Funerals: Last Rite of Passage

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By Teenaz Javat

The death of a family member is always a traumatic experience. But to have a person die when one is new to a country adds to the shock because the funeral procedures in Canada are probably different from those in the home country. In the event of a death, the survivors will be responsible for making the funeral arrangements or executing the Last Will and Testament under laws that are alien to you. These relatively simple decisions can become overwhelming.
According to Ervad Nozer Kotwal who has officiated as a priest at several multi-faith funerals in Montreal, Toronto and British Columbia, “Whatever the circumstances of death, one of the first calls should be to a licensed funeral home. They know how to deal with it in keeping with the law of the province.”

Things taken care of by the Funeral Director:

  • Transport the deceased from the place of death to funeral home
  • Prepare the corpse for a funeral as per your religious tradition
  • Provide a proof of death certificate
  • Get the required paper work in order
  • Select a casket, urn and/or grave marker
  • Arrange the funeral, memorial and/or burial service
  • Offer grief support

“Families must be prepared to spend upwards of $5,000 for the entire procedure,” says Kotwal.


“However, that is not the case with Muslims,” says Abdul Hai Patel, president of the Ontario Multi Faith Council and board member of the Canadian Council of Imams. “We have designated mosques around the Greater Toronto Area where any Muslim family can go to in case of a death in the family. Even if they are not part of the congregation, they will be served,” adds Patel. “Within these designated mosques the procedure of washing and shrouding the body is performed by a person licensed to do so.”

There are mosques in most major urban centres in Canada with licensed undertakers who take care of the last rites, including:

  • Islamic Foundation, Toronto
  • The Canadian Islamic Centre, Edmonton
  • Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Mosque, Mississauga
  • Makki Masjid, Brampton
  • Islamic Centre of Quebec, Montreal
  • Jaffari Islamic Centre, North York
  • Ottawa Mosque/Ottawa Muslim Association, Ottawa

Funeral services are offered to all Muslims, usually at a nominal cost to cover expenses. Depending on the casket (which costs upward of $1,000) the family has to bear the cost of buying land for the grave. Several cemeteries around the GTA have plots dedicated to Muslims. By fall of 2011 a Shia-Sunni Muslim cemetery will be fully operational in the town of Richmond Hill. However for Muslims, the use of a funeral home is not required as most of the procedures are taken care of by the mosques.

Buddhist Funeral

Reincarnation plays an important role in Buddhist funeral traditions. Death is seen as an opportunity for the soul to travel onward to a new existence.

Says Abanti Chakma, a Buddhist from Bangladesh who now lives in Mississauga, “We do not mourn the death of a family member, as we see death as a transition from this life to the next, bringing the soul closer to nirvana which is a state of absolute bliss.”
“We usually take the body into a funeral home and all the last rites are performed there by a monk. At the funeral home, a table will be set up with candles and incense which burn until the body is moved to the cemetery or crematorium,” adds Chakma.
After the ceremonies are completed, the casket is taken to a burial ground, and as the casket is buried, the family turns away to show respect.

Depending on their beliefs and preferences, Buddhists may also choose cremation. Since many Tibetans, Sri Lankans, Chinese, Japanese and East Asians follow different branches of Buddhism namely Mahayana, Hinayana or Therevada, their funeral rites and rituals also differ. However, no matter what the custom, according to Ontario law the body must proceed toward cremation or burial from a funeral home. Some Tibetans believe in sky burials (leaving the body to the elements of nature), but this option is not available in Canada.


According to Hindu priest Pandit Roopnauth Sharma, “After the pooja which involves ritual offerings including lighting of the Deeya (sacred lamp), water, flowers, leaves, pindas (balls of ground rice) and havan (offerings to the sacred fire) it is preferred that the body not be in a box during cremation.”

Once the cremation is over, the ashes need to be scattered in a body of water or over land. The Ontario government has offered unused crown lands in Pickering for Hindus to scatter the ashes of the departed.
According to a press release from Ontario’s Ministry of Consumer Services, “Ontario does not restrict the scattering of cremated human remains on unoccupied crown land, conservation reserve land and provincial parks including those lands covered by water.”

Jewish Funeral

Bereavement in Judaism is a combination of minhag (traditional custom) and mitzvah (good deeds or religious obligation) derived from the Jewish holy book the Torah and other ancient sacred rabbinical texts. The details of observance and practice vary according to each Jewish community.

To assist in the burial procedure, several communities have a Jewish burial society called the chevra kadisha (holy group) usually consisting of volunteers, both men and women, who prepare the deceased for proper Jewish burial.

According to Aaron Flanzraich, rabbi of Toronto’s Beth Sholom synagogue, “Once a person dies, prayers are recited, a candle is lit, and the face of the deceased is covered. A doctor must sign the death certificate and the family will then contact a Jewish funeral home and their rabbi to make arrangements for the funeral which typically happens as quickly as possible.”

Once the body is dressed, the coffin is sealed. Unlike other religions, in Judaism there is no viewing of the body and no open casket at the funeral, though the immediate family is allowed a visitation just prior to the coffin being sealed to pay their final respects.

The body is not allowed in the synagogue in most cases and the funeral director will lead the family through the arrangement process which will involve a casket, funeral service and burial. Following internment, Jews sit in mourning for 7 days, called Shiva, and services are held in the home where both men and women are asked to participate.


“It all depends on the circumstances of the death,” says Sam Vesuna, President of the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario (ZSO). Vesuna who has lived in Toronto for many years has fielded several calls from the over 10,000 Zoroastrians who live across Ontario.
When someone dies in a hospital or a long term care facility, the staff will usually take care of contacting the funeral home of your choice and if necessary, arranging an autopsy.

“You will need to notify family, friends and your priest,” adds Vesuna. “At the ZSO we have an auto-dialler facility into which we feed in the name of the deceased, the name of family members, time of death and time of funeral. This message is then dialled out to all our members. That way the onus of spreading the word is not on the family and they can instead take care of managing and coping with the passing away of the loved one and the last rites that follow.”

Donating your body to medical research

Many people wish to donate their bodies for medical research. In Ontario, the Trillium Gift of Life Network Act, 2002 allows for such donations, provided that there is no objection by the next-of-kin or executor at the time of death. Those who wish to donate their bodies to the division of anatomy at the University of Toronto may be assured that all human remains are accorded the dignity and respect that society grants to the dead.

The next of kin must first contact the Division of Anatomy at 416-978-2692 or MacKinnon and Bowes Ltd at 416-465-7508 or 1-800-268-6736. If the body is acceptable for anatomical studies the Division will make the necessary arrangements for transporting the body from the place of death to the University of Toronto.

For more information on this please visit or contact The Trillium Gift of Life Network at 1-877-363-8456.

Important calls to make after death in family:

  • If the person was working, you’ll need to call his or her employer soon. Ask about the decease’s benefits and any pay due, including vacation or sick time, disability income, etc.
  • Ask if you or other dependents are still eligible for benefit coverage through the company.
  • Ask whether there is a life insurance policy through the employer, who the beneficiary is, and how to file a claim.
  • Look through the decease’s paperwork for a life insurance policy. If you find one, call the agent or the company and ask how to file a claim.
  • You’ll need to submit a proof of death certificate and a claimant’s statement to establish proof of claim.
  • If your loved one had a will, it may need to be probated. Probate is the legal procedure for the orderly distribution of estates. In most cases, probating a will is a simple process. Only in the instances where the will is being contested or the deceased had numerous holdings will the action be more complex. There is usually a specific time within which a will must be probated, so it is important to check carefully.
  • If there is no will, the estate will be disposed of according to the provincial laws governing descent and distribution.
  • You should contact any financial institution where the deceased had an account and inform them of the death.
  • Financial Assistance Programs are in place for low income persons and their dependents who qualify. Check the website of the city or region where you live and enter “funeral” in the search window.

In case of death at home the following procedures apply:

  • Call 911 and tell dispatcher of death in family.
  • Police and ambulance will arrive.
  • Police will inform coroner’s office to send in a coroner.
  • Coroner will examine the body and if person has died of natural causes or sickness will give a death certificate.
  • If coroner has any doubts, he/she will send he body for an autopsy.
  • Police stay on the scene until the coroner leaves.
  • Only licensed undertaker services can move body from your home.

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