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The Death of a Loved One: A Journey

May 2023

The way we manage death has remained relatively unchanged over the last several decades. And yet our views on death are evolving.

While it's an inevitable part of the human experience, few people like to talk about death, plan for it, or invest in it before it happens. It often takes a major life event like the birth of a child, a health scare, marriage, or loss to prompt the conversation. Whether or not it is expected, the experience of managing death is often complex, chaotic, emotionally draining, and financially stressful. It can take years to reach closure from a financial, estate, or emotional perspective.

I started exploring this topic when I was interviewing women about their experiences with menopause. Many were caring for ageing parents who were at the end of their life. Common patterns and years-long challenges in their stories of loss started to emerge. In this post, I examine the journey of managing the death of a loved one, based on in-depth expert interviews and my research into the bereavement industry. 


When someone dies, we typically honor the deceased through a burial and/or cremation. And, we carry out their wishes in accordance with their last will and testament. This experience evokes images of sifting through paperwork with lawyers, visiting a local funeral home, and witnessing, at graveside, a casket being gently lowered into the ground.

In recent years, the bereavement experience has been augmented by technology and new ways of thinking about death. COVID-19 accelerated opportunities to manage death through digital wills, end-of-life planning tools, virtual memorials, live-streamed funerals, on-demand cremation services, and more.


Our collective values and beliefs around bereavement are shifting. Consumers are increasingly seeking secular, cost-conscious, sustainable, and non-traditional approaches to managing death such as:

  • Green or environmentally friendly approaches to burial and cremation

  • Memorials that are personalized, artistic, and/or return the remains to nature 

  • Celebration of life ceremonies that take place outside a funeral home (e.g., at home)

  • Death doulas and celebrants

  • Low-cost digital services and products

Death cafes, online death communities, and policy changes are also facilitating an increasingly mainstream conversation around death. The widening acceptance of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in countries like Germany, Italy, Austria, the US, Australia, and Canada have given people greater perceived control over their own mortality. For instance, in 2021 Canada expanded access to MAiD for people living with mental illness. 



In 2019 I interviewed startup founders in the funeral/bereavement industry; bereavement professionals (e.g., funeral directors); and people who had lost their loved ones, expectedly and unexpectedly, and played a key role in managing their loved one's estate (often as the executor). I also conducted my own desk research into the end-of-life experience and gained insight by participating in death cafes and events.

Several themes emerged from these conversations:

The journey usually begins at the moment of death

For most, death is a taboo and uncomfortable conversation. As a result, the planning and organizing around a death often starts the moment the person dies. Survivors are left to piece together the affairs and final wishes of the deceased.

Death transforms the relationships of the living

The rituals we've created around death serve the living -- they help survivors grieve, make sense of the circumstances, and make decisions with regard to the deceased's estate. In particular, the execution of the will and any legal proceedings following a death that can produce a tremendous amount of stress, friction, and conflict -- it can stretch the experience of death for years or decades. When money and assets are at stake, people's self-interests are revealed. This process can permanently strain or end relationships among family members and friends.

The process moves quickly at first then feels achingly slow

The emotions and flurry of activities that lead up to the funeral move quickly. The living are burdened with the responsibility to make dozens of decisions in a very short span of time -- decisions which bombarded with dozens of decisions they need to make  they need to answer and make  Following the funeral, things feel calmer and move slowly

An executor's job is a long-term labor of love

Untangling a lifetime assets, finances, and personal artefacts takes months and years. This is particularly true when the deceased has affairs that are complicated or come as a surprise to the living. For instance, some families suddenly became responsible for large sums of cash, others inherit  or international businesses they knew little about.

There are many vested interests

Many diverse stakeholders are involved in the management of death. There are service providers like utilities companies or credit card companies that must be contacted to settle the deceased's bills and other logistics. There are family members, friends, and acquaintances who want, need, or ask to be involved. There are also key liaisons like insurance providers, accountants, law enforcement, and lawyers who often play a critical and ongoing role in the estate. All of these competing interests can create conflict.


The journey of managing the death of a loved one tends to involve six important stages:

  1. Support: In some cases, a family member will support their loved ones with planning out their end-of-life desires. The desire to plan for end-of-life is often a response to a major life event (birth, death, health scare, marriage, etc.).

  2. Confirm: The death must be pronounced by a medical professional or a coroner. 

  3. Coordinate: The pressing affairs of the deceased must be managed immediately following their death. This includes notifying important people of the death, arranging for care of dependents and pets, registering the death, transferring the body to the correct institution, and identifying the executor/administrator of the estate.

  4. Plan: Plan the funeral or memorial.

  5. Execute: Administer the will and determine how to distribute the estate amongst the living.

  6. Complete: Close out the affairs of the deceased.

The journey managing a death is non-linear, messy, and 



Imagery in this post was created on

Tags: Death, Dying, End-of-life, Bereavement, Funeral, Estate planning, 

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