A new funeral trend (just one of many popping up in our profession lately) is the idea of the home funeral — or DIY funerals.
Families are choosing to care for their loved one at home, allowing family and friends to play a bigger role in the preparation and final sendoff.
USA Today reported that while there are no official numbers yet, the interest in home funerals is growing. According to the president of the National Home Funeral Alliance, membership in the organization from 2015 to 2016 has nearly doubled from 350 to 600.
Families are choosing at-home funerals for a variety of reasons:
- They’re greener.
- They’re less expensive.
- They provide a more intimate final experience for saying goodbye.
Consider the young Tennessee family, the Kirks, whose nine-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Rather than spend her final moments in a hospital setting, the family opted to care for her in a setting she felt comfortable in — their home.
After she passed, her parents took her upstairs, bathed her, and dressed their daughter in her communion dress. The Huffington Post reported that she “stayed in her childhood home, surrounded by old dolls, stuffed animals and her favorite books. Friends and family came in and out to say goodbye. Some would get on the bed beside her body, stroking her face and hair. Others would sit across from her in a rocking chair.”
The family had a guestbook downstairs for visitors to sign, and a place on the porch to gather and chat. The Kirk family is just one example of the growing home funeral movement.
At-Home Funerals are Nothing New
The concept of a home funeral is a return to our roots. During the pre-Civil War era, before professional funeral directors and embalming, home funerals were very much the norm.
When a person died, they would usually die at home surrounded by family. The family would care for and clean the body. The coffin would be a simple pine box, and the burial would be in the family’s backyard.
So while people today might think of the at-home funeral trend as odd, our ancestors would recognize it as a perfectly normal ceremony.
A Home Funeral Still Can Use a Funeral Director
At-home funerals are legal in all 50 states, and only 10 states require that a funeral director is involved in a home funeral. But that doesn’t mean a funeral director can’t help, and funeral directors shouldn’t shy away from a home funeral. Many families would prefer the expertise, guidance, and care that funeral professionals provide.
How to Help
If a family comes to you with an at-home funeral in mind, here’s how you can help:
- Start with the paperwork. Like we said, home funerals are completely legal. But as you know, there are still rules to follow when dealing with a deceased body. Funeral directors can offer their services to handle details and paperwork for burials and cremation. This benefits the family, giving them more time to participate in other aspects of a home funeral — like caring for the body and planning a memorial.
- Offer memorialization ideas. After the home funeral, families still want to memorialize a loved one. You can again offer your expertise and input. You can help them with permanent memorials for burials or smaller memorial gifts and urns for cremations.
- Care for the body. For some families, the appeal of a home funeral is in the intimate setting. They want their loved one to pass in a place of peace and familiarity. That being said, some families will still be uncomfortable with the idea of preparing and washing a body. A funeral director can be a valuable resource in assisting and guiding the family.
- Coordinate the funeral/visitation. Today’s funeral directors are becoming more like event planners. Here’s a chance to put those skills to use. You can help the family plan the details of the home funeral, coordinate arrivals with guests, and even offer suggestions for a small reading or prayer session.
- Assist with the burial or scattering ceremony. Just like above, your knowledge and expertise will be greatly appreciated in helping to coordinate these aspects. Funeral directors can help a family arrange the burial in a plot at the local cemetery, or help find and coordinate appropriate settings for scattering ashes.
What are your thoughts on home funerals? Share with us in the comments below!