Background and Benefits of Home Funerals Reviving an American Tradition
Until the late nineteenth century, Americans most often died, as they had been born, in their own homes, cared for by their family and community members. After a death, the family washed and laid out the body, dressed or draped it, and ordered the coffin from the local carpenter. Family and friends carried the coffin to the graveyard and often dug the grave themselves. Dying, like birthing, was integrated into living. Families caring for their own at death were able to take the time they needed and begin to heal as they engaged in these last acts of love.
Today we all have the right to choose natural death care and a home funeral for ourselves and for our loved ones. Family members are empowered to direct the arrangements and take the time they need to say goodbye. With the support of friends and community members, the family provides respectful and compassionate care of the body and may hold a ceremony or vigil in the intimacy of a home or nursing home. A more formal religious service may follow, before cremation or burial. Some funeral homes support family directed natural death care, by providing such services as transportation. Those who choose home funerals appreciate the freedom to honor their loved one in a uniquely meaningful way, to slow the pace, encourage participation of family and friends, control the budget and be environmentally responsible.
What is a Home Funeral?
A home funeral is a family or community-centered practice of after–death care in which members may play a key role in:
- Planning and participating in after–death rituals or ceremonies, such as bathing, anointing, and draping the body to lie in honor for a vigil
- Preparing the body for burial or cremation
- Filing paperwork, including the death certificate and obituary
- Transporting the deceased to the place of burial or cremation
- Facilitating the final disposition, such as digging the grave in a natural burial ground
- Home funerals may occur within the family home, nursing home or hospital.
The Value of Home Funerals
- The true value lies in the time spent with family and friends in caring for a loved one.
- When families are able to set the pace themselves it allows for a more authentic grieving experience, and promotes an organic emotional and spiritual healing.
- Bringing family and friends into the safety and familiarity of a home where the deceased lies in honor reduces anxiety and normalizes this universal life passage.
- Participation in the process of after-death care — washing and dressing the body, building or decorating the casket, planning a memorial or funeral service, taking care of paperwork, or organizing food and other household tasks — helps mourners find meaning and deep connection to each other and the deceased.
- A home funeral provides children the opportunity to see death as a natural part of the life cycle and to learn how their culture marks the final passage.
- A full-service contemporary funeral in the U.S. costs $7,755 (National Funeral Directors Association website, 2009), not including the burial plot, cremation fees, and other goods and services. By contrast, a family who chooses to care for the body, file the paperwork, and transport the deceased will spend a fraction of that cost.
- The cost of a home funeral is often under $2,000.
- Friends and family can construct their own simple coffin, decorate a cardboard cremation container in any way they wish or choose a natural fiber shroud.
- A funeral home is required to accept any casket provided by the family at no additional charge.
- In almost every state, a family member can act as the funeral director when a loved one dies. (Resource for all states: Funeral Consumer’s Alliance)
- The National Home Funeral Alliance encourages environmentally respectful practices such as natural cooling methods (dry ice, Techni-ice gel packs) rather than embalming, which uses highly toxic chemicals.
- Embalming is not required by law in any state and provides no public health benefits according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Simple natural measures, easily performed by a family member, can preserve the appearance and sanitary condition of the body.
- Green burial involves no embalming, no vault and the use of biodegradable caskets or shrouds. No state requires a coffin vault.
- Natural burials can take place on private land (subject to regulations) and in any cemetery that will accommodate the vault-free technique.
For more information about green burial and for a list of certified green cemeteries in the U.S. please visit: http://www.greenburialcouncil.org
The Role of Home Funeral Guides
Home funeral guides do not conduct after-death care themselves, as is the case with licensed funeral directors. Guides teach, support, and advise families on how to carry out after-death care, and provide guidance in completing and filing legal paperwork. Their goal is to empower individuals to make their own informed decisions, employ basic traditional techniques, and let love be their guide in caring for their own at death. For information about home funeral guides in your area visit: homefuneraldirectory.com.
To download a PDF version of this article click here Background and Benefits of Home Funerals.