What to do when someone dies?

If you know that death is pending, get in touch with your funeral director if you hae chosen to have one—and with us—well in advance. Assuming that your soon to pass loved one has a burial site at the White Eagle Memorial Preserve, here is what is legally required in the State of Washington:

Death Certificate: Anyone can pronounce someone dead; this sets the time of death. However, only a physician or medical examiner may certify death. You will need a death certificate, signed by a doctor—or, if there’s no doctor, a county medical examiner. This process is commonly initiated by a funeral director but you can do it as well. Funeral directors cost money and we encourage people to reclaim the process of death as much as possible every step of the way.

If death takes place in a hospital, a body may be able to be kept there, refrigerated, as long as 48 hours. Nursing homes and hospices will definitely want bodies taken shortly after death. A body must be buried, cremated or refrigerated within 24 hours if it is not going to be embalmed. Most funeral homes and the one we work with in Goldendale called Columbia Hills Memorial Chapel , are able to hold bodies in refrigeration until the time of burial.

In Washington State, if you are working with a funeral director, they will pick up the death certificate when they pick up a body. The physicians or medical examiners section should already be filled in. Then the funeral director meets with the family to gather the biographical data—birth date, place of residence, occupation, veteran status, etc.—that also appears on the death certificate, and to prepare disposition of the body for natural burial or cremation.

Transport: The funeral director, or family member acting as director, have 72 hours to file the death certificate with the county health department. The health department issues a burial transit permit and gives it to the funeral director. A body can’t be buried without this permit. The cemetery name, funeral home’s name (if there is one) and registration number should appear on both the death certificate and the burial transit permit. A family member may transport the body if appropriate paperwork and permit is completed before transport. Our local funeral home in Goldendale does transport all over the Pacific Northwest and can store the remains until the time of the burial. Their number is: 509.773.4646.

Once the burial has been scheduled, the funeral director or you acting as one, brings the burial transit permit—along with the body, of course—to the cemetery, and gives it to the cemetery staff. Recent legislation now requires the cemetery to give them a receipt, which needs to be filed at their funeral home. Later, when the burial is complete, a cemetery staff person mails a copy of the burial transit permit to the health department.

Homecare: If you want to bring the body back to your home from a hospital or hospice, you either need to get the proper permits yourself or have a funeral director transport it to your home, then to the cemetery. Meanwhile, you may do nearly everything else yourself, should you wish. Once you have a signed death certificate and if an autopsy is not required, you may wash and otherwise prepare the body yourself, placing it in a coffin or wrapping it in a shroud, then arranging with a funeral director for transport or take it yourself to the cemetery. If you use a shroud, place the body on a wide, sturdy plank for transportation. Remember to place ice packs or dry ice around the body to keep it cold if you’ll be waiting a day or two before burial. Wear gloves when handling dry ice, and don’t put it in an airtight container. Please check our Resources page for more information. Here is some great detailed information from the Home Funeral Alliance about caring for your loved ones and Home Funerals.

Family Burial: We are happy to work with funeral homes and with families directly. Each burial is its own movie, so to speak, and some families wish to participate fully in the process, while others prefer to witness. Either way is okay. Families who would like to be involved in the burial may join us in decorating the grave before the service, performing the service, and in closing the grave. We encourage everyone to participate at least ceremonially in tossing handfulls of biomass (wood chips and pine needles) into the grave, but you are welcome to pick up a shovel and pitch in – it feels meaningful to do the work, sometimes. After the grave is closed, families may help ring it with stones, or create designs with natural materials on top. If you would like to arrange a native planting, we ask that you work with us to schedule a time after the burial.

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