Today, home-based funerals are becoming a part of the American experience again. A growing grassroots movement to renew family-directed funerals brings compassion, value, and trust into end of life transitions. Home funerals reintroduce a culture of ritual and serve to dispel the fear and strangeness that often accompany institutionalized modern funerals. A home-based funeral is legal, diminishes the role of professional funeral directors, and enlists family and friends to continue caring for their loved one after death in a private setting.
Home-based death care initiates a healthy and intimate engagement with profound loss, providing a period for grief and letting go. Loss can be transformed into an act of devotion. Powerlessness is expelled by hope and compassion. Some people may look at this experience as archaic or morbid, but, to the contrary, it has been described as beautiful and healing. The person(s) who performs this after death rite is called a Death Care Midwife.
The body is kept undisturbed at home for up to three days, much like a traditional home wake. The body is not embalmed. Family and friends may incorporate specific religious or spiritual traditions that may otherwise go unacknowledged in the modern funerary model. After bathing and dressing the body, loved ones create rituals such as anointing the body in favorite aromas, lighting candles, holding an around-the-clock vigil, placing fresh flowers around the body daily, playing favorite music, and holding space for prayer, meditation and goodbyes. The transition between death and burial is honored and treasured, and unites loved ones in a sense of devotion and purpose.
Through the Center for End of Life Transitions, Caroline Yongue gives workshops on performing this care and offers guidance to families who wish to care for their loved one after death by performing a home funeral. The experience, she says, allows more time to say goodbye, creates a spirit of community, honors a significant rite of passage, promotes healing and closure, and, in some cases, lessens the financial impact of death care.
In Caring for Your Own at Death, outspoken social activist Lisa Carlson has provided widespread education on the legalities in each state for performing a home-based funeral. She says:
Almost everything the funeral industry sells interferes with our natural return to the earth … By understanding what happens to the body after death and demystifying funeral options, our end-of-life decisions may be less fearful to face (Carlson, 1987, p. 9).
Home-based celebrations bring death out of the shadows and into the light of life. To care for a loved one in this way is a gift to the survivors and remains an option for those who want to honor this important life transition.
If you wish to have more information or would like assistance during your loved one’s end of life, please contact us (see below).