THIS guide deals with some issues you may face in dealing with death, bereavement and organising a funeral. You will find information on:
- When someone dies
- Sharing your feelings
- Organ donation and research
- Religious and cultural customs
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When someone dies
THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE is a difficult time for everyone. For most of us, coping with death and planning a funeral is one of the most difficult things we will ever be asked to do. It can be a very emotional and difficult time. The following information deals with some issues you may face in dealing with death, bereavement and organising a funeral when someone dies.
When someone dies at home
Your loved one can stay at home for quite a while. If you have talked about this beforehand, you may have a plan in place, which can really help at this time. You may also have religious or cultural customs that you are required to observe.
The doctor who has been caring for your loved one will need to come to the house to sign a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death before a funeral director gets notified. If they pass away overnight then they may stay in bed until the next morning, when the doctor can be called.
The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (the ‘death certificate’) is an important legal document.
The completion of a death certificate by a medical practitioner is a vital part of the notification process of a death to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the relevant state or territory. It enables an authority to be provided to the funeral director to arrange disposal of the body.
It is the funeral director who will transfer the body to the funeral home. Your friend or loved one will be in good care and in many cases you will be able to see them again at the funeral home.
When someone dies in a hospital or nursing home
The nurse will disconnect any machines and remove medical and other equipment. Staff can help you with the arrangements and will often contact your chosen funeral director on your behalf. Make use of the rooms they have available for you and other loved ones to gather in.
Don’t feel rushed and do accept support offered by the hospital’s health professionals. They are experienced in situations like this and can often be some of the best people to turn to. When you and your family feel ready, your friend or loved one will be taken from the hospital bed to the mortuary. They will then usually be transferred to the premises of a funeral director. This may not happen immediately; it might happen the next day.
When someone passes away suddenly or traumatically
An autopsy may be required to find out why the person died. If the coroner is involved in the case of an unexplained death, coronial staff will transfer the deceased from the place of death to the corner’s premises.
When someone dies overseas
You may wish to bring the body back to Australia for burial or cremation. However, transport and health restrictions apply. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) will need to be notified prior to transporting the deceased.
You will need to obtain an overseas death certificate and complete importation papers. For health reasons, the body will need to be embalmed overseas and returned to Australia in an outer coffin or crate suitably prepared for transportation. You may also need to check that the container meets any specific airline requirements. Non-embalmed bodies will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances.
The situation is similar when transporting a body overseas for burial or cremation. Particular care must be taken with the documentation; certain documents must be lodged here and others must accompany the body. Health regulations concerning the transport container will vary from country to country, but are generally as strict as those associated with bringing a person’s body back to Australia.
Can I arrange transportation myself?
It is possible to do some of the transportation organising yourself, but it requires extensive planning. Given the time constraints involved, it is more common for arrangements to be carried out by funeral directors liaising between Australia and the overseas country involved.
The transportation of cremated remains is generally the easiest and least expensive option. However, the container used to hold the ashes must be free from contaminants such as soil. If the container is made from wood, it must be also declared upon arrival so AQIS can inspect the container.
What happens next?
The funeral director in charge of the funeral arrangements will collect all the information required for registering the death and send it to the relevant state or territory government office. In most States and territories, this office is called the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
A copy of the Death Certificate is usually arranged for the next of kin by the funeral director. If a funeral director is not involved with funeral arrangements, the person who manages the final arrangements for the deceased is responsible for registering the death.
It is also advisable to:
- Make sure everyone who needs to know is told
- Try to find out whether a will has been made
- Arrange to see the deceased’s solicitor and read the will as soon as possible
- Seek help and support if you need it.
Sharing your feelings
If someone close to you has passed away you may need immediate support. You may have a sense that your life is in a state of suspension and that the life you are living does not feel real. You may be in a state of shock and experience feelings of numbness, anger, guilt, confusion and loneliness.
Many people describe the hours and days immediately following their loved one’s death as “being in a dream” or in a movie.
It is a very difficult and emotional time, and one of the biggest things that will ever happen to you in your lifetime, so don’t feel like you have to act in a certain way, or say particular things. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Let your feelings come when they come and don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your family and those that are very close to you.
Do you need someone to talk to now?
If you are in need of urgent grief assistance please contact your local GP or if you need to talk to someone straight away call:
- Lifeline– 13 11 14 (Australia local call)
- Kids Helpline– 1800 55 1800 (Australia free call)
- Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement– 1800 642 066 (Australia free call)
Organ Donation and Research
Over the last 10 years organ donation rates in Australia have fluctuated, but the average is around 200 donors per year.
Australian surgeons are internationally recognised for a strong record of successful organ transplantations, but we also have one of the world’s lowest rates of organ donation; the consequence is that many people die while waiting for suitable donated organs to become available.
More than 30,000 Australians have received transplants in the last 60 years. Improved survival rates now mean that most recipients of organs or tissue can look forward to a better quality of life.
Donating your organs after your death is a very personal decision but you should discuss it with your family and friends so they are aware of your wishes.
You can then register on an Australian organ donor registry.
- National Australian Organ and Tissue Authority Phone: 02 61989800 www.donatelife.gov.au
- Kidney Health Australia Kidney Health Australia in your capital city Phone: 1800 4543 639 www.kidney.org.au
- Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry Phone: 02 9234 2405 www.abmdr.org.au
Religious and Cultural Customs
There are many different religious and cultural beliefs in Australia’s multicultural society today. This information is intended as a general guide — but Ezifunerals is aware that there are many differences in interpretation and understanding within a given culture.
The belief held by many Aboriginal people that they come from the land is of great importance when discussing ceremonies about death. It is believed that when a person dies, if the correct rituals are conducted, their spirit goes back to the land
Beliefs associated with death are different from language group to language group. Ceremonies last days, weeks and even months depending upon the language group. Often after a person has died the use of their name is forbidden. If there are members in the language group with the same name it may be changed.
Buddhists believe that when they die they will be born again. Buddhists believe the spirit leaves the body immediately but may linger in an in-between state near the body. In this case it is important the body is treated with respect so that the spirit can continue its journey to a happy state. The time it is believed to take for the spirit to be reborn can vary depending on the type of Buddhism practised. Funerals will usually consist of a simple service held at the crematorium chapel.
Catholics believe that there is an afterlife and that once a person dies they will see God face to face. If a person has committed a grave offence and has not repented at the time of death then that person would not enter into the full glory of heaven.
The Catholic funeral rite is called the Order of Christian Funerals. Family and friends pray for the soul of the deceased person and ask God to receive their soul into His eternal glory. The Vigil of the Deceased (a prayer service) is held the night before the funeral. On the day of the funeral a Requiem Mass for the deceased person is celebrated. This includes scripture, prayers and hymns. Family and friends are invited to take part in the service.
Protestant Christians trust they will go to heaven to be with God once they have passed away and so in some respects a funeral is a time of joy, although also sadness, as the person will be missed by friends and loved ones.
The church minister will offer any comfort or assistance the family needs to help them cope with the death and to organise the funeral. Friends will often send their sympathies in the form of cards and/or flowers to the deceased’s family.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
People of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe that at death the body and the spirit separate. The spirit goes to the spirit world before being reunited with the body. The judgment will then occur and after that the person will live in Heaven with God.
Funeral services are generally conducted by a bishop in a ward chapel or in a mortuary. Although people mourn the loss of a loved one, the funeral service is viewed as a celebration of the life of the deceased. The service will consist of a eulogy, doctrinal messages, music and prayer.
Followers of the Greek Orthodox religion believe in eternal life. Thus the church strongly emphasises a positive outcome in death — that the deceased is alive with God. While death is the separation of the soul (the spiritual dimension of each person) from the body (the physical dimension), the physical body will be reunited with the soul at the Last Judgment.
After death, the priest says the first prayer and a candle is lit. This is repeated for 40 days, because it is believed that the soul roams on earth for 40 days, as did Christ. In the Orthodox religion, cremation is not permitted because it is believed that we are made from earth and that we shall return to the earth.
Hinduism embraces a pantheon of gods and goddesses, with individual Hindus worshipping one or more of these. Hindus believe in reincarnation. When a person dies their soul merely moves from one body to the next on its path to reach Nirvana (Heaven). So, while it is a sad time when someone dies, it is also a time of celebration. Hindus are cremated as they believe burning the body releases the spirit.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when they die they go into a kind of sleep until God resurrects them from the dead. Those who gain entrance to Heaven will live with God but the vast majority of mankind will be resurrected to a restored paradise on earth. No rituals are performed at time of death but an elder will give comfort to friends and family of the deceased. The funeral is usually held at the Kingdom Hall that the deceased attended or at the funeral home.
Beliefs may vary depending on whether the Jewish person is Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. Jews believe that when they die they will go to Heaven to be with God. Jews may not be cremated or embalmed. In Israel a coffin might not always be used but outside of Israel a coffin is almost always used. The body is wrapped in a white shroud. Mourners have the opportunity to express anguish.
Traditional Maori believe that the spirit continues to exist after death and that the deceased will always be a part of the marae (traditional meeting place). Once someone has died, they will go to the spirit world. The deceased’s hair may be traditionally oiled, combed and decorated with feathers. The person will be dressed in fine clothes, perhaps traditional Maori garments if that is their wish. The body will not be left alone at any time until it is buried.
There are two main types of Muslims – Shi’ite and Sunni, so beliefs and customs may be slightly different for each. Muslims believe that the soul continues to exist after death. Following a death the eyes of the deceased will be closed and the body is laid out with the arms across their chest and head facing Mecca. The body will be washed by family or friends. It will be wrapped in a white shroud and prayers will be said.
The body will be buried within 24 hours as Muslims believe the soul leaves the body at the moment of death. The funeral will take place either at the graveside and involve prayer and readings from the Koran.
Seventh Day Adventist
Seventh Day Adventists believe that when Christ returns to the earth he will awaken all those who believe in him and they will all go to be with God in Heaven. Seventh Day Adventists can be buried or cremated. There will be a committal ceremony at the graveside or crematorium. The minister or lay group leader will pray and read scripture as they commit the body to the earth.
Sikhs believe in reincarnation but also that if a person lives their life according to God’s plan then they can end the cycle of rebirth in this life. They believe in an afterlife where the soul meets God. After death the deceased will be washed and dressed in clean clothes. If the deceased has fulfilled the Sikh baptismal ritual then the five symbols of Sikh membership will also be placed in the coffin. Non-Sikhs may attend the body at death.