Questions and Answers

What is Grief?

Simply stated, grief is the multifaceted response to a significant loss. But it is not a simple experience! When our lives are shattered by a significant loss, grief is the process that helps us to rebuild our lives again. Losses can be death-related or non-death related. We lose people we love and we grieve the absence of their presence in our lives. Some loss experiences are less obvious than the death of a loved one, but they may be just as real. Examples might be the loss of health, the loss of one’s homeland, the loss of a relationship, and the loss of self. It is important to keep in mind that whether a loss is significant or not can only be determined by the person who has experienced that loss…nobody else can make that judgment for another person.

How long does grief last?

There is no single answer to this question. New research in this area indicates that grief after a significant loss may be present in some way, shape, or form for the rest of a person’s life. We now know that grief may linger in a significant way and/or resurface at specific times (most commonly at anniversary times and significant dates), and there is no “set” criteria for when grief should end. Care should be taken not to make assumptions that a bereaved individual should be “over it” within a specific timeline, with sensitivity for the normal ebb and flow of the grieving process.

When should I seek help?

Most individuals are able to work through their grief with the help of the friends, family, and their own personal resources. However, there are some guidelines that might be useful in determining whether additional help should be sought:

  • If the individual is having difficulties functioning from day to day, is not able to sleep enough for basic needs, is not eating, or is not able to perform everyday activities that are required to take care of himself/herself.
  • The individual expresses a wish to die, has shared plans to harm himself/herself, or repeatedly expresses ongoing severe guilt, self-blame, and/or negative thinking that causes a sense of paralysis in daily life.
  • The individual is isolated or has little to no support available.
  • Some individuals may choose to seek the help of a professional to work through issues that may be more complicated in nature or that they may not be comfortable sharing with others who know them or who also may be affected by their loss.
Am I normal?

Grief counsellors are frequently asked this question. One bereaved individual aptly expressed an answer to this question by stating, “Normal is just a cycle on my washing machine.” Certainly, when our lives are upended and our view of the world is shattered, we are not going to feel normal. It is important to be aware of the many, diverse ways that grief is experienced and expressed. Not all grieving individuals experience sadness. Sometimes, feelings of anger or numbness are more pronounced. In addition, grief may manifest in some individuals through an inability to focus or concentrate rather than through emotions. It is also not uncommon for our bodies to react to the stress of the loss experience through physical symptoms, which still should be checked out medically. Although grief is a universal experience, the ways that people experience grief are varied and unique.

What do you say to someone who is newly bereaved?

Many bereaved individuals will say that they feel others avoid them or are uncomfortable around them. Probably the reason for this is that people just don’t know what to say, or they are afraid to say the wrong thing. Unfortunately, this avoidance reinforces feelings of isolation and pain that the bereaved individual may already be feeling as a result of the loss. We suggest that you be honest and realistic in what you say. Avoid using clichés and telling bereaved individuals that you know how they feel, or that time heals all wounds, because you can’t really know what another person is feeling and time doesn’t heal all wounds. You might tell the person that you are sorry that they are hurting so much. You can share your own memories of the deceased individual, using the name of the person who died when you share your thoughts. If you offer to be of assistance or to help in some way, be specific and concrete in your offer; for example, to take children to an event, to cook a meal, to drive with the person somewhere.

Are grief and depression the same?

Grief and depression are not the same thing, although there can be some overlaps. Grief is an adaptive response that provides the ability to adapt to a loss in our lives. It may be painful and difficult, but it is a healthy response and usually does not require treatment. Depression is a clinical condition that requires professional intervention due to the way it can affect functioning and thinking over a long period of time. Bereaved individuals who struggle with symptoms of depression may benefit from treatment, but symptoms that are strictly related to grief typically do not respond well to medication.

Grief Coping and Avoidance

Generally speaking, most of us try to maintain a safe distance from strong feelings. Our conditioning is such that we are often guarded and anxious about feelings we interpret as potentially overwhelming. We take on so many personal and cultural ‘shoulds’ around feelings—often unconsciously. ‘I should feel this way. I should not feel that way.’ Our society, our culture and often even our families and friends can be telling us directly or indirectly what and how we should be feeling. But feeling is an embodied emotional experience; feelings do not respond well to commands and can cause us much suffering until they are attended to and felt.

Below is a deliberately random mix of behaviours that bereaved persons may engage in. The list is by no means exhaustive, and some of these behaviours can have both positive and negative sides to them. People can find themselves engaging in a variety of behaviours at different times during the grieving process.

  • Shock/numbness
  • Busy-ness/compulsive activities
  • Verbalizing feelings/sharing thoughts
  • Ritualization/memorialization
  • Continued connection to the deceased (‘continuing bonds’)
  • Comfort eating (or inadequate eating)
  • Medications (sometimes ‘self-medications’)
  • Extended sleeping/sleep deprivation
  • Physical work/exercise
  • Spiritual work/religious activities
  • Crusading/championing a cause

Shock/numbness

The initial shock and numbness we can feel after a major loss or traumatic event, arise from our natural protective mechanisms, both physically and emotionally. They can be a protective barrier from the sense of overwhelm that can seem to threaten us. We can respect the natural wisdom and value of these mechanisms but, at the same time, be wary if numbness seems to continue indefinitely. There are no set time-frames, but eventually we need to open to the full range of feeling.

Busy-ness/physical activity

Keeping busy and occupied is a common coping skill and can be helpful at times. However, when the busy-ness becomes a permanent strategy to distance from the pain of the loss, this can become problematic. A lot of healing work can be accomplished in the midst of activities, physical labour, interaction with others and even exercise, but again it is a matter of balance trying to ensure that we are not simply running from the pain of our loss.

Verbalizing/sharing

Talking about the loss is usually one of the first steps towards healing. But here too, if talking becomes an end in itself, we can use talking and thinking in order to keep the feelings themselves below the surface of our full awareness. Like many other difficult areas of life, we can intellectualize our grief and try to figure it all out, instead of feeling it through.

Ritualization/memorialization

Various forms of ritualization and memorialization of the deceased can help to create meaning around the loss and aid in healing. Again, warning signals arise when we try to ideal-ize or idolize the deceased. It may be quite healthy to establish a little memorial corner in a room, but if we find ourselves turning an entire room or home into a mausoleum in memory, the we need to look closely at what is behind that impulse.

Continuing Bonds

The relationship to the person who is ‘gone’ does not end with their death. It can be quite healthy for people to continue to feel connection to the deceased in many ways. This ongoing feeling of inter-connection can be comforting and healing. Obviously such connection and attachment could become unhealthy too. The only way to really judge is by observing how this continued connection is impacting on other areas of the person’s life and relationships.

‘Feeding’ Grief/starving grief

Short-lived eating issues can be expected as a common initial grief reaction. Loss of appetite or seeking comfort foods may be an aspect of the body-mind’s overall coping mechanism. (For example, note the rise in the consumption of ‘comfort foods’ post 9-11-01.) Needless to say, when physical health begins to suffer, this then becomes a real problem for the whole person.

Sleeping patterns

Some unusual sleeping patterns could also be expected in the early days of grief. The need for extra sleep may be quite helpful both physically and emotionally. Restlessness and inability to sleep could also be a grief reaction. Either of these patterns might not be a problem unless they become chronic states. Sometimes we hear in grief support groups statements like, “It’s not even worth getting out of bed; I have nothing to look forward to!” If sleeplessness or over-sleeping become extreme and chronic conditions then other professional interventions are called for.

Medications

Some grief reactions could be so debilitating in terms of anxiety or deep depression, that professionally prescribed medications might be advisable. (This could be the case for example in losses involving great shock and trauma.) However, medications alone will only mask the pain of the loss and eventually the feelings need to be felt and worked through. The dangers of ‘self-medicating’ with drugs and/or alcohol are well known and, needless to say, can be even more hazardous if this becomes an attempted coping strategy for dealing with grief.

Religious/spiritual orientation

Religion and spirituality can be a double-edged sword in the area of grief. On the one hand we might find solace, meaning, guidance and support along the path of our grieving. On the other hand, we can also use this aspect of life to coat, mask or distance ourselves from what we are actually feeling emotionally and somatically.

Causes & Crusades

Establishing a mission or cause in memory of the deceased is often referred to as creating a legacy. This can be a very creative piece of meaning making, and provide a vehicle and channel for the painful work of grief. However, as with spirituality and busy-ness, the shadow side can be ongoing distancing from the anguish of the loss.

Some Additional Grief Journey Tools:

  • Discussing the loss with an empathetic listener
  • Reviewing the relationship history leading up to the loss
  • Review of previous life losses (and unfinished emotional business)
  • Dream work
  • Breath awareness
  • Body scans/body awareness
  • Focusing/meditation/mindfulness
  • Forgiveness and loving kindness practices
  • Understanding of family dynamics and systems
  • Understanding of the grief journey itself
  • Support groups for those with similar losses
  • Compassion towards oneself
  • Tolerance of mixed feelings
  • Comfort in un-knowing and paradox
  • Fundamental trust in the natural healing process
  • Journaling
Job Loss

Grief and Job Loss

Most of think us associate grieving with the death of someone close to us. Grieving, however, can occur with any experienced loss in our lives, including job loss. There are a number of losses we experience when we lose a job

  • Loss of stature
  • Loss of relationship with coworkers
  • Loss of identity
  • Loss of role (not only in the community, but also within the family – may have been the breadwinner)
  • Loss of structure

Remember…

  • You are more than your job
  • You have much to contribute to your family and to the community
  • Allow yourself to feel anger, denial, and grief… this is all part of healing

What Can I Do?

  • Take care of yourself – practice good self care that includes exercising. If you are not physically active start by taking a walk 2 to 3 times each week.
  • Eat healthy – decrease your consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Find joy – laugh, surround yourself with positive people

Helping Someone Through Job Loss

  • Unemployed persons and their families need friends to talk to. Be there. Listen.
  • Allow the person the opportunity to grieve.
  • Be positive: “You were good enough to get the last job; you are good enough to get another.”
  • Help the person avoid distractions. His or her full-time task right now is finding another job.
  • Offer free child care to allow the person time to search, apply, and interview for new positions.
  • Ask your network of friends and acquaintances if they know of any openings which may meet your friend’s skills.
  • Value the volunteer work or the household contributions of the unemployed person.
Divorce

Current statistics on divorce in industrialized nations vary somewhat, but the general understanding is that approximately 50% of all marriages in these societies will end in divorce. This statistic is problematic by its exclusion of individuals who cohabit and do not marry, and for individuals in same-sex partnerships whose relationship status is not recognized legally or who are not married. In this loss experience, the very fact that both individuals continue to live, and may have ongoing contact through shared events that surround their children, family, friends, social gatherings, public outings, and even the workplace, creates a very difficult scenario for adaptation and accommodation. In essence, it is the relationship that dies, but the individuals continue live. Thus, the very crux of this loss immediately differs from the loss of an intimate partner through death. The fact that one partner usually chooses to leave the other or there has been a “leaving” of the partners of each other before there is a physical separation marks a stark contrast to a loss that occurs when one of the partners dies.
That the relationship ends through some form of intentionality rather than an act of fate sets up significant secondary losses related to self-esteem, self-worth, and one’s views of the world and others. Complicating these losses is the discomfort of many individuals with the “messy” process that may be involved with relationship dissolution, so loss of support or the diminished support that is available may cause further difficulty to both partners. Widowed individuals often find there are offers of support and assistance, whereas individuals whose relationship ends by separation or divorce may find a significant lack of support as they lose many of the friends and family members that were affiliated with their former partner, or who are uncomfortable with their situation or their perceived part in the dissolution of the relationship.
Even though divorce is now more accepted in industrialized societies, language that reflects blame, stigma, and shame is still frequently used to converse about those whose marriages end. The use of the term, “failed marriage,” or the need of others to assign blame to one of the partners often causes a great deal of secondary pain to individuals who are already struggling with a great deal of personal angst and hurt. It is common for the partner who initiated the separation process to experience considerable grief with the realization that the relationship could no longer continue as she or he had hoped from the beginning. It is important to keep in mind that partners who initiate the ending of the relationship often do so after a long and painful process of negotiation, attempts to reconcile difficult issues, and feelings of guilt for causing pain to the other person when they finally decide to leave.
There is also a dichotomy in popular thinking regarding intimate relationships. Ideas of romance, idealized love, and unrealistic relational hopes and expectations continue to abound in popular movies, television shows, and fiction. One variation of this theme is the twist on the wounded person who is either cynical about relationships or considered a poor soul who is “reborn” when she or he meets the “right person.” Popular culture sets up an idealized notion of the intimate partnership that is far removed from the realities of day to day existence. Whether the longing for this type of romantic love is a form of denial or hope, the loss of an intimate relationship when one’s expectations have been shaped by popular culture towards idealized romantic love is a harsh and painful reality and the grief can be staggeringly intense.
The losses associated with the dissolution of an intimate relationship can be very encompassing, consisting of both tangible and intangible losses. There is often an overwhelming feeling of “paradise lost” upon the realization that the relationship is perhaps not all that was hoped for. Cynicism about relationships, the legal system, religious beliefs, and ultimately about one’s self are common in the aftermath of a lost intimate relationship. There is an assumption that the person who initiates the actual ending of the relationship fares better because she or he has had time to absorb the ensuing reality and may already be looking to a better future once the relationship has ended. This view may be very short-sighted, however, as it does not take into account the existence of an anticipatory grief process that one may experience when letting go of the hopes and dreams regarding the relationship prior to any action taken to bring the relationship formally to an end. In fact, there is often a strong sense of painful ambivalence when one partner chooses to exit a relationship, played out by a desire to leave the difficulties and pain in the relationship, while experiencing a great deal of anxiety and fear about the unknown and being alone.
Loss of self-esteem and identity are common after the dissolution of an intimate relationship as well. These losses carry a sense of shame and humiliation with them, as even though divorce is generally viewed as an unfortunate necessity and a more common occurrence, there is still an assumption that one of the partners caused the   “failure” of the relationship. The implication is that there must be some flaw in one of the partners for the relationship to have ended. Ironically, it is this deep sense of loss that often leads to a desire to re-partner quickly after the ending of a relationship. The need to feel safe again in another relationship may be a very strong part of this desire, even in the presence of conflicting emotions about intimate relationships caused by the grief of this loss.
It is important to find ways to assist individuals to piece together what happened in their relationship and to validate the many losses that occurred during the relationship and after it ended. There will, most likely, be ongoing grief after the loss of an intimate relationship, due to intentionality of the decision ultimately to end the relationship, and the possibility of ongoing contact with the former partner. Individuals may describe a sense of being lost, as well as feelings of emptiness and abandonment. It is important to remember that these feelings are common manifestations of an attachment bond that has been broken, and not signs of weakness or over-dependence.
Individuals who leave the relationship may have had more time to plan for their departure and make new living arrangements, but they may also need to sort through feelings of guilt and responsibility for their choice, and possible repercussions from friends and family members for being seen as the one who is causing pain to the remaining partner. Partners who are on the receiving end of the news of the dissolution of the relationship may be in shock and be disadvantaged in making decisions because they have not had time to absorb the news. They may need practical support in the form of referrals to resources as part of their healing process.
It is important for those who wish to support individuals through this time of loss to be very familiar with resources that are available for individuals facing the ending of their intimate relationship. It may be helpful to become familiar with the family law practitioners in your area and some of the basic legal jargon and procedures that surround marriage, cohabitation, separation, and divorce.  This is the world in which many people have to navigate after the loss of their relationship, and your awareness of this aspect of their experience is a concrete way to offer support. It is very difficult to grieve the loss of the relationship while you are embroiled in a legal system that can add an incredible amount of stress to the situation. Many individuals find their feelings of grief must be set aside until after there is a settlement or resolution of the outstanding material or child care issues, which carries implications for a “second wave” of assistance and support at a time when the social expectation might be to move forward because “it is over.”
We run the risk of minimizing the experiences of individuals whose intimate relationships end because this loss is no longer uncommon. However, for those who face the loss of a partner through separation or divorce, the pain is not diminished just because many others have shared the same experience. It is very possible, and even likely, that this loss can lead to a great deal of personal growth and depth once the individual has been able to reflect upon what has happened and allow the adaptive aspects of the grieving process to heal the wounds that have been opened. The role of those who wish to offer support is to validate the complex and painful aspects of this experience and support the healing aspects of the grieving process for these individuals.

Empty Nest

Dealing with an Empty

Nest When children leave home for the first time, parents or guardians may experience the general feeling of sadness, loneliness or loss.  In some cases the stress experienced during this time may be compounded by other difficult life events or significant changes happening around the same time.

New Challenges faced by parents or guardians may include:

Establishing a new kind of relationship with their adult children Rediscovering life as a couple, after sharing the home with children Filling the void in the daily routine created by absent children Lack of sympathy or understanding from others Dealing with feelings of depression, loss of purpose, decreased energy or persistent sad mood

What are things that may help?

  • Keep in touch – make efforts to maintain regular contact with your children through visits, phone calls, emails, text messages or video chat.
  • Seek Support – spend time with loved ones and other close contacts.
  • Stay busy – maintaining a routine and / or develop new interests.
  • Seek counselling – it helps to have a listening ear. Counselling may help some parents and guardians look at the situation positively and take constructive steps towards rebuilding their lives.
Care for the Caregiver

The concept of caregiver is complex.  The meaning of caregiving will be unique for each of us.   The caring for anyone is no easy task.  It is important that each of us are aware of our own skills and have a resources and support for ourselves as well.

Notes for Caregivers

  • Face your own feelings about death
  • Educate yourself about grief
  • Affirm the loved one’s life
  • Validate feelings
  • Be a willing listener
  • Continue to support as time passes
  • Assist in educating the family about grief
  • Encourage collecting memories and mementos
  • Follow up
  • Provide information about additional resources

Care for the Caregiver

    • Be gentle with yourself
    • Find a quiet spot and use it daily
    • Give support, encouragement and praise and learn to accept it yourself
    • Remember that I the light off all the pain seen, we are bound to feel helpless at times.
    • Ask for help when needed.
    • Admit it without shame. Caring and being there are sometimes more important than doing
    • Change your routine often and your tasks when you can
    • Learn to recognize the difference between complaining that relieves and complaining that reinforces negative stress.
    • Focus daily on the good things that happened
    • Be resourceful to yourself! Get creative – try new approaches.
    • Find assistance for yourself as sources of support, assurance and re direction
    • Schedule “breaks” during the week – limit interruptions
    • Say “I choose” rather than “I should”, I ought to or have “to”.  Say I won’t rather than “I can’t”
    • If you never say no – what is your “yes” worth?
    • Laugh and play!
Pet Loss

Death of a Pet

Grief is not limited to the human species; the loss of a pet is for many people is a devastating loss. Mourning the death of a dearly loved companion animal is legitimate and real, as well as normal and healthy. Sometimes finding compassionate support is challenging due to the stigma often associated with pet loss; the grief becomes disenfranchised as it becomes hidden to fit societal expectations. Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded that the grieving process following a pet’s death is similar to that which follows the loss of a family member.
Seeking support from “safe” people and sources is important when the human-animal bond is broken—reach out to animal-loving friends, pet loss support groups, websites, and grief counsellors in order to find the comfort, understanding, and validation you need.
The relationship between people and their animals is a unique. When a pet dies, especially a child’s pet, the grief for the pet can be quite intense. This may often be the child’s first experience with death and it can present as an opportunity to talk about death to the child and introduce them to the concept of reverent burial. Children and adults benefit emotionally from taking care of their pets body and burying it with love and care.
Many local veterinarians assist you and your family in caring for your pet in its last days. Some will even come to your home for the final visit, so that your pet can pass away in their home, surrounded by family. They then will even give you time with your pet and come by later to pick up the remains if need be. Their compassion is second to none.
Pet funerals are a personal and individual matter. While some people may want a full on funeral with family and friends, others may feel more comfortable with a simple burial and only family and perhaps other pets in attendance. For large animals, such as large dog breeds, it may be more practical to have the body cremated (local veterinarians will know about businesses that do this) and then bury the ashes.

1) Home Burial

Many people choose to bury a pet at home as a way of keeping it close a part of one’s world, even if it isn’t a part of one’s life. This can also provide a way for you and your family to celebrate a funeral and memorial service, Some pet owners have also reported that their surviving pets seem to understand that their companion is still “present”, and report that those pets may spend time visiting the gravesite. Home burial provides the opportunity to create a permanent memorial to one’s pet — a grave marker, a statue, or perhaps a tree planted over the pet’s grave to serve as a living memorial. (Others choose to bury a pet under an existing shrub or tree that the pet liked to sleep under.) Consider: You also might not wish to bury a pet at home if you rent, or if you are likely to move away from the property.

2) Cremation.

If you would still like to keep your pet’s remains on your property, but don’t have a place to bury an actual body (especially that of a large pet), consider having your pet’s remains cremated and returned to you for burial. You can keep the pet’s ashes in a decorative urn or container. Many pet owners choose to scatter a pet’s ashes in the pet’s own yard, where it lived and played. Others choose to scatter the ashes in a way that symbolizes setting the pet “free” for its final journey such as in the woods or over a body of water, or just into the wind.

3) Cemetery Burial.

You’ll find pet cemeteries in nearly every province. Burial in a pet cemetery also ensures that your pet’s remains will remain undisturbed, and cared for, “in perpetuity.” Cemetery burial can be a costly option, but many find it a comforting, secure way to handle a pet’s remains. A pet cemetery will usually be able to pick up your pet from your home or from a veterinarian’s office. The internet provides numerous poems and readings to include if you are looking for ways to commemorate a pet who has died.

Funeral Services

Who has legal authority to make funeral arrangements?

The first thing to decide after someone dies is who is legally entitled to make their funeral arrangements.  If there is a will, the executor should be involved with these decisions.  If there is no will, the person with authority to proceed is as follows: a spouse, adult children, adult grandchildren, great grandchildren, father or mother, brother or sister, grandparents followed up uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces.

Is a Funeral Director required by law?

Pursuant to the laws of Ontario a Funeral Director or Transfer Service Operator is not legally necessary.  However, an immediate family member would then have to fill in the necessary documentation, place the deceased in a suitable container for cremation or burial and then transport the deceased to the crematorium at a prearranged time with the crematorium in accordance with the Cemetery’s bylaws.  The family member would also have to comply with the legislation of the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act., 2002, and its regulations. Please note:  Most Ontario Cemeteries with Crematoriums do not offer the services of a Funeral Director or Transfer Service Operator.

What is the difference between a funeral director and a transfer service operator?

Depending upon the services selected you may contact a funeral home or a transfer service to assist you.  There are two classes of licenses for transfer services. Transfer services can not arrange or provide funeral services, however if a transfer service is operated by a licensed funeral director, they can wash and dress the body and transport the body to or from a place of worship.  Both classes of transfer services may assist with basic services and casket and urn selections.

How should I select my provider?

Provider refers to an operator of a funeral home, transfer service, cemetery or crematorium. You may obtain a list of licensed cemetery and crematoriums from the Ministry of Consumer Services at www.ontario.ca/consumerservices and a list of licensed funeral homes, funeral directors and transfer services from the Board of Funeral Services at www.funeralboard.com.  When selecting your provider, speak with more than one provider, make certain that you are comfortable with their ability to meet your needs, and ask for a written price quotation so you can compare prices and services.  By law, each of the providers must provide you with the booklet entitled “Consumer Information Guide to Funerals, Burials and Cremation Services” which is an informative guide to review before committing to any arrangements.

What should I do if I want to donate my organs for transplant or my entire body to scientific research?

There are time restraints for making these donations so it’s important to make these decisions quickly.  To learn more about this process, please visit www.giftoflife.on.ca or speak directly with the school or hospital representative.  Please note that every school of anatomy is different and their requirements vary greatly.  It is also important to have an alternate plan since they do have the option of not accepting your donation.

What if I can’t afford the cost of the funeral arrangements?

If you are concerned about being able to afford funeral arrangements, it is important to speak with your local discretionary benefits office before entering into a contract with a funeral or cemetery provider to find out if you are eligible for assistance.  It is also important to find out when these purchases must be made since cemetery expenses must be purchased at time of need – these expenses will probably not be covered if purchased at a later time.

My Dad was a Veteran – is there any coverage for his funeral?

The Veterans Affairs Canada Funeral and Burial Program ensures that eligible Veterans receive dignified funeral and burial services.  The program is administered by the Last Post Fund, a non profit organization.  It is recommended that you contact the Last Post Fund at 1-800-465-7113 to discuss your situation since financial assistance is not automatically granted to all Veterans.  Please note also that there is a time limit after the Veteran’s death to apply for assistance. More information can be found at www.lastpostfund.ca or www.veterans.gc.ca and following the link to Funeral, Burial and Gravemarking.

When should funeral arrangements be made?

Today many people discuss this subject in advance of need, often times, many years in advance.  Preplanning is about recording your wishes in writing, and discussing your wishes with your closest family members or friends, and executor.  Usually these wishes are also kept in a file with the funeral home of your choice, in your personal file as well as with your executor or lawyer.  When your wishes are clearly documented it relieves your family members of confusion and stress associated with making these decisions.  Funeral pre-planning is a very simple process and your arrangements can be changed at any time in the future.

What if no funeral arrangements have been made before the death occurs?

If no prearrangements have been made, then the executor of the deceased has a lot of decisions to make in a short period of time.  As well as obtaining the statistical information, they must decide upon type of service, location of service, clergy, newspaper obituaries, casket selection, urn or vault selection, open casket vs. closed casket, clothing for the deceased, reception location, caterer, type of music, photo tributes such as picture boards or dvd tributes, stationary requirements, cremation vs. burial vs. entombment, which cemetery to use, flower selections, charitable donations, as well as many financial decisions.

What information will the funeral home or transfer operator need when making funeral arrangements?

In order to register your death with the province, the funeral director will need to complete a statement of death form which will be submitted to the Office of the Registrar General along with the medical certificate of death in order to obtain a burial permit so burial or cremation can take place.  The information required on the statement of death includes the following information:  Full name, date of birth, place of birth, address, marital status, spouses full name, social insurance number, parents full names and birthplaces, next of kin’s name and contact information, and disposition information such as cremation or burial and cemetery information and occupation and type of industry in which you worked.  If you have selected cremation, you will also have to fill in an application for cremation, and obtain a coroner’s authorization to cremate in order to proceed with cremation.

What is a funeral?

A funeral is a gathering of people brought together to acknowledge that someone they love has died and say goodbye to and pay a final tribute to the deceased. It is an appropriate place for others to acknowledge their loss and offer support, and it helps family and friends begin to heal after the death of someone they love.

What is a Memorial Service?

A memorial service is the same as a funeral service, except there is no casket or body present at this service.

What is a Celebration of Life?

A celebration of life is identical to a memorial service.

What are some funeral or memorial service options?

A funeral or memorial service may assist family and friends to grieve your loss.  You can choose a funeral, memorial service or graveside service and it may be a private or public event.  Some people select to also have visitation prior to the service, either with an open casket, closed casket or urn present.  Sometimes families select to have pictures, flowers and memorabilia present, rather than a casket or urn. Every service is different and it is important to reflect the life lost during the service.  Different cultural backgrounds and religious groups have many different traditions and it is important to respect them and include them in the service. Personalize the funeral by displaying personal items or memorabilia which was important to the deceased, write a personalized obituary listing important information about your loved one, select flowers that were their favorite, write a eulogy, order their favorite food for the reception and play music which they enjoyed or songs that remind you of them and happy times shared together.   Include the grandchildren in the service to make them feel included and part of the service.  Some families even give a little memento such a Grandma’s Shortbread Cookie recipe on a recipe card, or an engraved golf ball or something meaningful to the people in attendance at the service.  Do what you feel is right for you and your family.

Is a Casket needed and required by law?

Caskets vary a lot in price and style.  They are made from various woods, metal, cloth covered, and even cardboard.  You may purchase, rent or provide your own casket as long as it is safe, appropriate for intended use and meets the requirements of the cemetery or crematorium.

What is embalming and is it mandatory?

Embalming is a process which involved replacing blood and bodily fluids with a chemical solution to assist with preservation of the body.  It is not required by law but sometimes it is recommended dependent upon the length of time between death and when the visitation or funeral takes place.  However if the person is being transferred to another country, embalming may be required before transportation may take place.  Embalming temporarily preserves the body so family and friends have more time to gather together, pay tribute to the deceased and acknowledge the reality of the death and say good bye.

May I prepay for my funeral expenses in advance?

Many people plan ahead for their funeral arrangements. Many people also pay in advance for their arrangements, although it is not required.  Planning ahead saves your family and friends from making difficult decisions during a very emotional time, it gives you time to compare your options and discuss your wishes with your family and it takes the guess work out of deciding what you would have selected.  It also reduces the amount of family disagreements which often occur during this stressful time. If you choose to prepay for your arrangements, make certain to advise your executor that you have done this.  When you prepay, your funds must be placed into either a trust account or an insurance policy in your name but under the funeral homes care.  The money will stay there and accrue interest or growth until the time that it is needed.  Funeral homes are only allowed to offer you guaranteed policies.  It is important to ask lots of questions about where your money is invested, the type of investment used and the rate of return to be paid as well as how much you would receive if you have to cancel this policy in the future.  It is also important to read through the contract details at this time.

Does the law protect prepaid money?

Ontario law protects your prepaid money in many ways.  When you prepay your Provider must give you a contract that states the total amount of money you have paid now and the terms of payment for any balance you owe.  If you prepay with a funeral home or transfer service, your money is protected by a compensation fund.  The fund is used to give back money to consumers if, in rare cases, their prepaid money is not available when needed.  The fund will cover losses only if you prepaid with a licensed funeral home or transfer service. Providers are inspected from time to time to see that they comply with the law.

What happens if I move – can my arrangements move with me?

Many people move for a variety of reasons and it is important to know that your arrangements can move with you.  If your funds are being kept in an insurance policy, then you change the funeral home assignment on the policy.  If your funds are being kept in a trust, you may be advised to keep the funds in the trust and change the funeral home – or to move the funds to a bank or trust company used by the new funeral home.  Make sure that you check with the Provider regarding the cancellation amount you will receive if you decide to cancel any arrangements.

What happens if something I purchase is not available or I change my mind and don’t require something I’ve prepaid for?

If you have selected a product which isn’t available at the time of need, the funeral home may make a reasonable substitution at no extra charge. Substitutions must be similar in design, style and construction. If you have prepaid for something that is no longer required, your estate or beneficiary will receive that amount back at the time of your death.  The Provider can not keep money for items which are not used.

Who can I contact if I have additional questions?

Cemetery Services

What is a Cemetery?

A Cemetery is where the final resting places for the bodies or the cremated remains of deceased people are found.  Cemeteries are owned and operated by Municipalities, Lot Owners as a non-profit organization, Churches or for profit Corporations.

In response to the multitude of needs and beliefs within Canadian society Cemeteries usually offer numerous options for the burial and interment of caskets and urns, gardens for the scattering of cremated remains, memorialization and other Services.  Each Cemetery offers its own unique options. Larger Cemeteries frequently have crematoriums within their grounds as well as Chapel facilities.  Some Cemeteries also have mausoleums.

When should Cemetery arrangements be made?

Ideally your Cemetery site, memorialization and related services should be chosen in advance of illness or death so you have time to make choices which meet your needs and desires.  When a death occurs people are forced to make a multitude of decisions for their loved one’s final resting place while they are in extreme shock and grief if pre-arrangements haven’t been made.

Advance choices or “pre-arrangements” will give you the peace of mind that your wishes will be respected and they will lighten the financial and emotional burdens placed on your loved ones at the time of need.   Preparing in advance for the eventuality of death is an outstanding act of consideration for every member of your family.

What do “pre-arrangements” involve?

When pre-arranging your Cemetery site and related services two components are involved:

  1. Your final resting place at the Cemetery and the Cemetery Services that will be required and
  2. The Funeral Services from the Funeral Home OR Transfer Services from a Transfer Service.

The type of Burial or Final Resting Place you choose will dictate some of the Cemetery Services and Funeral Services/Transfer Services and supplies you will need to purchase.

What should you consider when making decisions for a palliative condition or a sudden death?

You should consider the same details discussed in the following subsections to make choices which will meet your needs and honour your loved one.
It may be wise to ask family members or someone who is not as emotionally involved to be with you when you are making Cemetery arrangements because of the extreme emotional state you will likely be in.
You should be sure that you have the legal right to make arrangements for the palliative or deceased person.

What should be considered if you choose to be buried in a casket?

You should consider:

  • How many Graves are required?  Will other people be buried in caskets in this lot in the future? Will anyone be cremated and then buried in this grave or an adjacent grave in the future?
  • Do you prefer a Flat Marker or an Upright Monument to memorialize the gravesite?
  • How important is it to be able to establish a garden, leave flowers or other memorial tributes at the grave?
  • What are your feelings about the use of a vault?
  • Do you want a site in close proximity to family members’ burial sites?
  • Is the Veteran’s Section appropriate?
  • If you want to bury in an existing family plot do you have the right to do so and the written permission Cemetery regulations require?
  • If you want to inter the casket in a crypt go to a Cemetery where there is a mausoleum.
  • Consider the interior size of the crypt before choosing a casket.

What should be considered if you choose cremation?

You should consider:

  • Whether you prefer In-Ground Burial, a Columbarium Niche, or a Scattering Garden location.
  • Does the Cemetery permit the use of temporary urns as well as permanent Urns?
  • If you choose a Columbarium Niche consider the interior size of the niche before choosing an Urn.
  • If you choose burial – decide what your preference is between a Flat Marker or an Upright monument.
  • How important is it to be able to establish a garden, leave flowers or other memorial tributes at the Grave?
  • Do you want a site in close proximity to family members’ burial sites?
  • Is the Veteran’s Section appropriate?
  • If the urn will be buried in a grave where a casket may be buried at a later date consider the durability of the urn or the use of an urn vault.
  • If you want to place the urn in an existing family plot or niche do you have the right to do so and the written permission Cemetery regulations require?

What are Cemetery By-Laws?

All Cemeteries in Ontario are governed by a set of By-Laws to insure appropriate operations and cemetery maintenance.  They are also intended to provide for the safety of Interment Right’s Holders, visitors and staff.
The specific rules and regulations contained in Cemetery By-Laws give specific directions to ensure the appropriate functioning of all matters of operations, maintenance and safety within Cemeteries.

The By-Laws of each Cemetery in Ontario are approved by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario “BOA” in accordance with Ontario’s Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002 (FBCSA) and its regulations.  To learn more visit the Bereavement Authority of Ontario “BOA” website at www.bereavementauthorityontario.ca

Why Would Cemetery By-Laws Affect Pre-Arrangement or At-Need Arrangement Decisions?

By-Laws contain specific regulations which provide for memorialization.  Various sections of the Cemetery have different regulations regarding the purchase of Flat Markers or Upright Monuments, their size, material and placement on the lot and the manner in which Columbariums, Scattering Gardens and Crypts are memorialized.
The Cemetery will be the final resting place of you or your loved one.  It is important that your choices in location and memorialization options are representative of you or your loved one.  It is also important that your choices will give comfort to visitors paying their respects.
Tell the Funeral Home or Transfer Service provider what your choices at the Cemetery are.  They will customize  their services to support and enhance your decisions.

Who should you tell after you’ve made Pre-Arrangements?

Tell your family members and your executor(s) if you’ve made pre-arrangements or have decided to be buried in a casket or be cremated.
Usually wills aren’t read until after the funeral, therefore copies of your Cemetery and Funeral related information should be given to your executor and family members.
Consider leaving the original Cemetery and Funeral documents with your will.
Give the details of your Cemetery pre-arrangements to your Funeral Home or Transfer Service provider.  They will customize the services you purchase from them to support and enhance your decisions.

How are Cemeteries In Ontario maintained in perpetuity?

An annual income in perpetuity for the overall care and maintenance of Cemeteries was guaranteed by legislation in in 1955 in Ontario.  A Care & Maintenance fee is paid on all lots, memorials, and in some Cemeteries, interments in lots purchased before 1955.  The fees are invested in a trust fund as specified in the legislation.  Cemeteries are only permitted to use the interest from the fund for the overall care and maintenance of the Cemetery.  The capital investment is never touched.  The interest income received from the Care and Maintenance fund changes each year as interest rates go up and down.

What is Cremation?

Cremation is a step in the preparation of the deceased for memorialization.  Only one cremation takes place at a time.  Caskets or containers used for the cremation must be made of wood or other combustible material.  Prior to the cremation casket handles and other exterior fittings are removed.  The casket or combustible container is placed in a cremation chamber where, through the process of heat (approximately 1800 F.) and evaporation, the body is reduced to fragments of bones in 2 -3 hours.  When this part of the process is complete crematorium staff carefully remove all recoverable cremated remains from the chamber.  Any remaining metal particles are removed with a magnet or by hand.  The fragments of human bones are then mechanically pulverized into minute particles and placed in a sturdy plastic container.

Is a casket necessary for cremation?

Yes.  Regulations in Ontario state that the remains of the deceased must be received in a container that ensures protection to the health and safety of the operator and provides a proper covering for the deceased.  The casket should meet minimum requirements for proper respect and the container should be composed of suitable material which is environmentally safe.

What authorization is required for cremation?

An application for cremation must be completed and signed by the executor or next-of-kin.  A burial permit and a coroner’s certificate are also required before the cremation can take place.

Is a Funeral Director necessary?

Pursuant to the laws of Ontario a Funeral Director or Transfer Service Operator is not legally necessary.  However, an immediate family member would then have to fill in the necessary documentation, place the deceased in a suitable container for cremation and transport the deceased to the crematorium at a pre-arranged time with the crematorium in accordance with the Cemetery’s By-Laws.  The family member would also have to comply with the legislation of the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002 and its regulations. Please note: Some Ontario Cemeteries with Crematoriums offer the services of a Funeral Director or a Transfer Service Operator. 

Is it possible to place personal items in the casket with the deceased during cremation?

Yes – providing these items pose no health and/or safety risk to the operator and are composed of materials that are environmentally safe.  Personal items are not recoverable after the cremation process.  Many times families choose to place jewelry or other small items in the urn with cremated remains after the cremation process is complete.

Is embalming necessary for cremation?

No, but factors of time, health and religious beliefs might make embalming prior to cremation either appropriate or necessary.

Does the crematorium provide an urn for the cremated remains?

Ask the Cemetery personnel where the crematorium is located.  Many Cemeteries provide a simple plastic urn with each cremation.  Families may also purchase a wide variety of urns from their cemetery or funeral representative.

Is it possible for families to witness the casket going into the cremation retort?

In most cases arrangements can be made at the Cemetery Office or through your Funeral or Transfer Service provider to witness the cremation.  Some religious beliefs state that families be present at the time of cremation.

What is done with cremated remains?

Cremation is not a disposition; it is a method of preparing the remains for memorialization.  They are still human remains and should be placed in a dedicated location such as a columbarium, a gravesite or a scattering garden.

Is Scattering cremated remains legal?

You should check the laws which apply to each province or country to see if it is legal.
If you are thinking about scattering cremated remains consider the fact that the place you choose to scatter the cremated remains in may change ownership or be developed at some time in the future and a genealogical record will not be kept.
Many Cemeteries do offer scattering gardens where a permanent interment site for you or your loved one and a genealogical record will be maintained in perpetuity.
In Ontario scattering cremated remains on private property with the consent of the land owner is permitted.
In Ontario you may hire a provider to scatter the cremated remains for you.  Only a provider is permitted to charge you for the service of scattering the cremated remains.
In Ontario you may also choose to scatter the cremated remains on unoccupied Crown lands and lands covered by water.  For more information, visit the Bereavement Authority of Ontario at www.bereavementauthorityontario.ca.
In Ontario if you wish to scatter cremated remains on municipally-owned lands check municipal by-laws first.
Reference:  Pamphlet, “Consumer Information Guide to Funerals, Burials and Cremation Services”  pg. 8 Published by the Ministry of Consumer Services of Ontario.

Is the burial of Cremated remains OR a casket in a family plot permitted?

Yes – if you are the Interment Right’s holder or you have the right to do so and have the written permission Cemetery regulations require and if the Cemetery By-Laws provide for the burial.
If you are not the Interment Right’s holder of the family plot you should call the Cemetery where the family plot is located and ask what the Cemetery requires to establish your right to bury in it and if the Cemetery By-Laws permit the burial.  You should also ask what the Cemetery’s By-Laws permit regarding the numbers of interments and memorialization.

What are Interment Rights?

Interment rights refer to the right to bury human remains in a grave, crypt or niche.  The person(s) named on Interment Rights Certificates may request a burial or disinterment, or place a decoration, marker or monument on the grave or niche in accordance with the Cemetery’s By-Laws.

What are Scattering Rights?

The person(s) named on the Scattering Rights may scatter cremated remains in a designated place within the cemetery in accordance with the Cemetery’s By-Laws.
(Please note:  Not all Cemeteries with Scattering Gardens sell Scattering Rights to a designated place within the Scattering Gardens.)