The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by news stories bemoaning the plight of funeral homes struggling to keep up with increased demand. But little attention is paid to alternatives that can save consumers’ precious resources without sacrificing the closure and solace that a farewell ceremony provides.
The simplest solution is to eliminate the funeral home and bring back a tradition as old as humanity – a simple at-home service followed by cremation, green burial, whole body donation or other alternatives to embalming and burial.
Many people think that a funeral requires a funeral home. But, as an Oregon family recently discovered, that’s not the case.
When her four-year-old son, Max, died in an accident, Keelia Carver resisted having his body taken to a funeral home. She wanted him at home, where she could kiss him, comb his hair, dress him and say goodbye slowly. At first, she met with resistance. The medical examiner didn’t think it was legal.
With a little research, she found that Oregon law does not require that a funeral director or a funeral home be involved when someone dies.
In the end, Max was buried at home on the family’s ranch after a funeral in the family home. A funeral director helped with the process, mostly because no one else knew the proper procedures, according to an account in USA Today.
Funeral home not required
To help other families facing similar situations, Carver and a team of volunteers have started a website, Oregon Funeral Resources & Education, that contains detailed information on the steps necessary to conduct a funeral and, if desired, a burial at home. Keep in mind that the site deals with Oregon law. The laws in your state may vary, although no state requires a funeral home to be in charge of funerals and burials.
In Oregon, as in most states, families may conduct any of the tasks usually performed by a funeral home other than embalming, which isn’t required in most cases. Instead of turning their loved ones over to funeral homes, families can bathe and dress the deceased, file a death certificate and make arrangements for burial or cremation.
They can hold a visitation or wake at home. Bodies generally will remain in good condition for several days after death as long as they are kept cool after being cleaned and dressed. Dry ice can be used to help slow deterioration.
While this may sound strange to many people today, home funerals were the norm in much of the country, especially in rural areas. The practice of embalming began during the Civil War, when the army found itself having to ship thousands of bodies home to grieving families. Embalming helped preserve the bodies and made them more presentable for funeral services. So rather than being something new, home funerals are actually a return to the past, to how things were before death became commercialized.
The Carver family’s experience is being replicated around the country, and a non-profit association has been formed to support it. The National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA) provides information and resources for families wanting to play a greater role in caring for their loved ones after their death.
“Home funerals invite family, friends, and community into an authentic and healing after-death care experience in a safe and familiar place, with care performed by loving hands. Families choosing home funerals express gratitude for the intimacy, connection, and sense of purpose that results from this organic and timeless practice,” the association’s website says. “Taking the time out of our busy schedules to truly tend to the lives of those around us and be present to the loss begins the journey to healing.”
The NHFA is also organizing — and providing referrals to — a new type of funeral director, known as “home funeral guides.” Unlike professional funeral directors who take charge of the body soon after death and control the rest of the process, the guides basically assist and advise families who want to provide final care to their loved one.
Portions of this article originally appeared at ObitCenter.com. Reprinted with permission.