regulations governing interments, placement of monuments, etc.


Before cremation can take place, a Medical Certificate of Death must be issued and signed by the attending physician and approval granted by the Chief Medical Examiner or Coroner. A form authorizing the crematory to cremate the deceased must also be completed and signed by the next-of-kin or deceased’s legal representative.

Funeral homes and crematoria require that the remains are enclosed in a container that is combustible, of rigid construction and equipped with handles.

Cremation is a technical heating process, which reduces the human body to its basic elements, primarily bone particles and fragments, that are further reduced in size by mechanical means. The cremated remains, which can weigh between two to three kilograms, are then placed in an urn or container. They do not represent a health risk and can be released to the authorizing party for final disposition. Most funeral homes and crematories will provide temporary storage of the urn until you decide what to do with it.

Memorial Societies

As an alternative to funeral homes or crematories you may choose to join a memorial society. Most memorial societies have either a legal contract or an agreement with one or more local funeral homes or crematories to provide services for members. Those who are unable to get such an agreement will give advice to people who want to prearrange their funeral. Members are given a form on which they indicate their desired arrangements. A copy of this form is then kept by the society and/or the cooperating funeral home or crematory. If you should move, your membership file could be transferred to the local memorial society.

Creating New Funeral Rituals

There are many factors which contribute to the uniqueness or individuality of a funeral. However, few have a more profound affect than the use of rituals.

What is a ritual? How does it relate to the loss of a loved one and the funeral service chosen? Let’s first consider the answer to these questions through some simple illustrations. We often read or hear about news events which specifically relate to loss of life. Whether this loss was due to an explosion, plane crash or a shooting, in the days that follow these tragedies there are a number of events that symbolize the need for ritual.

People will place flowers at the site where the loss of life occurred, others will wear black arm bands or lapel ribbons, flags will fly at half-mast, memorial services will be held or a monument may be erected with the names of all those who died. These are the rituals of death which offer people a chance to share their sympathy with those who have experienced a loss.

Rituals can come in many different forms and are limited only by the boundaries of one’s imagination. Some rituals may be personal, while others may be supportive. They not only provide a sense of continuity but are also very therapeutic for those mourning a loss.

While striving to plan a more personal and meaningful funeral, increasing numbers of families are choosing alternative funeral practices. To keep pace with change and satisfy emotional needs, churches and family members are creating new funeral rituals .

The Committal Service

The committal service, which may be either public or private, is traditionally conducted at graveside by a member of the clergy. It is where family and friends say their final good-byes. With cremation becoming more popular, particularly direct cremation where families are choosing scattering rather than burial of the cremated remains, some churches have recognized a need for a short committal service prior to the commencement of the cremation process. In Newfoundland and Labrador, where funeral homes are permitted to own and operate their own crematories, the Anglican Church introduced this new ritual in the early 90s. It is now referred to by funeral directors as the “committal to flame”.

Some funeral homes or crematories have an area adjacent to their crematorium where a short committal service can be held. Families are invited by the funeral director to attend the service but are not obligated to do so. The “committal to flame” is mandatory in the Newfoundland Anglican Church’s Eastern Diocese, and an Anglican clergy must be called to conduct the service regardless of whether the family is in attendance. It is optional in the United Church and will be held at the request of the family. As yet, it is not offered by other Christian faiths.

Families wishing to attend may choose to have the casket or cremation container placed in the retort out of sight or left in the committal area in full view of those in attendance. They may also be guided by the clergy’s preference. When placed outside the retort, family members may choose to carry out the same traditions performed at a graveside service such as placing flowers on the casket, taking them from the floral spray or touching the casket or container for the final time. It also allows the funeral director to perform the ritual of sprinkling sand over the casket or container when the actual committal is read by the clergy.

When the casket or container is placed in the crematorium, the door is usually closed. The family will still gather in the committal area with the clergy and funeral director for prayers and support. In either case, unless otherwise requested, the crematorium is not turned on until after the family has left the premises.

Both the Anglican and United Church have written a special liturgy for this service which includes a reference to the committal of the body to flame rather than earth.

This new ritual brings closure for family members and gives them a place to pay their final respects and say good-bye.

Graveside Rituals

Variations to an already established ritual can also be made. As mentioned, at a graveside committal service funeral directors will sprinkle sand over the casket or urn. In most cases, the funeral director uses a small brass holder containing silica sand. On one occasion, just before the start of a funeral service, a funeral director was approached by the deceased man’s son who carried a small bottle of sand. The sand had come from his father’s birthplace, and he asked that it be used instead of the traditional shaker. The funeral director suggested that the son perform the ritual of sprinkling the special sand over his father’s casket. At the end of the service, after emptying the majority of the sand into the grave, the son kept a small portion as a symbol of the cherished memories of his father. This ritual meant a great deal to the son, but it also deeply moved those who attended the committal service. We learn rituals from others, and we share them as well.

This simple graveside ritual was seen again, on the national stage, at the tomb of the Unknown Canadian Soldier. When the casket had reached its final resting place, a representative from each Province, Territory and First Nations, symbolically poured a small amount of soil which came from their Province or Territory, into the open tomb.

Chapel Services

A traditional funeral ritual in which families are considering other options, is the practise of holding the funeral ceremony in a church. Many families are choosing chapels over churches whether they are located in a funeral home, resident care facility, university or some other public institution.

Reasons for the increasing use of chapels include a migratory population who are not affiliated with a church and would prefer the neutrality of a chapel; long term residents of nursing or seniors’ homes who become detached from their local congregations and would rather use the chapel at the resident care facility to accommodate their close friends residing in the home; others prefer the more intimate and warm atmosphere of a chapel over the immensity of a church, particularly if the deceased was elderly and a low attendance was anticipated.

It is traditional in the Roman Catholic Church to celebrate mass as part of the funeral liturgy. Although the Liturgy of the Word is permissible and can be led by a lay representative in a chapel, mass has been prohibited in chapels. Although more Roman Catholics are choosing to hold funeral services in a chapel, many still prefer the traditional funeral liturgy with mass.

New Liturgies

In addition to the new liturgy created for the “committal to flame” ritual, churches are also responding to new challenges presented by grieving families. The Anglican Church has instituted new liturgies for the burial of a stillborn child or those who do not profess to be Christian. The Roman Catholic Church has recognized the growth of cremation and has revised their funeral and burial liturgies to accommodate the cremated remains in their church and cemeteries.


The act of the funeral service respects and strengthens the cultural rituals dictated by a family’s nationality, religious affiliation, or beliefs. Every funeral service should respect the rituals and customs of those involved. Such rituals are the cornerstone of a funeral service and are essential to those who mourn. Their value cannot be underestimated.

Cremation Services Costs

Choosing cremation need not limit funeral service options. On the contrary, it may actually broaden them. The most requested cremation options are as follows:

  • Traditional Adult Service followed by cremation-using either a traditional casket, cremation casket, or rental casket with alternative container
  • Short-Term viewing with cremation, visitation and service
  • Direct cremation, visitation, and church/chapel service with urn
  • Direct cremation followed by a memorial service
  • Direct cremation with scattering
  • Direct cremation with graveside committal service and burial of urn-using either a family plot, regular plot, or urn plot.

Traditional Service with Cremation

The cost components of a traditional funeral service ending in cremation are essentially the same as those ending in burial. The professional and staffing services, along with the use of the facilities and equipment, are identical. Any additional costs for cremation services are often offset by the reduction in cemetery costs.

Professional staffing and facilities fees that include the cost of cremation can range from $2,800 to $3,800, depending on the size and location of the funeral home.

When visitation and a church or chapel service are desired, families must also select a casket. Some prefer the design and ornamentation of traditional caskets, which range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some manufacturers offer cremation caskets, which are less expensive and again range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Funeral homes may also offer rental caskets to families who choose cremation. These caskets, which have replaceable interiors, can be rented for a few hundred to over a thousand dollars. Rental fees will increase in accordance with casket quality. For example, rental of a solid hardwood casket may exceed $1,000, while a veneer product could be less than $500. Since the deceased must still be cremated in some type of container, certain rental caskets come with a removable wooden or cardboard container inside the rental unit. Families choosing a rental casket without an interior container will have to pay extra for an alternative container. These may range in price from $150 for a cardboard container to several hundred dollars for a wooden one.

The following demonstrates the difference in cost between cremation services that use three types of caskets. The figures used are average costs and will vary depending on the quality of the casket or container chosen. They do not include out-of-pocket expenses, cemetery and memorialization costs, or taxes.

Traditional casket (polished hardwood or equivalent) $2,600
Professional services including cremation $3,300
Total: $5,900

Cremation casket (hardwood or equivalent) $1,800
Professional services including cremation $3,300
Total: $5,100

Rental casket (hardwood with cremation unit and replaceable interior) $1,200
Professional services including cremation $3,300
Total: $4,500

Rental casket (veneer with replaceable interior) $ 650
Cremation container (cardboard) $ 150
Professional services including cremation $3,300
Total: $4,100

Short-Term Viewing with Cremation

For families who do not wish public viewing and visitation of the remains but would like to view their loved one privately before cremation, many funeral homes are offering the option of short-term viewing for immediate family, relatives and close friends.

Because of the limited viewing period which can last from five minutes to an hour the remains in most cases, does not have to be embalmed. Instead, the body is simply washed and clothed or shrouded in a linen sheet. The facial features are then set and light cosmetics applied, if necessary. The remains is then placed in a simple wooden cremation container which has a pillow and cloth interior similar to a traditional casket. The viewing occurs in one of the reposing rooms. Cremation will commence immediately after the viewing period.

The cost for short-term viewing followed by cremation, visitation and a religious or secular service, not including out-of-pocket expenses, memorialization or tax may range in price from $2,800 to $3,200. This includes the cost of cremation and the wooden cremation unit. The cost of the urn would be extra.

Direct Cremation, Visitation/Service with Urn

Even though cremation has taken place, some families still choose to have a visitation period and religious or secular service at their place of worship or the funeral home’s chapel with the cremated remains present. In this case, the professional and staffing services and use of the facilities and equipment are slightly less than a traditional service and will range from $2,200 to $2,800.

The selection of an urn is a very important component of this type of funeral service, as it provides both a protective and dignified receptacle for the cremated remains. Urns are crafted from various materials such as wood, marble, ceramic, and bronze. Like caskets, urn prices are determined by their design and the types of materials used. Intricately designed bronze urns can cost thousands of dollars, while a plain hardwood urn may cost a few hundred. Most funeral homes display an average of 15 to 25 urns.

Higher-priced urns can range from $1,000 to $2,500 while lower-priced options cost between $150 and $750.

The average cost for this type of service, not including out-of-pocket expenses, memorialization or tax is $3,450 – $2,400 for professional services, $375 for crematory fees, $275 for the alternative container and $400 for a hardwood urn.

Memorial Service

A memorial service is generally held without the cremated remains present. If held in a funeral home chapel, there is usually a charge for the use of this facility. Prices range from $1,000 to $1,400. This includes the costs for the removal of the remains, use of chapel, crematory fees, purchase of an alternative container, administrative, and overhead charges.


Charges for direct cremation range from $900 to $1,500. Most families choose to scatter their loved one themselves, either on land or in water, but funeral homes also provide that service for a minimal charge.

Graveside Committal Service

For families wishing to bury their loved one’s cremated remains in a cemetery during a public or private committal service, three options are available. The following costs are the average cemetery charges only. Funeral home charges for cremation and attendance at the graveside committal service will add between $1,000 and $1,600 to the final cost.

To inter the deceased’s cremated remains in a family plot, it will cost about $300, which covers the fee for opening and closing the grave. To inter the deceased in a regular plot, it will cost about $1,100. To bury the cremated remains in an urn plot, it costs about $600 which covers the cost for the plot and fee for the opening and closing.

Illustration of Average Cost of a Direct Cremation with Visitation, Service and Burial or Urn

The services include the immediate cremation of the remains and visitation with the urn present in the reposing room. Following visitation, a funeral service is held in a church or funeral home chapel after which the urn is conveyed to a cemetery for a short committal service and burial.

Funeral Home Charges

  • Professional and staff services, use of facilities and motorized equipment $2,800.00
  • Urn (numerous styles available) Hardwood $400.00
    Protective liner/vault wooden shell $100.00
  • Total: $3,300.00

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

  • Cemetery Plot-Urn Plot $300.00
  • Opening and Plot $300.00
  • Organist $75.00
  • Songleader or Soloist $75.00
  • Funeral Notices-2 days @ 60.00/day $120.00
  • Flowers (basket or vase arrangement) $100.00
  • Honorarium for Clergy $100.00
  • Total: $1,070.00 $1,070.00
  • Sub-Total:$4,270.00
  • 15% HST: 640.50
  • TOTAL:$4,910.50
  • Rounded: $4,900.00

For more information about funeral products, service options and associated costs, consider preplanning your funeral or that of a loved one. The funeral planner will review the various products and services available, discuss any rules and regulations that may apply with cremation and burial and customize your final wishes.

Cremation and Funeralization

It is a strong belief among funeral professionals that the more a family understands about the value of funeralization, especially as it relates to cremation, the better they grieve.

Each year the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) compiles cremation statistics from the United States and Canada. The data collected is then used to estimate future cremation rates for a five-year period (2010) and beyond. Information obtained from this exercise provides an insightful perspective on what has become the fastest growing trend in the funeral and memorialization industry.

As a percentage of the total annual deaths, the cremation rate in Canada far exceeds that of its U.S. neighbour. For example, in 2000 CANA found that the cremation rate in the United States was just over 26per cent as compared to a rate of more than 47 per cent in Canada. With over 230,000 deaths annually, it means, for the most part, that one out of every two Canadians are cremated when they die.

The higher rate in Canada is likely a result of the cremation rate in British Columbia of 76 per cent, which is the highest percentage of any province or state to date. It is the belief of CANA’s statisticians that historically once a country, province or state reaches a cremation rate greater than 65 per cent there is little if any increase in future years. Except for Japan and India (whose cultures practice cremation as a religious custom) and British Columbia, no province, state or country has cremated more than 76 per cent of its decedents.

To determine the annual cremation growth rate, CANA calculates the average percentage change over a five-year period. In the United States the five-year period used was from 1998 to 2002 and in Canada from 1996 to 2000. Based on this calculation, CANA is projecting that the percentage of deaths resulting in cremation for 2010 in Canada will be 55 per cent and in the United States 35 per cent.

Based on CANA’s statistical analysis, it is evident more and more people are selecting or will be selecting cremation as part of their funeral services. So it is important for cremation families to understand all of the options available and choose a service that will help them begin their grief journey.

Reasons Families Are Choosing Cremation

Often, individuals who wish to be cremated leave specific instructions in a Will or preplanning document. Therefore, cremation is chosen to fulfil the wishes of a loved one. For those who have a fear of entombment or burial or prefer not to be viewed or put on display, cremation becomes the perfect alternative. Others choose cremation for religious reasons or environmental considerations. For some, cremation is perceived to be simpler, less emotional and more convenient. It is believed, however, the primary reason many choose cremation is related to the costs involved. Because there are many different options from which to choose, the choice to cremate is often perceived to be less expensive. Therefore many individuals choose cremation to save money or reduce the financial burden on family members.

The Value of Funeralization

On the surface, the reasons mentioned for choosing cremation over a traditional burial are sound and reasonable for people unfamiliar with the process of grief. Yet, in one’s attempt to ease a family’s emotional burden, adhere to a loved one’s dying wishes, or to save money, the resultant funeral may lack what the survivors really need to help acknowledge their loss and begin the healing process. It is critical that families understand the value of the funeral, whether they choose cremation or burial.

For many, viewing the remains can be very therapeutic. Whether it is a short-term viewing for family only or traditional viewing and visitation for relatives and friends, it helps to confirm the reality of your loss and provides a final image of your loved one absent of the pain or suffering he or she may have endured. So cremation can then take place after the visitation period or immediate following the funeral service.

Enabling the community to pay their respects is another important component of funeralization. Families may do this at the funeral home, or arrange a celebration elsewhere. Occasions allow relatives and friends to share sorrow and help celebrate and remember the loved one’s life. It is common during these times to have an urn containing the loved one’s cremated remains present.

Another time-honoured component of a funeral service is memorialization. Cremation families may place some sort of a permanent marker or inscription at the place of interment or some other special place. A memorial celebrates and pays tribute to the life of the deceased. It is also a place where family members may make regular visits to remember and pay their respects.

Although cremation does not prevent family, relatives and friends from participating in the traditional components of a funeral, an increasing number are selecting direct cremation without any viewing, events or ceremonies, as a better way to deal with their loss. Eliminating some or all of these meaningful components of a funeral service may cause unresolved grief. It also prevents relatives and friends from providing their support and expressing their sorrow.

The desire to protect others from the pain of death may be counter-productive. By confronting your loss rather than avoiding it is one way of helping to begin the journey through the grieving process.

Throughout North America funeral homes are holding thousands of unclaimed cremated remains. It is inconceivable to imagine how a family could fail to honor a loved one’s final wishes or complete the services originally contemplated. For some, the simplicity and convenience of cremation has made things too easy. For most, the choice of cremation has not diminished the value and importance of the funeral ritual.

Cremation Authorization

In Canada and most U.S. states an individual is not permitted to authorize their own cremation. The legal right to do so rests with their next-of-kin, or if they have completed a Will, their Executor or legal representative.

Although this appears to be straight forward, complications can arise. When someone signs the cremation authorization form, the funeral/cremation provider must verify the person’s identity and his or her authority to authorize the cremation.

Generally, when funeral/cremation providers are dealing with someone they do not know, they should obtain confirmation of identity. A photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport should be requested. If a person indicates he or she is the executor, the funeral/cremation provider should also request a copy of the first and last pages of the deceased’s Last Will and Testament. This will verify the name of the executor and that the Will has been duly executed.

As previously noted, without an up-to-date Will the immediate next-of-kin will assume responsibility. Legally the next-of-kin who qualify are listed according to priority. The first level is the spouse, followed by an adult child or children of the deceased, then parents, siblings, etc. When authorization rests with the deceased’s adult children conflict can occur if one or more of them do not agree with the wishes of the other siblings.

Legally, regardless of who is the oldest, each adult child has equal status. When dealing with multiple members of the same class, the funeral/cremation provider must get permission from all members of that class. In the case of the adult children, this would require their signatures on the authorization form or a faxed copy. If a signature cannot be obtained, a verbal authorization is acceptable.

It is not always as straight forward as it appears. Common law arrangements, same sex partnerships, legal separations, multiple marriages and family estrangements can create a legal mess. At any time, when faced with an unfamiliar situation or circumstance causing doubt or uncertainty, the funeral/cremation provider should always seek legal advice prior to commencing cremation.

Cremations performed without proper authorization or on the basis of misrepresentations made by the authorizing party may result in serious legal problems for the funeral home and crematory.

Informed Consent

A funeral home and crematory’s responsibility does not end with the signing of the cremation authorization form. The signature on this document does not ensure the authorizing party understands all that will take place and that the requirements for informed consent have been fulfilled.

A legal definition of informed consent, depending on the context in which it is being used, can be very complex. In general terms, informed consent is an agreement to do something or allow something to happen only after all the relevant facts are known. In contracts, an agreement may be reached if there has been full disclosure by both parties of everything each party knows which is significant to the agreement.

Although consent laws vary from province to province, the standard of care requires that funeral/cremation providers openly discuss and explain their services to the authorizing party prior to providing them. Furthermore, it is equally important for the authorizing party to fully comprehend the services they are authorizing and/or purchasing.
Funeral/cremation providers should, therefore, review the contents of the Authorization Form in detail, explain the step-by-step procedures and describe what the authorizing party should expect to receive at the end of the cremation process. But, does the cremation authorization form contain the information the authorizing party needs in order to provide true consent?

Issues and items that have been overlooked or assumed by one or both parties have a tendency to become critical, especially during litigation. To avoid claims of wrong doing or doubt, no part of cremation should be left to chance, assumption or someone’s imagination.

The following are some key elements of cremation that funeral/cremation providers may want to disclose to authorizing parties before performing a cremation. These items may be included on the authorization form or on separate forms which should then be attached to the authorization form and treated as one document:

  • The funeral home is not performing the cremation rather it is contracting it out to an independently owned crematory (3rd party). The name and address of the crematory should also be included.
  • The funeral home or their representatives will not be present to oversee the entire cremation process.
  • The crematory is authorized to release the cremated remains to the funeral home. Otherwise, note the name, relationship and address of any other designated party authorized to receive the cremated remains.
  • Any special handling requirements or scheduling restrictions (i.e. type of casket, size of the deceased, immediate release, use of more than one urn, etc.).
  • Instructions for disposition (i.e. burial, scattering, inurnment, release to family, shipping instructions, name of cemetery, time and date of committal service, etc). A separate form is often used.
  • Minimum container requirements accepted by the crematory. For example, the container should be rigid, closed, leak resistant and combustible.
  • Acknowledgement as to the presence or absence of implants, radioactive devices, or prosthesis on or in the body and authorization, if applicable, for their removal and disposition by the funeral home or crematory.
  • Acknowledgement as to whether the deceased died of an infectious and/or contagious disease and, if so, record same.
  • Acknowledgement as to whether the body has undergone radiation therapy within the past year. If so, authorization for radiation safety personnel from the health care system to take radiation readings of the body, monitor the cremated remains and crematory to assess radiation contamination and, if required, recommend the types of funeral procedures and services required for the protection of staff, family members and general public.
  • Full written explanation of the cremation process, including information about the cremation container, the heating process, what remains after the process, reduction of the bone/skeletal particles, unintentional commingling of microscopic particles and their disposition, destruction of personal items, disposition of non-combustible items and the return of all the cremated remains.
  • Description of any special custom, tradition, ritual or witnessing to accompany the cremation and to be observed by the family (i.e. committal to flame).
  • How, when, where and if applicable by whom, the identity of the deceased was determined.
  • Description of the type of urn selected and , if applicable, its suitability for shipment.
    Information respecting shipment of the cremated remains, including shipping date, method of shipment and applicable guidelines.
  • A policy respecting the storage and/or disposition of cremated remains not claimed by the authorizing party.
  • Authorization for the segregation or proportioning of the cremated remains (i.e. such as when keepsake urns are selected).
  • Acknowledgement that sufficient time has been provided to ask questions and understand the authorization being given.

Full disclosure will mean different things to different people. It will also depend on one’s own personal experiences. Although some of the disclosures may seem graphic and/or unnecessary, risk reduction cannot be practiced after something goes wrong.

Cremation Explained

The cremation process takes place inside a cremation chamber constructed to withstand intense heat and flame, reaching temperatures as high as 1800° Fahrenheit (1000° Centigrade).

The inside of the chamber is lined on both sides with a heavy refractory brick or tile, while the floor and ceiling are made of concrete. The floor, which is approximately 6 inches thick, is supported by a heavy metal plate, and the ceiling rests on the sidewalls. A layer of insulation is placed between the refractory and the outside protective housing.

There are several types of cremation chambers manufactured. Generally, they are made of high-grade steel plate and include a variety of automatic controls. Most use gas or oil for heating.

The structure that houses the cremation chamber is called the crematory or crematorium. It can be a building that serves this one function or part of a multi-purpose facility such as a funeral home or chapel.

Modern fireproofing, noise barriers and environmental protection devices are built into the chambers to ensure problem-free operations within any area.

Before cremation can begin, all authorization forms must be completed and signed. This includes obtaining important information and reviewing the crematory’s rules, regulations and procedures.

Surgical implants, nuclear medicines and contagious diseases

A heart pacemaker or other implanted mechanical, prosthetic or radioactive device can explode during cremation causing significant damage to the crematorium and injury to staff. As a preventive measure, the funeral director must determine if the deceased had any of these surgical implants so that they may be removed.

Recently concern has been raised over the potential exposure that funeral home and crematory personnel may encounter with decedents who have been treated with nuclear medicines or received brachytherapy treatment. This treatment involves the implantation of radioactive seeds. The rupture of certain types of radioactive seeds during the actual cremation or during the processing of the cremated remains could result in a significant release of radiation in a relatively confined area. Depending on the type of seed and its half-life the funeral director must determine if the seeds should be removed or the cremation delayed until the seeds are rendered inactive.

Confirmation of whether the deceased died of an infectious or contagious disease is also information needed by the funeral director to ensure the necessary precautions are taken.

Without definitive knowledge of the deceased’s medical history, the funeral director is unable to proceed with cremation. Once procured this information will dictate if or when the cremation will proceed. In some jurisdictions there is a mandatory 24 to 48 hour waiting period before cremation can take place. There is no such requirement in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Personal Possessions

Due to the nature of the cremation process, any personal possessions or valuable materials such as jewellery which are not removed prior to cremation will be destroyed or, if not destroyed, disposed of by the crematory in a non-recoverable manner.

Those families’ who would like certain personal possessions to remain with the deceased are encouraged to place them directly in the urn with the cremated remains.

Casket or Container

Most crematories require the deceased to be cremated in a combustible, leak proof, rigid, covered container, if a casket is not being used. The deceased is always cremated in the casket or container used or received by the crematory. The only exception being, when a rental casket is used. In that case the deceased will be removed and placed in a wooden or cardboard cremation container. Cremation caskets, having simple design characteristics with few metal parts, are also available.

It is the preference of most crematories that the casket or container be made of wood or other combustible material. Non-combustible materials used on traditional caskets such as decorative handles or rails, latches, et cetera, which could cause damage to the cremation equipment are removed prior to cremation and destroyed or disposed of by the crematory in a non-recoverable manner. Any small metal parts such as nails, screws and staples are removed with a magnet following the cremation process.

In order to cremate in a metal casket, it is necessary to remove the front cover of the casket, exposing the remains. As a metal casket will not be totally consumed, its remnants will be disposed of by the crematory.

Cremation Process

The cremation process begins with the placement of the casket or container in the cremation chamber where it is subjected to intense heat and flames reducing the human remains to bone fragments, referred to as ‘cremated remains’. They are not “ashes” as commonly referred to by the public. There is an ash residue from the casket or container. The white or light grey colored bone fragments, however are easily distinguished from the dark colored ash and as such, are separated by hand from the ashes by the crematory operator. So the cremated remains does not contain any ash residue.

During the cremation process, it may be necessary to open the cremation chamber and reposition the deceased in order to achieve a complete and through cremation. The time for the cremation to be completed varies with the size and weight of the deceased but usually takes between one and a half (11/2) to three (3) hours. Following a cooling down period of two to three hours, the cremated remains are then swept or raked from the cremation chamber. Every effort is made to remove all the human remains; however, a small residue may remain in the tiny crevices which are commonplace in cremation chamber, resulting in incidental commingling with other cremated remains. However, this is minimal as the cremation chamber is vacuumed thoroughly after each cremation.

Processing the remains

Once separated from any non-combustible materials, the bone fragments may be further reduced by mechanical means to uniform particles for placement in an urn or sturdy container. Depending on the size of the deceased, the cremated remains for an adult will weigh between four (4) to eight (8) lbs. Very little, if any remains follow the cremation of a fetus or very young child. The cremated remains are usually white in color, but can be other colors due to temperature variations and other factors.

This completes the cremation process. The urn or container in which the cremated remains is placed is now ready for final committal, scattering, or can be returned to the family or kept at the funeral home for safekeeping.

Crematory Air Emissions

Over the past decade government regulators, special interest groups and members of the general public have been paying much more attention to issues affecting or relating to the environment. Environmental standards for air and water quality and health and safety have been reviewed, updated and implemented in almost every industry. Funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories have not been left out of this environmental scrutiny. Preparation room solid waste, body fluid disposal, crematory air emissions and hazards associated with the use of formaldehyde are some of the higher profile issues which impact the funeral and memorialization industry.

With the ever-increasing demand for cremation in the United States and Canada, questions and concerns regarding stack emissions continue to arise from time to time. In the late 1990’s the most extensive emissions research ever undertaken was conducted in New York State by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The data obtained confirmed that the design and operation of typical North American crematories provided significantly better emissions than regulations required and even exceeded expectations with older operating systems.

Subsequent to this research, the EPA determined from industry data that crematories were unique in their design and operation and not a significant source of air emissions. Although the EPA separated human crematories from other types of incineration equipment, this separation has not occurred in Canada. As a result, cremators are covered under the same legislation as incinerators.

Unlike the U.S., to date, the Canadian Government has not done any emissions testing. Instead, regulators are using the U.S. data but with a less favorable interpretation. In the absence of Canada-wide standards, provincial environmental agencies have established their own requirements. For example, in Ontario all new crematories must have continuous gas monitoring systems and undergo stack tests.

Even though U.S. research has proven otherwise, crematories are often thought of by the public in the same way as other waste incinerators with stacks billowing large volumes of dark smoke filled with pollutants into the air. In an article by Paul Rahill, President of Matthews International Cremation Division, which appeared in the January 1999 edition of the American Funeral Director, entitled “Cremation and Environmental Issues”, he writes, “that in reality two of the most commonly watched pollutants from human crematories are particulates of dust and carbon monoxide. These are the same pollutants emitted from cars, restaurants and fireplaces.”

In the article, Mr. Rahill provides the following comparisons. A typical high-volume crematory emits less than half as many particulates than a “fast food” restaurant, and a residential fireplace emits almost six times more particulates. In comparing carbon monoxide emissions, a residential fireplace can emit 58 times more carbon monoxide per hour and a diesel truck 366 times more carbon monoxide per hour than a typical crematory. When considering that the average crematory in North America operates less than three hours per day, the impact of crematories on air quality verses vehicles, restaurants and fireplaces becomes much less significant by comparison.

Mercury from dental fillings is another issue which has been raised. Exposure to mercury vapor was addressed in a recently published report from the United Kingdom, where their cremation rate is over 70%. The concentration of mercury found in soil samples taken in close proximity to the test crematory was almost 7 times lower than that allowed for food production and more than 100 times lower than that allowed for children’s playgrounds. Furthermore, the average concentration of mercury found in hair samples taken from crematory employees was over three times less than the “tolerable” level. When compared to a typical North American crematory that operates at only 20% of the production levels found in the United Kingdom, it is apparent the anticipated impact of mercury emissions is minimal.

Recently, concerns have also been raised over the potential exposure crematory personnel may encounter with decedents who have been treated with nuclear medicines or received brachytherapy treatment. This treatment involves the implantation of radioactive seeds. The rupture of certain types of radioactive seeds during the actual cremation or during the processing of the cremated remains could result in a significant release of radiation in a relatively confined area. To eliminate this potential risk, crematory personnel are required to find out the type of seed used and it’s half-life and then determine if the seed should be removed or the cremation delayed until it is considered inactive.

Well-operated crematories are environmentally sound. Most are equipped with large after-chambers for the reburning and scanning of the exhaust prior to discharge into the atmosphere. Continuous monitoring equipment located in the stack also monitors operating temperatures and stack emissions and will shut down the cremation process if there is any deviation in the pre-set conditions.

Although emissions research and testing have yielded favorable results, most environmental regulators are complaint-driven. If inspectors are not receiving complaints from the public, it is unlikely they are going to look for complaints. Smoke or visible emissions and odors are the most common complaints received by regulators.

Environmental performance can be improved by using high quality equipment and parts, establishing a regular preventative maintenance program, having the equipment inspected and fine-tuned by professional staff annually and enrolling operators in a professional training program.

There are other factors, however, that create or contribute to environmental problems over which the crematorium operator may have little or no control. Funeral directors and casket manufacturers can help limit the likelihood of smoke and odors by continuing the development of the most “environmentally friendly” caskets for cremation; promoting cremation caskets to families; controlling the placement of hazardous items or materials in caskets and not rushing the cremation process.

Death Announcement

For many, announcing the death of a loved one is more than just identifying the deceased and surviving family members and providing details of the funeral service. It is a means by which the immediate family may express their feelings or simply bid a final farewell.

Traditionally these announcements appear in newspapers as obituaries or death notices. The sixth edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary (1976) defines obituary as “notice of the death(s) especially in a newspaper; brief biography of deceased person.”

The short account containing brief information about the deceased, survivors and the funeral service is often referred to by funeral directors as the death or funeral notice. A more detailed account of a person’s life usually written by a newspaper or third party on behalf of the family is generally considered to be an obituary. Quiet often when obituaries are not written, the death notice is used to elaborate upon the life of the deceased and to pay tribute.

Although every death notice contains basic elements common to all, each is different. Not so much in what is said but in how it’s said. Each family has their own unique expressions, language and writing style which personalizes the way in which they commemorate and remember their loved one.

Basic Elements

The importance of the death notice should not be understated. In addition to its value to the family, it is an essential link to the community and should include information required by the public to assist in their desire to support the family and pay their final respects. What basic information should the notice contain?

Identity of Deceased: As notices in newspapers appear in alphabetical order, the surname of the deceased will appear first, followed by given names or initials. If the deceased is not well-known by a given name, a nickname or an abbreviated version of a given name may be added in brackets. A woman’s maiden name is also placed in brackets if she has taken her husband’s surname.

Titles, degrees, professional and political designations, awards, etc. are also included with the name. For example, if the deceased was a university graduate and professional, the appropriate designations would follow the name (i.e., B.A., B. Comm., LL.B, et cetera). Commendations or wartime contributions are also noted for both men and women (i.e. Veteran WWII, Royal Canadian Air Force).

If a person worked in a particular job or business for a long period, this level of commitment may also be mentioned. For example, “Served as an orderly for 40 years at local hospital,” “Well-known businessman and retailer,” or if married for a long time “Devoted husband of 60 years.”

Identity of survivor: Even though the public may not know the deceased personally, they may be close friends with other family members; therefore, listing those who are “left to mourn the loss” or “celebrate the life” of the deceased should also be included.

Although there are no strict standards, it is generally accepted that the immediate family is named first, starting with the surviving spouse or companion, children and their spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and, if applicable, parents and in-laws. If there is a large family the names of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are not usually listed but are specified numerically. Siblings along with brothers- and sisters-in-law are also named. Some mention nieces and nephews and close friends, especially where there is not a large immediate family.

Whenever any of the individuals listed do not live in the community in which the funeral is being held, their place of residence is usually noted.

Quite often a list of survivors includes predeceased relatives such as parents, children and siblings. The year of their death is sometimes mentioned. On rare occasions, the name of pets or reference to a pet is included among the survivors.

Date, location and cause of death: Most death notices and obituaries record the date and location of death but not always the cause. The cause, however may sometimes be inferred through phrases or requests included in the notice.

Other than its importance to the genealogists, the date of death is of value to the public in gauging how they should respond. This may include a visit to the funeral home or attending the funeral service, if it was a recent death, or dropping the family a note if the death had occurred some time earlier.

Hospitals, public or private nursing homes and the home of the deceased or an immediate family member are the most common locations where death occurs. Others include death at sea, on the highway, in a cabin or country home and while travelling. Usually specific names of hospitals, nursing homes and similar institutions are mentioned in the notice. Hospital units such as palliative care (PCU), intensive care (ICU) and cardiac care (CCU) are also noted along with special thanks to the nurses and doctors.

Families like to personalize the final moments of a loved one’s life by adding phrases such as “in the presence of her loving family at home” or “surrounded by his family”.

Phrases such as “passed peacefully away”, “died suddenly”, “passed peacefully away but suddenly”, “died tragically”, “passed peacefully away after a courageous battle with cancer” all give the reader some insight into how a person died. The selection of in memorial donations to a foundation dedicated to the research and treatment of a particular illness may have also been influenced by the deceased’s personal experiences.

Funeral service: The type of funeral service selected will dictate how this part of the notice is written. With traditional earth burial families may designate special visiting hours (i.e. 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.) or have a full day visitation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. special hours infer that the family will only be in attendance during these hours. The visitation period will usually stretch over 2 to 3 days, followed by a church or chapel service and interment. The dates, times and locations of all these services will be noted.

There are more options when choosing cremation. Most families will mention cremation in the notice using such expressions as “at his request cremation has taken place” or “the funeral service will be followed by cremation”. Other wording such as a “memorial service”, which is a service without the body present, or “private interment at a later date” are also used when cremation is chosen.

Donations: Many people like to express their support to the family in a tangible way by sending flowers, leaving sympathy or prayer cards or giving donations in memory of the deceased. To guide the public in that regard, most families will specify their preferences about flowers: “flowers gratefully accepted”, “in lieu of flowers…” and/or suggest a favorite charity of the deceased such as a medical research foundation, academic or church organization or other local charities. Some families will not make specific suggestions but simply state “a charity of one’s choice”.

Special Notes: As mentioned above, the death announcement is used by some families to bid a final farewell. This may be in the form of a short poem, verse or a simple phrase: “Forever loved”, “We love you Mom”, “Always remembered” or “Rest in Peace”. A special message for a special person.

Website: Many funeral homes now have their own website or use a third party site on which to display the death notice. In addition to viewing the notice online the public may leave a message of condolence or sign a memorial guest book. To ensure the public are aware of this option the funeral home will place their web address at the end of the notice and invite the public to visit the site by using phrases such as, “to leave online condolences please visit www. name of funeral”.

Death Benefits

When faced with the expenses associated with the funeral and burial services of a loved one, many people are unaware of the financial benefits that may be available to eligible survivors to offset some, if not all, of these expenses. The following are some of the more common benefits available.

Canadian Pension Plan

Since its implementation in 1966, the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) has kept a record for each person who pays into the Plan. At the contributor’s death, CPP provides a death benefit, which is a one-time, lump sum payment made to the deceased contributor’s estate. If there is no estate, the eligible party is prioritized in the following order:

  • The person responsible for the funeral, or
  • The surviving spouse (A person of the opposite sex to whom the deceased contributor is legally married), or
  • The common-law partner (A person who has lived in a conjugal relationship with a partner of either sex for at least one year), or
  • The next-of-kin

The amount of the death benefit depends on how much, and for how long the deceased contributor paid into the CPP. To determine the amount, CPP first calculates how much the contributor’s CPP retirement pension is, or would have been if the contributor had been 65 at the time of death. The death benefit is equal to six month’s worth of this calculated retirement pension, up to a maximum of $2,500.

To receive the benefit an application, which is available at many funeral homes, should be forwarded to the Income Security Programs, Human Resources Development Canada, P.O. Box 9430, St. John’s, NL, AlA 2Y5. A booklet entitled, Survivor Benefits is also available. Ask your funeral director for a copy. If any further information is required you may contact Social Development Canada on the internet at

Income Support Allowance

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, through the Department of Human Resources, Labor and Employment provides lump sum benefits to assist with funeral and burial expenses. Certain eligibility criteria will apply.

Usually, people only request or accept assistance for funeral and burial services if the family clearly cannot afford the expenses and do so as a last resort. In determining one’s eligibility, the Client Service Officer must take into account all sources of income, such as Canada Pension Death Benefits, last Old Age Security Cheques, liquid assets (single persons only) and life/funeral insurance benefits. Any income that may be available through these sources will be deducted from the amount, if any, that can be provided under the income support program.

At the present time, the amount available for a traditional adult funeral with earth burial is $1,938.00 plus the cost of cemetery fees. This flat rate includes the following services; removal from the place of death; use of preparation room and embalming; professional services; use of funeral home and facilities; funeral coach and lead car; delivery of shell to cemetery; use of grass matting and lowering device; and casket with outside wooden case. With typical cemetery fees (in St. John’s) being $1,500 (i.e. $800 for a single perpetual care plot and $700 for the opening and closing) the total allowance available for a traditional adult funeral is $3,438 (i.e. $1,938 + $1,500) + HST or $3,954.

When cremation and traditional services are chosen the cost of cremation is $400. Assuming there are no cemetery fees, the cost of a traditional service with cremation is $2,338 (i.e. $1938 +$400) + HST. If a family wishes to have the urn placed in a cemetery plot, the total cost of the funeral and burial of the urn cannot exceed the total cost of a traditional funeral with earth burial or $3,438 + HST as previously mentioned.

In addition to the products and services noted above, income support is also provided for clothing (up to $184), oversized caskets (up to $780), transportation (mileage at $0.82 per km), one funeral notice (up to $30), an organist stipend (up to $40), a clergy stipend (up to $40), use of a funeral home chapel ($113), post mortem embalming ($18), embalming persons with infectious diseases ($187) and transportation of a body to hospital ($83), airport or other carrier ($75). There is no provision to pay for the cost of flowers, headstones or bronze memorials.

Worker’s Compensation

The Workplace Health and Safety Compensation Commission shall pay the expenses for the burial of a worker or a memorial service held for the worker to a maximum of $5,000, where the death of a worker occurs as a result of an accident or other circumstances occurring in the workplace. For more information you may contact a Claims Adjudicator at the Commission.

Veteran’s Benefits

Veterans may qualify for a full or partial burial allowance. If a veteran is not receiving any benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada and meets both the service and financial eligibility criteria, that individual would be eligible for funeral and burial benefits. Currently this program is coordinated by the Last Post Fund (LPF) on behalf of Veterans Affairs.

Depending on the circumstances or preference, applicants for benefits may apply for either “LPF Standard Service” or “LPF Assisted Services”. LPF Standard Services may be applied for at the time of death or up to one year after the time of death.

For those who qualify, the maximum funeral services benefit available is $3,600 plus applicable taxes for the services of one funeral home and $4,100 plus applicable taxes when two funeral homes are required. The benefit provides for specified funeral services including the provision of a casket, urn, grave with opening and closing or cremation services and memorialization. Families will also be compensated for other expenses such as an outside wooden graveliner, lowering device and grass matting, transportation, special handling charges and the provision of an oversized or hermetically sealed casket, if warranted.

For more information on eligibility criteria, regulations, standard services and rates, you may contact Maxine King at the Last Post Fund-NL Branch office in St. John’s, (telephone 579-4288).

Department of National Defense

The Department of National Defense (DND) offers a grant towards funeral expenses for any member of Canada’s Armed Forces who dies during active duty. The maximum grant available is $3,675 for the services of one funeral home and $4,190 when two funeral homes are involved.


Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their immediate family qualify for a grant towards funeral expenses. The maximum grant available is $3,938 for the services of one funeral home and $4,491 when two funeral homes are involved.

Automobile Insurance

Automobile insurance companies provide death benefits where death has occurred as a result of an automobile accident.


Some fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus or Masonic or other groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society may provide financial support to special need families of their members.

The death of a loved one can be a difficult and stressful time for a family. It may also come at a time when your family’s financial resources are limited. You should not hesitate to discuss your financial circumstances with the Funeral Home. Many Funeral Directors are quite familiar with the various death benefits available and can identify those that may apply to you.

Death Certificate

When a death occurs, the first and most important document to be completed is the Registration of Death Form or what is commonly referred to as the Death Certificate. Without it, final care and disposition of the deceased cannot take place. In order to be valid, the Death Certificate must be signed by the attending physician or family physician who is familiar with the deceased’s medical history. Most hospitals will not release the remains until the certificate is signed. This can cause delays for the funeral home, particularly on weekends and holidays when the physician is not working.

To accurately complete the medical information required on the certificate, the physician may require an autopsy to verify or determine the cause of death. If the death is sudden, unexpected or as a result of foul play, the family cannot overrule the decision. A family may also choose to have an autopsy performed to verify the cause of death or to seek more information about the deceased’s medical history, which might assist his or her offspring.

When an autopsy is to be performed, delays are also encountered by the funeral home both in the release of the remains and preparation for viewing. For example, if death occurs in mid-afternoon and a full autopsy is required, the remains may not be released for 24 hours after the death. An additional hour or two over and above the typical time period will then be needed for preparation. This time frame is reduced when a partial or less intrusive autopsy is performed. As a forensic autopsy has priority over an autopsy requested by the family, further delays in the release of the remains beyond the 24-hour period could also be encountered.

Once the remains is ready for release from the hospital, the funeral director conducting the removal will be given the original Death Certificate which at this point is usually only partially completed.

Death At Home

Should an unexpected death occur at home, a number of options are available. If a physician is in attendance at the time of death, the funeral director may bring a blank Death Certificate to be completed by the physician during the removal. If not in attendance, the physician may give a verbal approval to the funeral director and family to remove the remains. Shortly thereafter the funeral director would then go to the physician’s office or home to get the certificate signed. If a sudden or unexpected death occurs at home, a physician should be called. In the case where an autopsy is required, the funeral director would first convey the deceased to the hospital.


Once the Death Certificate is in the hands of the funeral director, it then becomes the funeral home’s responsibility to complete and register it. Completing the certificate usually entails verifying personal information about the deceased such as age, date of birth, principal residence, employer, et cetera, determining family information, like the names and birth places of the deceased’s mother and father and providing burial information. Shortly after the funeral service the original Death Certificate is registered at the Department of Vital Statistics. Funeral homes are not permitted to give family members copies of the Death Certificate. True copies of the Death Certificate can be obtained from the attending or family physician or in the case of a reportable death, from the Medical Examiner.

When a Death Certificate is registered without all of the required information, the Department of Vital Statistics will send a written request to the funeral home for this information. This is a common occurrence as some family members are not aware of or recall certain information, such as their grandparent’s birth place or grandmother’s maiden name and with no other immediate next-of-kin living, there is no one to provide this information. Even when the funeral director indicates this information to be “unknown”, Vital Statistics will still send out its inquiry.

There are times when the information cannot be provided because the family has not determined what they would like to do. For example, the funeral director is required to provide the name of the cemetery in which the deceased was buried along with the date of interment. However, with cremation and the many options available, some families are uncertain as to what to do with the cremated remains and/or decide to delay the interment, thus preventing the funeral home from supplying this information.


Regardless of one’s citizenship, when an individual dies outside his or her own country the death must be registered in the country in which the death occurs, or in a case where death occurs in international waters, the country to which the remains are conveyed. Again, the Death Certificate becomes a critical document, this time in the repatriation process. As the original certificate must be registered, embassies will require both a registered copy, which does not contain the cause of death, and a notarized copy of the original, which has been verified as a true copy by a Notary or Commissioner of Oaths. These, along with other documents, are placed in a shipping envelope attached to the shipping container for inspection by Customs Officials. Errors in the preparation of these documents can cause undue delay and hardship for families awaiting the return of their loved one.

Burial Permit

In theory the registration of the Death Certificate should ordinarily take place before the burial of the deceased. Once registered the Department of Vital Statistics will issue a Burial Permit. The permit must then be mailed or delivered to the cemetery staff prior to or on the day of burial. In practice, the Death Certificate is usually registered after the burial and the Burial Permit is issued by the funeral home on behalf of the Department of Vital Statistics.

Other Requirements

In addition, to its importance in the burial and repatriation of the deceased, the registered copy of the Death Certificate or a similar document verifying Proof of Death is required by many insurance companies, financial institutions and government agencies in matters pertaining to the settlement of the deceased’s estate. Most funeral homes will register their Death Certificates at least once a week. Registered copies may be picked up by the Public from the Department of Vital Statistics at a cost of $25.00 per copy. The registered copy does not include the cause of death.

Death While Travelling

As a mobile society many people have the need or desire to travel. Whether it be for pleasure to visit friends or relatives, to conduct business or for medical treatment, more and more families are faced with death away from home.

When a loved one dies away from home there is a strong emotion to want that person brought home as soon as possible. Emotions become exasperated depending on the circumstances surrounding the death and the location where the death occurs. For example, the return of a loved one who died suddenly during vacation on board a cruise ship in international waters can be much more complicated and take longer as compared to someone who died in a hospital in another province while undergoing medical treatment. Therefore, the cause and location of death will dictate the procedures to be followed and the length of time it will take to return the deceased to his or her native home for final disposition.

From a legal standpoint the manner in which the body is prepared and shipped must also comply with the laws that apply to the handling of human remains. These laws vary from country to country and, in some cases, each city or region may have their own laws in addition to those of the country.

What Should A Family Do?

With these burdens suddenly forced on surviving family members, what should they do? There are a number of alternatives available. They can either contact a funeral home in the community in which the deceased and surviving family members reside or contact a funeral home in the location where death occurs or where the remains is taken should death occur in international waters.

So that funeral arrangements can be made on a personal basis, it is generally recommended the family contact a local funeral home in the area they reside. This funeral home is considered to be the “receiving” funeral home or the one to which the remains is consigned and is responsible for the funeral and burial services.

The second funeral home located in the community where death occurs or the remains is taken is referred to as the “shipping” funeral home. This funeral home is responsible for basic services. These include the removal of the deceased from the place of death, embalming, securing necessary legal documents, provision of a shipping container and transportation of the remains back home.

If the family did not wish to view the deceased, another more economical option would be to have the remains cremated and the cremated remains shipped back in a plastic or cardboard transportation urn for burial or scattering at a later date.

Shipping Services

Regardless of where death occurs, a local funeral home would be familiar with or could readily access the rules and regulations associated with the transportation of the deceased. However, in most instances they would not be familiar with the reputation and integrity of the funeral establishments and personnel.

Because of this, many funeral homes contacted by families outside their regular service area engage speciality firms providing international shipping assistance services. These firms have established shipping networks and other affiliation throughout the world, and in particular, countries frequently visited by Canadians. They are also familiar with the laws in each country and the government agencies to contact should problems occur.

Once contacted by the local funeral home and provided with pertinent information about the deceased in order that the Death Certificate can be completed, they will contact a service representative in the area in which the death occurred. The service representative will look after all repatriation details, including information concerning the release and condition of the remains, flight scheduling and documentation.

Greater Challenges

Because it is natural for family members to want all the arrangements looked after as soon as possible when death occurs away from home, “receiving” and “shipping” funeral directors are faced with greater logistical challenges than if death occurs at home. Unfortunately, problems do occur, causing delays and many anxious moments for all.

Some of these problems include, communication difficulties between the “receiving” and “shipping” funeral directors due to language differences, variance in time zones and remote locations, setting unrealistic expectations with the family in terms of the arrival of the remains and a day and time for services, difficulties in having the remains released to the “shipping” funeral home due to delays by the coroner’s office or medical examiner, transportation delay where the remains may be inadvertently removed from a flight or misses a critical connection flight due to bad weather and finally, delays due to poor quality embalming that requires additional work by the “receiving” funeral home.

Extra Costs

Recognizing the risks of travelling and being away from home for extended periods of time, many individuals who are frequent travellers take the time to preplan and prefund their funeral services. Unfortunately, the costs associated with handling and shipping human remains should death occur away from home are not factored into a typical prearrangement. Therefore, extra costs would be incurred.

Cancellation or travel insurance may cover some or all of the extra expenses related to repatriation services. Depending on the insurance company, the policy could contain a benefit from $3,000 to $5,000. This type of coverage is usually purchased on a per trip basis.

There is also a product available which offers lifetime protection to the traveller if death should occur 100 kilometres or more from their legal residence. Included by many funeral homes as part of their preplanning program, the preplanner can pay a one-time lifetime fee of approximately $375. The fee guarantees the complete cost of transportation from anywhere in the world.

Society’s propensity to travel has created new challenges for families when the death of a loved one occurs away from home. If you travel a great deal, or have family living away, consider speaking to a funeral director about this issue.

End of Life Planning

For most of us, planning is a daily exercise. We plan our meals, our work or recreational activities, our vacations, our budgets. Generally whatever we undertake to do involves a plan. Furthermore, our plans are usually not made in isolation. They invariably include others, such as: family members, friends, fellow workers or other people from whom we may seek assistance or must contact in order to fulfill our plans.

If planning is such an important component of our lives, why is it then that a large majority of us fail to plan for the one event in our lives we cannot avoid, that being, our death? In today’s society, there is a great denial of death and our own mortality. Considering how many of us try to live our lives focusing more on doing things that are healthy and living life to the fullest, it is natural for us not to want to think about death.

As a result of our reluctance to discuss the subject of death and final separation from our loved ones, many of us will be ill prepared when the inevitable occurs. The best way to address this problem is to plan ahead. Referred to as estate planning or simply preparing a will, the process includes many different components, including: financial planning, decisions respecting the distribution of your assets and in many instances planning your funeral.

There are many reasons why people choose to plan their own funeral. They may include: the desire to relieve their family of the added burden and responsibility; to make difficult decisions when emotions are at rest; to record vital information that might otherwise remain unknown; to learn more about the cost of funerals and the options available; to complete an estate plan or last will and testament or to simply choose a funeral home.

Although not a requirement, the choice to prepay your funeral is also available. In addition to relieving survivors of any financial burdens or hardships, one of the main reasons for doing so is to guarantee the cost of the funeral. Once all products and services selected are paid in full, the funeral home assumes the responsibility for all price increases for the duration of the contract. Also before entering a resident care facility, most people choose to put their financial affairs in order. In many cases this includes the preplanning and prepayment of funeral expenses.

There are other end of life decisions we should also consider making. As part of their preplanning program, funeral homes are raising the awareness of other issues. These include:

  • The importance of having a Will and identifying who is ultimately responsible
    for carrying out your wishes and settling your affairs.
  • If due to illness or injury you are unable to handle your own financial and legal
    affairs, the importance of completing a Power of Attorney. This is a written,
    signed and witnessed document that gives another person authority to handle
    your affairs. It is separate from your Will and its authority ends with your
  • How a Living Will or Health Care Directive can assist you if you become
    incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions.
  • The need for Organ and Tissue Donors and the issues surrounding the choice to
    do so at the time of your death; and
  • The details associated with an individual’s desire to donate their body for
    Medical Education or Scientific Research.

In addition to the above mentioned humanitarian donor programs, many people choose to help others by participating in some form of charitable donation program. One of the most common gifts is Life Insurance. Besides providing for your family, you may also like to leave a legacy to an organization or group that is important to you. This can be done by designating a portion or all of the proceeds of an insurance policy to the organization or group you wish to support.

Some organizations and groups have established their own planned giving program and can assist you in choosing a charitable gift that suits your particular circumstances. Besides the knowledge of knowing your gift will help others, making a donation to a registered charity can also provide some attractive tax benefits both today and at the time of death. Several strategies are available including;

Gifts during your lifetime: By transferring ownership of assets, such as cash, stocks or bonds, real estate or art to a registered charity, you will get a receipt equal to the fair market value of the assets that will qualify for a charitable tax credit.

Bequests in your Will: Your estate can claim a charitable tax credit if you leave cash or assets to a registered charity in your Will.

Gift Annuity: By transferring ownership of assets, such as cash, stock or bonds or real estate to a charity in return for the income it generates will allow you to receive tax-advantaged income until your death, at which time the assets will go to charity.

Life Insurance: You can either transfer ownership of an existing policy or take out a new one. The beneficiary would be the registered charity and, depending on how it is set up, you would receive a donation receipt for the cash value of the policy at the time of transfer and/or either the future premium payments or death benefit.

Gift of residual interest: You may retain the use of an asset such as your home or a piece of art and receive an immediate tax receipt for its value by transferring ownership of the asset to a registered charity. At your death, the asset becomes the property of the charity.

Charitable Tax Credit Calculation

The Federal Government encourages charitable giving through special tax incentives. For those who donate less than $200.00 annually a 16% tax credit is available and for donations over $200.00 the tax credit increases to 29%. Consider the following example: If your annual givings are $1000.00 your taxable income would be reduced by $264.00 because of the charitable tax credit. Here’s how it is calculated:

  • Tax credit on first $200.00 is 16%
    (i.e. 16% of $200.00 = $32.00) $ 32.00
  • Tax credit on the remaining $800.00 is 29%
    (i.e. 29% of $800.00 + $232.00) $232.00
  • Total tax credit: $264.00

Therefore, with annual givings of $1,000.00 your cost base is really $736.00 (i.e. $1,000.00 -$264.00 = $736.00). In other words, a donation of $1,000.00 only costs you $736.00 as your taxable income is reduced by $264.00 thus reducing the amount of taxes you would have had to pay if the charitable donations were not made. In addition each Province has its own charitable tax credit rate which will further enhance the benefit.

An individual can claim a credit for charitable donations up to 75% of their net income for each tax year and unused donations can be carried forward for five (5) years. The 75% is increased to 100% of net income in the year of death of the donor and the year immediately proceeding the year of death.


For more information on tax strategies associated with charitable giving, you should contact an investment or financial consultant, accountant or lawyer.

End of life planning is a prudent thing to do not only for yourself but your family and the community in which you live.


Have you ever attended a funeral service in which there seemed to be something missing? On the other hand, have you ever attended a funeral service, which you felt was meaningful or memorable?

In a traditional church or chapel service there are three primary components: liturgy, music and homily (sermon). Each of these are intertwined with the rituals and practices of a religious faith to create a service of thanksgiving and celebration for a life lived. How the uniqueness and importance of the deceased’s life is stated will depend on the skill in which these components are combined and will dictate how the service will be viewed by those in attendance.

Personalizing a funeral service may be accomplished in many ways. Poems, readings, songs or prayers that were enjoyed by or had special meaning for the deceased are often used within the context of the service or include in the celebrant’s remarks. However, one of the most fitting ways to pay tribute to the person who died is through a eulogy.


The word eulogy is derived from the Latin word “eulogium” meaning “epitaph” and the Greek word “eulogia” meaning praise. A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person who has died. Ordinarily delivered during the funeral service, it is referred to in different ways when included in the order of service. The most common references are reflections, tribute and remembrance.

Noted author, educator and grief counselor, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt writes, “The funeral is a time to pay tribute to the person’s life. The eulogy acknowledges the unique life of the person who died and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared it.”

The Eulogist

The choice of the “eulogist” or person who delivers the eulogy is usually made by the immediate family. It may be a clergy, either the main celebrant or another invited to assist at the service, a family member or a friend of the deceased. It does not have to be restricted to just one person; several people may pay tribute if so desired.

There are times when the clergy does not know the deceased personally but is asked by the family to include a tribute in the service. In other cases the clergy may add a tribute or reflection without being asked or include memories or attributes of the deceased in the homily to humanize the spiritual meaning of the funeral.

Seeking information about the deceased and incorporating it into a tribute can be very time consuming and usually entails discussions with more than one family member in order to get a more rounded picture. Many clergy will make this effort to ensure the tribute will be recognized by those in attendance.

The eulogist should personalize the tribute, share memories, and recognize, where applicable, those who are left to mourn, acknowledge failures while respecting the integrity of the person who has died.

Mixed Feelings

Not all clergy or religious faiths agree with eulogies. Dr. Tony Walter, author of “Funerals And How To Improve Them” observes, “ Some Christian ministers guard against a eulogy that replaces love of God with praise of man.”

So it is with the Roman Catholic Church whose policy it is not to allow a eulogy during the actual service. Although not as steadfast the Anglican Church also frowns upon this practice during the service. Both faiths will, however, accommodate the reading of a eulogy before the start or the end of a service.


Other options are available to family and friends who wish to pay tribute to the deceased. Some opt for more intimate surroundings and will arrange for a eulogy to be read in the reposing room during visitation.

Fraternal and community organizations such as the Masonic and Legion prefer to honor one of their own at a special service the evening before the funeral in the chapel or lounge of the funeral home.

Traditionally the eulogist stands in front of the mourners and reads from a prepared text. However, the eulogy need not always be so formal. Sometimes those attending the service will be invited to stand up informally to share their thoughts or memories spontaneously.

Life-Centred Funeral

In some constituencies the focus on God during the funeral is shifting to the uniqueness of the individual and what he or she meant to family, friends and community. In his book, “Funerals And How To Improve Them,” Dr. Tony Walter describes what has happened in Australia where “funeral celebrants” rather that clergy conduct what is called the “life-centered funeral.” The following are some excerpts:

Until the mid-1970s almost all Australian funerals were conducted by clergy, but now in Melbourne one in eight are conducted by “life-centered celebrants,” or “funeral celebrants.” How did this change come about?

It started with the introduction of the marriage celebrant, who offered a different kind of wedding, which quickly became popular. Within a few years some marriage celebrants found themselves being asked to perform a funeral for someone they had recently married. They soon found themselves inundated with requests to do funerals, which were referred to as “life-centred funerals.”

These funerals are not anti-religious. They focus neither on God nor on secular philosophy, but on the life, character and relationships of the person who had died.


There must be a balance between the extremes of a “life-centered funeral” and a purely liturgical service. Again, to quote Dr. Walter, “Each death is both unique and a universal human experience, and a good funeral reflects this. Religious liturgy is good at expressing universal truths about death but does not always express the uniqueness of this particular death.” A eulogy could provide this balance.


The word “exhume” is derived from the Latin “exhumare” (ex, out + humus, the ground). The Definition provided by Webster’s New World Dictionary ( Second Concise Edition) is to dig out the earth; disinter or to reveal. In funeral service the act of exhuming or exhumation is applied to the disinterment or digging of human remains.

Reasons to Exhume

The exhumation of previously interred human remains is not a common occurrence. When such a request is made by the next-of-kin or legal authority the reasons given are usually quite compelling. These may include:

  • Repatriation of the remains to one’s birth place in another community, province or country.
  • Reinterment of the remains in a family plot in another section of the cemetery.
  • Relocation of the remains to a cemetery in another community, province or country where the family has established a permanent residence.
  • Relocation of the remains of a war veteran from a common grave to an interdenominational plot dedicated as an honored place for Veterans (i.e. Field of Honor).
  • Scatter previously interred cremated remains.
  • Conduct additional forensic investigations.
  • Determine the identity of the remains by DNA testing.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the exhumation of human remains is regulated under the Exhumation Act by the Provincial Department of Justice. Requests for a license to exhume are generally made by a funeral home on behalf of the party making the request.

In order for the license to be issued, the Department of Justice must receive a duly executed Application and Consent of Family Form containing the following information: the name, date of birth, date of death and late residence of the deceased, the name of the cemetery and community in which the deceased is buried, the name of the person requesting the exhumation and his or her relationship to the deceased, the name of the funeral home under whose direction the exhumation will be performed and the reason for the request.

Prior to issuing an Exhumation License, the Department of Justice must also seek and obtain the approval of the Department of Health.

Once all documentation is submitted it takes approximately three (3) weeks for the application to be processed and the license to be issued by the Justice Department. The License is granted to the funeral home who in turn must obtain the permission of the relevant cemetery authority before proceeding.

Other Documents

If the deceased is being exhumed for cremation a copy of the Death Certificate must be provided in order to complete the Medical Examiner’s approval. The funeral home’s authorization to Cremate and Instructions for Disposition Forms must be completed and signed by the next-of-kin, Executor or legal representative.

Exhumation Process

The exhumation process shall be carried out under the supervision of a member of the Constabulary or RCMP depending on the location of the cemetery. The funeral director will contact and coordinate all parties including the cemetery staff and police. As a general rule family members are encouraged not to attend.

As exhumations are not usually performed under wet conditions, many are scheduled during the summer months. The resources needed to complete the process will depend on a number of factors including site and soil conditions and the length of time the deceased has been interred.

When exhuming casketed remains the funeral home will provide at least 2 staff, one of whom will be a funeral director. Depending on the family’s wishes respecting reinterment or relocation, the funeral home will also provide the necessary container or casket into which the remains will be placed. For example, if the deceased is to be repatriated to another country an hermetically sealed steel casket or a wooden casket with a metal liner is used. If the deceased is to be cremated the remains will be placed in a wooden cremation container. This assumes the original casket cannot be used.

Prior to the arrival of the funeral home staff the cemetery staff will prepare the gravesite by first removing any above ground structures, such as, the headstone, railing or concrete walls. The upper portion of the grave will then be mechanically excavated. The remaining soil will be removed by hand under the supervision of the police and funeral home personnel. During excavation the cemetery staff will take every precaution not to damage the casket, if it has remained intact, or disturb the remains, if it hasn’t. It is the funeral director’s responsibility to undertake the removal of the casketed remains or retrieve the skeletal remains placing it in the casket or container provided. Once exhumed, the remains is transported by funeral coach back to the funeral home or another prearranged destination. The police officer will ensure all personal effects remain with the deceased are retrieved and returned to the family, if required.

Cost to Exhume

The cost to exhume remains will vary from case to case and be contingent upon a number of factors. These will include merchandise requirements, location and the type of professional services required. Other third party expenses will include cemetery fees and transportation charges. The following example illustrates the average costs associated with the exhumation, cremation and repatriation of human remains to another country.

Professional Services

  • Planning, coordination and supervision of the exhumation process $250.00
  • Procurement of exhumation license, authorization and preparation of other documents $250.00
  • Cremation Services $400.0
  • Transportation – Use of funeral coach $125.00
  • Casket or Container
    Wooden cremation container $250.00
    Hardwood or marble urn $350.00
  • Third Party Expenses
    Cemetery charges including the opening, closing and restoration of the plot $500.00
    Transportation of Urn $75.00
  • Total Average Cost $2,200.00

Most cemeteries will repurchase the vacant plot from the family at its original purchase price. They will also dispose of the headstone, railing or other structures if the family has no further use for them.

A funeral professional can answer any questions you may have concerning the requirements and procedures surrounding exhumation.

Extending Life of a Cemetery

With many of the older cemeteries in our community reaching their capacity for ground burials and the rate of cremation continuing to rise, it is time for cemetery administrators to offer families new and meaningful memorialization options that will not only extend a cemetery’s life but generate much needed new revenue for its operations.

Current Options

The options currently available in local cemeteries for the final disposition of cremated remains include:

  • Interring an urn in a family plot: Even when there is no longer room for a casket interment, an existing plot can accommodate the interment of several urns. Depending on the size and location of existing or proposed monuments, a single grave should be able to accommodate a minimum of three urns.
  • Urn plots: For those who prefer traditional earth burial of cremated remains, but do not have or wish to use a family plot, some cemeteries have single or double urn plots set aside. Each plot is approximately 2ft square, is excavated to a depth of 2ft and usually accommodates the interment of one urn.
  • Regular plots: Rather than urn plots, some cemeteries only offer regular plots for the burial of urns. Again depending on various factors, a regular plot should be able to accommodate a minimum of three urns.
  • Columbarium niches: To date, only one local cemetery offers columbaria niches. A niche is a recessed compartment designed for the permanent placement of urns. A structure housing an arrangement of such niches is called a columbarium. The columbarium in St. John’s is located at the Anglican Cemetery, Forest Road. There are two free-standing structures each housing 48 niches measuring 12”X12”X12”. Each niche can accommodate one or two urns and has a closed granite front where an inscription is placed. With the exception of a few niches on the bottom row, all remaining niches in the first columbarium (east) which was dedicated in 2000, have been sold.

New Options

All cemeteries have a number of areas that are not suitable for ground burials but could be transformed into a beautiful garden or picturesque setting. These areas could be around a large tree, monument or other structure or a watercourse, such a small pond or stream. Various types of cremation memorialization suitable for these areas include:

  • Cremation Gardens: These can be large or small areas that are designed specifically to suit the property’s unique features and topography. They may include brick walkways, clusters of free-standing columbaria structures and/or walled units along its boundary. Seating areas with benches, trees, boulders, statuary, fountains and ponds may also be included as well as shrubs, plants and flowers indigenous to the area.
  • Scattering Gardens: These are areas within the boundary of the cemetery where cremated remains may be scattered. The cremated remains are usually spread under a sod about 1ft square which is folded back to accommodate the procedure.

Individuals whose cremated remains are scattered in this way may be identified on cast bronze plaques or granite walls that are erected in close proximity to the garden. Other structures such as sculptures or memorial benches are also donated by families in memory of their loved one. Scattering gardens can also be incorporated into cremation gardens.

Ironically scattering is not permitted in any of our local cemeteries as it conflicts with Christian teaching which specifies that burial of cremated remains in consecrated ground should be the first option.

As a compromise, some families choose to segregate the cremated remains into two or more containers with one being buried or placed in a niche and the contents of the other scattered.

Even when scattering all of the cremated remains in remote areas on land or in water, family members can still erect a permanent marker on a family plot or place the deceased’s name on an existing family monument. A living memorial, such as a tree, suitably identified with a plaque could also be placed in the cemetery.

Urn Cremorial®: A cremorial is a decorative cast bronze structure containing two permanent self-locking cannisters per opening that are used to hold cremated remains. Each cremorial unit is custom designed for either in-ground or above ground installation. They are manufactured exclusively by Matthews International Corporation located in the United States.

Mathew’s cremorial units are manufactured using a cast bronze decorative face which is framed with a cast bronze trim. Each unit opening is covered with a 10”X10” blank cast bronze scroll which is replaced with an inscription scroll at the time of need. The cannisters are plastic with a 213 cubic inch capacity. They are held in place by a stainless steel support attached firmly around the cannister.

After placing the cremated remains in the cannister, the cannister and support unit is slid through the opening in the cast bronze front of the cremorial. The top of the cannister is then covered with the inscription scroll.

The cremorial units are available in various standard sizes. For example, a 26 ½” X 26 ½” in-ground unit can hold 8 cannisters. This means that the cremated remains of 8 family members can be placed in this cremorial. A regular plot, which measures 30”X 84” can hold 42 cannisters.

For above-ground installations the cremorial units can be installed in a planter or raised bed. The unit is then bolted to a concrete foundation. As the cremorial is generally installed before need, blank cast bronze background scrolls are provided for each opening. At the time of need, an inscription scroll is then installed.

Although there is a space for two inurnments in a cremorial, it can be used as an individual memorial with one family name and dates or a companion with two different names and dates. The death dates are added at the time of need.

Family Estates: Above-ground vertical cremorials that are framed with granite and placed on a granite base are also available. They are quite similar to a traditional monument but contain two or three urn cremorials that can house the cremated remains of four to six family members. Referred to as family estates, they are free-standing and can be placed anywhere in the cemetery.

Memorial Benches: These are granite benches placed on a matching granite base that contain columbarium niches to accommodate up to four urns. The niche front which may be granite or bronze can be inscribed with a family name, epitaph or verse and an array of décor. For greater personalization emblems, vases and ornamentation can be added. A memorial bench can be placed anywhere in a cemetery and used not only as a final resting place but a place of solitude to sit and remember your loved one.

Flowers & the Grieving Process

Flowers can be a source of great comfort and have long been associated with bereavement, offering sympathy, consolation and remembrance. When placed in a funeral home or place of worship, they add warmth and beauty to the surroundings. Given as an expression of sympathy, flowers show love and respect for the memory of an individual.

Flowers are an integral part of funeral services, but they also play an important role in the grieving process. Either giving or receiving, flowers sooth our sense of sorrow. British author Tony Walter, in his book “Funerals and How to Improve Them,” offers the following example of how flowers helped a community in grief.

Communal Grief

In 1989, following the death of 95 Liverpool soccer fans at Hillsborough Stadium, the entire city went into mourning. Because of Liverpool’s strong sense of communal identity symbolized by soccer, this soccer tragedy struck the very heart of the city.

The grief, which accompanied the tragedy, was shared by the whole community. With this type of communal grief those who mourned the tragic loss were connected with those who died by a common theme, in this case the love of soccer. In the week following the disaster, Liverpool’s soccer stadium became a shrine, receiving over one million visitors, twice the population of the city. As a tribute to those who died, many of the visitors left flowers. By the end of the weeklong pilgrimage half the soccer pitch was filled.

The sudden, tragic death of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., along with his wife and her sister, evoked the same response. The gates of Buckingham Palace and the front steps of John and Caroline Kennedy’s apartment building became shrines filled with flowers from mourners all over the world. The placement of flowers at communal shrines brings great comfort to the thousands of mourners who wish to express their feelings of grief.

A Living Memorial

Commemorative shrubs and flowers are planted in memorial gardens and cemeteries all over the world. Locally, family members and relatives are encouraged to donate plants and flowers in memory of those loved ones whose cremated remains are housed in the new columbarium located in the Anglican Cemetery, Forest Road. They will be placed in planters, which surround the granite structure.

On the grounds of many British crematoria are memorial gardens containing rows and rows of identical rose bushes commemorating each individual whose cremated remains were scattered there.

Planting, “living memorials” such as shrubs, trees or flowers, which may be suitably identified with a plaque, is another way of establishing a place to visit and celebrate the life of the deceased. They assure us that life goes on.

Acts of Remembrance

Each year countries around the world honor their war dead. The focal point of their services of remembrance is the laying of floral wreaths at the foot of a War Memorial by civilian and military representatives. On the anniversary of her husband’s death, the widow lays a wreath or floral arrangement on his grave; on the anniversary of the Swiss Air Flight 111 disaster off the shores of Nova Scotia, at Peggy’s Cove, family members of those who were killed placed flowers at a memorial erected in their memory. A fishing boat carried other family members to the spot in the ocean where the plane went down. Here a single wreath was placed on the water, their final resting place.

Flower and prayer services are held each summer in cemeteries throughout the province. Prior to the evening service flowers are laid on many of the graves by loving family members. Cemeteries are awash with color and beauty. We honor our dead with flowers.

Expressions of Sympathy and Love

As a tribute to their loved one and an expression of their love, families take great care selecting floral arrangements that may be placed on a casket or next to an urn. There are many different styles from which to choose. For traditional services with viewing, the majority of families select a casket spray, which is a variety of flowers and greenery attached to a saddle that fits securely at the foot of the casket. Sprays containing roses, carnations and lilies of different colors are very popular. Baby’s breath and ribbon with family script are often added. Casket sprays may also be personalized by adding a stuffed toy or object symbolizing a favorite pastime or activity enjoyed by the deceased. Other choices include crosses or wreaths, which may be displayed on a tripod next to the casket, elevated behind the casket or placed on the foot of the casket.

When displaying an urn most families choose one or more vases of flowers placed next to or on either side of the urn. On tabletop displays, the floral arrangement is sometimes designed to surround the urn. Roses of varying colors are the most popular choice when using a vase.

In addition to the immediate family, floral tributes are also received from relatives, close friends and work associates. Many are sent in baskets and thus are easily transported. During the visitation period and funeral service, flowers add warmth and beauty. After the services they may be further enjoyed in somebody’s home, at a place of worship or in an institution such as a resident care facility.

Individual flowers, generally roses, denoting the number of children or grandchildren are often placed in the casket. Sometimes a ribbon with the child’s name is attached to each flower.

A Final Gesture

The humble placing of a single flower on a casket or urn at graveside or prior to the start of the cremation process has become a final gesture of farewell for many families before leaving the cemetery or crematorium. The flowers are then lowered into the grave or consumed by the flames.

Author Tony Walter writes about a funeral in England, which had a similar theme. A widow asked everyone to bring just one red rose, her husband’s favorite flower. Nobody was in any doubt about whom they were saying goodbye.

Floral imagery

The flower is widely used in advertising to sell funeral and bereavement products and services. Floral imagery is incorporated into the design of many caskets, urns and associated products. Most of these items are designed for females.

Assisting families

Because flowers are such an important part of funeral services and the way in which we choose to express our feelings, the following are some of the ways in which funeral directors can help.

  • Assist in the selection of floral tributes. Flowers are usually selected from a floral book containing typical arrangements that are available locally.
  • Suggest ways in which the flowers may be personalized.
  • Order flowers. The funeral director will call the local florist and order the flowers on behalf of the family.
  • Display, rearrange and maintain flowers, during the various components of the funeral service.
  • Deliver flowers after the funeral service to locations selected by the family.


Whether as a final gesture of farewell, an act of remembrance or an expression of love or sympathy, the use of flowers fulfill our basic needs to honor, respect and remember those that have gone before us.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most people ask questions as a means to seek information. The more information obtained the easier it is to make decisions or formulate opinions. During “at-need” or “pre-need” arrangement meetings, Funeral Directors are often faced with many questions. The following are answers to some of the more frequently asked questions.

How popular is cremation?

The first crematorium in Newfoundland was installed in 1986. Prior to this the cremation rate in the Province was less than 1% of the total deaths. Over 20 years later there are 6 crematories and the province wide cremation rate has risen to approximately 15% or about 700 deaths a year.

In the St. John’s Region, where 3 crematories are located, the cremation rate is now estimated to be approximately 35% of the deaths in the region annually or 1 out of every 3 deaths.

Across North America more and more families are asking about or considering cremation. Statistics show that in Canada the cremation rate has grown from about 6% in 1970 to approximately one half of the total deaths annually. This compares to approximately 28% of the total deaths annually in the U.S.

Does the deceased have to be embalmed?

No. Embalming is not a legal requirement in this Province. The choice to do so is left to the family and may depend on such factors as whether or not there will be an open casket with viewing; if the remains is to be transported by air or other carrier; the length of time prior to interment etc…

What should one do if the death of a loved one occurs while that person is travelling?

In this situation, a family may choose to either contact a Funeral Home in the community in which the person resides or in the location where death occurs.

If a family is familiar with a Funeral Home in the community in which the person resides, it is generally recommended, regardless of where the death has occurred, to contact the Funeral Home in that community. The Funeral Director will then make all the necessary arrangements to transport the remains back home. Funeral arrangements can then be made, on a personal basis, upon the family’s return.

If a Funeral Home in the location where the death occurs is contacted similar transportation arrangements would be made by that Funeral Home to ensure the remains are transferred to a Funeral Home in the community in which the deceased resides.

The above noted alternatives assume the family would desire a traditional funeral service with viewing and earth burial. Another option would be the cremation of the deceased at the place of death with the cremated remains transported home by the family for interment or scattering.

Should the remains be transported home, preparation and embalming will be necessary to meet the carrier’s requirements. The carrier will accept a “shipping container” designed for this purpose or the remains may be shipped in a casket.

Where can we scatter cremated remains?

There are no Provincial Regulations prohibiting the scattering of cremated remains on crown land or in rivers, streams, lakes, ponds or other watercourses. Permission should be sought from the land owner if scattering is desired on private property. Ironically, scattering is not permitted in local St. John’s cemeteries. Permission is also required before scattering in National Historic Parks, such as, Signal Hill. Scattering at sea which is governed under Federal Government Regulations is also permitted.

Can cremated remains be segregated?

There are occasions when individuals and/or surviving family members have different opinions when it comes to the final disposition of a loved one’s cremated remains. To satisfy everyone’s needs, cremated remains can be segregated or separated. As an example, a portion of an individual’s cremated remains could be buried in a family plot with a parent or other loved one, a second portion could be interred in a cemetery in the community where he or she was born and grew up and a final portion scattered at his or her favorite fishing hole.

Can you be an Organ Donor and still have a traditional funeral with viewing?

Organ donation does not mean a closed casket. Regardless of the extent of the medical procedures to facilitate organ removal the techniques employed by licensed embalmers ensure the integrity of the deceased’s appearance will not be compromised.

The only impact, albeit minor, the decision to be an organ donor might have would be in the timing of the release of the remains to the funeral home. This, of course, would depend on the complexity of the organ retrieval procedures and the length of time it would take for the medical team to respond. Notwithstanding these factors, the delay in the preparation of the deceased for viewing should not exceed 24 hours.

What is the composition of the residue remaining after the cremation process?

Many people believe the residue which remains after the cremation process consists solely of ashes. This is not so. Cremation is a technical process which reduces the remains to its basic elements, primarily bone fragments and particles.

These basic elements, depending on the size of the deceased, may weigh anywhere between 3 to 8 lbs and further reduced in size for placement in an urn or container.

As the deceased is usually cremated in a wooden casket or rigid container there is some residue of ash remaining after cremation. However, the dark ashes are easily distinguishable from the light bone particles and fragments which are removed from the ashes prior to their reduction. Therefore, the urn contains the “cremated remains” of the deceased not his or her ‘ashes” as they are often referred.

Can I preplan the funeral of a parent who may be ill or is reluctant to do so themselves?

It is not uncommon for persons terminally ill or incapacitated to have their funeral preplanned by a third party, such as, a next-of-kin, executor, legal representative or friend with, or in many cases, without their knowledge.

In a case where the subject of preplanning arrangements is in poor health and is unable to sign any documentation, then the third party should clearly identify to the Funeral Director his or her relationship to the subject and his or her authority to make such arrangements.

Although not a requirement, the choice to prepay these funeral services would also be available to a third party, particularly if that third party had been appointed power-of-attorney.

I want to donate my body to medical science. Do I have to look after my funeral?

When one donates their body to medical science, the estate of the deceased essentially assigns all rights to the body, including its final disposition, to the Medical School. It would then be the School’s responsibility to look after all funeral arrangements once their work was completed.

Generally the Medical School will release the remains of the deceased to a funeral home approximately 18 to 24 months after the date of death. Again, the final decision respecting the selection of a funeral home along with the desired services will rest with the School. However, the wishes of the family are taken into consideration.

In most instances the deceased will be cremated immediately upon his or her release to the funeral home with the cremated remains placed in a wooden urn or temporary container. The family may then wish to have a memorial service in a church or funeral home chapel or a short committal service at graveside.

If cremation is not desired the School will contribute to the purchase of a casket or provide one which will at least meet the Provincial Government specifications for indigent funerals. In this case the remains would be placed in a casket for immediate burial at a cemetery chosen by the family.

With the exception of the purchase of an expensive casket, the Medical School will incur all costs associated with the funeral services provided. They will also place a small headstone or bronze marker on the grave of the deceased.

What happens if the casket or any product previously selected and prefunded during the preplanning meeting is not available at the time of need?

Should a selected casket or any other product be discontinued or out-of-stock at time of need, an alternate choice of equal or higher value and quality will be provided. Most funeral homes have a wide range of products on hand to satisfy this product guarantee.

Funeral Arrangement Steps

Many people who are unfamiliar with funerals and other arrangements concerning death are often overwhelmed by the decisions and responsibilities they face when someone they love dies. This article is written to assist those people by providing a step by step approach to the various things they will have to consider when a death occurs.

Who do you call and what information is needed?

Most families have given some thought to the choice of a funeral home, so the first step is to call and speak to a funeral director. The funeral director will require basic information which will include the following:

  • Full name of the deceased and place of death
  • Name of next-of-kin
  • Name of person calling and relationship to the deceased
  • Name of doctor and whether or not an autopsy is required
  • Family telephone number and home address
  • Has the funeral been prearranged
  • Whether a funeral notice is needed immediately
  • A convenient time to meet the family to discuss funeral arrangements

In addition to contacting the funeral home, there are a number of other people who should be notified, such as:

  • The deceased’s relatives, close friends and neighbors
  • The deceased’s employer, if applicable
  • The employers of other family members, if they will not be attending work
  • If active in the church, a member of the clergy. (In many cases the clergy will be with the
    family on or about the time of death.)

Items to consider prior to arrangement meeting

It would be helpful for the arrangement meeting to consider the following items:

  • Prepare a draft funeral notice which could be completed once information relating to the
    funeral service is established
  • Select clothing, jewellery and personal effects to be worn by the deceased and determine
    which items could remain or be returned by the family
  • Select a picture of the deceased which could be used as a reference during preparation
  • To assist the funeral home in completing the Death Certificate, record personal
    information about the deceased such as full name, birthplace, place of residence,
    mother’s maiden name and birthplace, father’s name and birthplace, name of surviving
    spouse and occupation

Planning the funeral

The manner in which we pay tribute to our loved ones varies from family to family. However, a common theme in every funeral service is the desire to honor and celebrate the life of the deceased and comfort the bereaved.

It is the role of the funeral director during the arrangement meeting to offer suggestions and advice to the family in order that the funeral service selected is meaningful and best suits their wishes.

When planning the funeral, decisions regarding the following matters will be necessary:

Type of Service
The two most commons services, which may include all of the key elements of a funeral are the traditional funeral service and the cremation service.

The traditional service consists of a period of viewing and visitation, a ceremony in a church or funeral home chapel and graveside committal with earth burial.

If cremation is preferred you can still select a casket for visitation or viewing and have a church or chapel service. The only difference being that after the church or chapel service the casketed remains would be taken back to the crematorium rather than the cemetery. After cremation many people prefer to bury the urn.

There are also other options including: immediate burial with no visitation or ceremony, direct cremation with a memorial service, or having visitation and a ceremony in a church or chapel with the urn present.

Once the type of service is selected the following items must also be addressed:

  •  Visitation: Will there be specific visiting hours? Do you wish any special memorabilia
    displayed (i.e. pictures, flag, Masons apron, etc.)?
  • Viewing: Will the casket be open or closed?
  • Funeral: Time and place of the funeral, if applicable. Who will be the celebrant? Do
    you want a soloist? What hymns/songs should be played/sung? Who will act as
    pallbearers? Should family or friends be called upon for scripture readings or to pay
    tribute? If the deceased was a veteran or member of a fraternal organization, do you
    wish representatives of these groups to participate (i.e. pallbearers, honor guard,
    graveside ritual)?
  • Interment: Time and place of interment. How many plots will be required? If cremated,
    will the urn be buried in a previously occupied family plot, a new standard size plot, a cremation plot or placed in an above ground columbarium niche?
  • Merchandise: What type of casket/container or urn should you choose? Do you want a
    burial vault for added protection or will an outer wooden shell be sufficient?
  • Funeral notice: What should it say? What newspaper(s) should it appear in? Do you
    want the notice on the radio? Would you prefer flowers and/or donations? Do you wish
    to name a charity?
  • Flowers: What type of flowers would you prefer? Would you like them in the form of a
    spray, cross, etc? Will you require flowers for other family members?
  • Other services: Do you wish to give the clergy an honorarium? Do you need an extra
    car? Would you like a printed program or prayer cards?

The funeral director will review all costs, including their professional services, merchandise and any third party expenses. Financial benefits and assistance programs that may be available for the survivors are also discussed.

As a summary of the key elements presented, the following is a checklist for easy reference.

A Funeral Checklist:

  • Choose a funeral home
  • What type of service is desired (traditional or cremation)
  • Record personal information
  • Wording for funeral notice
  • Select clothing
  • A list of people who should be notified
  • Select casket, urn and burial vault or liner
  • If traditional service, will casket be opened or closed
  • Select celebrant and location of funeral service
  • Confirm people or organizations who should assume key roles (i.e. pallbearers, speakers,
    veterans, fraternal)
  • Consider ways to personalize the service (i.e. favorite hymn(s), music, readings,
  • Create rituals that would have special meaning to family and friends
  • If cremation is preferred, what will happen to the cremated remains
  • Select cemetery, if applicable

Funeral Celebrant

For a copy of the full article, please contact us.

Funeral Cortege

Before the arrival of the automobile or motorized funeral coach, the casket was transported by a horse-drawn carriage. Walking solemnly in front of the horse, the undertaker would lead the deceased and mourners in a slow, dignified cortege or ceremonial procession through the community to the church and cemetery. For a brief moment as the cortege went by, strangers would stop, remove their hats or bow their heads out of respect for the deceased and mourners.

Today the funeral cortege still remains an integral part of the funeral service. However, in the larger urban centers, with high traffic volumes and multiple intersections, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for funeral directors to maintain the integrity and safety of this time-honored practice.

Different traditions

The most common funeral cortege occurs after the church or chapel service when the deceased is conveyed to the cemetery for interment. It is also a tradition with many Roman Catholic families to accompany the deceased in a procession from the funeral home to the church.

In the case where the deceased is to be cremated after the church or chapel service, some families choose to have a procession back to the crematorium for a committal service.

It is also quite common for a family to request that the funeral cortege pass by the residence, business or workplace of the deceased or a location where the deceased spent a great deal of recreational or volunteer time such as a soccer field, stadium or a fraternal meeting place. When the cortege reaches the specified location, the funeral director will usually stop the funeral coach in front of it for a short time as a gesture of respect. On some occasions a family member or the funeral director will exit their vehicle and leave a single flower on the sidewalk.

Vehicle protocol

In today’s modern funeral cortege vehicles are arranged by the funeral director in a particular order. The funeral director, accompanied by the clergy, will lead the procession in a vehicle referred to as the lead car of clergy car. In most cases the funeral coach will then follow the lead car with the immediate family and relatives proceeding behind the coach in their own vehicles.

On certain occasion’s limousines, flower cars and vehicles for pallbearers are also used in the procession. Families who prefer not to drive and would like to stay together may choose to be driven in a limousine. Available in various sizes, the largest can hold up to ten people. Utility vans, which can hold as many as seven people, are often used to transport pallbearers. When the seats are removed, it can also be used to convey dozens of floral arrangements to the church or cemetery.

Regardless of the number of vehicles in a cortege, the correct protocol is to place the immediate family, whether they are driving their own vehicle or being driven in a limousine, directly behind the deceased. Additional vehicles such as a flower car or pallbearer van are then placed between the lead car and funeral coach. Large vehicles, like buses, which are sometimes used by the military or veterans, are considered too overbearing at the front of the procession and are, therefore, placed near the end.

Some processions are personalized. When a firefighter died the casket was conveyed to the cemetery on the back of a fire truck. Similarly, after the death of a truck driver a group of co-workers drove their trucks in the cortege, stopping at the entrance to the cemetery to blow their horns in tribute as the funeral coach went past them.


There are a number of ways a funeral director can identify a funeral cortege. The most popular is to use small flags or signs with the word “funeral” printed on them in bold letters. The base of the flags and signage is magnetized, allowing them to be easily attached and removed from the vehicle. Traditionally, two flags are placed on either side of the hood of both the lead car and funeral coach. Individual flags are sometimes placed on the hoods of family vehicles and every tenth car, particularly when there is a long procession that has to travel a great distance. Signage with the word “funeral” on it, used mostly in other parts of Canada, is placed on either side of the lead car.

Driving with headlights on during the daylight hours was once reserved for processions. But now all new vehicles are required to have daytime lights. To compensate for this, it is recommended that drivers turn their headlights on full (high beam). Others choose to engage their emergency flashing lights.

Another way of identifying a funeral cortege is by using caution lights. Until 1997 most funeral homes used amber lights, which are also used by utility companies, tow trucks and other motorists.

Today, purple dome lights and mini light bars are available exclusively for funeral processions and are not used for any other purpose in North America. They are very distinctive, and historically, purple is a color associated with the funeral ritual. Most funeral directors use mini light bars on the lead car and dome lights on other vehicles in large processions.


How safe is a funeral cortege? There are several factors that may jeopardize the safety of a procession. Intersections controlled by stop signs or traffic lights present problems with cross traffic and the “platoon effect.” This is when drivers at the end of the procession exceed the speed limit in an attempt to keep up. Failure to stop at intersections controlled by stop signs and traffic lights is an unsafe practice that has resulted in accidents.

In Canada, funeral corteges have no legal right to proceed through an intersection against a red light or through a stop sign without first coming to a full stop. As a driver you can be held liable for damages caused by failing to stop. There are, however, at least three U.S. states that have passed legislation granting funeral processions the right of way.

What safety measures are taken? It is recommended that drivers of lead cars travel at least 10 km/h under the speed limit. Most will try to maintain a constant speed between 20 to 30 km/h. Waiting for a full green light will likely allow the whole procession to pass through the intersection. For long processions a police escort is often used, particularly in larger urban areas. As noted above, clearly identifying the cortege will make it much easier for motorists. Reviewing the procession route with other drivers prior to the start of the procession is also helpful.

Funeral Etiquette

Unlike the days when everyone along the procession route would stop and take off their cap or bow their heads when the horse and carriage passed by, out of respect for the deceased, there is a noticeable lack of respect prevalent in today’s society for the funeral cortege. Heavier traffic volumes, busier lifestyles and younger motorists who are not aware of this funeral etiquette, all combine to diminish this important ritual.

To quote the managing editor of the Sarnia Observer, Carl De Gurse, “We will lose something valuable if we lose traffic respect for funeral processions. When we pull over and give our right of way to mourners, we give the gift of compassion for their grief. Because the gift comes from strangers, it means much more.”

Funeral Insurance

There are a variety of payment options available for those who wish to prepay their funeral. One such option, that is marketed throughout Canada is what is commonly referred to as “funeral insurance” or life insurance that has been specifically designed to cover funeral costs at the time of need.

Although the marketing of these insurance products are strikingly similar, some of them are not as simple and straight forward as they appear and, more importantly, may not provide the coverage needed when death occurs.

From a funeral director’s perspective, the following are the key points to consider when contemplating the purchase of “funeral insurance”.


Insurance agents are not funeral directors. Although some will have a rudimentary understanding of the average costs of a funeral with promotional materials to support it, they will have no idea what your funeral will cost. Avoid purchasing too little or too much coverage, but make sure you have adequate protection.

Key Point No. 1:

Do not purchase any insurance without first preplanning your funeral and identifying the costs of the funeral services and other final expenses. This will give you a clear idea of how much coverage you need.


All persons from ages 0 to 85 and in some cases up to 90 years of age are eligible for funeral insurance. Some companies require no health information whatsoever, while others specify no doctor’s examination but will ask you health questions.

As you know, life insurance is sold on the basis of a person’s age, life style and health. If insurance companies are waiving or minimizing the amount of information required about a person’s health or medical condition, there must be a safe guard built into the policies to compensate for the possible poor health of an applicant.

Companies which require no health information or because of health reasons the applicant does not qualify for full coverage, offer plans that contain a time restriction and limited death benefit before coverage comes into effect. With these plans there is usually a time restriction of 18 or 24 months, depending on the term of the policy when the death benefit will be limited to a return in premiums paid plus an annualized growth rate of 3 or 4 per cent depending on market conditions.

Consider the following example

A 75 year old gentleman in poor health has preplanned a $5,000 funeral service for himself and has chosen to prepay it by purchasing an insurance policy for the same amount. He would like to have the policy paid in full at the end of five years. Because of his poor health he does not qualify for full coverage until the end of the 24th month. He agrees to purchase the policy but dies at the end of the first policy year.

In accordance with the terms of the policy, the gentleman’s beneficiary will receive the following amount:

  • Cost of the monthly premiums: $5,000 X 0.025 (factor assured) = $125/month
  • Value of Premiums Paid: $125/month X 12 = $1,500
  • Rate of growth on the premiums paid: $1,500 X 4% = $60
  • The beneficiary will receive the premiums paid plus 4% return (i.e. $1,500 + $60) or $1,560.00
  • Unfortunately there is still a $3,440 shortfall in the amount needed to pay for his funeral.

Key Point No. 2:

Although one of the important features of this type of insurance is the limited health information required in order to qualify, you should be aware of the restrictions and limitations designed into these policies for those who do have poor health. Ensure the policy you purchase can provide the coverage you need or desire.

Funeral Cost Guarantee

For those who qualify for immediate coverage, which in this case are those persons in good health, there are insurance companies that offer whole life insurance products or products with increasing benefits that can be used by funeral homes to prefund prearranged funeral services. In addition, the funeral home will guarantee or hold the cost of the funeral service and other final expenses for the duration of the contract from the date the first premium payment is received by the insurance company.

Here’s how it works: After meeting with a funeral director to preplan your funeral and identify the cost of the funeral services selected, a life insurance agent will then meet with you to review the various policies available. Unless additional insurance is required, the coverage selected would coincide with the cost of the funeral services. In order for the costs to be guaranteed by the funeral home, the policy must be assigned by the purchaser to the funeral home. This means that when the death of the purchaser occurs and the funeral services are rendered, the funeral home will receive the full value of the policy plus the growth component. A special assignment form will be provided by the agent for this purpose.

Failure to keep the assigned policy in force will render it null and void. This will then relieve the funeral home of any further obligation and cause the cancellation of the prefunded funeral services agreement.

As an alternative to assigning the insurance policy to the funeral home, some funeral homes will guarantee the cost of the funeral if named as the beneficiary of the policy. There is a risk, however, for the funeral home as the owner of the policy may change the beneficiary at any time without notifying the funeral home. On the other hand, if a funeral home is assigned the policy and the policy is revocable, the funeral home must be advised if the owner of the policy wishes to assign the policy to another party.

Key Point No. 3:

In order to guarantee the cost of your funeral through the use of life insurance, ensure the policy has a growth component and the funeral home will accept its assignment or is named as the policy’s beneficiary.


Do not hesitate to investigate or inquire about the insurance company and the products they are offering. Each company should be registered with both the provincial and federal governments. Ask the funeral home if it is aware of the company or has any experience with them. Determine whether the company is a member of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Compensation Corporation (CompCorp). CompCorp provides consumer protection for persons who have policies with member companies. It will ensure eligible policies with coverage of up to $200,000 will be continued, generally in accordance with their terms, in the event of the insolvency of a member company.

Should you wish additional information about coverage provided by CompCorp or to confirm whether an insurance company is a member, you may call their Information Centre toll-free at 1-800-268-8099

Key Point No. 4:

Ensure that your funeral insurance provider is a duly registered company licensed to operate and sell insurance products in this province and is a member in good standing of CompCorp.

Funeral insurance is designed to provide coverage which increases in value to offset the effect of inflation on funeral costs. Funeral homes have the option of entering into joint agreements with selected insurance companies to promote the use of their products to prefund prearranged funeral services. In addition to a funeral home’s own Cash Funded Prepayment Plans, funeral insurance allows funeral homes to provide a broader range of prepayment products to suit everyone’s budget.

Funeral Home Facilities

In the past decade funeral service has experienced significant change, but none as profound as the changes occurring to the funeral home itself. Existing facilities are being remodelled and new facilities constructed using state of the art designs and unique layouts.

Funeral directors are constantly reminded of how the death rate is projected to grow steadily over the next few decades, reaching a peak when those born during the population boom of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s pass away. This had undoubtedly been one reason for some of the dramatic changes, particularly in the larger urban areas, but it is certainly not the only reason.

Consumers expectations are changing. Recognizing this, funeral home owners and operators are endeavoring to enhance the services and products they provide by enhancing their facilities.

This has led to an unprecedented growth in new funeral home construction and the remodelling and expansion of existing funeral homes. Large, modern facilities are being designed and built to provide the public with a more spacious, homelike environment. Well-appointed lobbies, reposing rooms and lounges are being enlarged or added for the comfort and convenience of families and friends. Additional services are also being provided with the installation of crematoria, chapels and reception centres.

In order to meet the trend of providing a greater product choice for consumers, leading funeral homes are developing professional merchandising plans. This has entailed the complete remodelling of casket selection rooms, the addition of cremation and other funeral-related products and vast improvements in organizing, classifying and displaying these products.

Local Impact

Twenty years ago there were fewer than 50 funeral homes in Newfoundland and Labrador. Today there are 88 licensed funeral homes and branch operations (i.e. a smaller facility, used for arrangements and visitations only and generally located within a 30 km radius of the principal funeral home.) New facilities have been constructed in Happy Valley, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Whitbourne, Marystown and Arnold’s Cove, to name a few.

Up until 1986 all cremations for the province were performed in Nova Scotia, which meant the deceased had to be shipped by air to the crematorium. Today there are six crematoria serving the province three located on the Avalon, one each in Stephenville, Corner Brook and Gander.

In addition to new funeral homes being constructed, many facilities throughout the province have undergone extensive renovations and expansion.

Changes and Improvements

What changes and improvements have been made? In the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Licensing Regulations of 1981, which are the provincial regulations governing the construction and operation of funeral homes, it is stipulated that “every funeral home shall have the following approved minimum facilities: an office, a preparation room, a casket display room, a reposing room and a public washroom.”

In addition to adhering to the minimum standards, today’s funeral homes have much more to offer. The following is a summary of a few of the added features.

Front Entrance and Lobby

The centerpiece of any facility is it’s front entrance and lobby. This is particularly true in a funeral home. To protect the public from inclement weather and to accentuate its entrance, many facilities have roof overhangs or porticos for vehicles. These structures are often supported by large columns or piers which also add to the elegance of the building.

The funeral home lobby has now become the interior focal point of the building connecting all other public areas such as the business and arrangement offices, reposing rooms, lounges and chapel. It’s décor and design are usually very similar to a residence or hotel lobby and features high ceilings, chandeliers, fireplaces and elaborate furnishings

Architects are also using large decorative windows in entranceways to introduce more natural light into the space. This is an element which is sadly lacking in many of the older funeral homes. Marble flooring and stain glass windows have also been used very effectively in lobby designs.

Arrangement office

There have been many changes made to the arrangement office. In the past family members sat in front of the funeral director, who was at a desk recording pertinent information. Today, the arrangement office is more like a dining room than an office, as the desk has been replaced with a table and five or six chairs. The family and funeral director take their seats around the table and complete the arrangements in surroundings considered to be more intimate and personal. Other features added to the office include attractive paintings and plants, soft lighting, cabinets and bookshelves. Because the arrangement office, in many funeral homes, is next to the casket selection room, some funeral directors also display a variety of urns.

With the birth of the electronic age, the age of personal computers and information technology, some funeral homes are using computers during the arrangement meeting to record all the vital information needed to coordinate the funeral service. The software packages designed for this function also include a detailed menu of caskets, urns, vaults and other burial products. To facilitate these arrangements, special furnishings are available to allow the family to view the computer screen while the funeral director inputs the data and shows the various product offerings.

When not in use for arrangements or pre-arrangements, some use the area as a resource centre where books, videos and other materials about death, dying and bereavement are available to the public. Some funeral homes even have their own video player and other electronic equipment.


Currently there are six crematoria operating in the Province, three of which are located on the Avalon and one each in Stephenville, Corner Brook and Gander. Although the cremation rate for the Province is still the lowest in Canada at about 15%, the majority of these cremations are occurring within the St. John’s Metropolitan Region.

In the past 5 to 10 years it has become a significant part of the overall services provided by local funeral homes and is estimated to represent almost 35% of the overall deaths in the St. John’s Region annually (i.e. 400 cremations).

Traditionally, crematoria were not associated with funeral homes and were usually located in cemeteries or other independent sites. The Funeral Director would then have to arrange for the cremation by contacting the cemetery or independent operator. This is still the way it is in Ontario and some other Provinces as funeral homes are not permitted to own and operate crematoria.

In Newfoundland the opposite is true. There are no ownership restrictions and, therefore the six crematoria are owned and operated by funeral homes.

Even with ownership in the hands of funeral homes there is still a stigma attached to where the crematorium should be located. Many try to hide the retort in a garage or exterior structure.

However, this is beginning to change. Crematoria are now accessible to families and others, such as, clergy or other care givers. Elaborate viewing rooms or committal areas have been designed to accommodate a limited number of family members, clergy and friends.

Some religious faiths like to participate in the actual cremation and, as a symbolic gesture, are permitted to start the machine. In Newfoundland the Anglican faith has what is known as the “committal to flame” where an Anglican Clergy, Funeral Director and family members, if desired, attend a short committal service at the crematorium prior to the start of the cremation process. The United Church also has liturgy developed for this type of committal service and will perform a similar service when requested by the family.


Depending on which Province you are in, a funeral home chapel can play a significant role in the funeral service of a loved one. For example, it is traditional in Alberta to hold two chapel services. The first service will be held shortly after the death for immediate family members, relatives and close friends or associates. The next day, after a one or two hour visitation period, a second chapel service will take place for the public.

Because funeral home chapels in Alberta are such an intricate part of the service provided, many of the funeral homes have at least one chapel with seating for about 150, while other larger establishments have a second chapel with the capacity to seat between 250 to 350 people.

The majority of funeral services in Newfoundland and Labrador are conducted from churches. In fact, in many rural communities the deceased is also waked in the church prior to the service.

However, this is not the case in St. John’s where almost 300 chapel services are held annually.

The first funeral home chapel in the Province was opened in St. John’s in 1966. There are now 3 chapels in Newfoundland all of which are located in St. John’s. Each chapel has been designed as a integral part of the overall facility and may be accessed from inside the funeral home or from the parking area. Common features of each include seating for approximately 150 in pews, cathedral ceilings, unique lighting and stain glass windows.

The décor in each varies from painted gyproc walls to beams finished in cedar and front and back walls with slate.

Like cremation, the use of funeral home chapels is a growing trend in the industry. More and more funeral homes and cemeteries are adding chapels to accommodate transient families and those no longer affiliated with a church, small families who are reluctant to use large churches and churches themselves who can no longer afford the high costs of heat and light.

Reception Centres

The most recent addition to a funeral home facility has been the reception center, an area dedicated solely for the gathering of family, relatives and friends after the funeral and committal service. It is in addition to the lounges used by the family during the visitation period.

Also referred to as a community room or coffee lounge, the area includes a small kitchen and spacious lounge with tables and chairs. Instead of going to someone’s home, family and friends return to the reception centre where the funeral home arranges catering services.

This concept has become very popular in funeral homes throughout Canada particularly in large cities like Toronto. Some variation of the concept are being tried in our Province where there is a limited overlap between deaths.

Merchandise Selection Rooms

Vast improvements have been made in the manner in which caskets, urns and other funeral related products are organized, classified and displayed.

Traditionally caskets have been displayed on biers or pedestals in no particular order and in a poorly lit room with little décor. Small printed cards or metal numbers identifying the model and price are placed in or on the caskets. When entering the room consumers who are very apprehensive, become quickly overwhelmed and confused about having to choose from a product line they know very little about and don’t want to know very much about.

In today’s modern selection room the disciplines of design, décor and lighting are combined to enhance the quality of the merchandise and the appearance of the room.

Because of the shortage of space in the typical selection room, specially designed double racks for caskets are used. These racks are low to the ground so that the top casket can be viewed easily. The racking also provides sufficient capacity to provide the consumer with a wide choice.

Each casket is displayed in accordance with its type and classification. For example, all wood caskets are displayed together as are metal caskets. Then each casket is classified to show value progression, such as steel, copper or bronze. Separate niches are also available to set off one casket from another.

The layout of the room is critical. The niches are placed so that one side of the room is devoted entirely to metal caskets and the other side to wood. This makes it easier for the consumer to view the entire assortment of one particular casket classification (i.e. all the steel caskets or the same specie of wood).

The physical characteristics of the room are also important. The ideal color consists of various hues of salmon and peach. Suspension ceiling with lay in panels and a commercial-grade carpet with bonded padding are recommended. The most flexible lighting system available is track lighting. Each light can be focused exactly where it’s needed.

A key component of a modern selection room is signage. Each sign highlights the features and benefits of the casket and then shows the price in large numerals. Attractively framed, the sings are mounted on the wall behind the closed lid portion of the casket or hung on a special bracket placed on the handle of the casket.

The same design principals are used for cremation-related products, ideally in a separate selection room. This provides sufficient space to display a wide variety of cremation caskets and urns of different materials, styles and prices.

Funerals and the Environment

Over the past decade government regulators, special interest groups and members of the general public have been paying much more attention to issues affecting or relating to the environment. Environmental standards for air and water quality and health and safety have been reviewed, updated and implemented in almost every industry. Funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories have not been left out of this environmental scrutiny. Preparation room solid waste, body fluid disposal, crematory air emissions and hazards associated with the use of formaldehyde are some of the higher profile issues which impact the funeral and memorialization industry.

Crematory Air Emissions

With the ever-increasing demand for cremation in the United States and Canada, questions and concerns regarding stack emissions continue to arise from time to time. In the late 1990’s the most extensive emissions research ever undertaken was conducted in New York State by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The data obtained confirmed that the design and operation of typical North American crematories provided significantly better emissions than regulations required and even exceeded expectations with older operating systems.

Subsequent to this research, the EPA determined from industry data that crematories were unique in their design and operation and not a significant source of air emissions. Although the EPA separated human crematories from other types of incineration equipment, this separation has not occurred in Canada. As a result, cremators are covered under the same legislation as incinerators.

Unlike the U.S., to date, the Canadian Government has not done any emissions testing. Instead, regulators are using the U.S. data but with a less favorable interpretation. In the absence of Canada-wide standards, provincial environmental agencies have established their own requirements. For example, in Ontario all new crematories must have continuous gas monitoring systems and undergo stack tests.

Even though U.S. research has proven otherwise, crematories are often thought of by the public in the same way as other waste incinerators with stacks billowing large volumes of dark smoke filled with pollutants into the air. In an article by Paul Rahill, President of Matthews International Cremation Division, which appeared in the January 1999 edition of the American Funeral Director, entitled “Cremation and Environmental Issues”, he writes, “that in reality two of the most commonly watched pollutants from human crematories are particulates of dust and carbon monoxide. These are the same pollutants emitted from cars, restaurants and fireplaces.”

In the article, Mr. Rahill provides the following comparisons. A typical high-volume crematory emits less than half as many particulates than a “fast food” restaurant, and a residential fireplace emits almost six times more particulates. In comparing carbon monoxide emissions, a residential fireplace can emit 58 times more carbon monoxide per hour and a diesel truck 366 times more carbon monoxide per hour than a typical crematory. When considering that the average crematory in North America operates less than three hours per day, the impact of crematories on air quality verses vehicles, restaurants and fireplaces becomes much less significant by comparison.

Mercury from dental fillings is another issue which has been raised. Exposure to mercury vapor was addressed in a recently published report from the United Kingdom, where their cremation rate is over 70%. The concentration of mercury found in soil samples taken in close proximity to the test crematory was almost 7 times lower than that allowed for food production and more than 100 times lower than that allowed for children’s playgrounds. Furthermore, the average concentration of mercury found in hair samples taken from crematory employees was over three times less than the “tolerable” level. When compared to a typical North American crematory that operates at only 20% of the production levels found in the United Kingdom, it is apparent the anticipated impact of mercury emissions is minimal.

Recently, concerns have also been raised over the potential exposure crematory personnel may encounter with decedents who have been treated with nuclear medicines or received brachytherapy treatment. This treatment involves the implantation of radioactive seeds. The rupture of certain types of radioactive seeds during the actual cremation or during the processing of the cremated remains could result in a significant release of radiation in a relatively confined area. To eliminate this potential risk, crematory personnel are required to find out the type of seed used and it’s half-life and then determine if the seed should be removed or the cremation delayed until it is considered inactive.

Well-operated crematories are environmentally sound. Most are equipped with large after-chambers for the reburning and scanning of the exhaust prior to discharge into the atmosphere. Continuous monitoring equipment located in the stack also monitors operating temperatures and stack emissions and will shut down the cremation process if there is any deviation in the pre-set conditions.

Although emissions research and testing have yielded favorable results, most environmental regulators are complaint-driven. If inspectors are not receiving complaints from the public, it is unlikely they are going to look for complaints. Smoke or visible emissions and odors are the most common complaints received by regulators.

Environmental performance can be improved by using high quality equipment and parts, establishing a regular preventative maintenance program, having the equipment inspected and fine-tuned by professional staff annually and enrolling operators in a professional training program.

There are other factors, however, that create or contribute to environmental problems over which the crematorium operator may have little or no control. Funeral directors and casket manufacturers can help limit the likelihood of smoke and odors by continuing the development of the most “environmentally friendly” caskets for cremation; promoting cremation caskets to families; controlling the placement of hazardous items or materials in caskets and not rushing the cremation process.

Body Fluid Disposal

Another environmental area of concern in a funeral home or transfer centre is the preparation room. The embalming process includes the aspiration or removal of blood and body fluids and replacement with a chemical solution. Currently blood and body fluids are discharged directly into the sanitary sewer system. The by-products of the embalming process are thoroughly diluted with water in discharge basins before entering the sewer system. To ensure these by-products do not find their way into the public water supply, vacuum breakers are placed on the main water line leading into the funeral home and on all hydroaspirators.

Concerns have been raised by Provincial environment officials in Ontario, however, as to whether this discharge should first be treated in holding tanks prior to its release into the sewage system. An environmental consultant, engaged by the Provincial Funeral Service Association, has successfully demonstrated with extensive test results obtained from other jurisdictions, that the demands the embalming process places on the sanitary sewer system are extremely small. Although the Provincial Government continues to accept direct disposal, in light of the Walkerton tragedy, some municipalities in Ontario continue to monitor the issue.

The embalming process may also pose a health risk for funeral home staff. Infectious and contagious diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV are only a few of the pathogenic organisms that may be present in human blood or other body fluids.

To prevent contact of pathogens, staff should wear protective clothing and equipment, practice cleanliness, disinfect all equipment, instruments and work areas after use, and to use proper work methods to reduce splashes and contact with body fluids.

Preparation Room Solid Waste

Anything that might have come in contact with unembalmed remains or body fluids is considered potentially contaminated. In government regulations it is referred to as biohazardous solid waste. It may include disposable gowns, gloves, sheets, clothing, sponges, paper towels and any other solid waste item.

All biohazardous waste items should be placed in an appropriately marked container or bag and secured before disposition. Laundry items should be placed in a cloth bag tied at the top and the bag and contents laundered.

Instruments such as syringes, blades, needles, etc., are referred to as “sharps”. These biohazardous items should be placed in a special container with a sealed lid. When filled, the container and contents should be incinerated.

Use of Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas with a strong pungent odor. It is sold to funeral homes as a water-based solution containing approximately 35 to 50 percent formaldehyde by weight. Depending on the circumstances it may be further diluted by the embalmer before use.

Formaldehyde is a regulated substance that can pose substantial health hazards. It is immediately and seriously hazardous to the eyes, can cause skin damage within a short period of time and is strongly implicated as a carcinogen.

There are a number of ways in which exposure to formaldehyde vapors can be reduced or eliminated. One of the most effective ways to control airborne concentrations of formaldehyde is to control it at its source. This is done by the enclosure of the vapor source such as placing covers on the embalming machines or by the use of a ventilation system.

Ventilation of a prep room is very important. In many cases, general ventilation with exhaust fans is adequate. As the vapors are heavier than air, the fans should be placed just above the floor.

Other practices include minimizing splashes, pouring chemicals from bottles slowly, keeping all lids tightly closed, treating autopsy viscera in covered pails, thoroughly rinsing the prep table and instruments used in the procedure and leaving ventilation exhaust fans on for a while after the preparation has been completed.

Every prep room should be equipped with an eyewash station and shower (large operations) or portable eyewash drenching solution (small operations) in case of an emergency.

A few years ago, the Ontario Department of Environment decided to check formaldehyde levels in a number of older cemeteries in the Toronto area. Test holes were drilled and samples taken. Formaldehyde concentrations were found to be well below acceptable levels.


Environmental issues will remain at the top of the agenda and will continue to impact the funeral and memorialization industry. As it is our tradition to care for others, funeral professionals must also care for their communities and be cognizant of how their services may affect public health, safety and comfort.

Grief Assistance

In today’s society there is an increased awareness and sensitivity to grief and its affects. Although grief may manifest itself in many ways, it is most often associated with the death of a loved one. Until recent times, the funeral profession was focused primarily on the care and final disposition of the deceased. As a consequence, families were often forced to deal with their grief by themselves.

Thanks to better education, training and a desire to add more value to their services, some funeral homes have introduced a grief assistance or “aftercare” program. In her book , “ The Complete Funeral Guide,” author Patricia A. Simone defines “after care” as a service now offered by some funeral homes for assisting families through the practical issues after death as well as offering assistance through the grieving process.

Regrettably, the level of support provided by such a program is based on the resources available. As some programs are both costly and labor intensive, a number of different approaches are offered.

Library of Grief Materials

As there is extensive literature available for people seeking help, some funeral homes provide a library of grief books and materials. Displayed in a dedicated area of the funeral home, often referred to as a resource centre, family members may select from a variety of books and other materials written by well-known authors in the field of grief recovery and bereavement support. Like a public library the books may be borrowed and returned at an appropriate time.

A few examples of suggested reading material include:

  • Afterloss, A Recovery Companion for Those Who are Grieving, by Barbara Les Strang.
  • Genesis: A Personal Guide Through Grief. John Kennedy Saynor (Genesis, 1990).
  • Concerning Death: A Practical Guide for the Living. Earle Grollman (Beacon Press, 1974).

Referral Services

One of the more popular approaches used by funeral homes is the referral service. There are many professionals and caring support organizations and individuals in the community offering grief therapy sessions and/or one-on-one support. Funeral homes are quite familiar with these individuals and groups and will provide information, contact names and phone numbers to newly grieving families. They will also provide a list of resource books and materials on the subject of loss and grief that can be purchased elsewhere.

Some of the organizations and agencies providing this type of support in Newfoundland and Labrador include: the Bereavement Association of St. John’s; Senior Resource Centre; Survivors of Suicide, and the Cancer Society, just to name a few. There are also trained individuals who have set up their own consultancy practices dedicated to helping those coping with the issues of death, dying, grief and loss.

Brochures and Pamphlets

Shortly after the funeral and memorial service, a time is arranged by a funeral director to visit with the bereaved family, either in their own home or the funeral home. At this time, in addition to delivering a portfolio of personal articles, expressions of sympathy and legal documents, the funeral director will provide selected brochures or pamphlets containing information applicable to the loss and grief that family is currently experiencing. Examples may include, the loss of a child, sibbling or long term spouse, and the many other kinds of devastating losses that are so common today.

This type of bereavement material will only provide a degree of short-term relief. It is offered to promote a better understanding of grief and for those requiring additional help, a reason for seeking it.

Grief Counselor

The most expensive but least popular aftercare program offered by some large high-volume funeral homes involves an on-staff grief therapist or counselor. Typically, grief counselors conduct open sessions for the bereaved on a particular day and may also provide one-on-one therapy. Rarely do they have time to make personal visits to families, although having a qualified and registered therapist on staff is very appealing. Many funeral homes find that only approximately 10 percent of families take advantage of the program. The primary reason being that few people feel comfortable talking with a stranger about their grief and personal feelings.

Help Letters

Touted as one of the best ways for funeral homes to provide aftercare and growing in popularity, Help Letters are a professionally written monthly publication that enable families to understand and cope with their grief.

Names and addresses of bereaved families are provided by the funeral home. Help Letters are then forwarded to the homes of each family for a period of 6 to 12 months depending on the program selected by the funeral home. Each issue traces the grief journey and guides those who have experienced a loss through the grief process. As the material is printed, families can read the Help Letter on their own time and at their own pace.

One of the leading providers of grief recovery products is W.L. Smith Ltd. As those who grieve share many common experiences, their monthly publication Afterloss™ was created: (1) to offer the knowledge and insight that promotes a better understanding of grief, (2) to provide a valuable and helpful resource for newly grieving people and for professionals who want to help them, (3) to offer comfort and care in an easy-to-read format and, (4) to provide the tools needed to successfully manage the grieving periods that are so much a part of life. Funeral homes across Canada are now using this resource to assist bereaved families through the grieving process.

Phone Therapy

Phone therapy is a relatively new form of aftercare. As the term suggests, families are contacted by phone shortly after the funeral or memorial services. For those who are not afraid to discuss their grief with a stranger, this approach does deliver help in a timely, private and convenient format.

Combined Approach

Some funeral homes are offering a variety of approaches by combining programs A common approach used is to establish a library or resource centre, have brochures and pamphlets available for the public and for presentation to bereaved families and provide referral service when additional help is needed.


Today’s funeral homes are becoming more conscious of a family’s grief and its effects and are willing to assist grieving family members in a variety of ways. As funeral directors reach out to you do not hesitate to seek their assistance. There is much we can do together.

How Can I Help

For many people a funeral home can be a very intimidating place, particularly if you have never been in one before or have never experienced the death of a family member or close friend. In some cases, even if you have experienced a loss, you still feel awkward about entering and even more so about facing the family for the first time.

How often have you thought, “I don’t know what to say,” or “What can I do to help,” on the eve of going into a funeral home or after learning of the death of a relative, close friend or neighbor? This is quite natural. There are, however, many things each of us can do to show our support and comfort, and in so doing we not only help the bereaved family but also ourselves.

Being There

There is nothing more comforting to a bereaved family than simply “being there.” This can be demonstrated in many ways:

  • Attending the funeral service
  • Visiting the funeral home
  • Visiting the family’s home
  • If out of town, telephone or sending a personal letter, card or leaving a message of
    condolence on the funeral home’s website

By being there you show the family that even though there has been a death, their friends still remain and care about them very much. This should not end when the funeral ends. In many cases, it is just as important to be there after the funeral. It is the days and weeks that follow that can be the most difficult for the survivor. Their feelings of loneliness, confusion and fear can be overwhelming but quickly eased by a phone call, letter or visit.

What To Say

Everyone expresses themselves differently, but when someone has died even the most eloquent person can become lost for words or unsure of what to say. Try to avoid clichés such as:

  • “You’re doing so well”
  • “I know just how you feel”
  • “You’ll be alright”
  • “Time will take care of everything”

Although well-intentioned, the bereaved family may feel even more alone or confused when such clichés are used. Instead of suggesting how they should or will feel, let them tell you the emotions they are experiencing. Help them express their emotions. This may be done by saying:

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “This must be very hard for you”
  • “How is everyone coping?”

Sometimes nothing needs to be said. A warm embrace or handshake is all that is necessary to show how much you care, particularly if there is a large crowd at the funeral home and conversation is restricted.

It’s Okay To Cry

One way to acknowledge your loss is by crying. Tears are not a sign of weakness. It is okay to cry with the bereaved family. It is a positive outlet for your emotions and actually makes you and family members feel better.

And Laugh

On many occasions in the funeral home, it is not uncommon to hear loud laughter coming from a visitation room or lounge. At these times family and friends are recounting humorous incidents they heard about or have had with the deceased. Laughter is another positive emotion which helps the pain disappear and the healing to begin. Do not be reluctant to share in or contribute to these moments of laughter and enjoyment. There is no ban on laughter when celebrating the life of a loved one.

Flowers, Donations and Cards

There are a number of traditional ways in which relatives and friends can express their care and support to a bereaved family. The newspaper notice announcing the death of a loved one can give you real insight into some of the ways which hold special meaning for the family. For example, statements such as “Flowers gratefully accepted…” or “in lieu of flowers, donations may be made….” express a family’s desire for flowers and/or donations to a specific charity.

For those families who do make comments about flowers or donations in the funeral notice, they are usually made after careful consideration and consultation, keeping in mind the importance of certain organizations or groups to the deceased and his or her likes or dislikes.

Thus many people do choose to send flowers or make a contribution in memory of the deceased, to a charity as specified in the notice or of one’s choice.

Others like to purchase sympathy or mass cards which they bring to the funeral home during the visitation period or send to family members after the funeral.

All of these gestures of kindness bring great comfort to the family and at the same time express your love and sympathy to them.

The Gift of Food

It is a well known tradition, certainly in small communities, when a family experiences a death, for neighbors, relatives and close friends to bring food to the funeral home and/or family home as a gesture of their love and support for the grieving family. Cakes, soup and sandwiches or other prepared meals are wonderful gifts for a family who will have little time to prepare their own meals while meeting relatives and friends at the funeral home. Those family members who no longer live in the community will also appreciate a home cooked meal during their return home for the funeral of their loved one.

After the Funeral

Grief does not end with the funeral. Healing is a long process which may require many months, even years. As noted earlier, continue to call and visit. Maybe you can drop by with some food, offer to babysit or take the children for the day. Remember the special days like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. These are especially difficult for the bereaved. Let them know you are thinking about them. If a friend or relative’s grief is especially painful and he or she is having difficulty coping, tell them about support groups where people with similar losses discuss their problems and ways to manage their grief. You may also refer them to the Bereavement Association of St. John’s. The association has the names and numbers of various groups offering bereavement support.

Life does change after someone dies. In many cases the changes can be difficult and painful. However, you can help by simply being there.

Independent Movement

In North America funeral, burial and cremation services are offered by various types of organizations. For those who wish a simple, no frills service, membership in a memorial society or cooperative is the preferred choice. Others prefer the options offered by large National chains. But the vast majority select locally owned and operated independent funeral homes for their bereavement needs. These “ma and pa” or family run operations have usually served the community for generations and have earned the trust and respect of those who live there.

With the emergence of the large publicly traded funeral service corporations, independent funeral home operators saw a need to support one another and thus, decided to form organizations to look after their interests.

One such organization is the Canadian Independent Group of Funeral Homes (CIGFH). The CIGFH is a National Organization that is dedicated solely to representing the interests of independent funeral home owners and operators in Canada. With a membership base of more than 500 members the Canadian Independent Group represents over 30% of the 1500+ licensed funeral homes nation-wide.

It is a relatively young organization founded 15 years ago by a small group of passionate independent funeral home owners at a time when multi-national corporations were acquiring independent funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries throughout North America at a frenzied pace.

Two of the more prominent conglomerates are Service Corporation International (SCI) and Alderwoods (formerly the Loewen Group). At their peak, these companies owned thousands of funeral homes and cemeteries world-wide and were a very powerful force in the marketplace. Because of this they had enormous purchasing power which enabled them to buy funeral merchandise, such as caskets, urns, vaults, stationary and other supplies at highly discounted prices.

This was obviously a concern for the independents who would be at a competitive disadvantage on their own if their competitors were able to purchase products and supplies at lower costs than they could.

Under the premise there is “strength in numbers”, the Canadian Independent Group of Funeral Homes, was formed. The CIGFH has become a very relevant group within the funeral profession offering significant benefits and services to its members. These include:

  • A Group Purchasing Program which provides exclusive member discounts and savings. Some of the participants in the program include:*Esso * General Motors * Petro Canada * Victoriaville Caskets * Moores Clothing * Scotiabank * Westmount Hospitality Group * Bell Mobility * Eckels
  • Passages which is an informative series of 12 brochures centered around grief and bereavement. Some of the titles include:
  • Your Grief: The First Painful Days
  • Coping with Grief During the Holidays
  • Will and Estate Planning
  • Trauma in the Community
  • And a quarterly newsletter and website which allows them to communicate with their members and the general public.

The Board of CIGFH has at least one representative from each of the 10 Provinces. It transacts most of its business via teleconferencing and meets in person at least once a year at its Annual Meeting which is held in conjunction with the Funeral Service Association of Canada’s Annual Convention and Tradeshow.

As a volunteer Board CIGFH relies on the services of a company called the Willow Group. Based in Ottawa, the Willow Group are event planners and professional managers who run the day to day operations of the CIG. This includes marketing and communications, administrative and secretarial functions and all financial matters.

CIGFH is not alone. In British Columbia, Family Funeralhome Association (FFA) has also been supporting the interests of Independent, family owned funeral homes. It was the FFA, as well as other independent Canadian firms who successfully stopped SCI from registering its trademark ~Family Funeral Care” in Canada.

In 2002/2003 when SCI turned its attention to the U.S. and tried to obtain full Principal Registration of its trademark “Family Funeral Care”, a number of U.S. regional, ethnic and national independent funeral organizations rallied to help the FFA in fighting SCI in the U.S. Courts. This coalition of like-minded organizations has since formed the Network of Independent Funeral Director Associations (NIFDA).

The CIGFH is one of over 20 member organizations which make up the NIFDA. Others include the International Order of the Golden Rule (OGR), Family Funeralhome Association, National Morticians Association, Preferred Funeral Directors International, National Independent Jewish Funeral Directors and Independent Funeral Directors Groups representing more than 10 states.

Led by the Independent Funeral Directors of Florida, OGR and the FFA, the NIFDA have recently embarked on a U.S./Canada-wide fund raising campaign, the monies from which will be used to force the cancellation of SCI’s supplemental registration of “Family Funeral Care”.

If the NIFDA fails to convince the U.S. Patent and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, and SCI is permitted to keep its supplemental Registration, SCI could re-launch its efforts to win its Principal Registration of this mark. If successful, which is quite possible, this could make every independent funeral home in the country where the trademark is registered, that uses any form of “family funeral care’ vulnerable to legal action by SCI.

This fight to prevent SCI from exclusively owning and renaming itself “Family Funeral Care” is an excellent example of how independent funeral homes can help one another.

Internet - The Next Trend?

A trend, as defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is a general direction and tendency towards events, opinions, etc. The funeral and memorialization industry, over the past 30 years, has experienced many trends or events that have shaped the way funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria operate today. The 70’s saw the emergence of cremation, the 80’s heralded the introduction of preplanning and prefunding and who can forget the 90’s when consolidation, alternative services and personalization were dominant.

The 90’s also saw the birth of the electronic age, the age of personal computes and information technology. Until then, terms such as the internet, world wide web, cyberspace and the information super highway didn’t exist for most of us. They now from part of a new language, a new way to communicate to whomever you want, anywhere in the world.

Today the internet has become a major influence on our lives. For some, it has meant a new career, while others have used it to start new companies or businesses. But for the majority of those both young and old, who are users of the internet, it has become an instant source of information and communication.

Not unlike other industries, the funeral and memorialization industry is beginning to recognize the importance of having an internet presence. Funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, manufacturers and suppliers have begun to view the internet as an important marketing tool and the first contact many families may have with their business.

In addition to the traditional funeral service providers and manufacturers, the so-called “bricks and mortar” companies in the industry, the internet has become a gateway for emerging companies offering new and innovative products and services that simply didn’t exist five to ten years ago.

Examples of these include, online memorial sites where bereaved relatives wishing to create a lasting tribute can buy a perpetual online memorial. Memorials include a text tribute or biography, online guest book and photo album. When entering the site a user name and password is assigned. Designed with the user in mind, one can choose to create a new memorial or edit an existing one. Once payment is received the memorial is activated.

For those family members and friends who cannot attend the funeral, services can now be broadcast online. Video equipment and specialized software is used to enable funeral homes to broadcast funerals or graveside services on their website or an alternate site. The services are password protected so only invited guests may visit the website to view the ceremony live or download a video of the service.

In addition to these specialty sites, there are literally hundreds of other sites containing volumes of information about funeral planning, grief and bereavement, funeral customs, traditional and cremation services and rituals, ceremonies and products associated with them. These include individual funeral home and cemetery sites, sites established by merchandise and equipment manufacturers and suppliers and those of professional associations, groups and societies representing funeral directors, cemeterians and cremationists, to name but a few.

Pollara Report

How is the public responding to this new technology and the proliferation of materials available online? Are they aware of what is available? Are they or will they use the internet to seek the information and/or services required to meet their funeral and memorialization needs? For some insight into these and other questions, reference was made to the Pollara Report.

The Pollara Report is a research study completed for the Funeral Profession Coalition Council of Canada in January of 2004. It was designed to measure Canadian’s knowledge of and attitudes toward the funeral and memorialization industry. To complete the study, information was obtained from over 1000 telephone interviews conducted with Canadians, aged 35 years and older. One of the areas of focus in the report relates to whether Canadians have conducted research on funerals. Surprisingly only18% have taken the time to research funerals. For those who have, 49% have obtained information from funeral homes, while 16% used the internet. The internet faired much better with non-researchers. Of those who have not researched funerals, 30% would consult the internet for information on funeral planning.

Research was also compiled on uses for the internet. Those who have conducted research on funerals through the internet, or plan on searching for information through this source were presented with various services they might access online.

Nearly all internet users (94%) would access this tool to look up general information on funerals and funeral planning, with 70% using it to shop around for a funeral home or cemetery. 58% would send a message of condolence while 46% would preplan their own funeral using the internet. Fewer internet users would sign an online guest book (42%), preplan a funeral for someone else (35%), view a funeral they could not personally attend (30%), purchase a casket, urn, vault or other product (20%), prepay a funeral (28%) or create a perpetual online memorial or tribute (24%). The Pollara Report concludes:

“While the internet is not a resource currently frequented by many Canadians in search of information on funerals, it does represent an important future outlet, with a significant proportion of Canadians who have not yet arranged funerals reporting that they would use the internet to obtain such information.

Canadians seem less eager to adopt the other non-traditional uses of the internet as it pertains to participating in a funeral and making arrangements. It should be noted, however, that this conduit represents great potential in answering some of the needs expressed by potential clients, who are reluctant to deal with funeral arrangements head on. Specifically, the internet offers an anonymous, impersonal channel though which we can access information.”

Internet technology is improving in leaps and bounds. Through the use of video technology, funeral home websites have the capability of providing potential clients with a virtual tour of the facility and photographs of any merchandise they would require. At-need or pre-need funeral arrangements can be completed online by the use of a series of service and pricing menus. Online linkages with other providers, such as florists, cemeteries, newspapers and churches allow no detail to be overlooked. Once funeral services have been satisfactorily provided, online banking services can be used to pay the account!

The internet is here to stay. According to, an online funeral planning service, older Americans are avid users of the internet with the number of people 55 or older predicted to reach 34 million in 2004, when they will account for 20% of all users. If this same percentage was to apply in Canada, there would now be over 4 million people 55 or over online. So will the internet be the next trend in the funeral and memorialization industry? Log on to for my answer!

Is Cremation the Right Choice?

Each year the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) compiles cremation statistics from the United States and Canada. The data collected is then used to estimate future cremation rates for a 5-year period (2010) and beyond. Information obtained from this exercise provides an insightful perspective on what has become the fastest growing trend in the funeral and memorialization industry.

As a percentage of the total annual deaths, the cremation rate in Canada far exceeds that of its U.S. neighbour. For example, in 2000 CANA found that the cremation rate in the United States was just over 26% as compared to a rate of more than 47% in Canada. With over 230,000 deaths annually, it means, for the most part, that 1 out of every 2 Canadians are cremated when they die.

The higher rate in Canada is likely a result of the cremation rate in British Columbia of 76%, which is the highest percentage of any province or state to date. It is the belief of CANA’s statisticians that historically once a country, province or state reaches a cremation rate greater than 65% there is little if any increase in future years. Except for Japan and India, whose cultures practice cremation as a religious custom and British Columbia, no province, state or country has cremated more than 76% of its decedents.

To determine the annual cremation growth rate, CANA calculates the average percentage change over a 5-year period. In the United States the 5 year period used was from 1998 to 2002 and in Canada from 1996 to 2000. Based on this calculation CANA is projecting that the percentage of deaths resulting in cremation for 2010 in Canada will be 55% and in the United States 35%.

Unfortunately, cremation statistics for Newfoundland and Labrador were not available. What is known however, since 1986 there has been 6 crematoria installed on the island; 2 on the West Coast, 1 in Central and 3 in Metropolitan St. John’s. With approximately 4500 to 5000 deaths in the Province annually, it is safe to estimate that the current provincial cremation rate is close to 10%. The majority of cremations, however, take place in St. John’s and surrounding areas. It is estimated that with about 1200 deaths annually in the St. John’s area approximately 350 or 30% are cremated. By 2010 these figures are sure to increase.

Based on CANA’s statistical analysis, it is quite evident more and more people are selecting or will be selecting cremation as part of their funeral services. Are they making the right choice?

Reasons for Choosing Cremation

To get a better understanding of why cremation has become so popular, lets consider some of the reasons people give for doing so.

Quite often individuals who wish to be cremated leave specific instructions in a Will or preplanning document. Therefore, cremation is chosen to fulfil the wishes of a loved one. For those who have a fear of entombment or burial or prefer not to be viewed or put on display, cremation becomes the perfect alternative. Others choose cremation for religious reasons or environmental considerations. For some, cremation is perceived to be simpler, less emotional and more convenient. It is believed, however, the primary reason many choose cremation is related to the costs involved. Because there are many different options from which to choose, the choice to cremate is often perceived to be less expensive. Therefore many individuals choose cremation to save money or reduce the financial burden on family members.

The Value of Funeralization

On the surface all of the reasons mentioned for choosing cremation over a traditional burial appear to be sound and reasonable. Yet, in one’s attempt to ease a family’s emotional burden, adhere to a loved one’s dying wishes, or to save money, the resultant funeral may lack what the survivors really need to help acknowledge their loss and begin the healing process.

For many, viewing the remains can be very therapeutic. Whether it is a short-term viewing for family only or traditional viewing and visitation for relatives and friends, it helps to confirm the reality of your loss and provides a final image of your loved one absent of the pain or suffering he or she may have endured.

Enabling the community to pay their respects is another important component of funeralization. This may be done during a period of visitation at the funeral home or during the funeral service. Occasions, such as these, allow your relatives and friends to share your sorrow and help you celebrate and remember your loved one’s life. It is quite common during these times to have an urn containing your loved one’s cremated remains present.

Another time honoured component of a funeral service is memorialization. It usually involves the placement of some sort of a permanent marker or inscription at the place of burial or some other special place. A memorial celebrates and pays tribute to the life of the deceased. It is also a place where family members may make regular visits to remember and pay their respects.

Although cremation does not prevent family, relatives and friends from participating in the traditional components of a funeral, an increasing number are selecting direct cremation without any viewing, events or ceremonies, as a better way to deal with their loss. Eliminating some or all of these meaningful components of a funeral service may cause unresolved grief. It also prevents relatives and friends from providing their support and expressing their sorrow.

Our desire to protect others from the pain of death may be counter-productive. By confronting your loss rather than avoiding it is one way of helping yourself begin your journey through the grieving process.

Throughout North America funeral homes are holding thousands of unclaimed cremated remains. It is inconceivable to imagine how a family could fail to honor a loved one’s final wishes or complete the services originally contemplated. For some, the simplicity and convenience of cremation has made things too easy. For most, the choice of cremation has not diminished the value and importance of the funeral ritual.

Living Wills

At some point in our lives most of us will be required to make a health care decision. Before any medical treatment can be given, a physician or other health care professional must receive our consent. What happens, however, if our health declines to the degree that we are unable to provide this consent?

This is a critical question many of us have probably never considered. Whether it is a decision about who will authorize medical treatment or becoming an organ donor, end-of-life decisions such as these are difficult to make. Some funeral homes have now incorporated these and other topics into their advance funeral-planning program. One such topic concerns the preparation of an advance health care directive. In the case of an emergency, a physician or hospital does not legally need a patient~s consent to provide urgent treatment required to save or maintain someone~s health. In a non-emergent situation consent must be obtained from someone on the patient~s behalf.

If you would like to have a say in the medical treatment you will receive after you have lost the ability to decide for yourself or want to choose the person who will have the authority to make medical decisions for you, then you should prepare a ~living will~ or, as it is referred to in our Provincial Legislation, an ~advance health care directive.~


An advance health care directive is a written statement, which sets out a person~s health care wishes. It is used in the event an illness or injury leaves you unable to communicate your health care wishes. It will not be used during any time when you can communicate your health care wishes to others. An advance health care directive may do two things:

  • It may appoint a ~substitute decision maker,~ who must be at least 19 years of age to decide on the appropriate health care for you.
  • It may give instructions to the appointed ~substitute decision maker~ regarding your health care treatment or establish general principals regarding the type of health care you want.

An advance health care directive must be comprised of at least the following (4) parts:

  1. 1A written statement of your health care wishes or instructions Written instructions may be as simple or detailed as you choose. For example, you may wish to simply say: ~If you cannot live independently and there is no hope of recovery, I do not want to be kept alive with machines or medical treatment.~ If more detailed instructions are preferred such as stating specific treatments and illnesses, you should consult with your physician or other health care professionals to ensure that you know what the treatment and illness are all about and are accurately described.
  2. Your signature If you are unable to sign, the health care directive may be signed by someone else in your presence and under your direction. However, the person signing cannot be your appointed substitute decision maker or his or her spouse.
  3. At least two witnesses Your signature or mark must be made in the presence of two independent witnesses, neither of whom can be your substitute decision maker or his or her spouse.
  4. A Substitute Decision Maker A name, address, phone number and relationship to you of the substitute decision maker, along with his or her signature accepting the appointment are required. Any number of substitute decision makers can be appointed. Do-it-yourself model forms are available at the Queen~s Printer. Some funeral homes may also have copies available.

Legal Assistance

Although you do not need a lawyer to prepare or complete an advanced health care directive or living will, a lawyer will ensure the person wishing to prepare a living will is legally and mentally capable of doing so; the correct language as required by Provincial law is used; the person chosen as a substitute decision maker is eligible under provincial law, and that the living will is properly signed and witnessed. A lawyer can also help sort out any disagreements that may arise between the family and the substitute decision maker. In addition to the above noted information, which must be included in an advance health care directive, you may also include instructions with respect to the disposition of your body after death.

In the event of a conflict between an instruction given with respect to the disposition of your body and consent given under the Human Tissue Act such as consent to be an organ donor, the consent under the Human Tissue Act will prevail.


In Newfoundland and Labrador you must be 16 years or older to make an advanced health care directive. If you are under 16 years of age, special rules will apply. You must also be considered mentally competent. To be judged mentally competent in this province, you must be able to understand the information that is relevant to making a health care decision and to appreciate the reasonable foreseeable consequences of that decision. If you should have any doubt as to a family member~s ability to make an advanced health care directive, you should speak to a physician and or/lawyer.

Informal Arrangements

As mentioned earlier, in a medical emergency a physician does not need your consent to give treatment. If the situation is not an emergency, consent must be obtained either from you or someone on your behalf. If you are not capable of giving consent and did not appoint a substitute decision maker, one will be appointed for you by selecting someone from the following list in the order in which the person or category of persons appear beginning with your spouse; children; parents; siblings; grandchildren; grandparents; uncles and aunts; nephew and nieces; other relatives and, finally, the health care professional who is responsible for the proposed health care.

If the first person or category of persons on the list is unavailable, unable or unwilling to make the health care decision, the substitute decision maker becomes the next available person or category of persons listed.

Who should make a Living Will?

If you have been diagnosed with a disabling, serious or terminal illness, have no immediate family or close relatives to rely on, or have very strong opinions on the type of medical treatment you would or would not accept, preparing on advance health care directive or living will would be a very prudent act. However, since anyone could experience an accident or sudden illness and need some form of life support, an advance health care directive would benefit everyone.

After making a Living Will

Once completed, copies of your living will should be given to your family physician or other health care professionals you may be seeing, the substitute decision maker(s), lawyer and family members, where applicable.

More Information

For more information on advance health care directives or living will, refer to Newfoundland~s Advance Health Care Directive Act proclaimed on July 1, 1995, a copy of which can be obtained from the Queen~s Printer. The book ~Facing a Death in the Family~ by Margaret Kerr and Joann Kurtz, publisher John Wiley and Sons Canada Limited, is an excellent resource. Also recommended by the same authors as a good source of information about different treatment options is the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. The centre provides information on the internet at This site also includes a Living Will form that will take you through a number of health care situations and the available treatments.

Medical Examiner System

Legislation establishing a Medical Examiner system of death investigation came into effect in this province on September 1, 1996. The legislation, referred to as the Fatalities Investigations Act, establishes a Chief Medical Examiner and provides for the appointment of medical examiners and investigators.

The Chief Medical Examiner who must be a pathologist with training or experience in forensic pathology, which is the application of medical knowledge to legal problems, has the authority to appoint “medical examiners” and “medical investigators.”

In the Act, a Medical Examiner means a registered medical doctor. A Medical Examiner’s Investigator acts as an assistant to the Medical Examiner in determining the manner and cause of death. By virtue of their office, every member of the RNC and RCMP is a medical examiner’s investigator.

Legal requirements

When someone dies, there are certain procedures that must be followed before funeral preparations can be made. Legally, the services of a medical examiner or investigator are required under the following circumstances:

  • When death occurs as a result of violence, accident or suicide;
  • When a person is in good health and dies unexpectedly;
  • When a person has not been under the care of a physician;
  • When the cause of death is undetermined;
  • When death occurs as a result of improper or suspected negligent treatment by a person.

Function of Medical Examiner

When a death occurs as a result of any of the above noted circumstances, it is referred to as a “reportable” death. The role of the medical examiner in reportable deaths is to determine:

  • The identity of the deceased – In most cases identification is provided by visual inspection by a relative, friend or responsible member of the community. If visual identification is not possible, identification may be made by dental matching, fingerprinting, DNA or medical correlation.
  • The cause of death – This is defined as the disease process or injury that initiates an unbroken chain of events that ultimately results in the death of an individual. Establishing the cause of death requires an investigation that may include examination at the scene, review of medical history, a body examination or autopsy and, if required, toxicology.
  • The manner of death – This is a statement of how the cause of death came about. The manner of death may be classified as follows: natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or undetermined.
  • The time and place of death – Determining the time of death is not an easy task. Physical findings such as discolouration, rigidity and body cooling may be helpful in estimating the time of death, as is reliable witness testimony. In only a few instances is the exact time of death an issue such as the issue of inheritance in multiple deaths. Generally, the day of death is sufficient. In cases where the body has been missing for a period of time, it may not be possible to establish an exact day of death. In this case, the date of death would be listed between the day the person was last seen alive and the day he or she was found dead. The place of death is usually where the individual is pronounced dead. In cases where an individual is pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital, the place of death would be recorded as the location from where the body was recovered.
  • And to act as a resource person – in those deaths that involve a breech of the criminal code.

Investigation of a death

Under normal circumstances a medical examiner will be notified of a death by a police officer. The medical examiner must first determine if the death is reportable. If it is, the medical examiner will accept jurisdiction and undertake an investigation. This may include the seizure of property, the visual examination of the deceased and/or the authorization of an autopsy. In the case when a death is under investigation, the medical examiner is authorized to complete the death certificate. If the death is not reportable, it is referred to the attending physician who will sign the death certificate.

Release of information

On occasion funeral directors are asked by the next-of-kin or executor for a copy of the death certificate. The funeral director is responsible for registering the death certificate with the Provincial Department of Vital Statistics and is not permitted to take copies of the original document. However, the next-of-kin are entitled to an explanation regarding the cause and manner of death.

In the case of a reportable death, the next-of-kin may receive a copy of the medical examiner’s report by requesting same in writing to the Chief Medical Examiner. The Chief Medical Examiner will also provide “true copies” of the death certificate if requested by the next of kin or required by the funeral home for inclusion with documentation necessary for the transportation of the remains.

If a death is not reportable, the next-of-kin may contact the attending physician who will provide a letter stating the cause and manner of death. The next-of-kin may also obtain a certified copy of the death certificate from the Department of Vital Statistics. This document, however, does not contain cause of death.

Other functions

In addition to death investigation, the following functions cannot be carried out without the approval of the medical examiner.

  • Cremation of remains
  • Shipment of remains out of province
  • Disposition of remains shipped into the province

In order for remains to be cremated or shipped into or out of the province, the death certificate must be inspected by the medical examiner to ensure that a cause of death has been stated, and if the death is reportable that an investigation has been completed with respect to the body. If not satisfied the medical examiner is authorized under the Fatalities Investigations Act to investigate the death.

If the medical examiner is satisfied, a written approval is provided. Written approval can also be obtained from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The Chief Medical Examiner may also order the disinterment or exhumation of a body for investigation or recommend to the Attorney General that a public inquiry be held to determine the facts regarding a death.


Not all deaths are as a result of natural causes. Therefore, the role of the medical examiner in preserving the rights of the deceased and family is an important one in our community.


What is memorialization? To the cemeterian and monument manufacturer or supplier memorialization is an honoured tradition that has become an established custom through the centuries involving the placement of a permanent monument or memorial.

A memorial in some way celebrates a life which has been lived. It can take many forms. In a cemetery the most common memorials are upright monuments or headstones of granite or marble or flat markers of bronze set flush with the ground. Each contains the name of the deceased and in many cases the date of birth and death. Some headstones and markers may be manufactured in a particular shape, such as, a heart or include a short verse, phrase, picture and/or symbol providing the visitor with a small clue about the deceased and/or how survivors felt about him/her.

Some families choose companion headstones or markers with sufficient space to record the names and particulars of each spouse. Others use inscriptions on walls, columbarium niches and mausoleums as their form of memorialization.

The way in which we memorialize or pay tribute to the life of a person is not restricted solely to cemeteries. In churches we find many wonderful examples of memorials dedicated to those who have gone before us. Most of the older, historic churches have bronze, wooden or granite plaques containing the names of those persons who made the “supreme sacrifice” in both World Wars and other conflicts.

Churches are filled with stained glass windows many of which have been placed by parishioners in memory of their loved ones. Bulletins, prayer books, bibles and flowers are other items which are often given in someone’s memory.

In fact, many churches have been built or completed major projects because of people’s desire to memorialize or remember. Donations to a Memorial Building or Organ Fund are commonplace in the church community. Memorial Endowment Funds or funds whose principal must be maintained with only the investment income used have also been established by churches thanks to the generosity of their parishioners in whose memory monies have been left or given to the church.

Funeral Service

To the Funeral Director, the funeral service is memorialization. It is a time to remember…a time to celebrate or pay tribute to the life of the deceased. Many of the services provided by the funeral home and the manner in which the Funeral Director interfaces with family members are designed to help the family memorialize their loved one.

Throughout the emotional roller coaster ride on which family members find themselves when a loved one dies the core feeling which prevails is their desire to remember…to keep the memory alive. There are many tangible ways in which a Funeral Director may assist a family in fulfilling this desire.

In the early stages of the funeral arrangement meeting the Funeral Director will ask a number of questions many of which are designed to complete essential documentation. However, some are asked simply to get to know more about the deceased. People love to relate favorite stores or talk about those persons who they care about. That’s memorialization.

The Funeral Director will ask questions to find out more about the life he or she wants to help memorialize. Was the deceased a member of any particular organization? Did he/she receive any special awards? Where did he/she work? Any tangible items that were important to the deceased could be considered for display during visitation or other times during the funeral service. Items, such as medals, photographs, paintings, plaques, poems and cards are but a few examples of the things that are placed on display for families in funeral homes.

Many funeral homes have additional furnishings available, such as pedestals, pillows, tripods and tables on which to display these items for the family. Some families choose to place special items in the casket or urn with the deceased. Each item placed or displayed reflects the family’s desire to memorialize their loved one.

Another area commonly used by families to memorialize is in the compilation of a funeral notice. In some cases these notices serve as final words of farewell and are often the way survivors pay tribute. If requested, the Funeral Director will assist with the wording and structure of the notice. Newspapers will also print obituaries or a brief account of the life of the deceased. Again as a way to remember.

Casket manufacturers are also aware of the value and importance of memorialization and a family’s desire to remember. For example, many of the caskets manufactured by Batesville Casket Company Inc., which are available locally, contain a memorial record tube in which the family may place a specially designed parchment, also provided by them. The parchment has space to record specific information about the deceased and his/her family on the front with the back reserved for personal memories.

Another program developed by Batesville in cooperation with Provincial Forestry Associations and funeral homes is “The Living Memorial” program. With each Batesville casket sold a tree is planted as a living memorial or tribute to the deceased. The species and location of the trees are determined by the Forestry Association based upon the greatest reforestation need in the Province in which the deceased resided. While the tree bears no visible identification families take pride in knowing they are contributing to a major environmental initiative. Since 1976 there have been over 6 million trees planted in North America under this program.

The funeral ceremony and committal are other occasions used to celebrate the life of the deceased and to pay final tribute. Certain funeral services in which the body of the deceased is not present are actually referred to as Memorial Services.

When permitted, the funeral service may include a eulogy or reflection briefly highlighting the life and accomplishments of the deceased. The attendance at these services of organizations or groups in which the deceased was affiliated is another way to commemorate and acknowledge his/her contribution.

Some of these organizations or groups may participate in the service by acting as pall bearers or an honor guard. Others may attend with their peers in uniform and/or perform a ritual at graveside. Whenever possible, the Funeral Director will liase between the family and those organizations or groups taking part in the service.

Memorialization can take many forms. Your choices are limited only by your imagination.

As Marcel Proust once said, “Memory nourishes the heart and grief abates.”

Mourning without a Body

Losing a loved one is a very difficult and emotional experience. When a death occurs, the manner in which a loved one’s remains is cared for is of critical importance to surviving family members. Most people believe human remains should be treated with dignity and respect and laid to rest in a religious or tranquil setting befitting the individual’s beliefs or wishes.

Although there are many ways in which a family may choose to mourn the loss of a loved one, the focal point in the grieving process traditionally centres around the deceased with the body or created remains present. Most of us take for granted that should a death occur within our family, the remains would be present for preparations and final disposition. However, this is not always the case.

In our society there is a loss of life almost daily when the body is unlikely to be retrieved or located. Sailors and fishermen are lost at sea; children and adults are abducted and murdered; during times of armed conflict soldiers are designated as missing in action when they fail to return from battle. However, none of these events have impacted people throughout the world more than the senseless loss of thousands of innocent civilian lives following the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States.

Due to the severity of these attacks, many more lives have been affected forever. One of the most difficult tasks undertaken following the attacks was the retrieval of bodies. Although several hundred were found and identified, over two thousand others were never recovered.

Unfortunately, without the body many survivors believe a funeral service cannot or should not take place. Noted author, educator, and a grief counselor, Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt advises, with or without the body a meaningful funeral ceremony remains an important aspect of the grieving process because it provides a focal point for the family with the opportunity to gather, support one another and celebrate the life of the loved one who died.

When it became apparent that a few bodies would be recovered from the World Trade Centre ruins, victims’ families searched for some type of symbol to commemorate their loved one. Under the direction of the former Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani and his officials, dust and soil from the ruins, referred to as Ground Zero, was placed in three 55-gallon drums, blessed by a chaplain and taken by police escort to a room at police headquarters.

The contents of the drums, which were draped with an American flag, were treated with the utmost reverence and dignity. First the dust and soil was transferred from the drums and into two casket-like wooden containers with side handles. Then members of the NYPD ceremonial unit, dressed in their ceremonial uniforms, including white gloves, placed the dust into 3,000 solid mahogany keepsake urns.

Each urn was filled with meticulous care and solemn detail as it passed from one station to the next. At the first station an officer scooped some dust from the casket-like container and placed it into a small plastic bag. Another officer then secured the bag with a tie, making sure it was compact and neat. The bag was then taken to the next station. Here it was placed in a solid red mahogany urn and covered with pure white cotton. As the urn was filled from the bottom, a brass metal plate attached by screws was used to seal the opening. IT was the hand-carried to the final station.

At the final table each urn was carefully inspected to ensure it was free or nicks, scratches and dust. Once it passed final inspection, the urn, which has the date 09-11-01 engraved into the mahogany wood, was placed in a blue velvet bag awaiting presentation.

The urns were presented to families following an hour-long memorial service at Ground Zero. For those who will never have a body over which to mourn, the urn will provide a focal point for their mourning and will live on as a special symbol of their loved one.

Following the September 11 attack, another example of how families coped without the presence of a body was by using an empty casket as the visual focus during visitation and at the funeral ceremony. In many cases, the families used photos and mementos to personalize their surrounding and augment the casket.

As demonstrated by the presentation of the keepsake urn and the use of an empty casket, it is not only acceptable to have the funeral service without a body, it is also helpful to select a focal point for your mourning. The focal point may come in the form of stained glass window donated by the family in memory of the missing deceased, a park bench or sculpture with a suitably engraved plaque or even a piece of jewelry.

Sometimes a nation will choose to honour their missing soldiers as symbolized by the establishment of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canada. Fold of the Sea, a choir started by 80 fishermen and plant workers during the cod moratorium have championed a project to build a monument to Newfoundland fishermen lost at sea – a fitting symbol to honour our lost citizens and loved ones and for surviving family members o us as a focal point for their mourning.

Need to Say Goodbye

Invariably, the subject of funerals and their value receives less than favorable treatment from the media in particular and from people in general. Journalists tend to focus on the tangible costs of the funeral, rather than the intangible value of the services provided. This leads some people to conclude that the whole business of funeralization, as it is commonly known in the profession, has little value beyond the final bill that must be paid. Yet, such a notion could not be more wrong. The significance of funeralization goes far beyond the value it offers to those who provide the goods and services that constitute today’s funeral.

In his award-winning essay titled “None are Invited, But All May Come-The Value of Funeralization”, Richard Rancourt, a graduate of the Funeral Services Education Program at Nova Scotia’s Kingstec Community College in Kentville, summed up why people need funeral and memorial services. Interestingly, Rancourt found the inspiration for his ideas on a classroom bulletin board, so their true author remains unknown. According to Rancourt, funerals do some or all of the following:

  • Confirm the reality and finality of death.
  • Provide a climate for mourning and the expression of grief.
  • Allow the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of many
  • Enable the community to pay respectsEncourage the affirmation of religious faith
  • Celebrate the life that has been lived
  • Spur people to give love without expecting something in return

Confirm Death’s Reality

Many authors who write about the subject believe that, as a society, we do not deal with death very well. In our North American culture, the most common responses to the subject of death are either avoidance or denial. Fear is at the heart of both reactions. It is human nature to fear the unknown, and there is nothing that is as foreign to us as death. In his book The Gift of Significance, Doug Manning writes, “A great deal of our reluctance to face death is the fear of intimacy.” Indeed, there are few things that are as intimate as the thoughts and feelings surrounding the death of a loved one.

The very act of funeralization forces people to face the reality of death. In their book, The Last Dance, the authors state, “Making arrangements for the disposition of the body engages the survivor in a process that helps reinforce the recognition that the deceased is really dead.” This is the process of closure, a resolution that death has occurred.

The preparation of the deceased for viewing is another step to assist the bereaved in the grief process. Whether or not others view the remains is a matter of personal choice for a family, but it is often important for the family members themselves to view their deceased loved one. Although a painful occasion, it ultimately begins the healing process, as it allows the bereaved family a chance to mourn and express the grief that must be communicated.

A Climate for Mourning and Expression of Grief

To ignore the fact people need to grieve and mourn is to deny the value of funeralization. A funeral that ignores anyone has died does nothing to help the bereaved. On the contrary a funeral in which the bereaved can mourn their loss is a funeral that allows them to begin to reconcile their grief. The funeral ceremony allows the bereaved a place to mourn and express the grief that needs to be communicated.

Enabling the Community to Pay Respect

In times when we must carry heavy burdens, such as the death of a loved one, the heaviness of sorrow is often lightened by the notion that others around us must bear the same weight. It is as if caring for one another helps us lighten each other’s loads. Funerals allow for this communal caring and sharing, because they enable us to mourn together, thereby serving not only a psychological function, but a social one as well. Our presence with each other in a time of need says, “I’ll be there for you.”

And when we care for one another at a time of death, we do things for people without exception of return, such as sending flowers, making in memoriam donations or bringing food to the grieving family. All of this is part of the total process of funeralization. A funeral allows people to pay respects and share burdens. To ignore the gathering together for the ceremony of a funeral deprives us from saying, “I’ll be there,” to those who need to know someone cares.

Celebrating Faith and a Life Lived

For a majority of funerals, some sort of affirmation of religious faith is an integral part of the ceremony. It allows mourners to share deeply held beliefs by expressing them openly. The authors of The Last Dance assert that these “ceremonies give significance to the events that lead to the final disposition of the deceased’s body.”

Celebrating and remembering that a life has been lived also gives significance. A funeral is an opportunity to show the significance of a person in the lives of mourners and the community at large. This significance is not measured simply by the purchase of merchandise or the presence of hundreds of people. It is demonstrated by the very act of the funeral itself. Each family has its own way of recognizing the significance of a life that has been lived. It may be by sharing stories and memories of the deceased during the visitation period or by some symbolic gesture at the church or graveside.

When a funeral gives a family the opportunity to think about the life of the loved one who has died, then the funeral is healthy. When friends are there to share how important the deceased was to them, then the funeral is healthy. When the words expressed help the family to face a loss, then the funeral is healthy.

In The Gift of Significance, Doug Manning states: “If we lose the funeral, we will lose one of the most helpful steps in the healing process…Stated briefly, significance means: no one is dead until they are forgotten: Therefore, we must not forget about the value of funerals and importance of funeral rituals.

This article was adapted from an essay entitled, “None are Invited, But All May Come-The Value of Funeralization,” by Richard Rancourt. Used by kind permission of the Funeral Service Association of Canada.

Non Religious Funerals

Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, whether it be Christian or non-Christian, it is customary to hold a funeral service or ceremony of some type, as a means of honouring and celebrating the life of the deceased. If one does not profess a specific religious belief, consideration may be given to having what is called a ~humanistic, ~secular~ or non-religious service.

In this province, a request for a secular service is a rarity. However, in other parts of Canada and the United states, non-religious funerals are becoming more prevalent. This is particularly evident in large urban areas where there is a greater cultural diversity and the population is more mobile. On the other hand, people in smaller, rural communities who have lived together and known each other for all their lives want to say good-bye in the traditional way with visitation and a church service.

Planning a secular service

Unlike most religious funerals, where the liturgy and order of service are already established by the church, non-religious funerals have no specific guidelines or script to follow. It is, therefore, left up to the funeral director, in consultation with the family or Executor, to plan this secular service.


One of the first priorities is to determine where to hold the service. There are a number of options available, including a funeral home chapel or, depending on the anticipated attendance, other rooms in the funeral home such as the family lounge or visitation room. Some families might choose to hold the service in a location, which had special meaning for the deceased, like the chapel in a resident care facility or university, while others would simply prefer to have it in the family home. The only restrictions associated with the selection of a suitable location is whether the family wanted the casketed remains present. Obviously there would be certain locations that could not accommodate a casket. Other than the room size, there would be no restrictions when choosing cremation or having a memorial service without the remains present.

Involvement of family and friends

A secular service requires more involvement from family and friends than a religious service. Friends, business associates and family members are encouraged to take part. This may entail preparing and reading eulogy, reciting a favorite poem or passage, telling a funny story or expressing their grief and sharing their feelings.

Even though the deceased may not have wanted a religious service, often non-religious services borrow from religious traditions. One example is the reading of a few selected verses or lines from Scripture.


Not unlike a religious service, music is also an important component in a secular service. In this case the music selected is more upbeat, reflecting what the deceased enjoyed rather than hymns or other religious songs. With a traditional church service the organ or piano is usually the instrument of choice. In a secular service various instruments may be used, including acoustic guitars, drums, oboes, violins, even accordions and bagpipes. Taped music is also very popular, such as classical, jazz or rock and roll. A soloist is also a beautiful addition to any type of service and really adds to the dignity and mood. Most soloists will sing with or without accompaniment.

Memorabilia and Rituals

Other options to consider, particularly with memorial services, would be the use of memorabilia and rituals. For instance, a portrait or picture of the deceased, a photo album, war medals, special awards, paintings, plagues, pins and other regalia can be displayed very tastefully. This focuses attention on the deceased~s life and rekindles fond memories, while acknowledging and honouring the deceased~s contribution to both family members and the community.

Rituals associated with religious services may be adapted to a secular service or families may choose to introduce their own. The lighting of a candle at a church service symbolizes a Christian~s life within the church. At a secular service it could be used to symbolize a life lived. The glow and warmth from a candle or series of candles could also be used to symbolize those traits in the deceased. The placement of a single rose by each family member on the casket or urn at the graveside is an example of a family ritual.

For someone who enjoyed the beauty and wonders of nature, displaying cut flowers from a garden or a favorite potted plant is most appropriate. The warmth and elegance of fresh flowers will enhance any service.


The success of any funeral service will depend on how it~s coordinated. The design and coordination of a religious service is undertaken by the clergy after consultation with the family. It is the clergy who facilitates and monitors all segments of the service, introducing each participant and ensuring that those in attendance are following the proceedings. With a secular service a coordinator of facilitator must be found. In some cases funeral directors are assuming this role. It is not an easy task and thus requires someone who does not have strong emotional ties to the deceased and has experience speaking at public gatherings. Due to the uniqueness of each secular service, it would be prudent to have a personalized program printed and distributed prior to the service. This would be a big help for all those participating in the service and make is much easier for those attending to follow. The program may include information about the deceased or a poem or verse that everyone might reflect upon.

The common theme in all non-religious funerals is the celebration of life. They need not conform to any of the established traditions but may borrow from them to achieve the same goals, namely, to honour the deceased and begin the healing process.


A Christian funeral is a ceremony that marks the end of a person’s life on earth. Each Christian faith has developed their own funeral liturgy and rituals based on their beliefs and teachings. One such ritual encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church in Canada to emphasize the importance of the deceased person’s baptism is the use of a pall or cloth to cover the casket.

Within the funeral liturgy of the Catholic Church there are several references to the baptism of the deceased. The first reference occurs at the very beginning of the liturgy, during what is referred to as “the rite of the reception of the body.” Just prior to the start of the service, family and friends of the deceased gather inside the entrance of the church with the casketed remains of their loved one. Here they are met by the officiating parish priest who welcomes everyone and then begins the service as he is facing the casket. He then acknowledges that when the deceased was baptised into the church he was “clothed with the garment of salvation.” At this point during the rite of reception, the pall is placed over the casket by family members, friends, pallbearers or parish volunteers. The priest then turns and leads the family and deceased into the church.

The use of the pall becomes a reminder of the baptismal garment. Just as a new Christian is clothed in a white garment when he or she becomes a member of the church, the casket is covered with a similar cloth as the person enters into a new life in the resurrection of Jesus. Covering the casket is a way to make a statement about the identity of the deceased. It proclaims that the greatest thing that can be said about the deceased is that he or she is a sister or brother of Christ, a member of the Church.

The pall is also a sign of hope, of the resurrection, of new life beyond this life, a banner that points to a continued relationship to the deceased person in the time to come.

It is an ancient custom to cover the casket with a funeral pall. A custom which is still practised by many Anglican parishes today. In contrast to the Catholic tradition of placing the pall during the rite of reception, the Anglican Church prefers that the pall is placed as soon as the casket is brought into the church prior to the start of the service. For the Anglican Church its use signifies their belief that in the eyes of God all are equal.


In the Catholic Church the design and colour of the pall is very basic and simple. It is usually all white with a single large embroidered cross or a row of small embroidered crosses. If the pall contains a single cross, the cross should be positioned over the head of the deceased with the bottom facing towards the feet. As the deceased traditionally enters and leaves the church feet first, the cross will always be seen in its most reverent position. As previously mentioned, the colour white serves as a reminder of the white baptismal garment.

The designs of funeral palls used in Anglican Churches are much more elaborate. They are beautifully embroidered with a variety of patterns and colours. As the use of the pall in the Anglican Church appears to be more ceremonial its cloth is much thicker and heavier than the thin, light cloth used in Catholic funerals.


In the Catholic Church the identity of the deceased as a Christian is considered to be fundamental and its primary focus in their liturgy. For this reason, only Christian symbols may be on or near the casket during the funeral liturgy. The pall or white cloth is the Christian symbol used by the Catholic church to remind the community of the person’s baptism. Therefore, it is their belief it does not need any symbols added to explain or add to what it means.

When a war veteran or person who has served in the military dies, many families wish to give prominence to the flag of the country under which he or she fought or served. As traditionally done at military funerals, the flag is draped over the casket. For Anglican Churches who use a pall, families are permitted to drape the flag over the casket in place of the pall during the funeral service.

For a Catholic service, the flag must be removed from the casket for the liturgy. It can be draped over the casket during its transportation to the Church and removed and folded with appropriate ceremony and respect just before the pall is placed during the rite of reception. The flag then becomes part of the ritual in the liturgy. At the end of the service the pall is removed and once again the flag can be placed on the casket as it exits the church and is conveyed to the cemetery or crematorium.

As an alternative, the flag can be put on a stand and displayed in the church, either at the entrance or positioned next to the casket at the altar. Each church has their own requirements respecting the positioning of flags or other symbols of a person’s service to the community or country.

It is customary when the casket is draped with a pall or flag that nothing be placed on it. In the absence of a pall the casket may be adorned with flowers, flags and insignia of various associations or organizations. If the flag or insignia is positioned on the foot of the casket and does not serve as a pall, the family flowers may also be displayed on the casket.


When cremation occurs prior to the funeral service, an urn containing the cremated remains of the deceased may either be placed in front of the alter prior to the start of the service or carried into the church by the funeral director, family members or their representative during the commencement of the service.

Some churches have introduced the use of a small cloth pall which is used to cover the urn while it is on display in front of the alter. A pall has yet to be introduced in the Catholic rite or reception of the body, nor is it used when the urn is transported into and out of the church or chapel.


The writer wishes to acknowledge the use of materials distributed by the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in the compilation of this article.

Personalizing a Funeral

It wasn’t long ago, when a family walked into a funeral home that the funeral director knew exactly what they wanted. Consequently for many each funeral seemed to be a carbon copy of the previous one. Today that is not the case. Because of changes in funeral services and consumer attitudes, funeral directors have no idea what to expect when a family walks through the door. Emerging trends such as cremation, preplanning, alternative services and innovative merchandising techniques and products, combined with consumers demand for quality service and value has caused funeral directors to refocus on value-added services rather than simply providing a casket and facility. One way in which funeral directors are accomplishing this is by assisting families in planning a meaningful service. In his booklet entitled Planning a Meaningful Cremation Funeral, well known author on the subject of grief, Doug Manning, states, A Funeral should be unique to the person being honored. Personalizing a funeral service can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience for family members. It focuses those who participate, solely on the person whose life they wish to celebrate and honour and in so doing begin the healing process. There are many ways in which a funeral service can be personalized. The following are but a few examples.


One of the most popular ways to personalize a funeral service is through the use of photographs. These may be displayed individually or placed in an album. Many funeral homes provide memory boards, where photos can be mounted and displayed, or easels, which can accommodate larger pictures or portraits. There are no restrictions to the types of photos that one would display. For example, you may wish to show pictures of the family, children or grandchildren, wedding or vacation photos or a single framed portrait of your loved one. Pictures help rekindle happy memories or may stimulate others to share a story or laugh during the visitation period. Some families place photographs in the casket with their loved one, as a symbol of their love. There are caskets available with memory drawers designed to hold pictures and other personal items. Young children and grandchildren are also encouraged to draw or colour pictures. For the older children, writing a letter to grandma or grandpa is another way to share ones personal thoughts and memories.


In addition to pictures, there are many other items or memorabilia that could be brought along to the funeral home to personalize the service. Two good examples of how this has been done come to mind. In both cases cremation had taken place and an urn was present during the visitation period. To honour the life of a sea captain, the family decorated the urn with items that symbolized his life on the sea. These included his journal, captain’s hat, epaulets and buttons from his uniform, beach rocks and even a piece of driftwood, all of which were lovingly placed around the urn. Behind this display hung a beautiful floral arrangement in the shape of an anchor. Anyone who came to visit the family had to be moved by this compelling tribute. A second family used personal items from their mother’s home to recreate what she loved to do each day, which was to rock in her rocking chair. They actually brought her rocker and mat to the funeral home and placed it beside the urn. For anyone who knew her, the sight of the rocking chair would surely bring back fond memories. To honour war veterans many families will display the veteran’s medals or drape a flag on the foot of the casket. Fraternal organizations will remember a departed sister or brother by displaying their group’s sash or apron. Books and poems, painting and sculptures and various awards are also displayed to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of the deceased.

Funeral Ceremony

The funeral ceremony in a church or funeral home chapel, followed by the procession and graveside committal service provides a myriad of opportunities for personalization.

Music: The playing of a favorite hymn or song of the deceased’s will have special meaning for a family. For those who loved music or played a musical instrument, it would be appropriate to have a musical theme in the service. This might include the use of a choir, soloist or instrumentalist or instruments such as an organ, piano or even an accordion or bagpipes.

Tribute: Most clergy will allow a short eulogy or reflection about the deceased or pay a tribute to him or her during the homily. A eulogy can be given by a family member, best friend or clergy. This can be a very moving part of the service, forever cherished.

Liturgy: Depending on your religious affiliation the clergy or members of a parish bereavement team might wish to suggest a special scripture reading or prayer that may have been a favorite of the deceased.

Pallbearers: Friends, relatives, colleagues, fraternity, and club members are just some of the individuals who might express desire to participate in the service of a dear friend or family member. If the deceased was associated with a number of groups or organizations, the family may elect one representative from each to serve as pallbearers. Depending on the size and layout of the church or chapel (i.e aisle width), 2, 4, or 6 pallbearers are used or can be accommodated.

Honour Guard: There are a number of professions and fraternal groups that will honour a departed colleague by forming an honour guard at the entrance/exit of the church and graveside. Out of respect, representative attending the service or serving in the honour guard will dress in full uniform, where applicable. Such groups will include veteran associations, firefighters, members of the RCMP and Constabulary, military personnel, security personnel, Masons, members of the Knights of Columbus, to name a few.

Procession: Some families use the funeral procession from the church or chapel to the cemetery to pay tribute to the deceased. The route can be designed to pass by the residence or place of work. Other vehicles such as a fire truck, ambulance or horse and carriage have also been used to lead the procession or to convey the casket.

Graveside: Many groups such as veterans and Masons, in addition to forming an honour guard, will also perform a graveside ritual. Family members may also wish to participate by laying flowers on the casket, selecting a flower from the spray to keep, lowering the casket or by making some other gesture of farewell.

Every family is unique. Each will have their own emotions, values, beliefs and needs. Do not hesitate to share these with your funeral director, in order that he or she may assist you in personalizing your loved one’s funeral service.

Post-Mortem Examinations

Not all deaths occur as a result of natural causes. Therefore, it is not uncommon for surviving family members or others to wonder why that person died and be interested in examining the body or determining the cause of death. The examination of a body after death, to find the cause of death, is referred to as an autopsy or post-mortem examination.

Autopsies may be requested or ordered. A family member may request an autopsy to simply obtain a family medical history. Doctors may ask the family for permission to perform an autopsy, if their loved one died of a rare disease or a disease in which there is a great deal of research interest. If a death is under investigation by a medical examiner or coroner, an autopsy may be ordered. In this case, the medical examiner does not need the permission of the family or anyone else to perform the autopsy.

Reasons for requesting an autopsy

Although a cause of death may be known, there are many reasons why autopsies are still requested. Family members who wish to protect themselves in order to live healthier and longer lives request autopsies to develop a medical history of illnesses or diseases that may have been prevalent within their family for generations. Some families wish to confirm suspected illnesses, determine the origin of a disease or illness and how far it spread or simply confirm the stated cause of death. Questions such as: How far did the cancer spread? What was the condition of the deceased’s cardiovascular system? are common for families to ask while seeking answers.

Although not diagnosed, Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases are often suspected by family members. Requests are made to examine the deceased’s brain for evidence of same.

To assist the family in obtaining survivor’s benefits, autopsies are requested to examine for evidence. For example, in Worker’s Compensation cases lungs are examined for proof of Black Lung disease or Asbestosis.

Doctors will also seek a family’s consent to perform an autopsy to further their research, particularly if death results from a rare disease or a disease in which there is a lot of research interest.

Reasons for ordering an autopsy

Each province has officials, either coroners or medical examiners who are involved in death investigation. In Newfoundland and Labrador we use medical examiners. Under this system there is a Chief Medical Examiner who must be a pathologist with training or experience in forensic pathology. Forensic pathology is the application of medical knowledge to legal problems. The Chief Medical Examiner has the authority to appoint medical examiners and medical investigators.

When someone dies, there are certain procedures that must be followed before funeral preparations can be made. Legally, the services of a coroner or medical examiner are required under the following circumstances:

  • When death occurs as a result of violence, accident or suicide;
  • When a person in good health dies suddenly or unexpectedly;
  • When a person dies as a result of pregnancy;
  • When a person dies of a disease or injury related to their employment;
  • When death occurs as a result of improper or suspected negligent treatment by a person.

When a death occurs as a result of any of the above noted circumstances, it is referred to as a “reportable” death. Generally, any person, not just a health care professional or the police, has a duty to inform the coroner or medical examiner or the police, whether they believe a person died in any of the circumstances listed above.

Once notified of a death, the medical examiner must first determine if the death is reportable. If it is, the medical examiner will accept jurisdiction and undertake an investigation. This may include the seizure of property, the visual examination of the deceased and/or the ordering of an autopsy. As noted earlier, the medical examiner does not need the permission of the family or anyone to perform an autopsy.

The Chief Medical Examiner may also order the disinterment or exhumation of a body for an autopsy, or recommend to government that a public inquiry be held to determine the facts regarding a death.

Type of Autopsies

Generally speaking most autopsies performed are considered to be either “complete” or “partial”. A “complete” autopsy is an examination of all major organs of the body, including the brain. The body is opened and the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and so on are examined for signs of disease or damage.

A “partial” autopsy is an examination of only parts of the body. For example, the head/brain, the chest including the internal neck organs, or the abdomen including the groin area and reproduction organs. A “partial” autopsy can also comprise of a combination of any two of the body areas noted above. All autopsies also include careful examination of the entire external body.

There are also “second” autopsies which are performed after the “first” autopsy. These are performed by another pathologist and are often required by the family who are seeking a second opinion. However, there are major limitations, including the passage of time, missing tissue and organs, contamination of the body because of the first procedure and lack of blood or body fluids.

An “observation” autopsy is an autopsy performed by one pathologist while being observed by another pathologist. This is uncommon and is usually done to reduce the risk of something significant being missed by a pathologist not representing another party’s interest.

On rare occasions an “exhumation” autopsy is required, wherein a pathologist examines a body that has been buried.

Additional Tests

In addition to the autopsy, a “post-mortem biopsy” may also be performed. A biopsy is a procedure used to obtain tissue or other specimens for DNA or other testing. Specimens are obtained by taking hair samples, internal organs, bone and even teeth.

Toxicology testing can prove or disprove suspicions of poisoning in a homicide, the administration of the wrong or excessive medication or the consumption of high levels of drugs or alcohol resulting in death.

Blood or tissue cultures, usually taken within 24 hours from the time of death can sometimes assist in the diagnosis of infection. DNA samples can help prove the guilt or innocence of an accused, aid in determining the identity of an unidentified body, or the paternity of a child.

Autopsy Report

After each autopsy a report is generated by the coroner or medical examiner. A copy of the autopsy report is provided to the family and other interested parties. The report takes a number of weeks to complete and may be delayed if toxicology testing is requested.

After the Autopsy

An autopsy takes a couple of hours to complete and is usually started within the first 24 hours following a death. Once finished, the surgical incisions are sewn up by either the hospital or funeral home.

Does an autopsy mean a closed casket? If the body is not disfigured before the autopsy, there should be no problem in having an open casket. Incisions are made at the back of the head and are usually covered by the deceased’s hair and pillow. Other incisions on the chest and abdomen are covered by clothing.


In the book “Facing a Death in the Family,” co-authors Margaret Kerr and Joann Kurtz report that the number of autopsies performed in hospitals are decreasing. Now autopsies are performed in only about 10 percent of deaths. The reasons given include to cut costs and because there used to be more questions about how or why people died than there are now. Today most people die of diseases that have been diagnosed before death and have already been thoroughly studied, and there may be less medical knowledge to be gained from an autopsy. However, they go on to say: “Doctors misdiagnose diseases and conditions in as many as 20 percent of patients who die, so autopsies are not a waste of time.”

Prepaid Funeral Deposits

Although offered as an option, thousands of Canadians prefund their funeral or the funeral of a loved one annually. This is not a new practice. Canadian funeral homes have been offering prearranged and prefunded funeral services for over 20 years. Even though exact figures are not officially compiled, it is estimated that funeral homes in Canada have accumulated well over $1 Billion in prepaid deposits. With fears of funeral home bankruptcies, misappropriations and the ever changing investment climate, consumers are asking, ‘ Are prepaid funeral deposits really safe?’


As of 2000 every province has enacted comprehensive legislation governing the preneed sale of funeral goods and services. While each province has designed its own unique laws, each imposes a detailed set of procedures, requirements and safeguards to protect consumers and the integrity of prepaid funds. The following is a summary of some of the more prominent consumer protection features governing the sale of prepaid funeral deposits.


Trusting is the cornerstone of regulatory requirements. Trusts are legal instruments set up to handle and manage your property. If you put your assets in a trust, you transfer legal ownership of them to the trustee, who holds the property for you or for the benefit of anyone you designate. Funeral homes selling prearranged funerals are required to place all or some portion of the prepaid funds received from consumers into trust until the services are rendered or the contract is cancelled by the purchaser. The trust fund must be established with a financial institution and kept separate from all other money controlled by the funeral home.

In most provinces funeral homes are required to maintain individual trust accounts for each contract. However, in this province a bulk trust or one trust account for all contracts is permitted. The income earned in a bulk trust is distributed equally between each contract.

Investment Protection

How monies are invested once in trust is governed by Provincial Trustee Acts. Most funds held in trust are invested very conservatively in fixed income guaranteed investments such as GIC’s, treasury bills, government bonds, and mortgage backed securities. GIC’s purchased from financial institutions which are members of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) are covered under this insurance. Any GIC’s issued by a CDIC covered issuer are eligible for coverage. Currently, the CDIC insures depositors fully for deposits of up to $ 60 000 which includes accrued interest.

Under the Federal Income Tax Act, income earned on prepaid deposits used to cover funeral and cemetery expenses is permitted to build-up tax-free. Referred to in the legislation as ‘eligible funeral arrangements,’ the allowable contribution per individual is $15,000 for the provision of funeral services and an additional $ 15,000 for the provision of cemetery services for a total of $ 30,000.

In order to provide greater flexibility in how these funds are invested. Trustee Acts in most provinces have been amended to include the ‘Prudent Investor Rule.’ This allows trustees to invest in mutual funds and other types of securities.

To protect investors against losses of securities and cash balances due to the financial failure of a brokerage house or any firm in the self-regulatory system, The Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) was established. CIPF provides coverage up to a maximum of $500,000 on the aggregate of a client’s general account. It does not cover customers’ losses that result from changing market values regardless of the cause of such loss.

Compensation Fund

Also referred to as an Assurance Fund, Claims Fund or Guaranty Fund, it is used to compensate consumers that have paid preneed funds to a funeral home that is later unable to perform the contract. It provides a mechanism to reimburse the consumer or to pay a substitute funeral home to provide the goods and services purchased by the consumer. Contributions to the fund are made solely by funeral homes and sellers licensed to sell prepaid funerals. In this province the rate of payment into the fund is 1% of the net amount deposited in trust by a funeral home annually. For example, if a funeral home deposits $250,000 in its prepaid trust in one year, its contribution to the Compensation Fund is $2,500 (i.e., 1% of $250,000).

Deposit Requirements

Funeral homes receiving prepaid funds generally must deposit them into a trust fund within a prescribed period of time. In addition, some provinces require the funeral home or financial institution receiving the trust funds to confirm the deposit of the funds in writing to the purchaser.


The purchaser many cancel the prepaid contract at any time with written notice to the funeral home. In most cases the funeral home must refund the full amount plus any accrued income, less a small cancellation fee, generally 10% of the principal amount, to a maximum of $250.


In the event a purchaser of a prepaid contract must relocate to another province or simply wishes to use another funeral home, funds may be transferred from the original funeral home to another without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status within the trust or triggering the cancellation of the contract. Another option is to leave the funds with the funeral home and have the new funeral home bill the original funeral home at the time of need. This assumes the funeral services arranged in the new location will be similar to those chosen at the original funeral home.

Annual Audits

Each funeral home and satellite operation must submit an audited financial statement of its trust to the Minister or Regulatory Board overseeing the legislation annually. Also if requested, funeral homes must provide to a buyer a statement of the amount of prepaid funds including accrued income held in trust for the purchaser.

Industry Commitment

Prearranging and prefunding funeral services are integral components of every funeral home’s daily operations. Over 30% of today’s funerals have been prefunded. The funeral profession cannot afford to tarnish or jeopardize the integrity of this product. Notwithstanding the numerous consumer protection measures established under legislation and by self-regulated organizations, the industry members stand vigilant over the conduct of its members and will do all it can to maintain the trust bestowed upon our profession by the families we serve.

Prepaid Funeral Contracts

After preplanning your funeral or the funeral of a loved one you will be offered the option of paying for it in advance. Although not a requirement, many people do prefer to prefund their funeral and burial services. When doing so you, as the buyer, and the funeral home as the seller, will enter into a binding contract the terms and conditions of which must be followed by both parties. Failure to do so may render the contract null and void.

Although there are various funding options available, there are only two basic types of prepaid contracts offered by funeral homes, namely: Guaranteed or Non-Guaranteed:

Guaranteed Pricing Contract

With a Guaranteed Contract, once all funeral goods and services have been paid in full, the funeral home guarantees the cost of the funeral and thus assumes the responsibility for all price increases over the period in which the prearranged contract remains in effect. In other words, once paid, the costs of the goods and services you have selected are frozen. This may also include out-of-pocket expenses, such as the purchase of cemetery plots, flowers, newspaper notices, etc. However, should you make additional selections at the time of need, these goods and/or services will not be funded from monies held on deposit but rather paid by the estate or family. For example, if flowers were not prefunded the family or estate would be invoiced for this item. Any income accrued in trust will be used by the funeral home to pay inflationary expenses incurred on all preselected goods and services. Any surplus funds will be retained by the funeral home and conversely, if there is a shortfall the funeral home will pay the difference.

In the event the buyer or surviving family members wish to make revisions to the prepaid funeral services, an adjustment to the cost of these services may be necessary. Depending on the changes, this may result in a shortfall in the trust, in which case, the buyer or family will pay the funeral home the additional monies owing or there may be a surplus, in which case the seller will reimburse the buyer or family. To demonstrate how the seller determines whether there is a surplus or shortfall, consider the following example:

A buyer who originally prefunded a traditional service with earth burial decides to be cremated with an urn rather than casket buried. When prefunded five years earlier the cost of the funeral and burial services total $7,000. During that period the income earned in trust was $1,100 (assume a 3% rate of return, compounded annually) for a combined total of $8,100. By using a rental casket rather than a traditional one and burying the urn in a family plot rather than purchasing a new plot, the cost of the buyer’s revised funeral at prevailing rates was $6,900. With $8,100 in trust and the cost of the revised funeral service reduced to $6,900, there remained a surplus of $1,200 (i.e. $8,100 – $6,900 = $1,200) which was reimbursed to the buyer.


With a non-guaranteed contract, funeral services are provided by the funeral home at prevailing retail prices determined at the time of death. Excess income, if any, accrued in the trust, will be paid to the estate of the buyer. Additional funds required because of increased costs or other shortfalls will be paid by the estate of the buyer to the funeral home.

The majority of the contracts written in the Province are Guaranteed. Non-Guaranteed Contracts are used when the Buyer chooses to pay off the prearranged funeral over a prolonged period of time (i.e. 4 or 5 years) thus prohibiting the funeral home from investing sufficient funds to keep up with inflationary costs. However, once sufficient funds have accumulated a non-guaranteed contract can be converted to a Guaranteed Contract.

Non-Guaranteed contracts are also used when a Buyer chooses to fund the contract with an insurance product that does not offer a growth component. For example, if the Buyer purchases a $5000 funeral and assigns a $5000 insurance policy with no growth component to the Funeral home or names the funeral home as the beneficiary of the policy, the funeral home has no means to keep pace with inflation. However, if the insurance policy has an annual 3 or 4% growth component, this would increase the face value of the policy thus enabling the funeral home to issue a Guaranteed Contract.

Funding Options

There are various funding options available. Many people choose to make one lump sum payment either in cash, by cheque or the use of a credit card. Others make a lump sum partial payment and pay the remainder of the costs on a monthly basis over a period of months or years.

Another product, which is gaining in popularity, is funeral insurance. Insurance providers offer single pays or the payment of monthly premiums over a 3, 5 or 10 year period. Consumers may also purchase an annuity. Single pay annuities or the payment of an annuity over a 3,5 or 10 year period are also available. Each annuity has an annual growth component which will allow the funeral home to offer a guaranteed contract.

Prepaid Funeral Legislation

Prefunded funerals are governed under Provincial Legislation. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador introduced the Prepaid Funeral Services Act and Regulations in December, 2000. This comprehensive legislation enhances the integrity of the prefunded product and offers valued consumer protection. The legislation does stipulate the information the seller must include or disclose to the buyer in a prepaid contract, but does not limit the types of contracts offered by the seller. For example, in addition to the particulars about the buyer and seller, the contact must include itemized costs of the funeral goods and services purchased, a statement that the contract can be cancelled and the amount of the cancellation fee, instructions about embalming if requested, a statement about the substitution of goods and services and disclosure of any administration fees and commissions.

Prepaid Funeral Legislation

The option to prearrange and prefund your funeral or the funeral of a loved one has been offered by Newfoundland and Labrador funeral homes since the early 1980’s, but it wasn’t until December 20, 2000 that the prepaid Funeral Services Act and Regulations were proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

The Prepaid Funeral Services Act and Regulations is a comprehensive piece of legislation, which enhances the integrity of the prefunded product and offers valued consumer protection. In developing this legislation, Government consulted with a number of organizations including all licensed funeral homes, the Newfoundland and Labrador Funeral Services Association, Board members of the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Board, Consumers Association of Canada (Newfoundland), Canadian Association of Retired Persons, Newfoundland Chapter, and the Seniors Resource Centre, Newfoundland Chapter.

Although some industry members did not agree with everything in the legislation, most agreed it was long overdue and would provide the comfort and protection consumers purchasing prefunded funerals would expect. The following is a brief synopsis of some of the major components of the Act and Regulations.

Transitional Arrangements

Recognizing millions of dollars in prefunded funerals had already been collected by funeral homes throughout the province, the legislation requires all monies collected prior to the Act coming into force to be deposited into a trust account.

The above referenced monies are the principal amounts only and do not include any income earned nor disbursements made, such as, the payment of a cemetery plot or HST. Those funeral homes who had not trusted these monies in accordance with the Act were given five years to pay the full amount into a trust account and had to pay at least 20 per cent of the balance per year.

Where extenuating circumstances may exist and the Minister is of the opinion payment into the Trust as noted above would cause hardship to a funeral home, the amount of money to be paid and the time required to make the payments may be adjusted.

In order to determine what monies had been collected by a funeral home prior to the proclamation of the Act, each funeral home had to submit audited financial statements to the Minister of Government Services, under whose jurisdiction the Act is administered. Audited statements must be submitted to the Minister no later than 90 days after the end of the funeral home~s fiscal year.

For those funeral homes having a fiscal year end of December 31, the reporting date would be no later than March 31. Further, for those funeral homes who had not trusted these monies, the first deposit of 20 per cent of the unfounded amount had to be deposited in trust prior to the anniversary date of the proclamation of the Act, that being December 20, 2001.


Anyone wishing to be a ~seller~ of prepaid funeral contracts must first apply to the Minister in writing for a license. The application must include a copy of the funeral home’s prepaid funeral contract, other records and documents as outlined in the regulations that must be maintained as part of the seller~s duties and a fee.

Once a funeral home or branch operation is licensed as a seller of prepaid funeral contracts, individual licenses for staff members operating within these establishments are not required in order for them to sell prefunded funerals.

Assurance Fund

One of the key components of this legislation for the consumer is the establishment of an assurance or compensation fund. The fund known as the Consumer Protection Fund for Prepaid Funeral Services, is used to pay claims arising out of a prepaid funeral contract against a seller. As an example, this fund would be used to compensate consumers in the case of the misappropriation or loss of funds by the funeral home.

The following example illustrates how the Assurance Fund assessment is calculated:


  • Cost of the prepaid funeral contract (including HST) $5,650.00
  • Less cost of cemetery plot (estimated)  ($565.00)
  • Sub-Total:$5,085.00
  • Less Administration Fee (10% of $5,650.00) ($565.00)
  • Net Amount to be deposited in Trust: $4,540.00
  • Amount to be paid into Assurance Fund (1% of $4,520.00) $45.20

Seller’s Trust Fund

Monies received by funeral homes for prepaid funeral services must be placed in a trust fund established with a financial institution and kept separate from all other money controlled by the funeral home. A funeral home need only maintain one trust account, as individual trust accounts are not required for each contract.

The funds deposited in trust must be held in trust for the buyers and beneficiaries of prepaid funeral contracts and invested in investments authorized by the Trustee Act. In order to provide more flexibility in how these funds are invested, the Government also amended the Trustee Act to include the ~Prudent Investor Rule~.

The actual amount required to be placed in trust excludes the amount paid to a church or cemetery committee for the cost of a plot and any commissions and administration fees. As a result of recent Federal legislation, taxes collected (i.e. HST) by the funeral home must also be placed in trust. Each funeral home must submit an audited financial statement of their trust fund to the Minister of Government Services annually. Also, if requested, funeral homes must provide to a buyer a statement of the amount of prepaid funds including accrued income held in trust for the buyer.


The legislation has established certain restrictions on how funeral homes may solicit prepaid funeral contracts. Funeral homes are not permitted to call or telephone or contact a person cared for or residing in a hospital, long term care facility or personal care home without having received a specific request from the institution in which the person or persons are residing. As no other solicitation restrictions appear in the Act or Regulations, telephone, door-to-door and direct mail solicitation at one~s residence or place of business is permitted. Furthermore, there are no restrictions in the manner in which funeral homes may advertise prepaid funerals.


A buyer may rescind a prepaid funeral contract without a penalty or reprisal by providing a written notice to the funeral home not more than 10 days after entering into the contract.

A buyer may also rescind a prepaid contract if it is determined the funeral home was not licensed to sell prepaid funerals at the time the buyer entered into the contract; it does not provide the buyer with a copy of the executed contract; or it does not comply with the Regulations.

A buyer cannot rescind prepaid contracts entered into before the proclamation of this legislation.

Cancellation Fee

The buyer may cancel the prepaid funeral contract at any time, provided the funeral home is given written notice prior to the intended date of cancellation. The funeral home can charge a cancellation fee of 10% of the money paid under the prepaid funeral contract to a maximum of $250.

Not more than 15 days after receiving the cancellation notice, the funeral home must refund to the buyer the funds paid to the funeral home or placed in trust, including income accrued on the money, less the cancellation fee. For tax purposes, T-5 information slips showing the amount of income accrued in the trust will be issued by the funeral home to the buyer.

Where the buyer and the beneficiary are not the same person, the funeral home must notify the beneficiary or personal representative in writing of the cancellation.

Administration Fees and Commissions

Funeral homes are permitted to charge an administration fee or commission. The fee cannot exceed 10% of the cost of the contract. For example, if the cost of the prepaid funeral contract, including HST is $5650, the funeral home may charge an administration fee or commission of $565 ( i.e. 10% of $5650).

These fees and commissions are not normally deposited into the trust account, but rather disbursed to the funeral home. They would be in addition to trust administration fees ordinarily charged by a financial institution and paid out of the trust fund to the trust administration.

Content and Types of Contracts

Legislation does stipulate the information that the seller must include or disclose to the buyer in a prepaid funeral contract, but does not limit the types of contracts offered by the seller. In addition to an insurance contract, funeral homes may offer either a guaranteed or non-guaranteed pricing contract. Under a guaranteed contract, once all the funeral goods and services have been paid in full, the funeral home guarantees the cost of the funeral and thus assumes the responsibility for all price increases throughout the duration of the contract. With a non-guaranteed contract, funeral services are provided by the funeral home at prevailing retail prices determined at the time of death. Excess income, if any, accrued in the trust will be paid to the estate of the buyer. Additional funds required because of increased costs or other shortfall will be paid by the estate of the buyer.

A prepaid contract must be written in plain language and include itemized HST and any cost of the funeral goods and services purchased; the date of execution; the names and addresses of the funeral home or seller, the buyer and, if applicable, the beneficiary; a statement that the contract can be cancelled and the amount of the cancellation fee; instructions about embalming if requested; a statement about the substitution of goods and services and disclosure of any administration fees and commissions.

Prepaying Your Funeral

Last year the Funeral Profession Coalition Council of Canada (FPCCC) released the results of a national survey regarding Canadian consumers knowledge and attitudes towards the funeral and memorialization industry. Referred to as the Pollara Report, Canadians acknowledged the important benefits of preplanning and prefunding funeral services, but noted that the industry needed to make more information available.


One area of concern was flexibility. It is important to realize you are not locked into your original choices even when your plan is prepaid. You can change your mind at any time, if your preferences change. Furthermore, if your changes are less expensive, any surplus funds held in trust will be refunded.

Your preplan can also be updated, particularly if there is a change in address or you have completed or revised your Will or signed other legal documents after completing the prearrangements.

You can even change funeral homes, as your preplan is transferable. For example, should you decide to leave the province permanently your preplan can be transferred to a funeral home in close proximity to your new residence. If your funeral was prepaid, your funds could also be transferred in trust to the other funeral home without incurring any tax liabilities. In cases like this, the original funeral home may charge a cancellation fee, which in accordance with this Province’s legislation for prepaid funerals cannot exceed $250.00.

There is also product flexibility. Should selected products such as a casket or urn be discontinued or not in stock alternative choices of equal or higher value and quality will be provided.


Many people have the impression that in order to preplan your funeral or the funeral of a loved one you must also prepay. This is not true. The choice to prepay is simply an option, not a requirement. More and more people however, are choosing to prepay.

In addition to relieving survivors of any financial burdens or hardships, one of the main reasons for doing so is to guarantee the cost of the funeral. Once all the products and services selected have been paid in full, the funeral home assumes the responsibility for all price increases, including any out-of-pocket expenses such as the purchase of cemetery plots, flowers, newspaper notices, etc.

This may mean a savings of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for survivors. For example, assuming an annual inflation rate of 3 to 4%, savings of 30 to 40% could be realized over a 10 year period. If the cost of a funeral in 1995 was $6,000, the same funeral today assuming a 3% inflation rate would be just over $8,000. This means a savings of at least $2,000 if this funeral was prefunded in 1995.

Prepayment Options

There are various types of prepayment plans available. The two methods most commonly used are the placement of money in trust or the purchase of funeral insurance. In each case it is important to first identify the cost of the funeral service desired.

Trust: The purchaser may choose to pay a single lump sum payment; make a significant partial payment with the remainder paid over a specified period or make regular monthly installments over a fixed period. Generally, the price of the funeral is guaranteed once it has been paid in full. Some exceptions do apply, particularly if a significant portion is paid up front and the payment schedule for the remainder does not exceed a reasonable period, say 12 to 18 months. Most funeral homes will accept credit cards or personal cheques.

The monies collected are placed in trust, thus protecting them from claims by third parties. In other words, if the funeral home should declare bankruptcy, the funds could not be used to satisfy the funeral home’s creditors. They would remain in trust until the services were rendered or the purchaser could cancel the contract and have the funds returned.

Insurance: Funeral insurance is really life insurance that has been specifically designed by the insurer to cover the funeral expenses of those insured at the time of their death. Certain policies contain features which increase the death benefit during the lifetime of the insured. The buyer has the option of purchasing the policy outright (single pay) or pay monthly premiums over a specified period of say 3, 5 or 10 years at which time the policy is paid in full. Because this type of policy has a growth component the funeral home is able to guarantee the price of the preplanned funeral. Failure to keep the policy in force will render it null and void and relieve the funeral home of any further obligation.

Instead of funeral insurance some funeral homes offer an annuity product. This basically serves the same function as an insurance product as it also insures the life of the buyer, and may be purchased in single or multi-year payment periods. One difference between the two products is that funeral insurance is available in individual policies and must be sold by a licensed insurance agent while the annuity product is issued under a group policy which does not require a licensed sales person.

Of course, there are other life insurance products available that are being marketed as “final expense” products. Many of these are simple term life insurance with premiums that must be paid throughout the life of the insured. These policies do not have a growth component and, therefore, cannot be used to guarantee the cost of a preplanned funeral. Nevertheless, the premiums can be significantly lower than those of both the funeral insurance and annuity products. This lower cost will enable the buyer to purchase additional insurance to cover any projected shortfall in the cost of the preplanned funeral.

Prepaid Contract

When prefunding a funeral, in addition to the Preplanning Agreement, the funeral home will provide a Prepaid Contract for signature by the Buyer (individual purchasing the funeral) and Seller (funeral home). When monies are placed in trust the Buyer will pay the funeral home directly. The funeral home will then ensure the funds are placed in trust.

When purchasing funeral insurance or an annuity, the monies are paid directly to the insurer or annuity provider not the funeral home. In this case, for the buyers convenience, funds can be withdrawn directly from their bank account, if they so desire.


Each year thousands of Canadians choose to preplan and prefund their funeral and burial services. The plans they make are designed to be flexible and can accommodate the many changes that often occur in people’s lives. Leading funeral homes can also provide a broad range of prefunding products to suit everyone’s budget.

Preplanning A Funeral

The subject of death and final separation from your loved ones are subjects few people are willing to think about, much less discuss. Yet more and more individuals are choosing to preplan their funeral or those of other family members who may be terminally ill or incapacitated. People choose to preplan to spare their family the responsibility when death occurs or to ensure that their funeral conforms to their wishes. Others might want to make the difficult decisions at a time when they are calm before grief clouds their or family members’ judgement. In addition, preplanners may want to record vital information that might otherwise remain unknown or they may simply want to choose a funeral home in advance.

Preplanning a funeral involves the completion of a document that is specifically designed to record your final wishes or those of other family members or friends. It entails reviewing all aspects of a funeral and providing a detailed cost summary of all services and products selected including expenses incurred by other parties.

First Step

The first step is to contact a funeral home and make an appointment to meet with one of their funeral directors or planners. Meetings can be arranged at the funeral home or at one’s home, office or resident care facility, either during the day or in the evening.

Although photographs or computer images of the products are available for visits outside the funeral home, it is preferable to meet in the funeral home to view the products and facilities offered. If transportation is a problem, most funeral homes will pick you up and bring you back home.

On-Line Preplanning

For those who would prefer to make their own plans or that of a family member, online funeral prearrangements are now offered by some funeral homes. Simply log-on to the funeral home’s website and choose from either a “basic” preplan or “detailed” preplan. The use of a password will ensure the information recorded remains confidential. All the products and services offered by the funeral home are displayed. Some funeral homes publicize their prices online while others will provide a detailed cost summary, if requested.

Responsible Party

During the preplanning meeting one of the first things the funeral director will determine is who the responsible party or parties will be when death occurs. It is this individual(s) who will be responsible for making funeral arrangements and, in particular, authorizing cremation, when applicable.

Determining and understanding who is legally responsible for making funeral arrangements, particularly when cremation is involved, is a key function of preplanning a funeral and can eliminate awkward conflicts at the time of need.

Family History

Because funeral homes must complete and register the death certificate, the funeral director will ask questions about the family history of the person for whom the prearrangements are being made. These include the father’s name and birthplace, mother’s maiden name and birthplace and spouse’s maiden name.

Type of Funeral

Funerals may be simple, traditional or elaborate. A basic service may include an immediate burial with a committal service at graveside or direct cremation with memorial service and scattering. When viewing and a period of visitation is desired, the traditional funeral with a church or chapel service and earth burial is the accepted practice. Viewing and visitation can also occur prior to cremation, or the family may choose to display the urn during visitation at the funeral home or at a church or chapel service.

Elaborate services include state or military funerals or services involving war veterans, law enforcement officers or other public servants or individuals who are long standing members of fraternal or volunteer organizations. Funerals, such as these, require a great deal of planning as established protocol must be followed.

Final Resting Place

Decisions respecting your final disposition and resting place will also be discussed. Each cemetery has its own rules and regulations and offers a variety of options whether cremation or burial is chosen. In some cemeteries, burial plots or niches for urns may be purchased in advance. Some people may wish to select their own plot which will require a visit to the cemetery. Other issues, such as perpetual care, restrictions on sizes and types of monuments, the availability of urn plots, columbaria, scattering sites and memorialization options will also be addressed.

Other Considerations

In addition to the items noted above the following matters will also be discussed:

  • Choice of Products: Includes traditional or cremation caskets or containers, cremation rental caskets, urns, burial vaults and accessories.
  • Service Options: Includes open or closed casket, short-term viewing, visitation hours, use of funeral home chapel or church or the services of other funeral homes.
  • Memorialization Options: Includes the preselection of granite headstones, bronze memorials or other cemetery accessories, engraving or refurbishing existing headstones.
  • Cultural and Religious Preferences: Each culture and religious faith have their own beliefs and traditions which may dictate the type of funeral selected.
  • Rituals and Customs: The family may wish to incorporate their own rituals or customs in the funeral service or permit those of other groups such as the Legion, Masonic, Knights of Columbus, etc.
  • Transportation Needs: When burial is to take place at another location, conveyance of the remains within or outside the province or country must be considered

Free Service: Regardless of how elaborate or simple a funeral service may be, preplanning services are provided at no charge to any person wishing to record their final wishes.

Option to Prepay: Although a detailed cost breakdown of all funeral home charges and third party expenses is provided, the choice to prepay your funeral is optional.

Prepaying a Funeral: For those wishing to prepay their funeral there are various types of prepayment plans available. These include the placement of money in trust, either single, partial or monthly payments or the purchase of funeral insurance, annuities or other insurance products designed to suit an individual’s financial circumstances.


Regardless of the reason, when a loved one dies after a funeral has been preplanned, family members often tell funeral directors how grateful and relieved they are that the arrangements were made well in advance of the sad day.

Reasons for Choosing Cremation

Each year the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) compiles an annual report of the previous year’s cremation statistics and projections to the year 2010 and 2025. In its research CANA has found that historically Canada has a significantly higher cremation rate than the United States. For example, in 2004, 56.0 per cent of all Canadian deaths resulted in cremation, while in 2005, the cremation rate in the U.S. was only 32.3 per cent. This can be attributed to the influence of immigrants from Europe where the practice is widely accepted.

In 2004, there was just over 215,000 deaths in Canada, of which approximately 120,000 were cremations. In comparison, the US, which has more than 10 times the number of deaths than Canada annually, had approximately 784,000 cremations in 2005.

Although the Newfoundland and Labrador rate is not close to the national average, there has been significant growth over the past 5 years. This is particularly evident in the large urban centres such as St. John’s, where the cremation rate has reached almost 45 percent of the approximately 1400 deaths that occur annually in this region.

Because of the dramatic increase in cremation throughout North America, particularly over the past 10 years, a number of studies have been conducted by industry associations, manufactures and other interested parties to gain a greater insight into the cremation market and a better understanding of cremation consumers. One of the primary areas of research has been to determine why consumers are choosing cremation. Following are some of the reasons commonly cited:

To fulfill the wishes of a loved one

Quite often individuals who wish to be cremated ensure their final wishes are well known, either by preplanning, including instructions in their Will or telling a spouse or child. Rarely is a loved one~s wishes revised or ignored. This is particularly true when direct cremation is chosen, as evidenced by the phrase ~at (name of deceased) request cremation has taken place~ which often appears in the funeral notice.

Less expensive or less of a financial burden

Because there are many different options from which to choose, the choice to cremate is often perceived to be less expensive. Because of this, some people will choose cremation to reduce the financial burden on family members. The premise that cremation is less expensive may not always be true, especially when cremation follows a traditional service with viewing and visitation. However, considerable savings can be realized with direct or immediate cremation followed by a memorial service and scattering. The latter alternative eliminates the need to purchase a casket, cemetery plot and other funeral and burial services.

Environmental considerations

In today’s society the environment is becoming much more important. As such, people are making choices or decisions with the environment in mind. For those who think this way, cremation becomes a viable alternative. It requires less land, it is cleaner and protects our forests, when a rental casket or direct cremation is chosen. Manufacturers are also developing new environmental products such as cremation caskets and containers built with composite materials and fewer metal parts, making the cremation more efficient while burning less fuel.

Simpler, less emotional, more convenient

For some, cremation is perceived to be simpler, less emotional and more convenient. The elimination of the preparation and viewing of the deceased and placing an urn in a reposing room during visitation will certainly ease the emotions an open casket will evoke. An urn is much easier and more convenient to handle than a casket and can be stored for many months while awaiting final disposition.

Preference for Scattering

Although scattering is an irreversible act, it provides for the disposition of the cremated remains in a non-traditional way. In choosing a scattering location, the deceased or family will usually select a place where the deceased spent a great deal of time or was a source of enjoyment or happy memories. A favorite fishing hole, a garden or walking trail or at sea are just some of the many places chosen. For some, scattering becomes a symbol of freedom, peace, adventure, contentment or simply a rite of passage.

Fear of entombment or burial

Even in death people~s fears or phobias emerge. For some the thought of having their body buried or entombed is unbearable. Cremation then becomes a welcome alternative.

Religious reasons

There are countries in the world such as Japan and India whose people practice cremation as a religious custom. There are religions, which strictly forbid it. For Christians cremation is permitted and some churches have even designed liturgy to accommodate the practice during the funeral and committal services.

Preference not to be viewed or on display

While most people do not mind their remains being viewed or placed on display, others are adamantly opposed. Again cremation becomes a viable alternative with the urn placed in the reposing room during visitation and transferred to the church or chapel for the funeral services.

More ~natural~ than burial

During a committal service at graveside the clergy will say ~… and we commit the body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust~. It is a Christian~s belief that our earthly remains will go back to the earth from whence it came. Therefore, cremation is considered by some to be a more ~natural~ process as the deterioration of the remains is quickened by the intense heat of the retort.


The cremation rate in North America is increasing annually. CANA projects the Canadian cremation rate is expected to reach over 65 per cent by 2010. In the U.S. a rate of just over 39% is predicted by 2010, and if current rate increases continue, a rate of 57 per cent will be reached by 2025.

CANA’s statisticians believe that once a country exceeds a 65 per cent cremation rate, it will conform to historical trends, which indicate there will be little if any increases in future years. Except for Japan and India, no country has cremated more than 80 per cent of its deceased citizens.

Role of a Funeral Director

A fully licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer in Newfoundland has completed a minimum two year Apprenticeship Program. The individual may have first received a diploma from an accredited College offering courses in Funeral Service Education before commencing on-the-job training or completed a program consisting solely of on-the-job training and correspondence courses including written and practical exams. Equipped with the knowledge and practical experience obtained through the Apprenticeship Program, the funeral professional has the ability to provide advise, guidance and counselling on all aspects of funeral service including First Call, Embalming, Pre-arrangement and Arrangement meetings, and the funeral and commital services.

For a copy of the full article, please contact us.

Regulatory Control

The funeral profession is not unlike any other profession. As licensed Funeral Directors and Embalmers, we are all governed by a professional “Code of Ethics”. There is also both Federal and Provincial Legislation to which we must adhere.

To ensure our policies, practices and conduct are in keeping with the profession’s “Code of Ethics” and Legislative requirements, there exists within the Province two autonomous groups.

Embalmers and Funeral Directors Board

In Canada, the regulatory control of funeral homes and licensed funeral professionals comes under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Government. In this Province the funeral profession is regulated under Legislation entitled “An Act Respecting the Provision of Funeral Services” or more commonly referred to as “The Embalmers and Funeral Directors Act, 1975”.

The responsibility for ensuring the provisions of this Act are followed rests with the Department of Government Services and its Minister. However, the actual administration of the Act is undertaken by a duly constituted Corporate Board whose members are appointed by the Minister. The Board, consisting of 7 persons, is known as The Embalmers and Funeral Director’s Board.

Its members come from the funeral profession, the public at large and Government with the following distribution; 2 Embalmers, 2 Funeral Directors, 2 Public Members and 1 Department of Government Services Official.

In accordance with the Act and with the approval of the Minister, the Board, from time to time, makes or amends Regulations or Subordinate Legislation associated with the Act. The current Regulations including amendments, are knows as “The Embalmers and Funeral Director’s Licensing Regulations”. It is the Regulations which stipulate in more detail the specific requirements of the Act, such as, educational qualifications, licensing practices and the minimum types of facilities and equipment permitted.

As mentioned, the board’s primary function is to administer the Act on behalf of the Minister of Government Services. This would include matters relating to the licensing of Funeral Directors, Embalmers and Funeral Homes, coordinating funeral service education and continuing education programs and addressing any violations of the Act for the Province.

Let’s consider the last point respecting violations of the Act in greater detail. The Board has the authority to define what constitutes incompetence and misconduct of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. They have established procedures to deal with complaints from fellow practitioners. But, more importantly, the Board has an obligation to the public. It is also part of their mandate to hear and, if deemed warranted, take action concerning complaints from consumers or family members. These complaints may be associated with the practices or conduct of either a funeral home and/or its licensed staff.

Although the Board has the authority to prescribe the procedure to be followed when a complaint is received, they generally would be as follows: the complainant would be asked to submit his or her concerns in writing to the Chairman of the Board; depending on the seriousness of the complaint the Chairman would either convene a special meeting of the Board or include it on the agenda of its next regularly scheduled meeting (the Board meets 4 to 5 times each year).

After due consideration, the Board would take action in one of the following ways: contact the complainant to seek additional information, if necessary, and allow the offending party an opportunity to state, in writing, their side of the story; and/or seek advice from the Board’s Solicitor about how the complaint should be addressed. If considered very serious, the Board also has the right to refer the matter to the police. However, in most cases the Board is able to adjudicate it themselves.

After full enquiry, should the Board rule in favor of the complainant, they are vested with the power to suspend or revoke an individual’s or funeral home’s license, impose a monetary penalty not to exceed the sum fixed by the Regulations and/or impose conditions or limitations on the manner in which licensed personnel perform their functions.

Any offending party aggrieved by the decision of the Board may appeal to a judge of the Trial Division of the Newfoundland Supreme Court.

This is not the only avenue available to the general public should they have concerns or complaints respecting funeral service. Consumers may also register their complaints with the Department of Justice.

Newfoundland and Labrador Funeral Services Association

The second autonomous group is the Newfoundland and Labrador Funeral Services Association. The Association is a non-profit organization whose membership consists of funeral homes, branch operations and associated owners and licensed staff. It also accepts associate members comprised of manufacturers and suppliers of funeral merchandise.

This group is not appointed nor associated with any Government Department, it is strictly member driven. In other words, without the revenues generated annually from membership fees, it would cease to exist. The Association is the voice of its members, its representatives are duly elected and must govern in accordance with its corporate By-Laws.

From time to time, the Association lobbies Government on certain issues affecting the profession and which also impact on the consumer. Examples include matters associated with Prepaid Funeral Legislation and proposed changes to the Rate Schedule for Indigent Funerals. It also communicates with its members to ensure they are kept up to date on many of the changes which are taking place within the profession.

Unlike the powers vested with the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Board, when dealing with the incompetence or misconduct of one of its members, the Association cannot suspend licenses or impose financial penalties. It can, however, suspend or revoke membership thus denying a member the rights and privileges of belonging to the Association.

At times, confusion between the two groups does exist. Not so much from being unable to differentiate between their different responsibilities but between the individuals involved in each. For example, from time to time individuals sitting on the Executive of the Association are also appointed members of the Board. However, this overlap in no way detracts from the manner in which both groups exercise their responsibility.

If ever you have problems or concerns about any aspect of funeral service do not hesitate to contact either of the groups or Government Departments mentioned.

Scattering Cremated Remains

The decision to have the remains of a loved one cremated provides a family with a number of options when deciding upon a final resting place. One such option is scattering. This is the disposal of the cremated remains into the environment by pouring them out of the urn or container in which they are placed by the crematorium.

For some cultures and religions the practice of scattering is well established and accepted. However, for certain Christian faiths scattering is not considered an option. Rather the preference is that the disposition of cremated remains should be done in the same manner as if cremation has not taken place. Therefore, is it irreverent to scatter? Is it a means to avoid facing the reality of death? Let’s consider the dynamics of scattering and the relevance of these questions.

Characteristics of Cremated Remains

The cremation process reduces human remains to varying sizes of bone fragments which are mixed with the ashes of the cremation casket or container. Once separated from the ashes, the bone fragments are further reduced in size mechanically. This is done in a machine known as a processor which crushes the fragments into uniform particles similar to a fine sand.

Depending on the size of the deceased, the cremated remains will weigh between 4 to 8 lbs. And are usually white in color. Color variations are not uncommon and may be due to temperature variations in the retort or other factors.

Urn or Container

There are literally hundreds of different types of urns and containers available in which to place the cremated remains. Those made of bronze, marble and ceramic can be extremely heavy and somewhat cumbersome to use for scattering. However, there are urns and containers designed for the easy removal of the cremated remains and would be quite suitable for scattering. They are lightweight and usually made of plastic or thin sheet metal.

The plastic units are often referred to as “utility” or “temporary” urns as they are not permanently sealed and may be reopened by popping a lid which is snapped into grooved sides. Furthermore, this type of urn is not generally used for display. However, should a family wish a church or chapel service with the urn present prior to scattering, hardwood ‘memento’ urns have been designed to hold the plastic container. After the service the memento urn can be used by the family to hold pictures, jewelry and other personal effects of the deceased while the plastic urn is discarded after the cremated remains has been scattered. Presentation urns, which can also hold the utility urn, are available for use at a memorial or religious service. These urns need not be purchased but instead may be rented from the funeral home.

Sheet metal urns are slightly more difficult to open as they are sealed at the bottom with screws. However, they can be used for display.

A standard urn or container is designed to have a minimum inner volume of approximately 200 cubic inches. This is sufficient to hold the cremated remains of a majority of those persons cremated. However, there are occasions when the urn or container selected cannot hold all the cremated remains. In cases like these the excess is placed in a plastic utility urn which is also given to the family.

With the exception of urns with narrow openings, the cremated remains are first placed in a plastic bag sealed with a wire tie before placement in the urn. One should always look in the urn or container or discuss how it was filled with a Funeral Director or crematorium operator before scattering. This will avoid any embarrassment or difficulty one might have when scattering.

For a minimum charge depending on the location, funeral homes or crematoria will scatter or arrange for the cremated remains to be scattered for the family.

Where can you Scatter?

In this Province there are no laws governing or restricting the scattering of cremated remains. Therefore, permission is not required to scatter on crown lands or public waterways. Permission is required however if you wish to scatter in National Parks which are in the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. For example, Signal Hill is a designated National Park and permission must be received before scattering can occur within its designated boundaries. It is assumed if scattering is desired on private property the owner’s permission should first be sought.

It is ironic, however, that to date scattering is not permitted within the boundaries of local church owned cemeteries in St. John’s. This is a concern for some clergy and Funeral Directors in the area as it restricts the options available to families.

For example, in other parts of Canada and the U.S. cemeteries have set aside areas especially created and dedicated for scattering. The use of dedicated property assures the site chosen will not be developed for other purposes at some future date.

Scattering areas may be natural settings or formal gardens where the cremated remains may be scattered next to a tree or under a sod.

Some families choose to scatter in non-designated areas on land, such as, a favorite hunting spot or country cabin or in water at a favorite fishing hole or at sea.


The majority of materials available today about death, dying and bereavement stress the importance of memorialization or the establishment of a permanent memorial where family and friends may go to remember and celebrate the life of the deceased.

It provides a focal point for the family and becomes and important component in the healing process. Scattering in remote areas on land or in water prevents a family member from making regular visits to the final resting place and essentially eliminates the opportunity to place a permanent memorial at the site. This may have a negative impact on certain family members. It also conflicts with Christian teaching which specifies that burial of cremated remains in consecrated ground should be the first option.

Most priests will not insist upon this rule and are, therefore, often called upon to make compromises. One such compromise is the segregation of the cremated remains into 2 or more containers, wherein a portion of the cremated remains is scattered, while the remainder is buried.

One solution to this dilemma might be to provide a scattering area or garden within local cemeteries. Scattering could then take place on consecrated ground and in the presence of the clergy.

Often individuals whose cremated remains are scattered in a setting like this are identified on a memorial plaque or wall, or a unique garden feature such as a sculpture or bench in which the individual’s name is inscribed.

Even when scattering in remote areas, family members may still choose to erect a permanent memorial, such as a plaque at a special location or placing the name of the deceased in a Book of Remembrance. A living memorial, such as a tree, suitably identified with a plaque is another way of establishing a place to visit and remember the deceased.


Although funeral services are for the survivors, in almost every case the decision to cremate and scatter is done at the request of the deceased who made his or her final wishes known prior to their death. A request of this magnitude can be quite compelling but may distort or conflict with the survivors needs or desires.

When considering a request to scatter or making a similar request of your own, do not overlook your needs or the needs of others. Also, if applicable, consider the Christian teachings and the many options available to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one.

Traditional Service Costs

Estimating the cost of a traditional adult funeral or cremation service can be a difficult exercise because of the wide variety of products and services available. Generally, the cost components fall into the following four categories: professional services; merchandise costs; out-of-pocket expenses, and cemetery and memorialization costs.

Professional Services

In a recent survey completed by the Canadian Independent Group of Funeral Homes, the average cost of professional services for a traditional funeral charged by funeral homes in Eastern Canada is $3,075.00. Depending on the size and location of a funeral home or satellite operation, this charge may vary from $2,500 to $3,300. In central Canada, professional services can exceed $4,000 while out west, the average is $2,875.

The biggest factors affecting this total are the amount of time funeral home staff devote to the arrangements and service and the fee for the use of funeral home facilities and equipment. Management and staff of a funeral home are on call around the clock and are ready to assist families at any time, on any day. Generally, though, a complete funeral service – from arrangements to follow-up requires between 60 and 70 person hours.

The costs for staff services include the response to the first call, transportation of the deceased to the funeral home, meeting with family to discuss the funeral service and product selection, gathering vital statistics, and itemizing costs.

Preparation of the deceased, especially for viewing, involves other staff services such as embalming, washing, dressing, applying cosmetics, hairdressing and reconstructive restoration, when necessary.

In addition, members of the funeral home staff have to coordinate all aspects of the visitation and funeral services. This involves arranging for the services of priest, or celebrant, musicians, florists, and transportation between the funeral home, place of worship, and cemetery. It may also include working with other funeral homes, if the preparation of the deceased, funeral service, or burial is taking place elsewhere.

There are also administrative costs, which include completion and procurement of necessary documents such as the death certificate, funeral director’s certificate of death, permit for disposition, and clergy record, as well as any forms relating to cremation services. Staff will also inform radio stations and newspapers of the death and order or prepare bulletins for the service at the place of worship, if required.

Included in the facilities and equipment costs are fees to cover the fixed overhead of the funeral home itself along with the use of the facilities during visitation and service. Fixed overhead fees cover such items as taxes, inventory, maintenance, utilities, and insurance. The costs for use of the funeral home facilities include fees for the preparation room, visitation rooms, reception areas, chapel, meeting rooms, kitchen, parking area, and crematorium, if applicable. Transportation fees include use of the funeral coach for the deceased, lead car for clergy, limousine for family, and a utility vehicle to transport pallbearers, flowers, and equipment to and from the cemetery.

Merchandise Costs

Funeral merchandise includes caskets or containers, burial vaults, urns and a selection of such items as memorial books, prayer cards, crucifixes, or acknowledgement cards. There are a wide variety of caskets and urns available in various sizes, styles and materials. The cost of each product will depend on many factors, but final price is generally determined by craftsmanship and the types of materials used. Caskets and urns may range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

The prices of burial vaults and containers are determined by their design, ease of construction, and the types of materials used. The least expensive unit is the wooden grave liner, which ranges in price between $250 and 350. This is followed by the fiberglass vault, which is priced between $750 and $1,050. Next is the steel vault, which costs between $1,050 and $1,350. The concrete vault is considered to be the most expensive. Its cost will depend on certain design features including the number and types of liners, whether an outer casing is used, and how it is personalized. Prices range from under $1,000 for the basic single-walled unit, to several thousand dollars for the triple-walled or the encased bronze or copper units.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Out-of-pocket expenses are expenses for services not provided directly by the funeral home. Many funeral homes pay these expenses in advance on behalf of the family for their convenience and include them, at cost, on the final invoice.

Examples of these indirect costs are newspaper notices, hairdressing, flowers, organist, soloist, honorarium for clergy, clothing, legal filings, and transportation, if applicable. Total out-of-pocket expenses per adult may range from $700 to $900.

Cemetery and Memorialization Costs

The costs related to the burial of the deceased include the purchase of a plot and its opening and closing. The fees charged vary, depending on a number of factors including whether the cemetery is owned and operated by a public, private, or religious organization, located in a rural or urban setting, an if it offers perpetual care. Usually cemeteries run by religious organizations in rural settings do not offer perpetual care and, therefore, charge lower fees than the publicly or privately run urban cemeteries that do offer this service. As a result there is a large variance in the cost of a plot and its opening and closing ranging from several hundred to several thousands of dollars. If married, surviving spouses often purchase a double plot. This will increase the average cemetery fee.

Some cemeteries charge an additional fee, which is either a percentage of the cost of the headstone or maker at the time of installation, usually 10 percent, or a flat fee. When married, most couples choose to place a double headstone rather than two singles. Because of the different shapes, sizes and materials available, up-right headstones can cost anywhere from $1,000 for a single stone to over $7,000 for a more elaborate double stone. The cost of a typical double headstone, however, may range from $2,500 to $3,500. The average cost for a bronze marker is $700 for a single and $1,200 for a double.

Illustration of Average Cost of a Traditional Service

A traditional adult funeral service includes the preparation of the remains for a period of viewing and visitation in an open or closed casket. Following visitation a public or private funeral service is held in a church or funeral home chapel after which the deceased is conveyed to a cemetery for a short committal service and burial.

Funeral Home Charges

  • Professional and staff services, use of facilities and motorized equipment $2,800.00
  • Casket (steel and wood products available) average steel or hardwood casket $2,600.00
  • Protective liner/vault (concrete and steel vaults available) wooden shell $275.00
  • Total $5,675.00

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

  • Cemetery Plot-Single perpetual care $800.00
  • Opening and closing plot $700.00
  • Organist $75.00
  • Song Leader or Soloist $75.00
  • Hairdresser $50.00
  • Funeral Notices-2 @ $60 each $120.00
  • Flowers (casket spray) $150.00
  • Honorarium $100.00
  • Total: $2,070.00 2,070.00
  • Sub-Total: $7,745.00
  • 15% HST 1,162.00
  • Total: $8,907.00
  • Rounded Total: $8,900.00

Monument Costs

It is customary to place a monument or headstone on the grave as a memorial to the deceased. The most common of these are granite headstones and bronze markers.

  • Granite Headstone – Single $1,700.00
    Double $3,000.00
  • Bronze Plaque – Single $ 800.00
    Double  $1,200.00

Transporting Cremated Remains

As the cremation rate in North America continues to rise, so has the requirement for the transportation of cremated remains. Whether it be to a family member or some other final destination, the shipment or conveyance of an urn or container containing cremated remains has attracted the attention of not only the bereavement sector but also those agencies responsible for transportation security.

Transportation Options

There are a variety of transportation options available to family members, funeral homes or crematories that have been asked to ship or convey a loved ones cremated remains to another location. These include mail, use of a courier service, shipment on an airline as cargo and conveyance by a family member, either as hand baggage or checked in.

Mailing the urn or container is the riskiest option and has been the greatest source of problems for funeral homes and crematories in the past. Although the most cost effective transportation option, it is also the slowest as it can take 1 or 2 weeks before the urn reaches its final destination. If mailing the cremated remains is your preferred choice you may wish to consider sending the urn by registered mail. Although slightly more expensive you will take comfort in knowing the urn will be delivered in person to the consignee and there will be a signed record of its receipt.

It wasn’t too long ago when courier services and taxis refused to transport urns in fear they would be lost and the drivers and companies would be faced with large lawsuits. Today that has all changed. Most couriers will ship cremated remains by road or air anywhere in the world. There is one company, International Courier, based in Toronto that specializes in worldwide shipment of urns and will guarantee “door to door” service. Although this service is more expensive than the other options, with prices ranging from $400 to $800 depending on the final destination, it is considered the best option when shipping to foreign countries, particularly, when there may be a language difference. For more information about this service call their toll free number 1-888-274-7874.

Shipping cremated remains on an airline as cargo is the preferred choice for many funeral homes and crematories, particularly for destinations within Canada and the U.S. This is because, upon its receipt, airlines assign a waybill number to the urn so that it may be tracked throughout its travel route. Once the urn arrives at the specified location the person or company to which it is consigned must then go to the airport to pick it up. Therefore, there is no fear of losing the urn as both the consignor and consignee are able to monitor its location during its transportation. This option also ensures no one else other than the designated consignee or receiving funeral home or cemetery will take custody of the urn.

The final option is the conveyance of the urn by a family member either as hand baggage or checked in. As the urn and its contents may weigh upwards of 8 to 10 pounds depending on the type of urn or container chosen, it may be more convenient to check it in with the other baggage. Due to strong emotional ties, however, most family members choose to carry the urn as hand baggage, preferring the comfort of knowing their loved ones cremated remains is next to them.

Security Procedures

Funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries across Canada and the U.S. have recently been notified of a new security procedure which will affect those passengers attempting to transport an urn or container on airlines as carry-on baggage.

If the urn or container is made of a material that generates an opaque image and prevents the security screener from clearly seeing what is inside, the urn or container will not be allowed through the security checkpoint. Furthermore, under no circumstance will a screener open the urn or container at anytime, even if requested to do so by the passenger.

If the x-rayed image is opaque, the passenger will be given the option to transport the cremated remains as checked baggage. The urn or container will undergo testing for explosive devices and, if cleared, will be permitted as checked baggage.

Most travellers carrying an urn are understandably hesitant to check the remains of their loved ones in checked baggage. Funeral homes and crematories do have temporary containers made of material that can be successfully x-rayed, such as, cardboard, plastic or wood. These containers are usually provided at no cost and are designed to hold or transport the cremated remains until an urn or other permanent container is acquired.

This new procedure has been implemented by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) but will affect all travellers entering the U.S. with a loved one’s cremated remains. Similar procedures will undoubtedly be implemented by other countries as they begin to focus on this issue. For more information, please refer to the TSA Travel Tips website at or call 1-866-289-9673.


As noted, airlines will accept and transport cremated remains which are suitably packaged, labelled and accompanied by all applicable documents. The documents needed will include a letter from the funeral home or crematory confirming the contents of the urn and the identity of the deceased, a cremation certificate confirming the cremation date and location where the cremation was performed and a burial permit which would be given to the receiving funeral home or cemetery conducting the burial services.

In the case where the conveyance will be undertaken by a family member the funeral home or crematory will have that family member sign a Release of Cremated Remains Form.

Identification and Packaging

When transporting cremated remains the temporary container or urn in which the remains are placed must be properly identified. The funeral home or crematory usually places an identification label on the bottom of the container or urn with the name of the deceased, the name, address and telephone number of the crematory or funeral home and the cremation date.

The container or urn is then placed in a suitable box with all seams taped closed to increase the security and integrity of that container. Attached to the outside of the box is a specifically designed envelope containing the documentation


As more and more people are asked by their loved ones to repatriate their cremated remains or scatter a portion or all of them over a favourite fishing hole or other remote area, there will be a greater need for those involved in their transportation to ensure this service is carried out in a dignified and caring manner.

Value of Funeralization

This article also provides answers to the question, why have funerals?

For a copy of the full article, please contact us.


A vigil is a ritual observed by individuals, groups and organizations in communities throughout the world. Whether it forms part of a tribute to a fallen comrade, a Christian Funeral, an act of remembrance or a peaceful protest, a vigil can be a very powerful and moving event.

Defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as a watch kept or devotional service held the day or evening before a festival, a vigil can provide great comfort for a grieving family. It can help a community remember a tragic loss or express their feelings about a particular event. It can also be a final act of respect for those who have served their community and country.

Prayer Vigil

In a religious context a vigil is the first of three main rites contained in The Order of Christian Funerals for a deceased Roman Catholic. A rite is a solemn or ceremonial act observed in accordance with prescribed rule. The vigil for the deceased, usually held at the funeral home, offers the first opportunity for the community to gather and support the grieving family with prayer and scripture readings.

This vigil service or prayer vigil is a less formal and more intimate ritual than the main funeral liturgy celebrated at the funeral mass. It is also more flexible and provides a greater variety of choice. The Order of Christian Funerals provides twelve versions of the service with choices of scripture readings within each one and the possibility of choosing elements from various vigil services to make the rite more personal.

When a loved one dies, grieving family and friends are usually anxious to honour his or her memory in every way they can. One of these ways is to include a eulogy in the funeral service. Although featured in the services of other faiths, eulogies are not permitted in the main liturgy of Catholic funerals.

However, The Order of Christian Funerals does recognize people’s needs to reflect on the life of their loved one, and as such provides an invitation in the vigil service to a member or friend of the family to deliver a eulogy or share stories about the deceased just before the concluding rite. A prayer vigil provides comfort for a grieving family and gives relatives and friends an opportunity to share their grief and support.

Silent Vigil

As noted earlier, a vigil is also defined as a “watch kept.” To keep vigil or watch is a very solemn ritual often practised by the military to pay tribute to a fallen comrade. At a military funeral during the period of visitation, uniformed personnel stand in silence at the foot and head of the casket with their heads bowed and hands resting on their rifles.

This ritual is also observed at state funerals. For example, while the former Prime Minister of Canada, the late Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, lay-in-state at Rideau Hall, military personnel maintained a silent vigil at his casket as mourners passed by to pay their final respects.

Vigils are kept for other uniformed personnel such as police officers, firefighters, security and prison guards especially if their death occurs tragically while on duty serving the public. A silent vigil is a very poignant and profound way of displaying an organization, group or country’s final act of respect.

Commemorative Vigil

On December 6, 1989, a lone gunman entered a university campus in Montreal and shot to death 14 female engineering students. Over 17 years later, this tragic loss of life was remembered, once again, at a commemorative vigil held at the campus of Memorial University.

The annual vigil, which was open to the public, brought together students and staff who shared stories about violence against women and showcased Memorial’s own talent. It included a candlelight procession, music, dedications and a guest speaker, all of which helped to remember the lives and legacies of these women.

The vigil honoured as well Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action to End Violence Against Women.

Although this needless loss of life and talent did not occur in our community, it transcends traditional boundaries and touches all of us. The Oklahoma Bombing, the Colombine shootings and many other events have had a similar effect. The commemorative vigil helps a community remember and honour the lives lost, but more importantly, it becomes another way of ensuring that similar acts never occur again.

Peace Vigil

As death and destruction continues, peace activists around the world have come together to publicly protest the War in Iraq. Locally, a broad coalition of community, labour, faith and student organizations have held marches and rallies. Demonstrations such as these are being organized all over the world. A worldwide silent candlelight and peace vigil was organized recently by peace activists using the Internet. At a designated time people were asked to stand outside their homes, churches, schools or wherever they were at the time for five minutes of silence.

A peace vigil helps a community express their feelings in a passive yet compassionate way. Those who participate keep watch over the world holding lighted candles. Like the Pascal candle, these candles are a symbol of life and hope, with the hope the war will soon end preserving the lives of those affected.

Candlelight Vigil

In the aftermath of the April 16, 2007 rampage at a residence hall and classroom on the campus of Virginia Tech that left at least 33 people dead, including the gunman, there was an immediate need to provide an outlet for the immense grief and sorrow felt within the campus community and a means by which to remember and honor the victims.

Students and other members of the community led by the campus Chaplain gathered in the University Chapel on the night of the shootings for a prayer service and vigil. Two days later, a campus-wide candlelight vigil, organized by student leaders, was also held to remember the victims. Each holding a single lit candle, thousands of students, faculty members, families and community leaders gathered on the grounds of the University to share tributes and prayers for the victims and their families and friends. As a further sign of support, orange and maroon ribbons, the colors of Virginia Tech, were worn by many of those in attendance.