Planning the Funeral after an Accidental Death

Ottawa Fatal Accident Lawyer: There is no easy way to plan the funeral of a loved one after an Ottawa accident.  You are likely feeling emotionally drained, physically exhausted and stressed as you approach the memorial plans.

When the death of a loved one is anticipated because of illness or old age, it is possible that they have discussed their wishes for their funeral with you or it is likely that you have at least taken some time to prepare.  If preparation has already taken place or if you have some idea of how your loved one wanted their funeral conducted, it is obviously much easier to put the funeral together quickly.  It is much less likely that there has been advance funeral  planning before accidental death.

Our clients, the Bregmans family, were devastated when Willa, the much-loved family matriarch, was fatally injured in the parking lot of her retirement home.  At this difficult time they were very surprised to learn that Willa had never spoken to any of her four children about her memorial wishes.  Her daughters had assumed that she had made arrangements for herself when her husband died a decade earlier.  It turns out that was not the case.  Like many families after a sudden fatal accident, they were starting the funeral planning for their mother from scratch.

This article is meant to offer guidelines for planning a funeral to anyone who has lost someone close to them, especially those who have lost a friend or family member, in an unexpected Ottawa fatal accident.  The following material will provide you with a guide to ensure you have covered all the necessary ground of funeral planning and post funeral notifications.

Steps to be Taken Immediately After the Accidental Death

  1. Pronouncing the Death: As soon as someone passes away, the death needs to be pronounced by a professional.  This normally means that when a death occurs you must call 911 or a coroner’s office so that a medical professional can confirm the death and make it official.

If the death results from an Ottawa car accident, or another serious Ontario accident, the deceased is likely being cared for in the hospital.  For many unexpected deaths caused by accidents you don’t need to call 911 or the coroner’s office because medical professionals will be on staff and able to pronounce the death immediately.

In Willa Bregman’s case, she had been transported from the accident scene to hospital, making the pronouncement straightforward.

  1. Embalming: Within the first few hours of death you need to decide if you want your loved one’s body to be embalmed.  Embalming is a process designed to preserve the body.  If you embalm, you give yourself the options of having an open casket and prolonging the funeral process.  Essentially, the body will not have to be buried or cremated right away.

For the Bregmans’ family, relatives would be travelling from across the country to attend her funeral.  The family needed time to gather.  Embalming was an obvious option for that family.

In some faiths, however, funerals must take place within twenty-four hours.  Embalming is not always done in these cases.

Selecting a Funeral Home: You will have to call a crematorium or a funeral home to come and pick up your loved one’s body from the hospital.  The funeral home will make the arrangements for transportation.

Where the Ottawa fatality was unexpected you likely have not been shopping around for different funeral homes.  If your family does not have a preferred funeral home, you will need to select one.

Most churches have a member or parishioner responsible for assisting with funeral planning.  Calling the office at your place of worship is an excellent place to start.

Many funeral homes also have web pages now and most are listed in the yellow pages.  Perusing the websites may give you a feel for the funeral home.  If possible, consider selecting a funeral home close to your loved one’s community to assist mourners who wish to attend a service.  In the Bregmans case, they chose the funeral home that had provided service when Willa’s husband died years before.

Notifying Friends and Family: As soon as possible, you should start contacting people to alert them of the loss.  If you are the spouse, parent, daughter, son, sister or brother of the deceased, you may want to contact a close friend or family member to make most of the calls.  Consider making the calls after you have made plans for the funeral so you can let people know of the location, date and time.  On the other hand, you may choose to tell them that you will contact them again with that information or put it in a local newspaper where they can get the details.

Begin Planning

Before you begin making arrangements for the funeral or memorial service, you should think about what your loved one would have wanted.  Where there has been an unexpected death resulting from an Ottawa accident, the victim may not have left wishes for their funeral in writing.  It might also mean that you have never talked about a memorial service.  If this is the case, it will be up to you to make the arrangements according to what you think the deceased would want.

To plan a meaningful service, you should think of things that most characterized your loved one, their favourite activities, their favourite flowers, songs they liked, poems they enjoyed, and so on.  Once you have generated thoughts about your loved one’s  favourite things, it will become easier for you to choose some details over others for the funeral.

In our example, the Bregmans family knew their mother would want part of the service in her native Dutch.  They also prepared a computer slideshow of Willa’s life to display at various junctures.

With the wishes of your loved one in mind, you can choose which type of service you want to have.


Funerals are probably the most popular of all the memorial options.  They are the most traditional type of service.  There is no one set way to have a funeral.  How you proceed depends on your loved one’s religious affiliation, age and personality.    For example, for children’s funerals parents will often choose to have a more uplifting service and will choose to decorate the area with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals.  Many parents have also had their child’s favourite stories read and their favourite lullabies sung at the service.

Funerals usually consist of prayers or blessings and are often directed by a priest, rabbi or another spiritual leader.  They are usually held in a church or in the chapel of a funeral home.  If the deceased was not religious, prayers and blessings can be replaced by singing their favourite songs or reading their favourite poems.  You can pick how you want the service to proceed, just talk it over with the leader of the funeral to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.  Most funeral directors will tell you that they are very flexible.

Your funeral director will be your biggest resource during the funeral planning process.  There is at least one funeral director at every funeral home and he or she will work very closely with you throughout all of the arranging.  How closely you work with your funeral director and the amount of organizing the director does for you will depend on your needs.  For example, if you need help writing the obituary, a good funeral director will help you with that.  They will also distribute the obituary to the newspapers of your choice.

Ultimately, the funeral director will do what you need them to while explaining the steps they’re taking to you.  The funeral home will also coordinate movement of the body from the home to its place of burial with you.  Remember, in most situations, you will be charged according to how much you use your funeral director and the type of work they are doing for you.

Planning of the actual funeral itself will likely not take more than three hours.  You simply have to go into the funeral home, meet with the director and discuss details.  If you or family members are unable to go into the funeral home, the director may be able to come to you.  The Bregmans’ funeral director came to one of her daughters’ homes to meet with the family and make the arrangements.  If at all possible, the executor of the estate is present at the meeting to sign all of the necessary paperwork.

A few things you need when you meet with the funeral director:

  • The clothes you want your loved one to wear in their casket.  Make sure you bring a full set of clothing, undergarments included.  Shoes are not entirely necessary but will be used if you decide to bring them with you;
  • A rough copy of the deceased’s life history, including the names of living relatives, spouses and the places in which they have lived;
  • The names of the deceased’s parents, including their mother’s maiden name; and
  • Their social insurance number.  This is needed in order to register the death and make it official.

In addition to coordination of funeral arrangements, the funeral home will also be able to offer you the products you will need.  For instance, the funeral home will have caskets on hand for you to purchase or rent.  Caskets at funeral homes range in prices and the less expensive models may not always be on display.  Do not be afraid to ask the funeral director if there are less expensive models you may have a look at.  Many people who are planning a funeral on a budget are also getting into renting caskets for funerals and viewings, and then buying specially constructed wooden boxes for the burial.

The funeral home will also be able to offer you other basic products that you can personalize according to characteristics of the deceased.  For example, they will likely have different layouts and patterns for service programs and memorial cards.  They may also have boards that you can use to put pictures on.


In many faiths, a wake or a viewing is held either a couple of days before the funeral, the day before the funeral and sometimes immediately before the funeral.  A wake gives family and friends of the deceased a chance to pay their respects and say their goodbyes.  The casket is often present.  Whether it is open or closed is left up to the primary grievers.  You coordinate the time of the viewing and the day (or days if there will be more than one) with the funeral director according to your desires and the availability of the space.

In terms of setting up the room for the wake, you do not have to do much at all.  The staff at the funeral home will place the casket where you would like to have it and will place flowers where you think they will go best.  Generally, when people send flowers after a death they will send them directly to the funeral home or the church.  This means that you will not have to move the flowers around.   All you have to do is let the director know where you want them in the room.

The wake can be as long or as short as you want it to be.  Some people may choose to have a viewing two nights in a row and others may want just one viewing.  The viewing or wake can be anywhere from a couple of hours to all day, it just depends on how much you think you and close family and friends can handle.

Memorial Service

Some people chose the less formal memorial service to commemorate their loved one.  Memorial services usually take place after the body has been buried or cremated.  You will still need to deal with a funeral home or crematorium in relation to your loved one’s remains.  However, the service itself is different.

Memorials can be held anywhere.  Many people have chosen to have memorial services at a favourite place of the deceased.  This can include a favourite restaurant, park, building or even in the home or in a backyard.

Since these locations are not associated with funeral homes, they will not have a funeral director to go with them.  For some people, this may add more stress to planning right after a death if it has come unexpectedly.  If you want to go the memorial service route you may want to hire an event planner qualified to deal specifically with memorial services to help you with the arrangements.

If a planner isn’t in your budget or doesn’t appeal to you, you may contact a few locations you have in mind to see if you can hold the service at those spots.  Simplifying the service and tasks will make planning on your own much easier.

The Jewish Shiva

Many towns and cities have dedicated Jewish funeral homes.  If not, contact your loved one’s synagogue for advice on where to hold the funeral itself.   The burial usually happens within 24 hours of the death.  This means that embalming the body may not be necessary.

If your loved one was Jewish, you will likely plan a Shiva.  A Shiva is the custom used in Judaism which characterizes the burial and the grieving process.  Shiva lasts seven days which begins with the burial of your loved one.

The burial is followed by a grieving period which can take place in your home or the home of your loved one.  Sometimes one location is not suitable for the entire Shiva.  If this is the case, Shiva can take place in many locations.  You can move around to include more people in the period of grief.  Typically, visitors come to the place of grieving to pay their respects.  The visitation occurs for the remainder of Shiva.

On the first day of the Shiva, during the burial and after, primary grievers do not wear jewelry or leather shoes, the men do not shave and bathing in hot water, or bathing for pleasure is restricted out of respect for the deceased.

Throughout the entire Shiva process the mourner must wear a torn garment.  The torn garment has to be a piece of clothing that is covers the top part of the body.  For example, many people tear their shirts, jackets, or blouses.  The torn garment is called the Keriah.  The Keriah is a piece of clothing on the top part of your body because it is supposed to represent something that covers your heart.

Upon visiting the place of Shiva,  you wait for the mourners to initiate the conversation.  Once the conversation has been started by the principle mourners (usually immediate family) it is appropriate for you to begin talking about the deceased.  Sharing stories if the deceased at this point can provide everyone with some comfort.

On the last day of Shiva, the mourners are walked around their block by members of their community, signaling the end of the mourning period.

Muslim Burial Customs

If your loved one was Muslim, your local mosque can assist you to plan the memorial. Many larger cities have funeral facilities to accommodate Muslim funeral practices described below.

In the Muslim tradition bodies are buried as soon as possible after the death.  They are not cremated. Almost immediately after the death, the body of the lost loved one must be washed.  This usually occurs within hours of the death.  The people washing the body are typically of the same gender and are usually immediate family members.  This process is meant to clean the body before it is buried.

Following the cleansing, the body is “enshrouded”.  Enshrouding the body involves wrapping it in a plain cloth.  The purpose of the wrapping is to protect the dignity and privacy of your loved one.  The way the shroud is placed or its colour can vary.  It is important that the shroud not be flashy.  It is meant to be modest and simple.

Once the body has been enshrouded,  a prayer called the “Salat al-Janazah” ensues.  The Janazah prayer communicates the collective prayer of forgiveness for the dead.

After the prayer, the deceased is buried.  The burial consists of placing the body into an open grave.  There is often no casket and the burial site is either unmarked or marked by a simple indicator.  Three balls of soil are used to prop the body: one under the head, one under the chin and one under the shoulders.  Those present at the service each put three handfuls of soil on top of the body.  Once this is complete prayers of forgiveness are recited.  The body is then fully covered in soil by the people who dug the grave.  Lastly, one more collective prayer is recited for forgiveness of the deceased.

The burial is followed by a 3-day mourning period.  During this period no decorative clothing is to be worn.  The mourning period is also characterized by many visitors to the home of the primary grievers, namely spouses or other immediate family.

Beyond the Funeral

The Reception

In many traditions, after a funeral or memorial service takes place there is usually a reception.  You can choose to have the reception anywhere you want.  Most people tend to have receptions at their home, the home of the deceased or in the funeral home or church where the service took place.

You may choose to have the reception catered or to have appetizers that you or family members have made.  You don’t need to provide an entire meal for the guests at the reception, some small items and tea and coffee will suffice.

If you have the reception catered, the employees of the company will set up the food area at the reception for you.  The funeral home or church should take care of setting up tables and chairs and the caterers will place the food where need be.

If you decide to have the reception in your home or the home of the deceased, you will be able to organize the reception area as you see fit.  You still have the option of getting the event catered.  If you get the caterers to come to your home you can direct them, tell them what you want and leave the rest up to the employees.

Necessary Paperwork and Notifications

After the funeral, make sure you get the death certificate.  Your funeral director will help you with the getting the death certificate.  The first copy you get will be the most expensive, but any additional ones you may need will be much cheaper.

Once you have the death certificate you can begin notifying government agencies and other organizations that need to be aware of the death.  For example, you need to contact all of the deceased’s creditors, their utility companies such as hydro, gas, and cable companies, any companies they may have subscriptions with, such as newspapers and any companies they receive regular services from.  Their doctors, dentists and pharmacists should also be notified.  It is also important that their bank is notified so that bank accounts, mutual funds, investments and safety deposit boxes can be dealt with.  You should notify the social security office, the deceased’s health care provider (OHIP in Ontario) and any other government agencies such as the revenue department.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Regardless of the format of the memorial you plan for your loved one, delegation may become your best friend.  After an accident, people close to the accident victim are often thankful to have a job and to feel they are helping.  Do not be shy.  You could delegate the obituary writing and distribution to someone you trust who knew the deceased well.  (Although you should read it first to make sure all appropriate family members are mentioned and that their names are spelled properly.)  You could also give the job of informing everyone of the location and time of the service to someone else.

Even with four daughters, Willa’s family was only too happy to delegate the task of sandwich and cookie-making to Willa’s nieces who were very happy to help their cousins at such a sad time.  The reception tables looked beautiful with the pinwheel tea sandwiches the nieces knew their aunt would have loved.


An unexpected death is extremely difficult to handle without thinking about the funeral and planning involved.  When you start to think about planning a funeral with little or no previous preparation, it can seem like a daunting, stressful, draining task.  Just remember which steps you need to take and which ones you need to worry about first.  Take the process one step at a time, don’t worry about everything all at once.  Keep in mind the resources you have at your disposal and try not to do it all yourself.  Take your time and weigh your options according to what your loved one would have wanted for their service.

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