In the late 1800s and even into the early 1900s, families often cared for their deceased loved ones, up to and including having the wake in their home and burying them on family property – and they didn’t require costly funeral homes, city, county or state permits or even permission to bypass autopsies. Now, it seems this practice is returning.
In fact, there’s an entire movement dedicated to DIY funerals, at home funerals and natural death – depending on how you wish to describe it. There are even death midwives who are trained in assisting families care for their dead family members. Before you think it’s something you wouldn’t be able to do, consider a few facts:
In most states it’s perfectly legal to care for your dead loved ones. There’s a movement in the U.S. with the goal of “shattering longstanding taboos and stopping tip-toeing around death”. These death with dignity mindsets are doing a lot for families, including providing a springboard to have those heart to heart discussions with loved ones.
The motivations for families vary greatly. Some say it’s better for the environment to bypass chemicals used in embalming. Others cite the costs and how most funerals cost more than $10,000 – Medicaid covers just a percentage of that. A more intimate setting at home costs hundreds. Those who have opted for this route say it’s intimate, personal and they never have to “relinquish loved ones to paid strangers”. One woman who handled her father’s burial at home said, “It should be a loving family ritual. It’s the last thing we were able to do for my father and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
“When it comes to death, it doesn’t matter where you are on the scale of education or socioeconomics, many people are shocked to find that it’s legal to care for your own dead at home,” says Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Burlington, Vermont nonprofit group that works on all aspects of funeral education, from helping consumers reduce costs to advocating on DIY methods.
With the rising costs of funeral and healthcare, worries about the future of healthcare in this country, it’s little wonder people are first, returning to a spiritual foundation and second, rethinking the way they see death as a whole.
It is as natural as birth; in most faiths, it’s considered a rebirth of sorts.
Slocum also co-write, “Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death”, and said that these days, the funeral sector as a whole is “so effectively insulated from free-market competition that many families can’t even imagine a funeral home free of faux-Victorian sitting rooms and a fleet of Cadillacs”.
Even with insurance policies and Medicaid, many families find burial costs rising to levels that middle class families can’t afford. And those costs are bound to continue to climb. But there’s more to it than just the expenses.
Slocum says that the movement is beginning to flourish and says that as recently as ten years ago, there were just a “handful” of people who provided assistance for families looking for alternatives to costly funerals, unnatural autopsies and settings that were anything but natural. Now, though, there’s a nationwide organization, the National Home Funeral Alliance that boasts more than 300 members, complete with a code of ethics and rules governing their practices. They don’t act as funeral directors, but rather, they charge small fees for educating families on how to care for their dead at home.
In fact, in October, the fourth annual meeting was held and participants included not only home death guides, but hospice nurses, physicians, funeral directors and elder care lawyers. They met in Raleigh North Carolina and discussed the changing landscape in both funerals and the way Americans view death as a whole these days.
Lee Webster, vice president of the NHFA and a long time hospice volunteer, said that the movement is growing and that there’s an “explosion of interest in home funerals or blended hybrid funerals”. Some families incorporate that with traditional services offered by funeral directors. The point is that it provides options that were unheard of a decade ago.
Ultimately, for some families, it’s just too much. It’s overwhelming and that’s certainly understandable. The fact that options exist is promising, though. We rely on doctors to ensure the best medical attention, elder care lawyers to provide sound legal advice and estate planning guidance and for emotional support, it stands to reason human nature dictates we rely on one another. Our families.