Not so many years ago, it was commonplace to experience the death of a loved one at home. Following the death, the funeral ritual was also held in the home. It was a time of family participation and reflection. It was uncommon for people to be embalmed. Embalming became a necessity during the Civil War. It was used as a tool to prevent decomposition, temporarily allowing for a soldier’s remains to be transported home to his family for burial. The embalming normally happened on the battlefield. The embalmed remains were then carried home by horse and cart or train. Both means of transportation took many days and weeks. Without embalming, decomposition would overtake the remains before the family had time to say goodbye and carry out funeral rituals and rites of closure.
Today embalming is often over utilized. In most cases it can be avoided if a family so chooses. Transportation has evolved dramatically and cooling methods are readily available until burial or cremation can take place. Life By Life will assist a family in conducting a home funeral or will recommend someone because we specialize in this area of death care. There are many methods and tools at hand to conduct a funeral outside of the funeral home. In America, funeral rituals began at home and we are proud to be a pert of the return to this practice.
Home funerals are not for everyone. Home-based funerals can be rewarding spiritually and personally as it allows for the proper expression of grief and can be a powerful tool in the healing process. It is a family decision and should be considered thoughtfully by everyone involved. If a home funeral is to be conducted, it is an event that requires planning and delegation of responsibilities. The following is a list of things to consider when planning a home funeral:
Q. What is a home-based funeral?
A home funeral happens when a loved one is cared for by their friends and family allowing them time to gather and participate in:
- planning and carrying out after-death rituals or ceremonies
- preparing the body for burial or cremation by bathing, dressing and laying out for visitation
- keeping the body cool with noninvasive techniques, such as ice
- filing the death certificate and obtaining transport and burial permits
- transporting the deceased to the place of burial or cremation
- facilitating the final disposition, such as digging the grave in a natural burial
- hiring professionals for specific products or services
Home funerals may occur within the family home or not. Some nursing homes, for example, may allow the family to care for the deceased after death, and more church committees are housing and caring for the dead. The emphasis is on minimal, non-invasive, and environmentally friendly care of the body. Support and assistance to carry out after-death care may come from home funeral educators or guides, but their goal is to facilitate maximum involvement of the family in charge of the funeral process, and their social network. (National Home Funeral Alliance)
Q. Am I and/or my family emotionally and physically capable of carrying the burden of executing a funeral in our home or without a funeral professional?
A. At one time we had no other choice but to care for our own dead. There was no place outside the home they could be taken for care. Interestingly this allowed the family a time for healing. Death and body preparation within the home forced loved ones to confront the realities of grief and loss. Much of this valuable process has been taken away from us. We have robbed ourselves of proper healing by allowing the funeral home to take control of our grief. The funeral director is very talented at disguising the reality of death. After some funerals it seems almost as if the death hadn’t happened at all. When we take charge of our own process we foster our emotions and our physical well being. Should a person find themselves alone when a loved one dies, a funeral director or home funeral practitioner is almost always needed. The mental and physical burden of a death is one that must be shared with others. We can survive and provide for the death of a loved one at home, our ancestors had no other choice.
Q. Who will be in charge? (This person will prepare or direct the preparation of the death certificate and necessary permits and guide the ritual and ceremony planning).
A. Most people find it valuable to hire a home funeral guide (educator) to help before, during and after a death. Generally every family has someone in place that has presented themselves as the leader. This is often the person who is placed in charge when a death in the family occurs. Occasionally the leader is the one who has died and in this case the next in line or someone acting as such would take charge. Legally if a man or woman dies the person granted authority would be the surviving spouse. If no surviving spouse exists the eldest child and in most cases ALL living children would be placed in legal charge of affairs equally (blood-related children or legally adopted children). Should there be only brothers and sisters left living to finalize the burial or cremation they would all act equally as one unit to facilitate the disposition or burial/cremation. If not legally married, a domestic partner or boyfriend/girlfriend has no rights. If a couple is separated this does not nullify their legal rights. A separated couple remains married until divorce is final. If the deceased took advanced measures to name a person in charge of disposition prior to their death that person supersedes all others. This type of designation is termed Durable Power of Attorney with specific rights to disposition. This can be achieved with the help of an attorney, witnesses and notary public prior to death and while in sound mental state. If no family or person acting as such exists it is suggested to obtain a court order granting rights to disposition before proceeding with burial or cremation. For more information consult your home funeral guide, funeral director or attorney.
* When filing a death certificate contact the health department in the city, town or province where the death occurred. They will give you specific instructions and make you aware of any special requirements that may exist. Life By Life is available to assist with this process.
Q. Where will we get a casket or who will build one?
A. Today caskets can be purchased online, at a funeral home or in a specialty casket store. You can also build your own. Life By Life can aid a family in choosing a casket, shroud or cremation receptacle. The most important things to ask oneself when selecting a casket are as follows:
- where was the casket made?
- is it biodegradable?
- will my loved one fit in it?
- was the casket made of endangered tropical woods?
- was the casket made locally?
- how much does the casket cost?
- are there any specific shipping or transportation costs associated?
- is this what my loved one would have wanted?
- does this casket meet the requirements of the cemetery or crematory?
– Always review the casket price list at a funeral home or casket store (they are required to provide you one) and make sure to see all the caskets listed before making a choice. Most funeral directors are very helpful and honest but as in any profession some are not. Be sure to ask any questions you might have prior to making a final decision.
– If someone in the family is a handyman or woodworker they are welcome to build a casket. They should make sure that the casket they build will meet the needs of the cemetery requirements and that the casket will physically hold and support the remains during transportation and burial.
Q. Will we have a viewing?
A. Viewing has been clinically proven to assist most people experiencing grief to naturally process the emotion. It can occur at the bedside just as someone has died. It does not have to occur at casket side and in some cases will not be an option at all due to natural circumstances beyond anyone’s control. This should be each individual’s choice and every close family member should be given the option if at all possible.
Q. Will we invite friends into the home/church/healthcare facility for the ritual and/or viewing?
A. In today’s society families are unique and diverse. Sometimes close family members are not of blood relation at all. They could be housekeepers, friends, coworkers, etc. Include anyone you are comfortable with or feel will benefit from the viewing process. Do not feel obligated to open your home, hospital room, church or other place to the general public.
Q. How soon will we commence with the ritual?
A. Generally it is best to commence at each individual family’s pace keeping in mind that an unembalmed body will need proper care if it is to stay in the home. The most important things to do are slow down and plan ahead. The proactive family is one that communicates and shares prior to death. This will assist in experiencing a peaceful transition and proper healing during grief.
Q. Will the body be cremated or buried?
A. This is a personal choice and both options should be studied to decide what is best for each family. In some cases such as international death or death away from home, cremation might be the best option. In the case of international death I suggest relying on a trusted funeral director. If considering burial I highly suggest green burial in a conservation cemetery to minimize environmental damage.
* Embalming is not required by law and generally is not needed except in special cases. Some cemeteries will require embalming if the deceased is to be placed in an above ground crypt or mausoleum. Sometimes embalming is necessary for international transportation. Embalming is a sanitization process that chemically treats (usually with a carcinogen known as formaldehyde in an aqueous form) the dead body to temporarily prevent decomposition and help to restore a body to an acceptable physical life-like appearance. This generally occurs under the direction of a talented embalmer and reconstructive artist. If embalming is necessary a family or responsible party can choose a green embalming alternative that will limit the use of contaminating chemicals and improve the health of the individual embalmer.
Q. How will we get the body to the crematory or to the cemetery?
A. Keep in mind the weight and specific needs of the deceased. As long as the deceased person is transported in a dignified manner most states will allow for the family to transport their own dead (Check with local laws). Life By Life can provide guidance with transporting a loved one from the place of death to the home or to a crematory or cemetery. Life By Life can recommend a sensitive and helpful funeral director that will accommodate a home funeral family’s needs.
Q. What personalization elements will we use to make the ritual meaningful?
A. You can use personal items, stories, photos, music and many more tools to personalize a ceremony or ritual. It makes all the difference in the world and I encourage you to get creative and search for special ways to enhance the goodbye.
Q. Where will the money come from to facilitate all of the above?
A. Many people acquire life insurance policies for their family to use at the end of their life for funeral expenses, bills and general necessities that are no longer provided after a loved one leaves a financial void. You can also prepay for funeral and cemetery needs by setting up a personal fund or discussing options with a funeral home, cemetery or home funeral guide. The most important thing to do is not wait until the death occurs to decide where the funds will come from. Plan ahead and have a financial strategy.