Death Matters… DIY Funerals

There have been conversations of late that have been pointing the finger at the funeral industry for operating in secrecy… that it’s hard to get a straight or clear answer about funeral costs… that you can do it yourself.

I invite you to think about why you would want to do it yourself

You might want to DIY a funeral for many different reasons, including but not limited to:

  • wanting to be involved in every part of your loved one’s departure from this mortal coil
  • not trusting that what you’re told, is actually what happens
  • a desire to save money
  • a desire to understand all the elements that are part of death care and funeral care
  • wanting to ‘bring home’ what was once an event taken care of by family or the community

Given my experience that most people don’t want to think about dying and death let alone talk about it, you might be more than happy to have a funeral director take care of the process but might want to know more about what is involved. If so, this post is NOT FOR YOU. Please check out other posts on working with funeral directors and what will be helpful for you to know when a loved one dies and you need to choose a professional to help you.

So, if you are comfortable enough talking about and being in the presence of death then there is a lot for you to consider and learn in order to move toward or undertake a DIY funeral.

Know that there is a BIG difference between Death and Funeral Care and The Funeral.

Know that even when it comes to a funeral or a memorial service there are still things that can go wrong – in the worst possible way at the worst possible moment.

This is not about scare mongering. This is about providing a realistic look at what it takes to move through the process from a loved one dying to them being cremated or buried.

Before you read on, I ask you to consider this again: most people I have met – and that is a lot of people – don’t want to think about dying and death let a lone talk about it. So, the notion of DIY Death Care, Funeral Care and organising and conducting a funeral on a practical level takes a whole lot of considering, thinking and talking about dying and death in ways that most people – let alone people in grief – ever want to consider. But if you want your eyes opened to the amazing work and world of funeral directors then hold onto your hat and read on.

Funeral Care Steps, Stages and Actions

Given the practicalities that have to be faced I will leave behind euphemisms and platitudes and speak in a direct language.

In this example of the things that need to happen, let’s assume a person has died at home from natural causes at the end of a well lived life and a family wishes to take responsibility for the process through to the end. This is the simplest of processes relating to death and funeral care. There are an enormous range of variables that could not ever be covered in a blog post – even a series of blog posts. And funeral director you speak to will tell you that rarely are any two circumstances, deisres and wishes the same.

Transporting a Deceased Person

Depending on who will be taking care of a deceased person between their death and burial or cremation, there will be at least one, if not more, requirements for transport. There are independent organisations that transport deceased bodies.

Who will do this and how?

Caring for the Deceased Person

A human body begins to break down immediately after death. This process differs dramatically based on a wide range of factors such as age, cause of death, medical treatment received prior to death to name a few. Keeping a deceased person cool is a critical factor in slowing the deterioration of a body.

What facility do you have to keep a body cool prior to burial or cremation?

Washing and dressing a deceased loved one is one action that a family might consider undertaking. And it may indeed be an undertaking. Moving a deceased person will increase in difficulty the larger or the more fragile a body is in death.

Who has the capacity to move and handle a deceased body?

Viewing

The decision to hold a viewing or not is a personal one.

If you choose to conduct a viewing where will this be done?

How will you manage the situation and environment and all the other variables?

Coffins and Caskets 

These days there are coffin and casket manufacturers that sell direct to the public. Costco is one such place and the suppliers of their coffins are reputable. You’ll need to purchase a coffin that is the appropriate size for the deceased person and transport it to where the deceased person is. Even empty coffins are difficult to transport.

Who will do this and how?

Funeral, Memorial or Non Attended Burial or Cremation

By law, a funeral or memorial service is not required. The difference between a funeral and memorial is determined by whether the deceased body is present – a funeral; or not present – a memorial.

Cemetery staff can bury a deceased person without the attendance of family or friends. Cremations are generally unattended – usually referred to as an unattended cremation.

You can attend a cremation. It requires a significant change of procedures at a crematorium and consequently incurs additional fees. Attendees observe the placement of the coffin or casket into a cremator from a glassed in viewing room and remain for a period of time while the body is cremated. People often think that when a coffin is lowered in a crematorium chapel that cremation occurs immediately. This is not the case. The facilities are located seperately.

Will there be a funeral or memorial? If so, who will choose and book the venue?

Who will explore the possible options for a ceremony? (The organisation for a service will be discussed in a separate article.)

How long are you able to take care of a body at home without causing undue stress to the living and indignity to the deceased person?

How will you transport the deceased person to the funeral or memorial service?

How will you transport the deceased person to the crematorium or cemetery for burial? 

The Legalities

There are legal requirements to undertake when a person dies. Initially a Medical Casue of Death Certificate is required. If a person dies at home and a General Practitioner (GP) is prepared to sign this certificate the process can proceed. If they are not prepared to sign the Medical Cause of Death Certificate then the police must be called and the Coroner will be involved.

Who will contact the GP or police if required?

Who will deal with the Coroner?

The death must be registered with the appropriate authority and requires specific information to be provided about the deceased person.

Who will complete the death registration and pay for the official death certificate to be issued?

If a person is being cremated an independent Government Medical Officer (GMO) must confirm the Medical Cause of Death. If the GMO disagrees with the inital Medical Cause of Death Certificate then the case is referred to the Coroner. Coronial investigations usually take between 5-7 days. The condition of the body after a Coronial Investigation would usually require the intervention of a mortuary care specialist.

Who will collect the deceased person from the Coroner if required?

In order to inter a body for burial or have a person cremated there are a range of forms that need to be completed for the statutory authorities responsible to undertake burial or cremation.

Who will access these documents, complete them and forward them to the relevant authotities in the required timeframe?

These are just the practicalities directly associated with the deceased person from a legal perspective in relation to the disposal of a deceased body. If you think the language is to direct be aware that this is the language that the professionals you will be dealing with will be using.

And now for the funeral or memorial…

Choosing to organise a DIY funeral or memorial has a whole new level of detail associated with it that would usually be undertaken by a funeral director in conjunction with a professional funeral celebrant. This topic will be addressed in a separate post.

So, if you have made it to the end of this post and still want to DIY, I wish you well! But along the journey you will find any number of tasks that might feel insurmountable. It might be at these points that you realise the value and importance of funeral directors in our lives.

If you have or decide to do a DIY funeral, let me know and you can share your experiences in a blog post!

We have just one life…

Jacqui Chaplin

Independent Funeral Information | Life Story Collector & Writer | End of Life Tributes | Easier End of Life Experiences | Funeral Planning and Celebrancy

Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.

For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.

Call +61 (0)412 741 531 or email jacqui@jacquichaplin.com

Check out what they’re saying about Jacqui’s end of life commemorations.

Find out about Jacqui’s end of life commemoration services here.

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 Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.

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