Community-Led Death Care

After meeting for several years some DeathCaring Collective members, inspired by folks from Denman Island, created a service called Community-Led Death Care. This group of volunteers are ready, even on short notice, to provide practical and emotional support to those approaching or navigating death. In the past, communities cared for their own at death, simply and naturally. Death was a part of life, and the care shared by friends and neighbours. Community-Led Death Care volunteers are your friends and neighbours, knowledgeable, willing and able to lend helping hands.

Many people are not aware that in British Columbia it is legal to care for a body at home. Family and friends are allowed to sit with, wash, dress, and otherwise tend to the body. They can build a casket, make funeral arrangements, and transport the body to the graveyard or crematorium. Participating in these tasks and accompanying a body right to the end can be enriching.

The following is an account of a recent Community-Led Death Care experience, as told by one of the volunteers.

Although his preference would have been to die in his home, this lovely elderly gentleman died in the Campbell River hospital. A community member made the widow aware of the group of volunteers who she could ask to assist her through the process. Although she hadn’t known what was possible, it didn’t take her long to decide that, with guidance and support, she wanted to be involved in the tasks required to return her husband’s body to the earth.

Community-Led Death Care volunteers picked up the body from the hospital. Before bringing it to her home, they stopped at a private house and removed the plastic body bag and hospital identification, viewed it so they could tell the widow what to expect, and wrapped it in a blanket. At the widow’s request, they laid him out on her kitchen table.

With the help and support of two volunteers, she washed, dressed, and lovingly tended to her husband’s body. A local carpenter built a box which was delivered, along with a meal his wife had made, to her home. Although her plan had been to casket the body, she wanted it left overnight on the table, and covered it with a thin veil. A volunteer offered to spend the night with her, but she declined.

The next day volunteers helped her casket the body and transport it to the nearby cemetery, where friends and neighbours had gathered. A simple graveside service was held, and the body lowered into the grave by those who knew him.

The widow is touched that her community came together and helped her during a time when she needed it, and that there were meaningful tasks that she could participate in. She was warmed by how many people came to the cemetery to honour her husband and pay their respects. Each volunteer who helped was grateful they could contribute in a way that was meaningful and felt right.

Contacts for “Community-Led Death Care” are in the Little Phone Book in the Community Bulletin Board section. The website has more information.