Frequently Asked Questions
Not surprisingly, we find that people often have questions related to funerals but aren't comfortable asking, or don't know who to ask. While we always welcome the opportunity to talk with you and answer your questions, we've addressed some of the typical ones here along with some that may help clear up some common misconceptions. If you don't find your answer here - please don't hesitate to ask us.
Why is it important to have funeral or other memorial gathering?
Simply put, because we need it. Across thousands of years and hundreds of cultures, people have gathered to acknowledge a death. It was an opportunity for everyone to come together to recognize the community’s shared loss and share the burden of grief. With the pace of our world today it is a practice that is probably more necessary than it has ever been. We don’t slow down for much but grief doesn’t spare us because we’re busy. We need the time to reflect and those closest to the loss need the support of family and friends to help them heal and adapt to their new reality.
Does cremation cost less?
It can, but not necessarily. Cremation is simply one way of preparing the human body for final disposition (comparable to embalming). Costs are determined based on the package of goods and services a family chooses and, for the most part, those same choices are available with either cremation or traditional burial of the casket. Minimal service packages are available with or without cremation as are more elaborate services with visitation periods, funeral services, receptions and other activities. The range of service and merchandise options available expands every year and the unique requests of families are limitless so predicting price based upon a single element like cremation is difficult at best. Our funeral directors and preplanning counsellors are happy to show you your options and discuss the related costs. And, asking questions doesn’t cost anything at all.
Do I invite people to a funeral? / Do I need an invitation to attend?
Aside from those who are to participate – as a reader, pallbearer or in some other capacity – it is not common practice to specifically invite people to a funeral. Typically obituaries and service details are published on our website and, often, in the local newspaper. In addition the community generally does a good job of sharing this sort of news – particularly efficiently now in the age of social-media. None-the-less, friends or family slightly removed from the inner circle are often asked to ensure that important people aren’t left out. This might include close friends who are travelling, former co-workers of a retiree, or anyone who would want to know but, for whatever reason, might not get word right away via ‘the grapevine’.
In the absence of a specific invitation, unless the death notice specifically indicates a ‘private family service’ or something similar, funerals are generally considered to be open to anyone who wishes to attend. Because of the variety of services we see today, we know there can be some confusion over whether the same rules apply to a ‘celebration of life’ for instance. While it never hurts to check with the funeral home, or the family if you are close, when you are uncertain, typically the rule of thumb remains, unless they say otherwise, it’s a public event.
I Didn’t Know Them Very Well. Should I Attend?
If you didn’t know them very well, you must have known a lot about them, or respected them or what they stood for, or known a family member. You obviously have a connection or it’s unlikely you would be asking yourself this question. Easy rule of thumb: if you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.
Is it necessary to have flowers?
It is not necessary but, for some, flowers can lend a warmth which softens the environment and often comforts the family, especially if Mom was a flower lover or Dad a gardener. Most services will at least have flowers from family and close friends and both arrangements and live plants are still very common expressions of sympathy and respect. Many people continue to find a colourful display of blooms a nice tribute. In instances when a family member has allergies or sensitivities you may see a polite note declining live flowers. In these circumstances you may want to discuss artificial arrangements with your preferred florist. We’ve never met anyone allergic to those.
When a charitable fund is specified for memorial donations am I obligated to donate to that one?
You are not obligated to donate at all. If you choose to make a donation, as a sign of respect for the deceased or the family, you are free to make a contribution to the designated fund or to one of your own choosing. It is very common to see that stated in obituaries. As in most gift giving situations it truly is the thought that counts. If you feel moved to donate money, send flowers, or prepare a meal for the family, do what you can, from the heart. The family will be grateful for your thoughtfulness.
Why do we have visitation with an open casket?
Viewing the deceased is an old practice, more common in some cultures than others, but still a regular part of rituals often observed in our communities. There are likely many archaic institutions that can each offer its own explanation but a lot seem to fall under the loosely defined concept of ‘closure’. Some will tell you that seeing is believing – healing begins with acknowledging that the life has ended, a fact confirmed by the presence of the body. For others it is necessary to say a proper good-bye or maybe to reflect on an influential relationship that has shaped their lives. For many of us it is simply a practice we grew up with. While some are uncomfortable with it, for most it is just a question of becoming accustomed to it. Few of us entered our first open-casket visitation without some trepidation. It is important to remember that when a family has chosen to have an open casket it is part of what they need to grieve and heal. It falls to the rest of us to be respectful of their choices – it is about them.
How long is a funeral service?
While 30 to 60 minutes would provide a reasonable bracket into which most services would fit, there is no definite answer. The ritual being observed, the officiant conducting it, the number of people attending, the music, the family, the venue, even the weather can influence the length of a service. While it may not be a practical or very helpful answer, you’ve come to honour a life; sit back and focus on why you are there and who you are there for and perhaps time won’t matter. Each of us will only ask our community to do this once.
Should I bring my children to a visitation or Funeral?
We can’t answer this one for you but we lean strongly to yes. Many of us have been taught to fear death, funerals and everything connected with them. With the death rate sticking at exactly 100%, the reality is we can’t avoid it – loss and grief are an inevitable part of life and while children may not understand it the way adults do, most seem to grasp what they need to and cope quite well. Your own belief system will guide you in explaining the death of someone they know and help you to teach them about what comes next, just try not to teach them fear.
We are asked about preparing children before coming to the funeral home and we counsel honesty and awareness. Let them know what they can expect in terms they will understand. Explain the open casket if there is to be one and, if not, be prepared to talk about what is in the casket or the urn. Tell them people will be sad and let them know that’s OK. Reassure them that you will be with them and they can leave anytime they wish to. (Most funeral homes have a toy chest tucked away somewhere to provide respite and distraction when needed.)
Most importantly, let them ask all the questions that come to mind and answer them in a straightforward manner providing the information they need to understand without overwhelming them. Trust your instincts and as in all things be attentive to their reactions and their needs.
What is a celebrant?
A celebrant is a person who is trained to meet the needs of families during their time of loss by working closely with them to create and conduct a service that is personalized to reflect the life that is being honoured. After sitting down with the family they will design a service that incorporates those unique aspects of their life - stories, music and experiences - that made them who they were and that live on in the memories of family and friends. Celebrants are often called upon when a family chooses a secular service or when they have no affiliation with a faith community.
What should I wear to a visitation or funeral?
The days of strictly dark and dour funeral attire are behind us. It’s common to see plenty of bright colours among family and guests but we still recommend being neat and respectful in the way you present yourself. Standards are certainly less formal than they once were but it’s best to consider the situation – who was the deceased, the family, the setting? If you’ve got ‘something nice’ you would wear ‘somewhere nice,’ it will probably be fine. Feel free to call the funeral home and ask for the advice of the funeral director serving the family. Failing all else; err on the side of conservative and tasteful.
What else would you like to know?
We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Call or email us if there is something we can clear up for you.
Mcadam's funeral home & Crematorium
160 York St.