Planning a Home Funeral? What You Need to Know to Plan a Family-Directed Home Funeral

    May 24, 2013 1 Comment

Planning a Home Funeral: How to Plan a Home Funeral

For some, caring for a loved one after they have died provides a great deal of comfort and closure. With a family-directed home funeral, family members can participate in some or all after-death care.

In an interview with Charlene Elderkin, a Home Funeral Educator at Threshold Care Circle, we learned how families can plan a home funeral for their loved ones.

Wondering how you can plan a family-directed funeral service? Interested in helping care for a deceased loved one? Read our conversation for Charlene’s insights on home funerals.

What is a home funeral exactly?
A home funeral is a funeral option that enables family members and friends to care for their own deceased loved ones. Also called home-based death care, family-directed funerals, and home-centered funerals, home funerals give individuals the opportunity to participate in some or all after-death care. Such care may include laying out the deceased, arranging for a home visitation of the body, preparing the body for burial or cremation, filing death-related paperwork, or facilitating the final disposition such as digging the grave. It’s important to note that home funerals may occur entirely within the family home or not. They may take place in a religious institution or event center, or even a within a funeral home. What makes a home funeral is not the location but the people involved.

How can un-trained people, or people who have never planned a funeral service provide a home funeral for their loved one?
When it comes to home funerals, preparing in advance and doing research can be invaluable. There are plenty of resources to guide you through. If you can, it is very helpful to take a class and walk your body through the process. Threshold Care Circle, along with a variety of other organizations, provides workshops and classes that can prepare you to care for your family member after death at home, and to carry out a home or family-directed funeral with or without the services of a funeral director. Those who are interested in finding training near them can visit the Home Funeral Alliance website for more information. Those interested in learning about home funerals can also form a group of three or four people, do the research, and support one another. That’s how we got started in 2006. None of us were trained – just motivated. Undertaken with Love has an excellent workbook to guide you through the formation of your own “circle of care.” Threshold Care Circle also offers a basic description on how individuals can care for their deceased loved ones.

Are home funerals legal across all states?
A few states require the use of a funeral director to fill out the death certificate and other legal paperwork and/or provide transportation. You can find your state laws on the Funeral Ethics website. It is important to do your research ahead of time! If you do choose or are required to use a funeral director for some of the funeral services, remember you are employing them. You can still care for the body, have your loved one’s body at home, and hold a vigil. Many professionals, even those in positions who should know, do not know your legal rights. By doing research ahead of time and joining together with family and community members willing to assist when the time comes, you can act with confidence and peacefulness. You really have more choices than you think.

Why should individuals consider home funerals for their loved ones?
Home funerals give friends and family members the opportunity to come together after a traumatic event and create a more personal funeral service. For some, working together and helping in the final farewell is therapeutic. Additionally, family members and friends often have more time with the departed during home funerals, as loved ones prepare the body, memorialize, celebrate, and grieve their loved one, and finally transport the body. Another factor to consider around funeral options is cost. Home funerals are typically less expensive than other funeral options since family members and friends are helping with the after-death care.

How can individuals plan a home funeral?
Advance planning is very helpful when it comes to home funerals. To start, research the laws governing home funerals in your state (you can use the link to the Funeral Ethics site above). Take notes on who may attain a death certificate, transit permits, and any other after-death paperwork that may be required. If individuals may attain the documents, find out where and how you may get those required forms. As I mentioned earlier, consider taking a home funeral class or workshop. It may also be helpful to speak with a home funeral consultant to learn more about caring for the dead and the materials you will need. And having a couple of family members or friends assist with the home funeral can be helpful as well – after-death care is an involved process. If you are required by your state’s laws to work with a funeral director, begin researching and comparing your local funeral homes. You will also need to decide on the final disposition of the deceased. Will they be buried, cremated, or entombed? Research each of your options so that when the time comes, you do not need to think about making such arrangements under duress.

Where can individuals find more information on home funerals?
Individuals can find a home funeral educator in their state on the National Home Funeral Directory website. And individuals can find a list of people and organizations who provide education on home death care on the Home Funeral Alliance website. Our website, Threshold Care Circle, is also a great place to start, especially for those from Wisconsin.

In addition to your work with Threshold Care Circle, you co-wrote My Final Wishes, an advanced planning book. Can you tell us some of the reasons and ways you suggest individuals pre-plan?
Anyone who has been in the position of being the person in charge of funeral arrangements will tell you that it’s a gift when the one who has died expressed their final wishes before they died, whether verbally or in writing. And anyone who has made these decisions without the benefit of knowing what their loved one would want, will tell you how hard that was to make decisions while in the throes of grief. Give your family members this gift, even if it is uncomfortable for you.

Start filling out My Final Wishes – it will bring up questions and lead to conversations. Every time there is a funeral, talk about what you liked about it, what you would do differently or want done for you.  Take a class on home funerals and advance planning.  Bring death out of the closet by talking about it. Some people have made this a focus of a dinner party, to take the sting out of it. In some areas – like in Cleveland – we are hearing about “death cafes” where people can break the taboo of talking about death. Find a way that works for you, but don’t procrastinate. None of us know how long we have left.

Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.

  • Don McCuaig

    Any Memorial Society in your area can likely provide information. For those in Ontario, contact memsoclondon for details on how to handle ‘all’ funeral arrangements yourself.

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