An ally to the home funeral movement is the hospice movement in the United States, which delivers palliative care to those at the end of life. HospiceDirectory.org is one Internet resource for locating a local hospice organization in your area, which will have many additional resources related to the care and comfort of the dying and the support of their caregivers. These organizations vary in their familiarity with the home funeral movement, but we hope that as more home funeral committees form, local hospices will play a crucial role in reaching families who want to care for their own dead.
We also recommend the following books and additional resources:
Living Consciously, Dying Graciously: A Journey With Cancer and Beyond, a book by Nancy Manahan, Ph.D. and Becky Bohan, M.A.
The End-of-Life Handbook: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One, a book by David B. Feldman, Stephen Andrew Lasher Jr., and Ira Byock, ISBN-10: 1572245115, ISBN-13: 978-1572245112
The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living, a book by Ira Byock, ISBN-10: 0743249097, ISBN-13: 978-0743249096
Final Gifts: Understandng the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying, a book by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. ISBN: 0553378767
Witnessing Death: A Grandson’s Reflections, a DVD by David Rosenthal. ASIN: B000H6SVJ4
Family Caregiver Alliance has four listserv groups for family caregivers at the end of life: a general listserv plus more specific ones for families who have a loved one with Huntington’s disease, for gay and lesbian caregivers and for Californian caregivers.
Prepare for Chapter 2
The assignment for the next chapter is to interview older men and women who have memories of home funerals. If you are unable to identify individuals in your area who remember home funerals from their childhood, you might assign one of these accounts to each member of your home funeral committee:
Here is the story about Nellie Hickerson’s funeral, mentioned in our introduction, and also featured on our video page.
In the moving essay “Dying With Dignity,” religious educator and storyteller Klara Tammany revisits the deaths and funerals of her father and mother, comparing the painful “uninformed consent” at play in the conventional arrangements provided her father and the healing “compassion choice” evident in the home funeral the family provided her mother.
Alison’s Gift (ISBN-10: 0966817702, ISBN-13: 978-0966817706) by Beth Knox is the heartfelt story of 7-year-old Alison Knox’s sudden passing and the founding of Crossings, Caring for Our Own at Death. It answers why home funeral care is important and shows how families can find a measure of healing and comfort through greater involvement in caring for their own dead.
A Chrone Chronicles interview of Jerrigrace Lyons, founder of Final Passages, another home funeral training organization. The interview tells about death of Lyons’ friend Carolyn Whiting, who left detailed instructions for her home funeral, and whose example prompted Lyons to become involved in other home funerals.
Isabel Berney of Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge sent a link to an article about one of her members who did a home funeral and burial in 2008 for his mother. Thanks, Isabel! I hope other readers will send us their stories of home funerals also!
The Smithsonian Magazine online recently published an article by Max Alexander about the back-to-back funerals of his father and father-in-law, one involving embalming and the assistance of a funeral home, the other a home funeral. He reflects on how very different the two experiences were for his family.
The classic book is Jessic a Mitford’s The American Way of Death (Revisited), (ISBN-10: 0679771867 ISBN-13: 978-0679771869 updating her original 1963 exposé, which detailed the excesses of the high-pressure salesmanship and lapses of taste within the funeral trade. Mitford died in 1996, four years before the volume was completed. The newer work examines developments since the 1990s, including the Federal Trade Commission’s faltering enforcement of its 1984 Funeral Rule contributing to spiraling prices and profits and increasing activism among funeral consumer advocacy groups.
Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America, (ISBN-10: 019513608X, ISBN-13: 978-0195136081) a book by Gary Laderman, presents a pro-industry viewpoint, largely in response to Mitford’s criticism, defending embalming. It also identifies recent changes in the trade: more demand for cremation rather than burial and more privately scripted memorial services. Becoming familiar with the thinking of insiders in the industry can help home funeral advocates who seek ways to influence or work with professional funeral directors.
From an environmental standpoint, journalist Mark Harris’ book Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (ISBN-10: 1416564047, ISBN-13: 978-1416564041) depicts the growing interest among funeral consumers in earth friendly practices, including many resources for home funeral advocates.
At the time of this writing, Steven Burns, a graduate student/filmmaker at Indiana University in Bloomington, was producing a documentary about the history of the funeral industry in America and the lesser known alternatives, to be completed in April 2009 and scheduled to air on Indiana’s PBS station WTIU. For more information, email Steven Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prepare for Chapter 3
The assignment for the next gathering of your home funeral committee is to read chapter 8 in Lisa Carlson’s book Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love. Carlson generously has offered to let us post here for easy access. It provides a good overview of consumer legal rights and responsibilities in death care.
You should also explore your state’s page on this site to begin becoming more familiar with its specific laws affecting home funerals. Use this link to find your state’s page. Although Carlson’s book itself is out-of-print and dated in its state-specific content, it is a good initial resource if you can find it.
Carlson begins the chapter with this sage counsel:
“Persons who choose to handle death privately must take great care to follow all state and local regulations. The requirements are not complex, but failure to meet them can lead to unpleasant situations and create a climate in which professionals become less willing to work with families.”
Photo courtesy Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo, N.D.”Location number: 2028.234
In most states, laws pertaining to the care of the dead are found either in a health section of the statutes or in a section pertaining to occupations or licensing. Quite often, laws governing other aspects of the funeral industry, such as cemeteries, are in a different section. Nearly all states have laws that establish regulatory bodies for supervising funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries. These bodies generally establish regulations related to the laws carried in the statutes as they go about their work in enforcing statutes.
States That Restrict A Family’s Right to Care for Its Own Dead
Presently, six states restrict a family’s right to care for its own dead: Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New York. Even in these states, if death occurs at home, you don’t have to call a funeral director immediately. You can take the time to gather beside the body of your loved one for a ceremony and to bathe and dress the body at an unhurried pace before you place your call.
At the National Level: The Funeral Rule of the Federal Trade Commission
To a lesser extent, you also should become familiar with the funeral consumer protection measures of the FTC’s Funeral Rule. Read our page on how the funeral rule applies to home funerals.
At the City or County Level: Which Ordinances Apply?
Finally, depending on your circumstances, you might also need to investigate local regulations and ordinances for specific purposes. For example, when it comes to burying a loved one on your own land, North Carolina state law contains no prohibitions. But some city ordinances place restrictions on the creation of private graveyards. Municode is one online source for researching local codes by keywords.
Prepare for Chapter 4
The assignment for the next gathering is to read the next chapter. Your home funeral committee also is directed to and research your own state laws and hospital policies affecting home funerals.
This page has all the tools you need to get started on indentifying pertinent state and local laws. We do hope you will write a document summarizing your findings and then contact us so that we can post it on this site!
You may even want to rewrite Chapter 3, “Finding the Law,” so that it is targeted specifically to your state. Our copyright terms allow for alterations to that one chapter, and you can contact us for separate PDFs for the remaining chapters so that you can form a new “whole” that incorporates your revised third chapter. It’s OK if you need to work on this for a while. It can take some time to reach the point of confidence that you fully grasp which laws in your location are relevant to home funerals!
As for researching hospital policies, you might very well discover that there aren’t any that specifically address a situation where a family wants to retain custody of the body at death, except in the case of infant death. That then becomes an opportunity for some advance advocacy on your part, to smooth the way for home funerals, so that families wanting to care for their own dead don’t find that uninformed hospital employees stand in the way.
If feasible for your group, you might want to split the research into its parts — state, local and hospital — and assign at least two members to work together on each.
Dealing Creatively With Death: A Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial (ISBN-10: 0942679245, ISBN-13: 978-0942679243) by Ernest Morgan, an older source, focuses on the death care practices of several communities, including North Carolina’s Celo community near Burnsville.
Living Into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community (ASIN: B0006SAYCU) by Nancy Jewel Poer is an excellent guide to practical care that is also deeply spiritual in its approach.
“Passing Through Our Hands,” a DVD by our own Donna Belk and her colleague Sandy Booth, both of Austin, Texas, is an excellent portrayal of one home funeral committee’s introduction to the practical skills involved. At only $15 per copy, it is affordable enough to purchase several for passing around among your own committee members or other groups in your community.
Prepare for Chapter 5
The assignments for the next gathering of your home funeral committee are to:
- Read the text of the next chapter
- As individuals, write down what you might consider to be the basic aim of your committee. Which tasks would you associate with this aim? Which tasks would you consider to fall outside the scope of your aim?
- Come to the gathering with the dual intention of offering your perspectives on aim and scope as well as holding back from doggedly imposing your preferences on the whole committee if no easy consensus can be reached.
If you’d like to learn more about some of the home funeral groups mentioned in this chapter, explore these resources:
The Adath Jeshuran synagogue of Minnetonka, Minn., founded its Chevra Kavod Hamet (Society to Honor the Deceased) 30 years ago to provide a simple, affordable Jewish burial to any member of the synagogue upon request. It also provides comfort and support to bereaved families. Their story is told in A Plain Pine Box: A Return to Simple Jewish Funerals and Eternal Traditions (ISBN-10: 0881257877, ISBN-13: 978-0881257878).
The Islamic Burial Society of North America (IBSNA) grew out of a project of the Islamic Society of Raleigh (N.C.) to respond to the need of American Muslims for funeral options that are in keeping with the precepts of the Quran. Its founder, Ahmad-Rufai Abdullah, is a leader in the movement, which has trained more than 250 American Muslims to provide burials for their own dead.
Prepare for Chapter 6
The assignments for the next gathering are to:
- Read the text of the next chapter.
- If your committee has reached consensus on its aims and limitations, assign one member to write an announcement of the committee’s formation and purpose that can be considered by the committee at the next gathering.
- Assign one member to purchase a 3-ring binder to serve as the home funeral committee’s receptacle for stories, information, plans and resources. This person might also design an attractive cover for the binder if it has a slipcase for one, or another committee member might do that part.
- Invite all members to brainstorm ways that the committee can make its presence known and publicize its services. Come prepared to develop a publicity plan at the next gathering.
Here are a few resources that have to do with sustaining a strong, viable home funeral committee that will continue to serve the community:
The blog, Thresholds, carries an extensive Q&A with Ahmad-Rufai Abdullah about the work of the Islamic Burial Society of North America, which has organized itself to be a self-sustaining training organization for Muslim communities caring for their own dead. Read it with an eye toward borrowing practices that can be applied on a smaller scale within your local group.
The book, Caregiving: Hospice-Proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul (ISBN-10: 0028616634, ISBN-13: 978-0028616636), by Douglas Smith, suggests such techniques as dialogues, meditations, life reviews, breathing exercises, body revitalization methods and evaluation tools for improving caregiving at the end of life. Many of his ideas make good ideas for small group exercises that will help keep your committee members engaged and dedicated.
When Autumn Comes: Creating Compassionate Care for the Dying (ISBN-10: 059531662X, ISBN-13: 978-0595316625), by Mary Jo Bennett, has much wisdom that can be applied to caring for the family after death comes. Written by a hospice volunteer, its advice is suitable for secular as well as religious settings.
Real Small Groups Just Don’t Happen: Nurturing Relationships in Your Small Group (ISBN-10: 1576831035, ISBN-13: 978-1576831038), by Neal McBride, is a good pick if your home funeral committee is in a congregational faith setting. At only 150 pages, it offers many good tips for keeping small groups intimate and sensitive to the needs of their members and community.
Another good book on the theme is Simple Small Groups: A User-Friendly Guide for Small Group Leaders (ISBN-10: 0801071534, ISBN-13: 978-0801071539), by Bill Search, which focuses on three C’s: connecting, changing and cultivating members in any congregational group.
Breaking Robert’s Rules: The New Way to Run Your Meeting, Build Consensus, and Get Results (ISBN-10: 0195308417, ISBN-13: 978-0195308419 ), by Lawrence Susskind, is a good introduction to the nuts and bolts of consensus building as a small group management style.
Oh — and we do hope you will contact us to let you know how your group studies went and what you plan for the future!