No matter the circumstances, there are always two important people when it comes to death. They get the call soon after you die. One examines where you died, how you died, and when you died. The other picks you up and takes you to the funeral home.
Enter the coroner and funeral director.
A coroner investigates deaths that are sudden, unexpected, and unnatural, such as car accidents or homicides. If death was expected, such as cancer, just the funeral director will attend.
“There are five things that a coroner has to determine. The who, where, when, how, and by what means,” says Graham Harper, coroner for Revelstoke.
For example, to determine when death occurred the coroner may examine the deceased phone for sent/unread messages. If it’s a car accident he may talk to witnesses or examine security cameras.
“We always have to find out cause of death,” says Harper.
There are five classifications of death: natural death, accidental death, suicide, homicide, and undetermined. Undetermined may result from extensive decomposition, skeletal remains, or suicide vs. accident. The coroner can also make recommendations to prevent future deaths under similar circumstances.
|There are many coffins to chose. Some are wood and others metal. Just depends on taste and budget (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review).|
If the coroner cannot determine cause of death, the body is sent to a pathologist for an autopsy. An autopsy takes between two to three hours. If death was unexpected, and the deceased was below the age of 19, an autopsy must be performed.
Harper says the difference between coroners and RCMP is coroners fact find and RCMP find fault.
“Coroners are not concerned with who killed that person. They want to find out how they died.”
“RCMP determines if someone is at fault and if action needs to be taken,” says Harper.
Harper says he usually gets 20 bodies a year in the Revelstoke area.
|This is where Gary Sulz meets with families after someone dies to plan the funeral arrangements (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)|
By comparison, a funeral director is the person that helps guide people through the grieving process.
“It’s not our place to take over for them. We give advice. We give guidance. We take control of the things people feel they are not able to handle,” says Gary Sulz, funeral director at Brandon Bowers Funeral Service and Crematorium in Revelstoke.
After the body is picked up, a doctor is contacted for the death certificate and the funeral director connects with the family to carry out their wishes.
“Whether they want a funeral or a cremation. We go over finance, casket selection, urns, and we contact the crematorium or cemetery,” says Sulz.
Most people get cremated in Revelstoke, says Sulz, but there is a large proportion of Italian Catholics in the City and their tradition is full body burial.
It takes between two to six hours to prepare a body for a funeral. And it takes two to four hours to cremate a body in a crematorium. The nearest crematorium is in Salmon Arm.
Roughly a hundred people a year die in Revelstoke.
|The funeral chapel in Revelstoke (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review).|
The price of a funeral varies. It can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $15,000 and beyond. It all depends on casket selection or type of cemetery marker.
“We try to work with every family in their budget. Someone might come in and say this is what we want but I only have this much money,” says Sulz.
“No matter what, I’ll always work with them.”
Sulz says about 50 per cent of people have wills.
“It all depends on age. A younger person doesn’t have a will because they aren’t thinking about it.”
Whether it’s difficult when someone does or doesn’t have a will, depends on what they have says Sulz.
“If they have real estate holdings or a business then of course if there is no will, we tell the family to seek the advice of a lawyer because they will have to apply to be administer of the estate and there is some legal loopholes that people need to take.”
In the age of electronic devices, there are many businesses to help manage one’s internet footprint after death.
Startup Eternime, uses your social media profiles to build a digital self. It sees that brownie photo you posted on Facebook and the article on crochet underwear you shared on Twitter. It will learn to be “you”. The company aims to keep a digital version of you alive for your loved ones to interactive with after you die.
Google offers a service that will delete your accounts and data after you die and Facebook offers memorialized accounts for those who pass.
|Brandon Bowers Funeral Service and Crematorium (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review).|
In general, Sulz says it’s the North American way to not discuss death.
“It’s to push it off into the corner and not deal with it.”
However, that is slowly changing. Society is becoming more and more open towards the approaching darkness.
“We’re starting to hear people having conversations about death. It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen to all of us,” says Sulz.
In the past, Sulz says people didn’t want to be involved in preparing the body for a funeral. The funeral director did everything.
That also is changing.
“People want to be a part of the process. They may want to bath or do cosmetics or the hair or even place their loved one in a casket,” says Sulz.
“My biggest thing I say, whether we’re involved or not, is they should do something to honour that loved one. It’s therapeutic. It brings emotion out. It’s raw. It’s real. Do people cry? Absolutely. They are showing their love.”