How the at-home death movement can provide a dignified, personal, and meaningful send-off (whether we’re Buddhists or not).
The last time death rites became a matter of national interest was in the 1960s, when journalist and civil rights activist Jessica Mitford dealt a heavy blow to the unscrupulous, multibillion-dollar funeral industry. Since then, there has been a steady pulse of distress over the idea of allowing businesses to dictate how we care for our dead. Today’s undertakers may no longer be charlatans trying to upsell fancy caskets, but as a service industry, it has failed to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of a graying demographic.
One of the most influential voices for reform is Amy Cunningham, who is working to bring dignity, reverence, and intimacy back to the end-of-life experience. Cunningham, who was lauded by The New York Times for her back-to-basics, family-centered approach, is a New York State-licensed funeral director and death educator trained in overseeing at-home funerals. Coming off the coattails of a 35-year editorial career, she’s emerged as an earnest advocate for making memorial services more hands-on, personal, affordable, and sustainable.
Tricycle recently cozied up with Cunningham at Green-Wood Cemetery’s historic crematory chapel in Brooklyn to discuss her latest pioneering endeavor, the New American Buddhist Funeral, and how methods and attitudes toward end-of-life disposal should honor faith-based principles, which will lead to more meaningful send-offs.
There is a faint but growing movement in the U.S. to reclaim the home funeral. What have we lost in the dying process that leads more people to seek at-home services?
We’ve allowed death and the whole dying process to become a medical event. In our communal sadness, we’ve become very insecure in hospital settings and often forget to think of our own wishes and demands, letting ourselves be buffeted about by hospital policies or funeral home pronouncements. Before we’re even cognizant of it, we find ourselves moving mindlessly along the conveyer belt that is the $14 billion funeral and death care industry. Continue reading…