Image by Ann Manning, used with permissionAbout the Guide

Ever since the Civil War, when affluent families began paying embalming surgeons to find their fallen sons on the battlefield and embalm them with enough arsenic to sustain the trip home by train, the etiquette of funeral care has largely been prescribed by the commercial funeral industry. Now that interest in natural and home-based funerals is surging, faith communities have an opportunity to reclaim the role of the community in supporting less institutional forms of death care.

Undertaken With Love is a manual and study guide written by a group of home funeral advocates across America for:

  • Congregational committees that form to support home funerals for their members
  • Pastors and other spiritual leaders contemplating a home funeral ministry
  • Death education and counseling practitioners
  • Secular social groups that form to support home funerals for their members
  • Families themselves

In most of the U.S., a family may care for its own dead until burial or cremation without involving licensed funeral professionals. It does require a willingness to be something of a pioneer in today’s handsoff society, but those who have chosen to reclaim this historical tradition confirm that the process is enormously healing and meaningful.

While a motivated family can independently acquire the legal knowledge and practical skills to arrange a home funeral, the process is eased considerably when a group assists. That is why we created Undertaken With Love: to help faith-based and secular groups support families that want to continue caring for their loved ones all the way to the grave or crematory.

Presented in a study guide format for six weekly or monthly self-training sessions, Undertaken With Love will teach your congregational bereavement care committee or other social group:

  • how to start a home funeral committee;
  • how to research and identify your legal rights, options and responsibilities;
  • how to handle, bathe and transport the body; and
  • how to sustain an effective home funeral committee.

Now we are looking for a few congregations or community groups such as hospice support groups that would consider piloting Undertaken With Love as a means of organizing a committee to support home funerals among their members. Please contact us if you are interested in joining this venture!


About the Authors

The Home Funeral Committee Manual Publishing Group arose from a Google Group organized in the fall of 2008 with the intention of creating a simple, inexpensive manual that congregational committees and other social groups could use to learn about how to support family-directed home-centered funerals in the community.

All of the members of the group have participated in and/or advocated for home funerals in some manner, often as active members of a Funeral Consumers Alliance chapter or through Crossings, Final Passages or other organizations that are forming to support the home funeral movement.

We include:

Donna BelkDonna Belk, Austin, Texas: The new coordinator of the Undertaken With Love project, she has been involved with home funerals for about four years and was a contributing writer for the manual. She took a home funeral training course with Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages and a weekend training session with Beth Knox of Crossings. She is part of a group in Austin that assists its members with their own home funerals. Belk became interested in funerals and death and dying following her father’s death when she was 16 years old. Her father’s military funeral was so meaningless and empty to her that she worked for years to come to a place of peace with it. Four years ago, she went through training to become a Celebrant and officiate at funerals. Once she completed the CelebrantUSA course she did a proper funeral ceremony for her dad, involving her family and friends, enabling her to finally come to peace with his death. She sees her work as being an educator — just letting people know they have choices. Belk also was influenced by an ectopic pregnancy she had in her mid-30s. During emergency surgery she had a blissful, beautiful, sacred, life-changing near-death experience. She jokingly says she flunked dying because “death” caught her by surprise and she says she “freaked out rather than letting go into the experience.” “Now I work to help people die consciously or at least somewhat prepared so that their transition is smooth and easy and that they have some sense of what’s involved,” she says.

Margalo Eden, M.A., St. Augustine, Fla.: Co-editor of the manual, she has been a hospice volunteer for the past four years with Community Hospice of Northeast Florida. After attending a death and dying workshop at the Briar Rose Center in St. Augustine in 2007, she was moved to study home funerals and natural burials as alternatives to the current, conventional offerings. This coincided with a decision she made to study grief counseling. She teaches classes locally concerning alternative funerals, and has been sought out as a funeral consultant by people who want to do some pre-planning, but don’t really know where to start. “I am excited by the prospect of educating people with regard to the choices available to them, and what each of those choices entail,” she says. “I see the proposed manual as a simple and cost-effective means of reaching a large number of people.”

Gere FultonGere B. Fulton, Ph.D., J.D., Columbia, S.C.: A contributing writer to the group, he has been professionally involved with death and dying for more than 30 years. From the 1970s until 2000 he taught a course on death and dying in the Department of Public Health at The University of Toledo (Ohio). He has a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Maryland and a J. D. with an emphasis on law and medicine from the University of Toledo’s College of Law. After taking early retirement, he moved to Columbia, S.C., and accepted an appointment at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine as Palmetto Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine and became a member of the core faculty at the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities. From 2000 until 2006 he taught law and ethics of end-of-life care to third-year students in the U.S.C. School of Medicine. He became involved with funerals and consumer advocacy through the Funeral Consumers Alliance, first as a volunteer and then as president of the Northwest Ohio affiliate from 1992 to 2000. He was elected to the board of directors of the national organization in 1996 and served two terms, serving as its president from 2002 to 2004. Since moving to Columbia he has continued to volunteer with the local affiliate of FCA and most recently has researched and prepared a document on home funerals for the chapter, titled “Caring for Your Own Dead in South Carolina.” Fulton first became interested in family-directed funerals through reading about them in the late 1990s and later meeting Billy and Kimberley Campbell, the founders of the nation’s first “green burial” grounds in Westminster, S.C. He is the co-author of a college text on death and dying (Perspectives on Death and Dying, Jones and Bartlett,1995) and the defining work on Ohio’s advance directive statute, Your Guide to Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care in Ohio (Health Law Press, 1991)

Holly Gilbert, M.A., Rochester, Mich.: The manual’s graphic designer, she is a journalist and journalism instructor at Oakland University. She believes that just as people have the right to live well, they should have the right to die well. “I don’t like going to funeral homes while I’m alive, so why on earth would I want to wind up there when I’m dead?” she says. “That’s not my idea of dying well.” Through her involvement in the home funeral movement, she found others who were looking for ways to a more meaningful, less ecologically and financially burdening passage, Her friendship with Wendy Lyons (see below) led her more directly to the Funeral Consumer Information Society in Michigan. “I’m happy to be on board what I think is a very important journey,” she says.

Ann HarrAnn Harr, M.S.W., central Ohio: A member of and advisor to the group, she has worked as a social worker in hospital and hospice settings. She believes that it is important to “normalize” death, returning it to families from funeral businesses. She and her family formed Pickaway Home Funerals with the goals of educating their community about the home funeral alternative and assisting families with the process. Her son, David, builds pine box caskets. Her daughter, Kathryn, helps her chase down legal documents and assist families with adding creative personal touches to their arrangements. “We perform this as a community service without compensation, believing that all people should have this option, ” Harr says. Shortly after starting Pickaway Home Funeral Services, she created a pamphlet on home funerals that was well received in her community. She has worked hard to form a support network with those in a position to assist home funeral practitioners with the legal requirements of securing death certificates and burial transit permits in Ohio. Harr has been married to her husband, Jeff, for 33 years. They have 10 children between the ages of 10 and 30 (four by birth and six by adoption). They also have four grandchildren.

Wendy LyonsWendy Lyons, Lake Orion, Mich.: Co-editor of the manual, she became hooked on the DIY funeral concept since she first read about it–ironically–in Life Magazine around 14 years ago. “To me, it just makes perfect sense,” she says. “I’ve had two natural childbirths, one home birth, and I home-schooled two children from K-12 and sent them off to college.” After returning to college, she started studying DIY funerals and green burials for research papers. Eventually she took Jerrigrace Lyons’ and Beth Knox’s seminars to prepare herself to teach others the skills and knowledge involved. About a year ago, she assisted in her first home funeral. “It was exactly how I envisioned—a perfectly natural and loving thing to do,” she recalls. Lyons is the president of the Michigan affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Information Society, an affliliate of Funeral Consumers Alliance. Michigan is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to home funerals, and over the past few years, it has gotten worse. FCIS is advocating to restore the right of Michigan families to care for their dead without the assistance of a licensed funeral director, which the chapter believes is a basic civil right. Lyons has a journalism degree and works as an associate editor for two magazines.

Joyce MitchellJoyce Mitchell, Utah: A contributing writer to the manual, she is originally from the Adirondacks of upstate New York, as is her husband of 22 years. They have four children ages 13 to 21. Mitchell joined Funeral Consumers Alliance in 1994. She started the FCA of Utah affiliate in 2000. She has completed four statewide biennial funeral dealership surveys so Utahns can price shop at a glance. Recently she worked with her state legislature to amend a 2006 law that took away Utah families’ right to sign a death certificate, which she says “was unintentional on the part of legislators.” Mitchell likes to attend her funeral licensing board meetings, garden, sew, write letters, study the Bible and Book of Mormon, journal, play bass, smile and talk with people and make a difference in their lives through the work of Funeral Consumers Alliance. She has a passion for sharing the message that there is more than one way (throwing money at it) to approach after-death care. She says, “For those who believe that rich and poor are all equal in the grave, it is going to be an awesome day when our funerals reflect that.”

Michael Rulison, Ph.D., Raleigh, N.C.: An active member of and advisor to the group, he retired as president of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Triangle in 2008 after about five years of service, “from cook’s assistant on up.” He says his interest in the proposed manual is both “personal use and public service.”

Holly StevensHolly Stevens, Oak Ridge, N.C.: The initiator of the Undertaken With Love project, she came to her involvement with home funerals several years ago as a result of her own advanced breast cancer diagnosis and search for end-of-life options that are emotionally sound, spiritually wholesome and kind to the earth and budget. Holly’s great desire has been to make the basic knowledge and skills involved in home funerals accessible to families of all means by providing a guide and accompanying website that is both free and comprehensive. A writer and editor by profession, a meticulous researcher, and a passionate advocate for families at life’s end, she has written and spoken frequently on the home funeral movement and family death care rights and options. She opted to step aside from her daily involvement with Undertaken With Love in March 2010 as her advanced breast cancer progressed in order to focus more intentionally on her family but continues to be passionate about supporting alternative options at the end of life.


About the Art

The softly engaging artwork in Undertaken With Love, including the leaf motif on this site, was the creation of Ann Manning, a remarkable woman whose death from breast cancer and subsequent home funeral is the subject of the website “No Grey Suits” produced by her husband Jack Manning.

“This story is meant to be shared as our way of saying thanks to all who helped when it was our turn and to anyone who would like to pick and choose some ideas for when it is theirs,” wrote Jack Manning. We are grateful to Lisa Carlson of Funeral Ethics Organization for directing us to the website and to the Manning family for giving us permission to use Ann’s artwork in the manual.



Copyright Information for this Site and the book all content on this website, unless where indicated otherwise, is copyright ©2009 by The Home Funeral Committee Manual Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

Our book Undertaken With Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities, with the exception of Chapter 3, Finding the Law, is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license, which allows reproduction with attribution for noncommercial purposes as long as you do not alter, transform or build upon the work. Chapter 3, Finding the Law, is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, which additionally allows you to modify the text to address the specific laws of your region and state. If you choose to post the book to your website, we request that you include a link to our website URL: www.undertakenwithlove.org

The purpose of this generous licensing is to make basic information about home funerals as accessible as possible to all who want to explore the practice. For more information about this license or to obtain a set of PDFs that excludes the third chapter, email us.

All of the images on our site and in our Flickr collection have a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License for others’ noncommercial uses.

All of Ann Manning’s artwork in this manual is the copyright of 2007 Jack Manning & Friends and is used gratefully with permission. For more information on this remarkable artist and the home funeral her family provided her, see www.nogreysuits.org.