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 legal 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

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 and laying out the deceased and home visitation of the body
  • Preparing the body for burial or cremation
  • Filing paperwork, such as the death certificate
  • 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 emphasis is on minimal, non-invasive, and environmentally responsible care of the body.
A more formal funeral service outside the home may follow.

The Value of Home Funerals


  • While there are many benefits to home funerals, the true value lies in the time spent with family and friends in caring for their loved one.
  • When families are able to set the pace themselves it allows for a more authentic grieving experience, often resulting in an organic emotional and spiritual healing.
  • It is legal to have the deceased lay in honor in the home of family or a friend. Bringing family, friends, and community into the safety and familiarity of a home reduces anxiety and normalizes this universal life passage.
  • For many, 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 hoe 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 choses 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 or decorate a cardboard cremation container in any way they wish.
  • 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.


  • The National Home Funeral Alliance encourages environmentally respectful practices such as natural cooling methods rather than embalming, green burial, and use of responsible products, including locally made caskets and shrouds made from sustainable regional materials.
  • Embalming is not required by law, except in rare circumstances, and provides no public health benefits according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
  • Embalming chemicals are highly toxic.
  • Simple natural measures, easily performed by a family member, can preserve the appearance and sanitary condition of the body.

For more information about green burial and for a list of certified green cemeteries in the U.S. please visit: 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.

Download this article.


Inside a Home Funeral
by Melissa Roberts Weidman, The Daily Beast 02/05/2013

Preparing a body for burial is a ritual that is both ageless and tribal. Here’s what it’s like.

This is the first time I am so close. There is a body bag on the table, waiting to be opened. Our best friends’ 22-year-old son’s body is inside. His mother and father are across from me, brothers beside, with several women gathered to form the circle around the table. These women will become my sisters in the next five hours, as we prepare the body together. They are Heather, the home-funeral advocate who had helped the family arrange for the body to come home instead of the funeral parlor; Betty, a Rolfer and powerful healer and longtime caregiver of the family; Julie, a yoga teacher, friend of the mother and Joan, a lifelong family friend who had also lovingly assisted at this boy’s birth. It was Jane, the boy’s mother, who had gotten the call in the middle of the night that their son Wes had been in a bad car accident. She and her husband John had rushed to the hospital to be greeted with the words, “Your son is deceased.”

Heather asks me to help because I work for hospice. I am a writer and administrator there, not a clinical person. When she asks, I just say “Of course,” because death is something I talk and write about every day. I am terrified, but know I should do it, just step up to the plate and look it straight in the eye. And because I love Jane and John so much, I know I can do this for them. Others come and go all afternoon, but we are the core that keeps the process going.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.


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