Thursday, July 24, 2008

Home Funerals?


If you've read anything I've written, you should know by now that my heart is really geared toward anything to do with the home: home birth, home child care (my own), home schooling, home business, home health care (of the aged and infirm), past involvement with the home church movement, and, perhaps one day, a home wedding (for the kids, of course!). However, I have recently been introduced to another family function: home funerals.

There was a fictional television movie I saw years ago at my grandmother's house about a woman whose policeman husband was killed in the line of duty. The story was set in the 1920s or 30s, I believe. I have no clue what the name of it was, because we had to change the channel.* However, I was fascinated by a scene where he was laid out on the dining room table soon after the mishap -- the same table, in fact, where he had been eating fried chicken with his family not an hour before.

His wife and another woman washed his body in preparation for burial. His widow moved slowly, methodically, lovingly, ministering to her grief as she served him one last time in her role as his wife. Though I felt at the time that I would want to do that for my own Dearly Beloved, I know he would never approve, nor would our children.

Years later, I came across an article in Countryside magazine which dealt with this ages-old way of caring for our dead. I put it in the back of my mind for future reference with the intention of looking into cheaper caskets, preferably a simple, pine box. Barring a miraculous weight loss, my casket will cost about as much as a small car. Having a pine box made to fit me would be a much less costly way to go.

Then, more recently, I found a documentary on Netflix.com called A Family Undertaking, originally aired on PBS. The rest of the family refused to watch it with me. I guess they didn't want to be faced with such a radical choice. Our oldest son even made me promise not to go that route with him.  So, I watched it alone one night after everyone else went to bed. It was beautiful. Don't ask me how death can be beautiful, but it...was...beautiful.

The film follows two families through their journeys of preparing for the deaths of their loved ones and how they were able to care for their own dead once death occurred. The testimonies of these folks just made me want to cry out, Yes! This is the way it is supposed to be!

Though home funerals are as diverse as the families who plan them, as you will see, if you view the film, one common theme seems to run through them all: closure. There is a special healing in the act of caring for the departed loved one. Many have testified it made the passing of their dear one more peaceful for all those involved. I cannot doubt it is so.

By bringing this to your attention, I hope to spur you on to at least become more informed about this option even if you never choose it. Yet, just as when dealing with home birthing, it is important to keep in mind that, currently, much of it is run by pagan practitioners. Some even refer to themselves as "death midwives." It is particularly becoming popular with those in the "green" movement, many of whom end up cremating the corpse in order to save on burial land.

Since the Industrial Revolution, it seems as though every function of the home has been relegated to industry or to "professionals." A century later, people are beginning to bring home the ministries which once belonged uniquely to the family unit. I am convinced that home funerals are the next reformation on the horizon, and I would not be surprised if the first one I hear of personally will be from a home school family.

Further reading:

Death Midwifery and the Home Funeral Revolution (from a pagan perspective)
A Movement to Bring Grief Back Home (WashingtonPost.com)
A Serious Undertaking (Newsweek.com)
More Families Are Bringing Funerals Home (msnbc.msn.com)

Online Resources:

Funeral Consumers Alliance: http://www.funerals.org/ (Look up local chapters by your state)
Sources in Canada

*The movie was Places in the Heart.