10 Things You Never Knew About Home Funerals

A “funeral home” is much different than a “home funeral” (which is a funeral at home). Here are 10 things you never really wanted to know about planning a funeral at home.

My grandma’s funeral was in a funeral home that I had never visited, planned by her without any involvement from the family, and presided over by a funeral director who only met her once or twice. It was an incredibly sad funeral because it was cold, formal, and so removed from who she was and how we felt about her.

Whether you’re planning your own funeral (which isn’t as creepy as it may sound) or the funeral of a loved one, read Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever by Kathy Benjamin. Go beyond the big box funeral service – think about having a home funeral, a theme funeral (which I’m dying to write about!), or a DIY (Do It Yourself) Memorial Service. Be creative in how you plan your final farewell – whether it’s a celebration of life at the pub or a funeral at home.

10 Things You Never Knew About Home Funerals

Not only is it legal to have a funeral at home, it is legal to transport your loved one’s body in your own vehicle from hospital, hospice, or other facility to your home, a cemetery, or a crematorium.

You can hire a death midwife to help with after-death care. After your loved one dies, you may need help getting the body from the hospital or hospice (unless your loved one died at home), washing and dressing the body, cooling it with dry ice or Techni-Ice packs, making or buying a simple shroud or coffin, decorating the coffin, putting the body into the coffin or shroud; and then finally transporting it to a crematory or burial ground.

Local support groups such as death cafes or people such as death midwifes can help you plan a funeral at home. A home funeral involves washing and dressing the body, arranging any death vigils, ceremonies of life, wakes, memorial services, etc., preparing the coffin, filling out and filing required death documents, and making arrangements for cremation – including arranging for cremation urns. It may be time and energy-consuming to have a home funeral, which is why many people hire death midwifes to help.

It is legal in all US states to care for your own departed and have funerals at home. “In nine states, some aspects of care such as filing paperwork, transportation , or interment may require hiring a professional to assist,” says Elizabeth Knox, a funeral rights educator and death midwife who helps plan home funerals. “Very few people know this. Our organization, Crossings, educates families and communities about these rights.” The home birth movement has brought the intimacy of birth back into the home, and Crossings brings the love, care, and intimacy of death back into the home. Home funerals can be a sacred last deed of love and compassion, a way to say good-bye.

Some funeral homes are renovating to look and feel like homes. On a blog post about home funerals, dgoldstein says, “A friend of mine lives near a commercial street, and there are two funeral homes within a few blocks of his home. Recently, one went through some renovations, to make it seems more homey. They even offered a room that looked like someone’s living, and it became an offering for services. The second one, after seeing the first one’s business spike at its expense, did the same. Why do people accept pseudo home funerals at a conventional funeral parlor, but refuse to accept the real thing?” Perhaps because it feels creepy to have a funeral at home – we want to keep death away from our houses.

Funerals at home can last more than one day. One of the most interesting things about home funerals is that they don’t rush the grieving process. You can take as long as you need to say good-bye, and people from out of town can stop by when they’re ready. There is no need to rush to the celebration of life or funeral at a funeral home.

home funeral

“10 Things You Didn’t Know About Home Funerals” image by Laurie

Home funerals are not radical – they’re old and traditional. A Family Undertaking is a PBS documentary that explores the growing home funeral movement by following several families in their most intimate moments as they reclaim the end of life. This information on funerals at home shows how these families didn’t choose a typical mortuary funeral to care for their loved ones, and makes clear that the heart of the home funeral movement is the desire to rescue funerals from the impersonality of a mass-market industry, and to reshape them according to personal beliefs or family and community traditions.

Preparing a loved one’s body for a home funeral is both beautiful and jarring. “When Bob died, on a cold evening in late November, Sarah, her sister Holly and I gently washed his body with warm water and lavender oil as it lay on the portable hospital bed in the living room,” writes Max Alexander in The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral. “Anointing a body with aromatic oils, which moisten the skin and provide a calming atmosphere for the living, is an ancient tradition. I had been to plenty of funerals and seen many a body in the casket, but this was the first time I was expected to handle one. I wasn’t eager to do so, but after a few minutes it seemed like second nature. His skin remained warm for a long time—maybe an hour—then gradually cooled and turned pale as the blood settled. While Holly and I washed his feet, Sarah trimmed his fingernails. We had to tie his jaw shut with a bandanna for several hours until rigor mortis set in, so his mouth would not be frozen open; the bandanna made him look like he had a toothache.”

Embalming is not a necessity in many provinces and states, but many funeral homes require it – and it costs extra. Embalming is for viewing purposes, and embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogen chemical formaldehyde, which has been proven to pose health risks in funeral homes. A study by the National Cancer Institute released in late 2009 revealed that funeral directors have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia. If you’re planning a home funeral, think about skipping the embalming.

What have I missed about having a funeral at home? I welcome your thoughts below…