What is a home funeral?

Before we answer that, perhaps we should consider what “funeral” means. Is it:

  • The ceremonial service preceding burial or cremation at which the body is present?
  • The orderly procession of cars to the grave?
  • The committal of the body to the grave?
  • The entire process of attending to the dead including the care and preparation of the body, the vigil (if any), the ceremony, and the final disposition, whether by burial or cremation?

Actually, it is used by various people in all these ways. For the purposes of the Undertaken With Love guide, however, we are using it in the broadest sense, to encompass the entire process, including cremation.

The work of caring for our own dead until burial or cremation goes by many names: home-based death care, family-directed funerals, natural burials. home-centered funerals, etc. After much deliberation, we chose the term “home funeral” to refer to the work and “home funeral committee” to refer to the groups that support the work.

“Home funeral” is not a perfect moniker: the care might take place in a church or synagogue rather than the home, for instance. But it is gaining favor in the literature, perhaps because it falls more gently on the ear than its “death care” counterparts. For clarity, we did devise a working definition as we began work on the manual:

“A ‘home funeral’ is a noncommercial, family centered response to death that involves the family and its social community in the care and preparation of the body for burial or cremation, and/or in planning and carrying out related rituals or ceremonies, and/or in the burial or cremation itself.

“A ‘home funeral’ may occur entirely within the family home or not. It is differentiated from the ‘institutional funeral’ by its emphasis on minimal, noninvasive care and preparation of the body, on its reliance on the family’s own social networks for assistance and support, and on the relative or total absence of commercial funeral providers in its proceedings.