What to do when someone dies?

If you know that death is pending, get in touch with your funeral director if you have chosen to have one—and with us, please. 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.

If death takes place in a hospital, a body may be able to be kept there, refrigerated, as long as 48 hours.  Funeral Directors are required to shelter (refrigerate) a body within 24 hours of receiving it. Most funeral homes are able to hold bodies in refrigeration until the time of burial, which may be a few weeks. Families are not bound by this same legal requirement, and with family-directed death care, often use dry ice or techni-ice to cool down the body of their loved one until time of burial. Remember to use gloves when working with dry ice, and to make sure that there is adequate ventilation.

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 body until the time of the burial. Their number is: 509.773.4646.

On the day of burial, the funeral director or loved one accompanying the body to the cemetery, brings the burial transit permit and gives it to the cemetery staff.  When the burial is complete, a cemetery staff person mails a copy of the burial transit permit back to the County Registrars office.

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 do the transport 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. If you use a shroud, a piece of plywood underneath can be helpful for transportation. 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 unique, 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 engage at their own comfort level with the meaningful work of closing the grave. 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.

reflectionsDetails about Burial Day:
We are able to host, witness, facilitate, and support as celebrant for the burial service, if need be. Sometimes families choose a spiritual leader, or a member of the family circle to lead the service, sometimes the service is improvised at the family’s discretion, sometimes we collaborate with family members to craft and lead a meaningful service. Each burial here is very unique. Jodie will work with you in advance to structure the timeline and components of the burial, and then we have the experience together.

We coordinate with the funeral home, or the families directly, to prepare a place and receive the loved one’s body, and then we work with family and friends to convey the body to the ground. We use a wheeled cart, pushed by people, through the woods to a place near the grave, and then we show the pallbearers how to lower the body into the grave. If your family is not comfortable participating in the closing of the grave, we can do it, but we encourage people to engage with the actual work of burying a loved one. We have a few children’s shovels on hand, as we’ve found that kids often really want to participate; they feel more at peace about saying goodbye when they join in. Much of our work is to be witness and provide safe space for you to bury your dead in the way that only you who know and love them are able to do.

We are able to host small burial gatherings in a 600 square foot cabin located in the Ekone Ranch valley (approximately 1 mile from the cemetery). We have placeware for 20, and offer coffee and tea service. Families may bring their own potluck for a reception either before or after the burial. The cabin itself is fairly rustic, with a covered area next to the woodshed, which is suitable for buffet style meals. Guests can store perishables in the fridge, and often bring coolers for beverages.

We do our best to support you at every step in this experience, to feel your way through this meaningful work of burying a loved one.


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