In death bodily functions cease. Nevertheless, the Christian faith asserts that life goes beyond what we observe. Because of our belief that Jesus overcame death to live again, we do not consider physical death as the end, but as a time of new beginning. We are promised in Scripture that through the resurrection of Jesus we too may anticipate life after death for ourselves and for others.
Although none of us knows what lies beyond death, our Christian experience teaches us the power of faith, hope, and love.
Both clergy and lay people are available to help families and dying individuals at all stages of death and afterwards. It is important to involve clergy before the death for pastoral support, advice or for sacramental ministrations of the church such as anointing with oil the person who is dying, or giving communion to those gathered at the sick bed.
The Diocese of New Westminister has developed a hospice program staffed by lay Anglican volunteers. These volunteers visit people in palliative care units in local hospitals and other care facilities. Hospice services exist for those who cannot be cured by medical treatment and who have a limited remaining life expectancy. The hospice workers have been trained to support and nurture those who are dying to enable them to die with dignity.
Support systems also exist for patients who prefer to die at home. The hospice volunteers are caring people who visit and support the dying person at all levels: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Assistance and relief is offered as well to caretakers of the person who is dying, as these people often suffer stress from constant and often intense responsibility. Often there is no fee for hospice services.
A funeral service is a rite offered by the church to mark the passing of those who have died, to give thanks for their life, and to comfort those who mourn.
The Anglican Church of Canada offers two forms of service. The Book of Common Prayer offers a traditional service. The more contemporary service from the Book of Alternative Services provides more opportunity for involvement by family and friends of the deceased. Both service books assume the presence of the body, and the priest needs to be consulted if it is the wish of the family to exclude the body from the public service.
Anglican tradition allows for a funeral service apart from the presence of the body in special circumstances. A graveside service or a service in a crematorium may be held in addition to or instead of the funeral service in a church. With cremation becoming more common, the family may request a memorial service without the presence of the body. However, the purpose of the rites and customs of a funeral service is to help the mourners face death and to move through grief to healing. The presence of the body or the ashes confirms the reality of death.
Service structure, readings, music, readers, prayer leaders, and the form and content of any eulogy are all arranged with the family. Families may wish to celebrate communion at the time of the funeral as a means of affirming faith in a God who identifies with humanity in both life and death. In recognition of the equality of all in death, the coffin can be covered with a pall (a large white cloth).
Following the committal of the body to the ground or to be consumed by fire, the family, now separated physically from the person who has died, joins with friends for comfort and support. Telling stories about the person who has died whether as a eulogy or over a cup of tea is an important aspect of the funeral. At this gathering there is eating and drinking, a custom which proclaims the continuity of life in the face of death. Some parishes can provide space and catering services for the event.
Other rites may include visits to the grave site, disposal of ashes, and, in some cases, the establishment of suitable memorials.