Care of the Body at Home
Many people are not aware that in British Columbia it is legal to care for a body at home. Family and friends are allowed to sit with, wash, dress, and otherwise tend to the body. They can build a casket, make funeral arrangements, and provide transportation to the cemetery or crematorium. There is no legal requirement to use the services of a funeral home. Flexible funeral homes will work with a family, providing only the services requested, while others claim they must take care of everything.
In our community, there are a group of volunteers who can guide and support families with whatever choice they make, including having a body in the home, referred to as a home funeral. See communityleddeathcare.ca for more information. This approach is not new, but rather an older way to be with death that has been practiced for thousands of years.
Many of us have little or no experience with the deceased, and are understandably nervous about tending to a body in our home. The person is no more dangerous in death than they were in life; we can continue with the same precautions used when they were sick. To keep the body cool, we can open a window and/or use ice. Cindea.ca is a helpful website that provides information about the practical aspects of closing the mouth and eyes, washing, dressing, and moving someone.
If tending to a body and/or having it in your home is a choice you might consider, it is wise to know what to expect and ideally, make preparations before death occurs. When a person dies at home of an expected and documented cause, the body can remain there. When a person dies in the hospital, once the doctor or coroner completes their paperwork, the body can be brought home. Transportation can be provided by private vehicle or funeral home.
It can be a powerful experience to have the body present and tend to it. Death often comes as a shock, and it is difficult to grasp that the loved one has actually died. Having the body present keeps returning us to reality, painful though it may be. Some families choose to have the body in the family space, while others prefer a bedroom or lower floor. As often as they feel a need, people can sit with the body, touch it, talk, cry, sing, read, all in the setting of a familiar home. With support, children can be more naturally present and engaged in the process.
Death and grief are difficult to navigate. We may channel intense emotions into conflict, being overly busy, or finding ways to numb or distract ourselves from the pain. With the body present, loss and grief remain central. As a shared task, washing and dressing the body can become a simple and poignant ceremony. Building the box, if there are people able to do this, provides another way for grief to express itself tangibly. Some may pour their emotions into decorating the casket. The body makes the space sacred; it helps us slow down and connects us to our necessary grief.
In knowing and exploring what is possible, we can make choices that align with our values. While we understand death to be part of life, our usual practices separate us from it. Let us participate in the death-related tasks as fully as we are able.