Are you considering a funeral at home? Have you heard of the “home funeral” movement, and want to know if it’s the right choice for you? You’ve come to the right place.
In this article we describe the basics involved in creating a funeral at home. We compare benefits and drawbacks, and offer some basic considerations and further resources to help you decide if a home funeral is right for you. Let’s dive in.
Considering a funeral at home? Start here.
WHAT IS A HOME FUNERAL?
A home funeral is where all of the death care, burial preparation, and memorialization of the deceased is carried out by the decedent’s family and friends. Often actually taking place at home, a home funeral allows family to take the initiative in putting their loved ones to rest.
This option for final arrangements is known alternately as a home funeral, a funeral at home, a home-based funeral, or a family-directed funeral. Each of these terms is roughly synonymous. The idea is that the funeral and all related activities is led by the family, rather than a funeral director.
Now, this does not mean that you or the family has to do everything. For instance, you can still have the body cremated by a crematorium. This is called direct cremation, and it’s done by professionals. You can actually bury the decedent at home, or you can purchase a burial plot at a cemetery. You can hire a professional caregiver – an “end of life doula” (also known as “death doula” or “death midwife”) – to assist you in home-based final arrangements. The actual funeral can take place at the burial site, whether it is at a cemetery or on private property. Also, the memorial service or reception can be held at a church, community hall, or even in a funeral home chapel. The main thing is that a home-based funeral is directed by the family.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN A FUNERAL AT HOME?
Here are some of the things you’ll need to arrange in order to have a home funeral. This will give you an overview of what is involved in a funeral at home.
- Someone to take charge. You, dear reader, are either looking into this option for your own funeral or for the funeral of a loved one. If the home funeral is for yourself, you will definitely need a close, confident, and relatively non-squeamish person to take charge. Because this is a “non-traditional” choice, it takes a bit of learning and a can-do attitude to pull it off in our modern age. Make sure this person is 100% on board. If it’s for someone you love, you’re probably going to be the person who is going to take charge. You know yourself, read on to determine if this is the right choice.
- Payment up front. A home funeral will cost much less, but you’ll most likely need to purchase a variety of supplies from a variety of vendors. With a “traditional” funeral, the funeral home bills it in one package and you can arrange payment terms with them directly. With a home-based funeral, you’ll need to arrange payment with each individual vendor. These might include the cemetery, crematorium, vital records office (death certificate), and various sellers of caskets, urns, shrouds, headstones, ice, flowers, etc.
- Taking care of the body. You’ll need to keep the body on ice (using dry ice) unless you plan to bury or cremate right away. If you plan on doing a funeral or memorial service with the body present, you’ll want to dress the decedent in nice clothing and perhaps apply a bit of cosmetics to improve appearance.
- Transporting the body. Unless they died and will be buried at hoem, you’ll most likely need to transport the body at least once, perhaps twice. The most common transportation needs are from the hospital or morgue to home, and/or from home to the crematorium or burial site. You can often use medical transportation services, and can sometimes hire a hearse. Otherwise, you will want a casket (whether permanent or temporary) to move the body. Ideal vehicles include vans and trucks.
- Getting a death certificate. Contact the county or state vital records office to obtain a copy of the death certificate. You’ll likely want to get multiple copies: for your records, then to show for a cremation or cemetery plot, and miscellaneous government agencies. Most of these can make a copy and return the original to you. Any institution that is going to send you monetary funds (pensions, stocks, 401(K), life insurance, etc) will want an original copy. Check through this list, and call each institution to find out if you’ll need an original or a copy.
- Cremation or burial. See this article on making the choice between the two. If you are having a burial at home, you’ll need someone to dig.
- Vessel for final disposition. This is most commonly a permanent cremation urn, scattering cremation urn, burial casket, or burial shroud.
- All the memorial arrangements. On top of all this, you will have the usual memorial service arrangements. Flowers, guestbook, invitations, a minister or someone to direct the service, a reception area, food, etc.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A HOME FUNERAL?
In many instances, a funeral at home allows for more control, less expense, and a sense of closeness to their love one. You will have more visitation time, a fuller sense of closure, further dependence on family and friends instead of professionals, and a lower impact on the environment.
WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OF A HOME FUNERAL?
The possible downsides – depending on your perspective – is that a funeral at home involves more work. There will be more preparation, more education and research, personally handling the body, more paperwork, and more dependence on those around you.
WHY SHOULD I CHOOSE A HOME-BASED FUNERAL?
A home-based funeral is one option among several. Other options range from having the funeral home take care of everything 100% to simpler and more affordable options like direct cremation with a DIY memorial service at church or a community center.
If you’re already familiar with the standard funeral home options, here are some reasons why you might choose a home-based funeral:
- It’s hands-on, giving you a much more thorough chance to say your goodbyes and process your grief through good old-fashioned work.
- Home funerals save you quite a bit of money, since you are not paying the rates of a professional.
- In the U.S. at this time, a home based funeral is considered “alternative,” which might be an ideal fit for you, your loved one, and your family.
- From a larger perspective, a home funeral is the true “traditional” way that, historically, nearly all people and cultures have experienced.
- You like to do things yourself, figure out and solve problems, find creative solutions.
- Home-based funerals are condusive to eco-friendly, natural burial with minimal waste and a low impact on the environment.
WHY SHOULD I FOREGO A HOME-BASED FUNERAL?
By the same token, a home funeral is one option among several. So there may be aspects that you would consider a disadvantage. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as reasons to forego a home-based funeral:
- Organizing everything can be stressful and feel like a burden if that is not your natural inclination.
- You may find handling the body to be difficult and feel ill at ease or “squeamish” about it.
- There are still relatively affordable options through the funeral home. These come with the peace of mind knowing a professional is working on your behalf.
- Using a funeral home is currently the “traditional” option. You may feel that fighting for an “alternative” method is not the right choice during a time when family and friends should be coming together.
- You prefer to have things handled professionally by experienced people who know what they are doing.
- Many issues demand your attention, and learning how to prepare a body for burial is just too much at this time.
- Contemporary funeral options that help care for and preserve the environment are available and becoming more common.
Because home-based funerals are not commonplace in the United States, there are not as many resources readily available. However, there are plenty of guides, how-to manuals, videos, and other resources online. See the Resources section below. The biggest challenge is that there is not a culture or tradition of “this is how it’s done” handed down from generation to generation. That is the sort of thing which instills confidence and peace of mind. Right now, it takes a bit of gumption and a can-do attitude to decide to have a funeral at home.
The plus side is that, with a bit of digging, you have more quality options and resources available than ever before. (Again, see the Resources section further on.) You can find doula-style assistance from experts who will come into your home and help. Many funeral directors will work with you to combine some of their services that ease your responsibilities while still allowing you to do much of the care and arranging. Natural burial products can be ordered online and shipped to your door. The options are there, and you can get creative in how you say goodbye to your departed loved one.
More resources for conducting a funeral at home
HOME FUNERAL GUIDES
VIDEOS & DOCUMENTARIES
You should also check out this free five-part video series (YouTube) from CINDEA, which features practical instruction on subjects such as moving the body, washing the body, and more.
- Home Funeral Alliance: Get Assistance
- International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA)
- 50 Tips for a Funeral on a Budget
HOME FUNERAL STORIES
Notes from a Home Funeral. From the HuffPost, Rebecca Novick details the home funeral experience she went through with her longtime friend Vicky.
Touching Death. A funeral director opens up and shares the story of a close friend who died.
Remembering My First Home Funeral. The story of a home funeral professional and her very first time.
- Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death
- Home Funeral Ceremonies: A primer to honor the dying and the dead with reverence, light-heartedness and grace
- Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death
- Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial
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