Posted on April 09, 2013 by Rachel Zeldin
Home funerals are on the rise all over the country, and home funeral guides are leading the way. But what is a “home funeral” and what is a “home funeral guide?” We spoke with Lee Websiter from the National Home Funeral Alliance and a Home Funeral Guide, to get answers to some of the biggest questions on the topic of home funerals.
Simply put, a “home funeral” is when a family cares for the dead in the home in some capacity before the final burial or cremation. Webster says, “a ‘typical’ home funeral depends on where you live and your cultural frame of reference. A home funeral may consist of a few hours to a few days of keeping the body home, and will likely entail bathing, dressing, and caring for the body. It will likely include staging an area in the home where mourners can come by to sit quietly with the loved one for the last time. It may include a formal ceremony with clergy and musicians, or the storytelling (and beer drinking) that occurs while waiting for relatives to arrive; or transporting the body to the crematory or cemetery in the family van or truck bed or hearse. Home funerals may include engaging professionals, clergy and funeral directors among them, or more commonly be handled exclusively by family, friends, neighbors.”
A Home Funeral Guide is an educator who teaches individuals, families, and spiritual communities about what all the options are and what is legal. They are often called upon to lend ideas, to demonstrate techniques, to suggest possibilities, to share knowledge, and to bear witness; however, Webster stresses that a home funeral guide’s main function, “is to teach the skills that give family members the confidence to take up this ‘heart work’ themselves.”
Yes, in every US State it is legal to care for your own dead; however, in the ten states listed below, a funeral director must be involved in some capacity: Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, and New Jersey.
No, embalming is not required for home funerals nor nearly any other funerals. Body preservation can be obtained using cooling techniques like ice packs, dry ice, or refrigeration/cooling.
The cost of modern funerals and ecological (green) concerns are two factors that are driving the desire to have a home funeral. Webster also said that it is gaining support because, “Home funerals give families a choice and are empowering.” Webster explains that, “Some families participate in the preparations as part of working through their grief. Giving people jobs to do — such as changing the ice, filing death certificates, designing ceremonies, arranging final disposition, contacting people, making airport runs, managing food, and any number of other jobs — is healing and creates connection. People who want home funerals don’t want strangers doing everything for them. They want to take responsibility for themselves. They may want to design services and hold them in places of personal meaning, or transport their loved one in the family’s truck, or simply stay by their side longer than usual. They don’t fit into any package deal, they don’t want cookie cutter services in parlors or slumber rooms or for-rent chapels. They don’t want everything to be made easy. They want to work through their grief by participating in the process, by helping one another in practical ways, to feel it and keep going anyway.” To learn more about home funerals and home funeral guides or to find one near you, visit the National Home Funeral Alliance website at www.homefuneralalliance.org
Lee Webster writes from her home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She is a frequent public speaker on the benefits of home funerals and green burial, a freelance writer, conservationist, hospice volunteer, and the current President of the National Home Funeral Alliance.