DIY Death: Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal

WELLFLEET, Mass. – When 20-month-old Adelaida Kay Van Meter died of a rare genetic disease last winter, her father, Murro, gently carried her body out of the house to his wood shop in the pines near Gull Pond. He placed her in a small cedar box and surrounded her with ice packs. For three days, the little girl’s grieving parents were able to visit her and kiss her and hug her. Then, on the third day, after the medical examiner came to sign the last bit of paperwork, Van Meter and his wife, Sophia Fox, said good-bye to their baby, screwed the lid on the box and drove to a Plymouth, Mass. crematorium, where they watched the little coffin enter the furnace.

“We took care of Adelaida when she was an infant, we took care of her when she was healthy, we advocated for her in the hospital, we took care of her when she was sick,” her father said. “Why wouldn’t we take care of her when she was dead?” Sophia Fox added: “There was no way I was going to hand her over to some stranger at a funeral parlor where she’d be put in a refrigerator with a bunch of other dead bodies. This way was so much more natural. We saw the life leave her body and we were better able to let go.”

Death remains a topic that many of us would rather avoid. And when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of caring for the dead, most of us tend to think it’s best — and furthermore, required by law — to let professional funeral arrangers handle the arrangements.

Well, it turns out that in most states it’s perfectly legal to care for your own dead. And, with new momentum to shatter longstanding taboos and stop tip-toeing around death — from “death with dignity” measures sweeping the country to projects promoting kitchen table “conversations” about our deepest end-of-life wishes — a re-energized DIY death movement is emerging.

This “personal funeral” or “home death care” movement involves reclaiming various aspects of death: for instance, keeping the dead body at home for some time rather than having it whisked it away; rejecting embalming and other environmentally questionable measures to prettify the dead; personally transporting a loved one’s corpse to a cemetery; and even, in some cases, home burials. Families are learning to navigate these delicate tasks with help from a growing cadre of “death midwives” “doulas” or “home death guides.”

When Adelaida Van Meter died last winter, her parents decided to keep her body at home for several days to say good-bye.

(Courtesy Murro Van Meter)

The DIY death movement is loosely knit, and motivations vary, ranging from environmental concerns to religious or financial considerations. (Traditional funerals can cost around $10,000 or more; when you do-it-yourself, the cost can be reduced into the hundreds, experts says.) Each case is fiercely personal — there’s no playbook — but they all share a very intimate sense that death should unfold as a family matter, not as a moment to relinquish loved ones to a paid stranger or parlor.

This Is Legal?

The highly personal nature of home funerals appealed to Janet Baczuk, 58, of Sandwich, Mass. So, when her 93-year-old father, Stephen, died in September, 2011, she said, “I thought, I’d like to do that for my dad.” “It’s more humane, more natural…and more environmentally sound.”

Baczuk and her sister washed their father’s dead body using essential oils, and got a permit to drive the corpse to the cemetery in their (covered) pickup truck. A World War II veteran, Stephen Baczuk was buried at Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, where officials allowed his simple pine and cherry casket to be placed directly on the ground, covered by an inverted concrete vault with no lid, “like a butter dish,” Baczuk said. When her mother died back in 2006, Baczuk said, she had no inkling that home funerals were an option — but wishes she did. “I didn’t know it could be done,” she said. “I think a lot of lay people don’t know this is legal or possible.”

She’s right.

“When it comes to death, it doesn’t matter where you are on the scale of education or socioeconomics, many people are shocked to find that it’s legal to care for your own dead at home,” says Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Burlington, Vermont, nonprofit that works on all aspects of funeral education, from helping consumers reduce costs to advocating on DIY methods. “And I think this speaks to how distant death has become for us in just over a century. In the late 1800s, even turn of the century, caring for the dead was as prosaic and ordinary as taking care of the children or milking the farm animals.”

Slocum offers this analogy: If a woman wants to run a restaurant, she needs approval from the health department and officials, of course, would be permitted to inspect her kitchen. But the health department would have no jurisdiction over the same woman’s own kitchen at home. “They cannot come in and tell her that her refrigerator is subpar, and they have no authority to tell her she is not allowed to cook dinner for her kids. They can’t compel her to order dinner from a commercial, licensed restaurant,” Slocum says. “The same holds with state funeral regulatory boards. Their job is to ensure public welfare and protect paying consumers. Bizarrely, however, many think their jurisdiction extends to telling families they must pay an unwanted third party funeral home to do something the family could do for themselves.”

Kyle Gamboa, 1995-2013 (Courtesy Kymberlyrenee Gamboa)

Kyle Gamboa, 1995-2013 (Courtesy Kymberlyrenee Gamboa)

What characterizes the DIY death experience is that it’s so very personal.  Consider these vastly different snapshots:

• In northern California, Kimberlyrenee Gamboa’s son Kyle committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in September, three weeks into his senior year in high school. A seemingly happy 18-year-old with lots of friends and into competitive lasertag, Kyle’s death was such a shock, his mother said, she doesn’t know how she’d have managed it through a typical funeral. Instead, with help from her church and and home death guide, Heidi Boucher, Kyle’s body was returned to the family home one day after his death. Boucher washed Kyle and helped arrange the body on dry ice changed every 24 hours; she gathered information to fill out Kyle’s death certificate and managed all coordination with the mortuary. For three full days, Kyle’s body lay in the family living room in an open casket, not embalmed. During that time, day and night, surrounded by pictures and candles and flowers, all of his friends and family could say good-bye and remember his short life. For Kyle’s mother, that time was critical to her healing.

“If I had to hand him over to funeral parlor, have him embalmed and get two hours on a Tuesday afternoon for everyone to see him — I couldn’t have done that,” she said. “It would have been extremely hard, not only for me, but for everyone who knew him…I still have my ups and downs, but I had three more days with my son — of him physically being there and accessible to me. I didn’t want to leave the house because I knew these were my last three days with him. Until you go through it, you don’t realize how very important that time is for your healing.”

• Kanta Lipsky, a yoga teacher in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, compared her 66-year-old husband John’s “home death” to a “home birth.” “A couple of days before I could see it coming,” Lipsky says. When he died of cancer in March 2011, she said, a nurse from the local hospital prepared his body. “We did a very beautiful ceremony at the house. Friends came over to wash John’s body, a rabbi said prayers during the washing. There was lots of water and towels all over the floor. We put him in the traditional Jewish white loose pajamas; my tradition is Hindu, so we placed rice balls in the casket and had a garland of roses. We did a waving of lights and we all sang — there were 20-25 people in the house.  He was wrapped in beautiful comforter, and we lifted him up and passed him hand to hand through hallway. It was very moving…It was like a home birth, but it was a home death, very hands on…there were no rules, it just unfolded, evolved and we all felt really comfortable with it…it was such an easy slipping out, his spirit just slipped right out and we were with him, it was a part of life.”

• In Hubbardston, Mass. near Worcester, it took three months of haggling with town officials before Paul Flint was allowed to bury his 14-year-old stepson, who died in a car accident in 2011, on the family’s property. Because the accident happened in Minnesota, Flint said, the family was keen on having the boy, Daniel Davis, laid to rest at home. “My wife wanted him buried on the property,” Flint said. “There’s a couple of favorite spots he liked and he’s buried there, near the rope bridge across the creek.”

Even Bill Cosby chose to bury his son the family property in Shelbourne, Mass., “beneath the hills and trees where young Ennis played as a child.”

Not All Victorian Sitting Rooms and Cadillacs

Obviously, families taking care of their dead loved ones isn’t new. Indeed, it was the norm until the last quarter of the 19th century, when a burgeoning funeral industry evolved. Today, “the funeral business is so effectively insulated from free-market competition that many families can’t even imagine a funeral home free of faux-Victorian sitting rooms and a fleet of Cadillacs,” writes Slocum, also the co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.

The home funeral movement isn’t new either, Slocum says (think of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and on to the funeral business reformers of the 1960s and 70s). But even as interest grows in the DIY death movement, many people still believe that death should be left to the professionals. “Americans have a neurotic relationship with death,” Slocum says. “Most people are convinced they are physically or emotionally unable to handle it.” He says death should be no more legally controversial than any other “do it yourself” matter:

We’d never put up with this in any other sphere; it would be laughable to contemplate state workers going around forcing citizens to go to Jiffy Lube instead of changing their own oil, or to hire licensed daycare workers instead of staying home with the kids. But that’s what some funeral boards do. The only reason we accept this is that we’re so psychologically removed from and afraid of death that we assume such absurdities are normal even when we’d recognize how ridiculous they are in any other context.

But emotional complexity is another story. Many people are profoundly grateful to leave funeral arrangements to outside professionals. Still, there’s often an assumption that the grieving are simply too fragile to cope with death head on.

While caring for his wife through late stage melanoma, another Cape Cod man, Grey, made a decision: in discussions with his dying wife and daughters the family decided to keep her body at home after death. But when Grey told a hospice worker what he planned to do, he said the worker spent half an hour on the phone trying to talk him out of it: “She said, ‘You’re going to be distraught and you’re going to have your wife’s dead body in the house and…you may think you can handle this, but so many things can go wrong, I think you should reconsider.’”

In the end, though, Grey stuck to his plan: he had attended to his wife at home through her brutal illness, and it was almost a relief (at least for a short time) to care for her after death, when she was no longer in pain. Grey and his daughters bathed her body with lavender oil, built her a cedar coffin and watched over her for three days in the house before taking her to the crematory. “We all felt it was a very important ritual. I’m glad we did it that way,” he said, but noted, “it’s definitely not for everybody.”

A National Movement

As a measure of how DIY death has flourished, Slocum says, ten years ago there were a handful of (mostly women) around the country helping families learn about home funerals. Now there’s a nationwide organization, the National Home Funeral Alliance, with about 300 members, a code of ethics and rules governing their practices (they can charge for educating individuals and families privately or at workshops, for instance, but can’t act as pseudo funeral directors.)

At their fourth annual meeting last month, about 70 home death guides, hospice nurses, doctors, students and funeral directors met in Raleigh, North Carolina, to talk about home death care and green burials, among other topics, says Lee Webster, vice president of the NHFA and a home funeral guide in Plymouth, New Hampshire. They also tried to figure out a way to more systematically collect data on home death care and build a central repository for consumer information.

Webster, a longtime hospice volunteer, says while data-gathering remains tricky, it’s clear the  movement is growing. “There’s an explosion” of interest in home funerals or blended, hybrid funerals with some elements done personally and some left to traditional funeral directors, she says.

What’s driving this explosion? It’s a Boomer thing, according to Webster. “This is the generation that fought for breast-feeding in public and home births; and they want to bring back the idea of a natural death. It’s the ethic of this generation.”

Ecopods and Banana Leaf Urns

Cost and the environment are also driving factors. People like the idea of “fewer chemicals, no rainforest woods and Chinese steel,” Webster says, noting that when you avoid embalming you’re not “draining blood into the public septic system and not subjecting loved ones to violent procedures — the embalming process is quite brutal — just for cosmetic reasons and for no health benefits.”

(One casket designer in Arlington, Mass., for instance, offers artist-embellished Ecopods for burials, hand-made from recycled paper and covered with materials of silk-and-mulberry, as well as biodegradable coffins, caskets, and urns made of paper mache, bamboo, banana leaf, wicker, and cardboard.)

Webster adds: “Once people’s fears are relieved about body care, body mechanics, smells and fluids, a light goes off and they say, ‘Why would I not want to do this?” Even while many of us shudder at the prospect,  Webster says the dead “can be very beautiful. To go back to the birth model: it’s like birthing people out in as natural a way as possible.”

You might think there’d be some funeral industry push-back against all this embrace of more personal, no-frills death care. (Of course, with no national numbers, it’s hard to know how many people are actually embracing the trend.) Still, it doesn’t seem like the industry is particularly threatened.

Daniel Biggins, a second-generation funeral director in Rockland, Mass., and spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association, said he doesn’t have any direct experience with families interested in home funerals, but has no problem with people making their own choices.

Indeed, he said, more families want to personalize even traditional funerals to better reflect their lives. For instance, he said, last year he helped arrange a memorial service at a local golf course. The dead man, a golf fanatic, was cremated and placed in a biodegradable urn in the main pond at the course. “Several hundred people gathered around the pond,” Biggins said. “And all his friends hit a golf ball into the pond with a personal message as a final goodbye.”

The My-Choice Generation

Heidi Boucher, who says she’s helped over 100 families care for their dead loved ones, is completing a film, In The Parlour: The Final Goodbye, about the “resurgence” of the home death movement. A home death guide for over 25 years, she says: “I’ve watched from only a handful of us doing this in this country…to now, when it’s become vogue. A lot of this generation, we’re the ones who took control of where we’re going to send our kids to school, what car to drive. Our generation is the one that wants to find out what’s in it before we eat it.”

One problem is that states and local municipalities are all over the map when it comes to regulating death.

There remain nine states with laws or other impediments (from requiring a funeral director’s signature on a death certificate, to mandating that a funeral director be present at the final disposition of the body) that make it difficult for families who want to care for their own dead, Josh Slocum says.

On the other end of the spectrum, the state of Massachusetts offers clear instructions for home funerals right on its website, including what you need for a death certificate, guidance on burials and preparing the body. “The human body decomposes rapidly after death,” the website says. “Care must be taken to keep the body as cool as possible in order the slow the decomposition that results in noxious odors and the leakage of body fluids from body orifices. A human body can be kept in a cool room at least 24 hours before decomposition begins. Heat in the room should be turned off in winter, and air conditioning should be turned on in summer.”

Reclaiming A Death Tradition

But even in an evolved state like Massachusetts, many families’ first reaction to home funerals is something like: “‘You mean that’s legal?!’ says Heather Massey, a longtime home funeral guide who runs the education and consulting center “In Loving Hands” on Cape Cod. Massey says her goal is the creation of a robust home death support system, “a volunteer care circle, comprised of community members trained and experienced in home funerals, who can in turn assist and guide other families who wish to care for their own at death, thereby truly bringing this loving tradition back into the hands of family and community.”

For Adelaida Van Meter’s parents, taking personal control of their daughter’s death was “imperative,” said Sophia Fox. There were some obstacles, however. “I had several funeral homes tell me over the phone that what I was trying to do was illegal,” Van Meter said. “I didn’t try to argue with them, I just hung up.”

Eventually, with help from a pediatric social worker and Heather Massey, the family was able to fill out all the required paperwork and keep the baby’s body at home after she died.

I recently emailed Murro to check in and see if there’d been any news since we talked during the summer. It had been about a year and ten months since Adelaida died; the couple’s new daughter, Annabelle, was nearly 7 months old. Here’s what he said:

“The only news is that we continue to be head over heels in love with our daughter Annabelle, who is doing great. With that said, not a hour goes by that we don’t feel the loss of Adelaida. So I guess these things would qualify as no new news.”

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  • Strongest Mustache

    not green, but interesting

  • Adrienne Crowther

    Babyboomers are lifting the fear-based, denial-ridden attitudes toward death. As a babyboomer, I’ve had more than my share of loss, losing my husband, sister-in-law, and mother within 3 years. While I haven’t experienced a home funeral, I think it’s a brave and wonderful practice. I do notice, however, that we babyboomers are beginning to realize that we all will die someday, and why would we deny ourselves and our loved ones the opportunity to honor a life? We, as a culture, spend elaborate amounts of energy planning weddings, trips, even birthdays, yet we hand over our rights to celebrate a whole life to an industry.

    I’m pleased to see this changing environment. We, as consumers, have a lot of choice when it comes to end of life rituals. We are no longer required to settle for a cookie cutter funeral, or a mass-produced coffin or urn. Companies such as Shine On Brightly, at, offer personal, unique alternatives to impersonal, tasteless memorials. All life should be honored, and we are free to design and create the rituals around that.

  • sylvia kronstadt

    I have been exploring this issue as well, both journalistically and personally. Our mothers cared for us from the moment we were born, attending to our
    needs in countless ways. We emerged from their bodies, and that
    intimacy was never eradicated by time or distance. They devoted
    themselves to nurturing, protecting and supporting us. They would have
    died to save our lives.

    So when a mother — or any loved one — dies, how should we feel
    about having his or her body briskly zipped into a plastic bag and
    whisked off to one of those dungeons known as mortuaries, to be stripped
    naked, and then (among other indignities) punctured, clamped, drained,
    and glutted with chemicals?

    It is very hard, for me at least, to do this myself, but it is far more wrenching not to.

  • 4mrmbalmr

    Saw the comment about organ donation but nothing about body donation to a medical school in your area or the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Center, aka The Body Farm: I left the funeral business in 1979 after 13 years. Earlier this year my brother asked for my help when his wife died. In the Yellow Pages I found the least expensive cremation – $895, which included an urn & 4 certified copies of the death certificate. The obituary was $169, Notice to Creditors, $50. He’s paid $114 to the probate court. He had no desire for her body to be viewed.

  • cuvtixo

    For all the praise of Massachusetts here, it is not mentioned that a truly “green burial” is not possible since Mass. General Laws c.114, s. 44A provide that “The body should be placed in a rigid container lined with plastic sheeting.” Even with a bioderageable casket, plastic sheeting needs to be included. Not green unless one can find suitable biodegrable plastic sheeting.

  • beet

    We had a home funeral for my mother about a decade ago in Illinois where the county coroner is elected and may have no knowledge of funerary law. It can be very difficult if s/he wants to obstruct a home funeral. Furthermore, in addition to this obstacle, in many states, law is crafted to force you to go through a funeral home one way or another — transport restrictions, papers that only can be filed by a funeral director, etc. Do your homework well ahead of time.

    Fortunately, we planned in advance and my sister is a lawyer. After a week or so of providing haggling with the coroner’s office, arguing about the statures, and paying off a funeral director to sign documents, we were able to have a DIY home funeral. I found the book, “Caring For the Dead,” by Lisa Carlson very useful and kind of fun to read. It summarizes relevant laws by state.

  • MichaelW New Orleans

    In 1990, my partner of 11 years died of AIDS, I had been his caretaker for the year he had been critically ill. I was with him in the hospital when he went in to a coma and sat by his bed for 4 days. Late on the 4th night, I was so exhausted that family insisted that I go home to sleep. He passed away within an hour of my leaving. Family suggested that I not go back to see his body that night. A funeral home picked him up the next morning and he was cremated. I’ll a saw at the end was a box of ashes. Now, some 23 years later, I still regret not having time to say good bye to his body. I’m not sure I agree with keeping someone on ice for 3 days at home, but I do those left behind need more than a couple hours viewing in a funeral home to say their farewells.

  • texasbug

    When my Dad was diagnosed with untreatable cancer at age 86, he wanted to go home. We admitted him to Hospice care at home and they were wonderful. They helped my Mom, myself and my siblings care for him until his last breath. We administered morphine when he was clearly suffering. Before experiencing this, I would’ve thought that being with him just before, during and after death would be terrifying and overwhelming. But it wasn’t. It seemed very natural and peaceful. He was surrounded by his loving family and was as comfortable as we could get him. The hospice nurses showed me how to administer his comfort meds so that I could give them to him. He hardly knew nurses were there. After experiencing that, I can totally understand how you could naturally go into caring for them after death as well. In fact, when the funeral home came (personal friends, and we asked them to give us a few hours), I was wishing we could keep him with us longer. I can see the appeal in this type of care, especially following a death at home.

  • Everett C Alexander

    I just became certified as a Death Midwife and am excited to bring this choice to as many people as possible.
    As a minister, I thought I did not need training. how wrong I was.
    I studied with Sacred Crossings here in Los Angeles under Olivia B. and my life was transformed.
    Feel free toc contact me for further information
    Rev Everett Alexander,PhD

    • Stacey Quealey

      Rev. Alexander, Do you know of any trainings on the East Coast? I am located in NC.

  • thecemeteryexchange

    I think it’s great. It is the way it used to be. Family and friends had time to visit, grieve, reminisce, and celebrate the way they wanted and not be held to a 2 – 3 hour window,

  • Lucia Maya

    I am so glad this is getting more widespread attention. When my 22 year old daughter died at home from cancer, we were so blessed to be able to care for her body ourselves – bathing her, dressing her, loving her as we did when she came into this world… It was something I was lucky enough to hear about from a friend, otherwise I wouldn’t have known this was possible. I wrote about the experience on my blog

    It was incredibly healing and important to us to have this time with her and say our goodbyes in our own home, and our own timing.

  • Tammie O’Rielly

    After losing my husband to cancer 5 years ago, we had never really discussed his funeral arrangements. I did wash him with essential oils in the water and called his best friend who came and did some native drumming over him (supposedly for his spirit to leave). After 3 hours the funeral home came and took his body. The next day I took some clothes since he had been removed in his briefs only and the bed sheet. They wanted $250 to dress him! Serously? So I asked if he could be wrapped in fabric and they said yes! I went to buy a beautiful piece of Indian cotton silk with elephants and warriors on it and the store owner even gifted it with me… I trust they did wrap him in it as a shroud.Then I asked what time he would be cremated which was out in the country and could I be there? Yes they said (I think surprised.) A friend and I went out there, turned out I knew the lady doing the cremations who let me sit with him and then went out at the time to watch with a friend the energy waves rise from the chimney. We drank champagne. Yes we need to celebrate and acknowledge both birth AND death. I think this helps with the healing process too.

  • Anonymous

    I work in the funeral industry and I am insulted that people really think we are just in it for the money. I chose this profession to help someone with one of the most difficult times in their lives. I have cried with many families, as well as laughed with them as they share stories of their loved one. I will agree there are funeral directors that are cold and don’t care, but most do. Nothing makes me feel better than a family thanking me for making things better and easier, or them telling me that their loved one looks 10 years younger. I don’t know every state law, but most allow you to be there for the embalming, if you choose, or watch the cremation process. Most of us allow you to spend all the time you wish with your loved one. I have stayed at the funeral home well past midnight countless times. I would never tell someone they have to leave. We have even let people stay the night. I am sorry some of you have had bad experiences, but for a lot of us, we do care about more than profit.

    • Chan

      I’m in school currently for Funeral service and I completely empathise even though i’m not in the field yet. People don’t want to think about or talk about death and to think peiple are making money off a tragedy… Well they don’t think of funeral directors as how most of them are. I decided to become one because FDs were like the eye of a storm, calm and collected when i felt like everything was falling apart. I felt like things could be ok again, and they did become ok again. Plus, if they were really in it for the money… Well, they’d be doing sonething differwnt with their life.

      Now, I’m in a different country, but being in the emabalming room is ok here. Maybe people are getting the wrong impression because of six feet under? Maybe a jaded director? People don’t really have the energy to contest with a ‘No’ when someone has died? It’s unfortunate.

  • BT Hathaway

    For my great grandfather, “undertaking” was a sideline, hardly more than a community service, a neighbor helping his neighbors. For many reasons–all of them reasonable at the time–funeral directing grew into a much larger role and responsibility in communities. And now that those ceremonial reasons have begun to fade, we see the very beautiful human desire to bring love and personal care back to the experience of death. For me there is sadness at seeing 120 years of accumulated knowledge fading in its purpose, but at the same time I am heartened that a new form (well actually old as consciousness itself) of caring has begun to grow. ***** I for one have created something new to help survivors facing cremation. I think it fits particularly well with home funerals. Wish this could have been there for the Van Meters.

  • morticianshusband

    Second time I’ve seen this, so this time, I’ll comment:

    It’s not an option, really. At least, not with an adult body. There are virtually NO cemeteries that will let you bury without a casket or a vault. It’s a health thing, and a safety thing, not a money thing, actually. Gastrointestinal fluids in the ground water, and all the other health risks involved that were not mentioned.

    I can assure you, the local morticians and funeral directors are going to be the first people to try to help you get your final wishes through, but after 3 or four months of fighting with the local and state authorities, and trying to get the paper-work in place just TRANSPORT let alone BURY a body, I think the term “option” starts to lose it’s efficacy. At some point, you’ll realize why theres a fee attached these services and would gladly pay it, just to move on with your life.

    See, you can do whatever the hell you want in your own house, but once that body leaves your door, it’s everyone else’s business, whether you like it or not.

    I could tell you a few stories about some DIY funerals that had a few things go wrong, as they tend to do. These stories would literally have you listening with your mouth open—utter disbelief and horror. But every story ends with “Buuut, they saved a LOT of money!”

    Furthermore, the assumption that ‘anyone can do it’ is kindof a slap in the face for those that have actually trained and certified to do it, no?

    Also, funeral directors in general are under-paid, under-appreciated people that work a great service to perfect strangers EVERY DAY. They aren’t the kind of people that are trying to get your money, and they certainly aren’t the kind of people that you should ‘hang-up’ on for trying to help you with your dead family member. . .

    • Josh Slocum

      It is not true that caskets or vaults or embalming are a “health thing.” That is flat misinformation. I linked to the article “Dead Bodies and Disease: The Danger That Doesn’t Exist” above. You can find it at It is sourced from the CDC and WHO.

      Many people appreciate the help of a funeral director. Others choose to do it themselves. That is not an indictment of funeral homes any more than it’s an indictment of construction companies when a homeowner chooses to do their own restoration job on their house.

    • Josh Slocum

      You are seriously misinformed if you believe that bodily fluids leaking into the ground are a health hazard, or that caskets are leak proof. Deer, racoons, and livestock die in the open and in the woods all the time and they are not embalmed, put in caskets or vaults.

      • cuvtixo

        Embalming fluids, especially formaldehyde, make the fluids from caskets much more hazardous. Our cemetaries are highly contaminated toxic waste sites. So you’re right about the original poster’s mistakes, but understating the problem. We should be making leak-proof caskets, but we don’t. It’s a frightening problem.

        • Tyra Lynne Wahl

          How about we just don’t embalm bodies to begin with like the Jewish and the Muslim faiths and allow the body to return to the earth as God planned us to?

          I for one advocate for mandatory cremation of everyone regardless of faith or creed because it is ecologically sound, more financially prudent and sustainable. I am tired of seeing woodlands and farmlands being plowed up to plant people in boxes.

          Often as I pass cemeteries I wonder what people 200 years in the future will think of our disrespectful practice of using fertile land that could be feeding people to essentially plant … dead people.

          • Patrícia Atai Del Rey

            I agree with Tyra. I don’t like burials. think bodies should be cremated, a and as a Christian of Jewish heritage- I can promise you the soul is what is returning to God, not the body. After the soul is gone, the body is just an empty reminder of pain. I just loathe the idea of making someone look alive hen sealing them under the earth. It feels like torture to me. Maybe I’m nuts? I don’t know. The ashes are to go back to ashes, so what if you speed it up with cremation. It’s a morbid subject, but it’s important that family talk about this. We should save land space to supply the living not to house the dead. I couldn’t agree with Tyra more. ( Also there is something oddly beautiful about cremation to me).

    • cuvtixo

      75 years ago perhaps, it was a “health thing.” Technology has changed and improved, and laws haven’t. We might think it’s just a bureaucracy and tangled legal problem, but I personally think without perverse finacial incentives, those laws and regulations wouldn’t continue to stand.

  • Erinn

    Great article. This book just came out that tells stories like the ones highlighted here. It is called Bury the Dead. Very powerful and moving.

  • JBax

    Does anyone know what a typical “home funeral guide” would cost?

  • tyronewashington

    Is it legal to make love to the body?

  • flory gout

    A wonderful book on this subject: Midwifing Death by Leslene Della Madre.

  • Dwight Hawai

    There is a profound acceptance of the death of a loved one when you can see and touch the dead body. A clear knowing that the spirit has left the earthly shell. I am forever grateful for the Crestone, CO “End of Life” group for their assistance in Mom’s viewing and open air cremation. And to the hospital in WA which helped us prepare Mom and encouraged us to transport her from WA to CO in our camping trailer. Funeral homes wanted a huge payment to “take care of the details”. God and Goddess bless the nurse who helped us “do it ourselves” and escort Mom into the next life in a very personal and loving way.

  • Sharon

    Instead of dissing Ela stay focused on the discussion of home deaths. As I am almost 67, I am quite interested as I do not want a funeral in some stupid funeral home with people coming in and gawking at me lying in a $8000 coffin that I will rot in. Actually, prefer cremation. The way we handle death is idiotic. By the time I am washed and dressed I will already be on the Otherside. I know loved ones need closure, but funerals are one of the biggest rip offs around. Think about it. One buys an expensive casket and then perhaps a vault to protect the casket and body (seriously), a plot, a headstone just to dissolve away. And we are paying the money, grief, guilt, we want our loved one to go out with a bang? I don’t get it.

  • Denise If this was DIY why is a funeral home involved? Also just the trauma of a fall from a bridge is something that you just don’t hand over to a family. This is a legitimate question?? Why does my post keep getting deleted?

    • Jan

      Have to say i was a little curious about the lad – considering he committed suicide – so a funeral home was contracted and tended to the lad THEN the family take him home – this happens quite a lot – I am a funeral director and an embalmer – we look after many families who take their loved ones home – sometimes overnight sometimes for a week – shame the full facts weren’t conveyed properly.

  • Deborah Interesting that they did use a funeral home…and the body does appear to be embalmed..I will keep posting this and you can keep deleting it

  • Diane
    • diane

      So much for DIY…the body obviously has been embalmed…..Solcum get all the facts

  • candice

    I was not aware that home funerals were possible. I dont know if they are legal in my state but I would have much rather had my dad at home with us rather than him going through all that mess. They had us purchase a metal casket which they said was able to be cremated but I highly doubt they put it in there with him. And he looked so swollen from the embalming fluid it was like it wasn’t him. And we only got 3 hours with him.

  • John L Gower

    When Mama died my sisters and I cleaned her and dressed her. We’d brought make-up but that seemed foolish. We spent some time with her and then, according to her wishes, we had a tradition closed casket funeral (she’d been in the fridge at the funeral home. My sisters and dear cousin still talk about this last loving gift we have to Mama. No enbalming for her. I know we did the right thing.

  • Ladyfd

    Not all funeral directors or funeral homes are so traditional anymore. My partner and I are younger and I am a female. We believe in new ways of doing things and offering options for families. These are beautiful stories and I support what anyone chooses to do when their loved ones pass. I just felt like it is because old dried up men in Funeral homes aren’t changing with the times. I see it everyday. I just wanted to say that there are those of us out there that do feel being a funeral director is much more than just a job and find it to be a privilege when someone chooses us to help with their loved one. These beautiful stories are definitely a reminder of how far removed we have come from death, which is essentially a part of life.

  • DizzyD

    My sister and I dressed our Mother and did her hair and make-up when she died. It was a very spiritual experience for both of us. I wish we would have known about home funerals back then. Love you Mom!<3

  • Jonathan

    It has nothing to do with lower standers of living.. In my native
    Mexico this ritual is a daily part of life.. After living in the states for the
    vast majority of my youth life… I missed time with my mother, when she became
    ill I returned to Mexico to care for her. Knowing her condition, we had
    arranged with the funeral home people to bring a nice cedar casket, when the
    time arrives. Her passing was shortly
    after midnight, we just called the funeral home and 10 minutes later they were
    home. Meanwhile my sisters and aunty cared for her body privately. Mom was
    place in her casket in the living room. So that everyone can come and visit.
    Her church friends and neighbors came within the hour after her passing. In the
    morning we got the medical certificate signed by the local doctor and the
    permit for burial from the city and 15 hours later as per her request she was
    lay to rest. Very natural experience…In Mexico you are allow to view the body
    in your house, then take to the church for one last time and then a long walk
    to a final good bye …All for under 600 dollars. For me it was a very holistic
    way to say goodbye to the person I will ever love the most. My only complain is
    that after her passing the time I got with her it was way too short and not the
    normal of 2-3 days.

  • Captain Murphy

    I just wish people would know that all this information is available at the funeral home too. We are willing to help (at least in our community within our groups of family own funeral homes) take care, provide these forms and carry out the family wishes of these types of services (or any other desired services wished).

    We are not all cold people trying to have everything dealing with death done in a assembly line type atmosphere. it just happens that’s how the majority of Americans want it done, as most don’t want to handle everything on their own(handling the deceased,putting them on ice, transporting ect ect). I’m glad to see a boom in these types of services and wishes as I think they offer the most healing and closure for the family. And at least in my community as a funeral director and embalmer I will always recommend these types of services and carry out the desired wishes of the family.

  • Jonathan E. Schwartz

    I thought this was going to be a creepy story, but instead it was beautiful. I do not think that DIY is going to be for everybody, but I am very pleased to know that it is an option and hope that it becomes more widely available. Until recently, this was the way all death was handled.

  • Nina

    When my Father was dying the hospice nurse said we could keep him in the house really for as long as we wanted. So when my Father passed away at 7am in March of 2010 it was cold outside, we just opened the windows in the bedroom he was in, and he was there all day. There were many visitors esp. the ones from Florida who got to see him. Since he was going to be cremated it was good to spend time with his body. Around 8pm our neighbors started to get nervous and kept calling and coming over saying we need to get him out, its crazy to keep him in the house. They thought, I guess we were having trouble grieving and they were “helping” but it was really peaceful still having part of him with us. We were never going to intend to keep him there forever or anything. Finally at midnight we called the funeral home and coroner came. So to end this very long day, the coroner had to declare his body dead for the day after he passed b/c he came after midnight. My mom was not happy but I just laughed b/c that is something that my Dad did, to not go out the easy way. In conclusion if you are still reading, I don’t think we could have done the DIY funeral however it was nice to keep my Dad’s body for a while.

  • Dina Leor

    this sweetness has been don en Mexico and I imagine other places as the way one dies since forever <3

  • andie

    In my country Colombia until recently was completely normal for people to have the funerals at home….. we held my grandparents and my brother in law’s funeral at their respective homes, my grandma who passed away at the age of 93 DEMANDED that she be in her house and from there to the crematorium….

  • Jason lantagne

    I have mixed feelings on this. When my Grandpa passed away from cancer 7 years ago it was one of those rare experiences where it was evident that he was in grave health and most of his family was gathered and staying with him in the hospital on and off for about a weeks time toward the end. When the time came that he passed we were remarkably all out of the room except for my Uncle who witnessed him pass.

    And it’s not necessarily relevant to what I have to say about my thoughts on the story but I have to add this anyway because if I’m going to dredge up these feelings I’m going to express them too. My Uncle John was married to my Grandma’s sister who was stricken with cancer herself and it was almost as if my Grandpa chose his time and he waited until the all of us were gone except Uncle John. As if to give him strength for what was to come with his own wife and to shelter us from the pain we would have felt seeing him slip away before us. Not one of us would have ever said we would have voluntarily left his side at that moment if we knew it was coming but we did, and it was exactly as if he planned it that way. This experience and a handful of others in my life are why I have faith in God. That didn’t just feel like “chance” or some other random circumstance, at was as if he chose, the day, and the hour, and the minute to leave us.

    So to get back to my point and my thoughts on the actual article, the manner in which he passed and the proximity of all of us meant that it wasn’t just a phone call we received from far away, we returned to the hospital and we all got to spend our time with his body grieving soon after he passed. Holding his hand, hugging him, kissing his face, stroking his hair, etc. It was a highly personal and cathartic experience that we had. So much different from getting the bad news over the phone as most of us would, and in my case hundreds of miles away had I not been there. I am eternally grateful that I was there to be a part of that and not 350 miles away in Chicago, because I can hardly even imagine that I would have possessed the composition and the mental capacity to drive that distance, or even to get myself to the airport.

    I can’t express in words how simultaneously painful and soothing that time we spent in the hospital room was after he passed, but it was mostly as if he was a part of the grieving process WITH us; not drained of fluids and laying on a table in a cooler in a funeral home. So I can see how comforting it would be to have a funeral at home and to keep the body close by you in the days before you prepared your loved one to be sent off in a proper ceremony.

    I can also imagine how horribly wrong it could go if you DIDN’T have some sort of proper consultation on what to do, and how traumatic it could be if you weren’t following the proper steps to preserve their body in the time before they were buried or cremated. In short, it may not be “natural” to be drained of fluids and filled with embalming fluid, but I also trust a funeral home to know more about the proper care and process then I would or could learn from a book or a youtube video.

    Personally I am (hopefully) far away from making that decision at 33, but my thinking right now is that i would like to be cremated. Even at this age I can think of several places I’d like some part of my body to be symbolically laid to rest after my soul has passed. And as they say “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

  • Von Stafford

    Sign me up!

  • Liz

    When my birth father passed away at the nursing home I was there. I was there for days before he passed too. I tended to his every need. I prayed and read the Bible to him until his last breathe. the nursing home was telling me I had to leave the room when the funeral home got there. I was firm and I said I will not be leaving the room, period! I washed my father, put a new gown on him and gave him a blessing before the funeral home arrived. I feel so blessed that I was able to do this for my birth father because my step-mother didn’t invite us to his funeral, although her boyfriend was there. I thank The Lord Jesus Christ that he gave me the backbone I needed to tell the nursing home what my plans were. I walked my birth father out to the hearse as his body was draped in the American flag. His wife was so mad that he died before the first of the month because now she would not be receiving his SS check. This was the first thing she told the Pastor at the nursing home after my birth father took his final breath.

  • Steve Z.

    After my younger brother Frank was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in August of 2012, he decided that his death would take place at home, after which his body would be transfered to a local research university. When that day arrived, seven months later I was fortunate to receive the call from his wife and go to the house and have some time with him, and then help wrap his body for transport. That day, and the image of him that remains in my mind, have transformed me forever.

    • Tyra Lynne Wahl

      I feel the same way about my dads death….

      I sat with him for 11 days following a massive stroke and just lingered. And the one moment when I was so so very exhausted and decided to go home and sleep in my bed rather an uncomfy couch in the hospice room…. he finally slipped away. Its as if he just wanted a peaceful moment by himself to go…

      I went back to the hospital and had my last visit with him. I touched his hair that I used to barber for him, touched his hands and prayed for his safe journey home. I still can’t believe he did it not even two hours after I left…. damn stubborn old man was determined to leave by himself.

      • Bonnie Jean Tedesco

        My mother did the same thing…and during my 11 years as a nursing assistant I saw this happen countless times. No matter how unconscious and unaware our loved ones seem, their spirit is still in charge. Perhaps they just can’t let go when family is near?

  • gfarce89

    I strongly believe it is of utmost importance families have options to do what they want with their deceast loved ones. It is wrong to make families pay all this money to funeral homes and not be satisfied with their work. It should always be legal for families to do what they want with the dead. If people want to go the funeral home route then by all means do it but the option should always be there!

    • Tyra Lynne Wahl

      Thankfully there is a fast growing community of low cost funeral homes in the US. Some very smart individuals have seen the need and are filling it.

      In our area it is Simplicity of the Lowcountry. Jim Dobbins and his staff were amazing to deal with. They were compassionate, quick to come get him and so so very wonderful and respectful in their treatment of his remains.

      The local funeral “home” wanted $3500.00 to cremate my father. Simplicity did it for $1200 and that included 10 death certificates. The thing that really chapped my rear most about this….. my father was cremated in the same crematorium that the $3500.00 place uses. So where on earth is the other $2300 going? In the funeral directors pocket.

      I hand out Jim Dobbins card to everyone I can who expresses interest in their cremation and funeral pre-planning.

  • Dave Jannsen

    This father in the clip made me cry, and I don’t cry easily. Losing a child is tragic. Seeing the boy who committed suicide at 15 is a real horror.

  • TelevisedRevolution

    so autopsies are not required, and you can bury on your own property without worrying about smells or the body getting unearthed somehow?

  • Collins

    We opted for memorial service and cremation for my father who passed a year ago this past September. I will speak to my family about this avenue in Illinois and Missouri to handle transitions in our immediate family from now on. This makes so much sense to me and is quite beautiful and right in my opinion. It bestows such dignity and honor upon a loved one to be cared for after death by people they knew and trusted.

  • AnnaHart

    I’m not against all cemeteries for sure, but when my father died unexpectedly and we only had a short time to look for a place to bury him, one that we came across was actually a franchise and had several cemeteries across multiple states. The way it was so obviously just a business deal for person we talked to was so unsettling, and to me, disrespectful. I’d rather use a privately owned one; even if its landscaping isn’t as meticulous, there’s just a bigger sense of caring. But after reading this article, I’d have to think again what I would choose.

  • Gae Goodrich Seal

    As an experienced care giver including end of life care, I’m wondering why it is so hard to find Burial at Sea services? None seem to exist.

  • fun bobby

    is that a wolf shirt?

  • K Smith

    I think its a beautiful way to care for your loved ones

  • Elizabeth Libby Gibson- Evans

    An amazing story and makes you think I recall when my Grandmother passed in ’86, my first comment was that I would be the one to dress her and my sister to do her hair and make-up. At first I was told that this was not allowed and that it wuld not be good for us to do this. I stood on my ground and simply stated that we would be there to do just what I’d mentioned after all I had been with her in her home since ’78 as well as being her name sake. We were really close, though of course not without normal little conflict now & then but we would both recognize, apologize and move on. I treasure having done this for her as much as I have always treasured her in my heart & life. I would do this again without question.

  • skwcw2001 .

    funeral homes and directors are a racket a corrupt money grabbing racket when I was a kid we would do at home funerals in the mountains and it is a much more hands on process and a way for all in the family and friends to take part in the death instead of someone else controling it it also helps with coping with the death.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    this is so nice and another option for what to do when we die.

  • Y. A. Warren

    We hurry through life. We hurry through death. And we mourn for many years over all that we could have had. I LOVE this information. Thank you.

  • Gail Wingert

    I appreciate the thought provoking story, but wish you had done it without a young boy in a coffin. It was a little jarring to come across it on my Facebook page.
    I totally respect that people have religions and personal preferences when it comes to the life to death transition,and I believe that we should all have choices. However, I feel that burying people in the backyard should not be an option. What if I bought that house or the house didn’t stay in the family? You’d then have homeowners with someone else’s family members buried where they now gather with their family. On the other hand I can understand the desire of a family to want to keep their loved ones close. If I had a young child die I would probably want to keep that child as close as I could.

  • O KE

    Fascinating. I am so interested in this process. I had no idea this could be done. I have read about greener alternatives in the recent months and I really welcomed reading this information. I have a lot to learn. Hopefully, with my suggestion, my loved ones will consider these options when it is time for me to transition.

  • chrissycrunch

    I think changes to how people are buried/cremated is a great thing. But I’m not really sure people are prepared to take care of this kind of thing on their own. I foresee a lot of really gross stories where cheap idiots bury relatives in their yards to disasterous results….

  • Dev Luthra

    I can only speak from my own experience and it is an experience echoed by many comments here. Preparing the body of a loved one was helpful to me to give my grief somewhere to go, to help all the emotions I was feeling travel through and flow. Being separated from the body of someone I love who had died was a harsh and difficult experience.

  • laytonian

    Mark Harris’ “Grave Matters – A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burian” is the best book I’ve read on the subject.
    It carefully moves the reader through the most invasive (modern embalming and “display” of the remains) to the most private.

    Beautifully written, and essential for all.
    After seeing my father-in-law have to shell out $2500 MORE to bury his wife (AFTER they had purchased supposedly fully-prepaid funeral and burial plans), I decided that the funeral industry deserved no more respect than the shadiest payday loan store.

  • Sarah Collins

    Thomas Lynch, a local undertaker here in Michigan, wrote a book called “The Undertaking” ( Amazon: ) that’s full of essays about his thoughts on life and death. I found it a very thought provoking read from someone in the industry itself, and the shift from taking birth and death out of the house and into the hospital, or funeral home, has changed our connections with it.

  • Susan

    I did this for my best friend, along with a handful of her other friends and it was the most healing, spiritual way to guide our loved one back to her place. We got go wash her, anoint her with her favorite essential oils, and put on her own make-up. We got to wash her hair, brush it. Then we got to cover her in a burial cloth we all stitched together a couple days prior and send her back to the earth. During this process, she was the owner of a couple of peacocks, the female peacock (which is white) came in almost a procession sort of way with a bunch of male (the colorful blue peacocks) following her. It was the most magical thing I have ever gotten to experience and I advocate that more families and loved ones get to do this.

  • Mealsy

    This article reminded me of the beautiful Japanese movie, “Departures”, that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2008. It’s on Netflix. It’s about a young cellist who trains for a new career preparing the dead for burial — I highly recommend it, and it has a lovely soundtrack.

  • Julia S

    My mother died of a stroke shortly after my 19th birthday. I didn’t see her in the hospital, and got home just in time to pick out her outfit for the casket. When I went to her wake, it was creepy. I’d been to many wakes before, I’d lost all of my grandparents before Mom died, but standing in that room next to her casket as these adults sobbed on my shoulder was awful. When it was over, everyone was leaving and I stood there. I needed to say goodbye. I touched her hair that last time, and they’d washed it with a different shampoo. Her lipstick was all wrong – muted colors when she was a bright red kind of lady. Her body had on eye makeup, which she never wore. They stitched her eyes and her mouth closed, and her mouth was stretched wide and looked odd. But still I kissed her forehead and touched her shoulder, only to recoil. There were plastic bags bunched under her dress to fill out her shoulder. It wasn’t her, in any way shape or form. She wanted to be cremated, but still we had her embalmed which horrified me.

    We couldn’t have handled a home funeral for a number of reasons, but the embalming, the fake treatment of her body – that was awful. I went to a wake this last year for my son’s friend who died at the age of 12, and she looked just as fake. When my time comes, I pray my family will not do that to my body, but will have whatever time with me to help them cope.

    • laytonian

      I’m so sorry.
      One Christmas, I bought each of my siblings a copy of this book:
      Mark Harris’ “Grave Matters – A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burian”

      Written directly inside the cover, were my SIGNED AND DATED instructions on what to do with my remains.
      Because they ALL got the same thing, no one can claim that I wanted the monstrous burial your mother received.
      I also enclosed a note, urging them to read the book from front to back, that parts might be hard to read, but in the end, they’d be knowledgeable.

      For our parents, I discussed with them what *I* wanted — and I was surprised that they also wanted to be cremated. I was so glad I’d done that, because when Daddy died, the direct cremation was an option he wanted AND it saved much desecration of his body.

  • Metro Issues :: Louisville

    If I have realized one thing from this article, it’s that I’m going to request in my will that there be no funeral and no public presentation of my body… just process me into an urn and throw a party.

    • Josh Slocum

      Never leave your funeral instructions only in a will! It’s not usually accessible or read until after the body is buried.

      Your funeral plans need to be in a separate document that is copied and distributed to family ahead of time. FCA has such paperwork, and you can draft your own. Please don’t rely on your will.

      Josh Slocum, executive director, FCA.

  • Cassandra Yonder

    Thanks for this wonderful article! There is a burgeoning Canadian movement underway as well!

    Cassandra Yonder; Death Midwifer; Education, Home Funeral Guidance and Bereavement Support

    BEyond Yonder Death Midwifery

    For lots of resources in the social media about alternative deathcare check out the facebook group I host”

  • April

    But what about organ donations?

    • Josh Slocum

      Organ donation is a wonderful thing, but it’s unlikely to happen. Most people don’t know that only about 1 percent of us will die in a condition in which our organs can be used for live transplant. You need to be hooked up on life support in hospital and declared brain dead.

      I’m an organ donor myself and I encourage others to do so. But we should remember that most of us will not be able to donate organs.

      After the donation, any funeral process you desire can happen.

      • Vanstrom Dracul

        Also some people die of conditions that make their organs not qualified for donation.

    • laytonian

      I’m a donor – fifteen years ago, my daughter received one of my kidneys.

      As for after death, make it clear BUT realize that it’s a step that has to happen quickly at a hospital.

  • Timm Wenger

    A helpful book from a Christian perspective, including how-to’s and checklists is A Christian Ending ( “A Christian Ending is a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition.”

    • James Bozeman

      Actually the link is:

      I know Mark Barna well (he is a deacon in the Orthodox Christian Church) and this book is really excellent.

      It’s good to see that the topic of death and burial is being discussed and explored in our society. We need not fear death if we have prepared. As we say in the Orthodox Church, Christ has trampled down death by death!

      Fr James

  • Laurie

    My mom died on Nov. 12th. She had pre-paid the funeral home, but my brother and I didn’t think many of the plans the mortuary had in place really fitted our mom. We opted for no visitation, no embalming. We didn’t want her “prettied-up” or dressed up. She was simply put in a shroud. We planned the service at the graveside down to every item, and instead of a visitation of the body the night before, friends of the family gathered at my mom’s favorite restaurant, raised a glass in her honor, and shared stories. We said it was to honor love, life, friends, and family, and that’s just what it did. No maudlin, schmaltzy funeral. We laughed and gave our blessings to her on her next journey.

    • Loweringdevice

      Were you able to obtain a refund form the funeral director?

      • laytonian

        Are you kidding?
        The saleslady (called a “counselor”) found ways to charge my father-in-law $2500 MORE over what their prepaid plan provided.
        Because I was the daughter-in-law with no power, I just sat and watched the man sign a check without question.

        • Morgan Sheridan

          Are you Laurie, too?

  • Marta Melendez

    Traditionally, in my native El Salvador, we take care of our dead at home. If we have a contract with a funeral home, they will come in and bring the casket and other elements necessary for a home viewing. We prepare our loved one and place him/her for viewing in the best room in our house, family and friends come to visit and we stay overnight, as part of the tradition, sharing prayer, food, and more importantly stories about our beloved deceased. The next day, the hearse comes to our door to pick up the casket and all together we caravan in our cars (to church, for those who want the church service before interment, and afterward) to the cemetery. At the cemetery we say, perhaps a eulogy, our last prayers and good byes. We do not leave shortly after; we stay until the last grain of dirt has been shoveled over the casket. These ceremonies the preparing of the body, the overnight viewing, the caravan from home to final destination, the witnessing of the actual internment, helps us begin the healing process and forge ahead without him or her. (I love the idea of keeping our loved one home for more than one day, and believe that this can be easily incorporated to what, for me, is already a beautiful way of letting our dead go.) As an immigrant, when I first came to the United States about 35 years ago, I could not believe how cold and detached the funeral process was over here

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      My grandparents back in Puerto Rico were visited and viewed at their home. They were prepared by the funeral home, embalmed and all that and returned home within 24 hours. The casket and all the things needed for the funeral were also brought to the home. And on the way to the cemetery, just as you described.

    • Saint Ives

      Are you Alejandra’s mom? (If so, small world.) How cool to hear your traditions.

      • Marta Melendez

        Yes, Alejandra and Natalie are my two daughters.
        Small world indeed.
        Thank you for asking.

  • Bourbondaisy

    This whole discussion confuses me to no end. People die. Corpses are left. They are garbage. They are things. They are not people. That is the reality of death.
    Sure our overpriced funeral practices are ridiculous, but so is keeping a dead body around for any reason. Are we still afraid they will wake up? That’s why we use to wait.
    There aren’t viewings at my family funerals. There are pictures and flowers. The body goes straight for cremation. No pomp. No embalming. No burial. Watching people touch, kiss and talk to corpses at viewings is so strange for me. What are they doing? There is no person left. It’s as macabre to me as if someone had the corpse taxidermied and kept it on the couch.

    • Bellwhether

      You may see corpses as “garbage,” but to me and I’d suspect a great many other people, they once held a beloved heart and mind, and I can’t imagine looking at the body of a loved one and not thinking of that fact. And for a baby or child, the body was the main way that you knew and interacted with that person. As Pearl Buck’s grieving mother said when someone tried to tell her that it was ‘just’ her child’s body — “I loved that body. I fed it, warmed it, comforted it, it was part of me . . .” Talking to the body, touching it, is definitely part of letting go of the person.

    • Metro Issues :: Louisville

      You’re both right. Both are valid ways to look at it.

    • Josh Slocum

      It is not ours to judge how other people cope with death. I find it rude and callous to talk that way. Everyone grieves differently, and everyone has different needs. Some people want nothing to do with the body. Others need goodbye time.

      Please don’t treat people in a cruel manner because their needs differ from your own.

      • Bourbondaisy

        If my honesty is cruel, so be it. Yet I fail to see how I feel about the matter is any different then people sharing the detailed stories about caring for family corpses.
        There is someone reading this who is soon to lose someone, or has recently lost someone. They are grief stricken and sorrowful. Yet they too feel like the corpse is not the person they loved. They find this article, and all the other comments make them feel guilty for not being a better, more humane, more caring mother/father/daughter/son etc.
        I’m not being a devil’s advocate. I’m speaking from experience. Not everyone who loses a baby wants pictures of it and the judgey looks when you refuse to hold it or look at it or name it. When you realize you aren’t the only one, at least there is no guilt in the grief.

        • O KE

          Some people do and some people don’t. It isn’t for you to speak so harshly. “People die. Corpses are left. They are garbage. They are things. They are not people.” One thing is thinking a corpse isn’t the person you loved and another thing is thinking they are garbage. To each his/her own but, again, garbage is a bit harsh. Just my two cents.

        • Achelois

          My son went to a funeral home after he was born still. We were told we could take him home, but recoiled at the thought. It was not what I wanted then. It may feel right for a bereavement in the future. It is nice to know that there are options – options are just that. And since the deceased has passed on, it is what brings the family the most comfort that is important. Please don’t feel judged. I do not judge you for not wanting to name your baby, hold it or photograph it. I actually have a good insight into how you feel – I was terrified of what my son would look like. Mind-blown that my mother wanted to hold him after the birth. I let my fiance give him a name I didn’t like because it didn’t matter, since I’d never be calling him by it. I have my photos but 10 years on I try to avoid them. I’ve left that dark place and the grief comes out in different ways. It actually really upsets me when people offer awkward hugs and sympathy when I’m trying to talk about his birth/death in a matter-of-fact way. I want hugs and support around anniversaries, not trite words.

          I think someone has really hurt you and I’m so sorry. It is not the people here though and not these grieving families. Please respect how they grieve, as I don’t think they share to judge or offend you, but because they’re presenting an option that worked for them, that may work for others. Or not. Please feel no guilt for how YOU grieve. Love to you, however you choose to do it.

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      The cruelty of your comment baffles my mind to no end. It’s easy to talk like that anonymously online, but I bet you wouldn’t dare to talk to a grieving person that way in their face. Certainly not in my face in December of last year, I wouldn’t have let you even finish before telling you a thing or two.

  • DMcCarty

    I agree that this is a very interesting article and shows viable options available for grieving families. In my case, where my husband died in his sleep of a heart attack on his 52nd birthday, a home funeral would not have been what I needed emotionally at all. The hospital did let me see him after the pronouncement….I did, and after a minute I was finished. That wasn’t him. Grief is as individual as a fingerprint. I applaud this article for shining a light on certain aspects of individuality, but I hope that nobody gets on a soapbox and thinks that this is right for everybody. (By the way, we did not have a funeral…..the body was cremated, there was a ‘visitation’ at our house, and one month later, a memorial service in another state with all the family. Tradition being broken doesn’t require keeping the body around.) I blog about the grief process here:

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      Keeping the body for a day, or three or not keeping it at all is a decision for each family to make. Some feel it helps them heal, others feel they can cope without having the body around. My best friend died of cancer last year and there was no funeral -he had no family at all in the state- so he was cremated and his friends had a memorial service a month later. Friends took care of all from the time he got diagnosed to the end. I would have love a visitation, at leas a one hour visitation or be there when they took him to be cremated. Would have given me a sense of closure. But, fortunately, the memorial service did just that.

  • Laurie

    My mom died on

  • DotknotMadison

    I have always found the embalming process and makeup used at funeral homes to be disgusting. Glued lips, caked on makeup. I was appalled at how they stitched my grandfather’s lips and eyes closed. The smell of funeral homes, the dim lighting and warehouse feel to them- I hate them. As a nurse, I am used to death. It is natural. I wish I had known about this possibility when my son died 17 years ago. I could have taken him home and said goodbye there, not at the stinky, impersonal funeral home. The funeral home would only allow immediate family to visit and a one hour private visitation because I would not let them embalm him. State codes can be so stupid.

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      My grandparents funerals were sort of “hybrid” thing. My grandma’s death was sudden, but for my grandpa, who died of cancer, we had the help from hospice. In both cases, the body was taken away to embalm and all that stuff, but was returned within 24 hours to the home where we had the 3 day funeral. Their house was in rural area, so filled of light and fresh air. In Puerto Rico home funerals are not a strange thing, although the preparation of the body is done by the “professionals”. I think that having the funeral at their home and have those 3 days for family to visit and remember the dead was good for healing and acceptance of loss.

    • Noelle’s Bootcut Kittenpants

      Your mileage may vary. I lost my father to a heart attack in July of this year. When I saw him in the hospital, his lips were blue, and he looked terrible. They did a wonderful job on him for the funeral; he didn’t look “made up,” and his color was right. It was a better way to say goodbye than having my last mental image of him being in the hospital gown, with blue lips. Even my mom remarked that he looked so much better than he had in the hospital. I imagine that the finished product is entirely up to the skill of the mortician.

      I should add that the funeral home is in a small town where everyone knows everyone. I often wonder if that makes the job harder for the funeral directors.

      • Jason lantagne

        I have to agree with Noelle. It may be “unnatural” but a good funeral home with proper images of the deceased and instructions from their family should be able to prepare the deceased in a manner that represents them in a better light then how they looked in their final months and days. My Great Grandfather had been deceased for about 8 or 10 hours when they found him and to be kind I was under the impression that his body was already in a bad state. I’ll never forget embracing my grandma (his daughter) when I first saw her at the funeral and her crying in my arms saying “he looks so much better.” We want our last look at our loved ones to be a positive one, even if it wasn’t exactly true of how they looked when they passed. A good funeral home can give us that.

      • Achelois

        I have to agree there. My Nana passed suddenly from a heart attack in hospital. When I saw her, it was with tubes, catheters, wires…and her mouth open. She did not look peaceful. The funeral home did a wonderful job (she was not embalmed as per her request). No visible make-up, and my mother and I did her hair. My daughter’s grandfather on the other side of the family had a heart attack at home and was presumed dead as he fell, but had some serious brusing sustained during the fall. That was really hard to look at, and difficult to conceal. It is the one time I have wished that I just ‘remembered someone as they were’. So sorry for your loss.

  • Jennifer Hutton

    Love this. This has always been something I have wondered is still practiced and legal. This is something I would definitely consider and most likely do in the event of a loved one passing. I never got closure when my grandfather passed because I had been living 5 hours away, so I only got the few moments in the funeral home to say goodbye and I carry alot of guilt because of it. It would have been great and helped the healing process much more being able to say goodbye on our terms and send him off the way we felt. We shouldnt be afraid of death.

  • Victoria JW Meyers

    When my best friend died at the age of 27 suddenly back in 1995, the funeral home did such a horrible job of preparing her body that her mother became hysterical. I decided that I would fix it ( I was 25). With permission from the funeral home I spent an entire day, redoing her, hair and makeup and adding personal touches like her favorite jewelry, until she finally looked like our Ramona. It was the most cathartic experience of my life and I would have preferred it to last a bit longer. Having worked in funeral sales later I know first hand how expensive and ridiculous most of the commercial procedures are. And I had no idea that it might be legal to do it yourself. This is excellent information. Thank you, NPR for doing this story.

    • Micah 李 文 Jung

      thats so nice.

    • LB

      You are a incredible friend and wonderful human being. This story brought tears to my eyes. So sorry you lost your friend so young, but what a great thing you did for her and her family.

    • HML

      Ms. Meyers I have no true words to convey how wonderful, compassionate and humane, especially in such a trying period, you were. You are the very definition of humanity.

    • Ela

      I’m just curios. Why did it take you all day to add jewelry, change her hair, and makeup. That has nothing to do with preparing a body. Most directors use pictures for makeup and hair.

      • Kate Buikema

        Gosh, maybe because she wanted to do it right, and to spend time saying her goodbyes? Why does it matter to you…?
        I think it’s a beautiful way to honor her friend and to comfort the family

        • Vicki

          Ela, Perhaps your are criticizing Victoria, who is an angel on earth, and a loving compassionate human being, who unselfishly brought comfort to family and friends…because you are NOT!!! If you have nothing kind or good to say…DON’T SAY ANYTHING! :( EVER HEAR OF KARMA? :)
          SHAME ON YOU :(

          • devrie

            What if Ela didn’t know how to ask and was honestly just curious? It was weirdly worded when she said, “that has nothing to do with preparing a body…” but maybe she was just elaborating on why she was curious. :) :) Maybe she was wanting to know if Victoria talked to her friend or wept, but didn’t know how to ask. I know I’m probably wrong, but you never know. :)

          • Crudy Thepuppy

            I get it Ella asks a simple question so we all gang up on her for wondering…

        • Joon

          There’s always an Ela. In every thread.

        • maliurj

          Thank you Kate for your timely and most appropriate response…geesh!!! They had a special union…they were friends!!

      • Dave Jannsen

        Ela: Show some respect. You should go say a prayer or meditate about the words you used. This woman is an angel to have done that. Victoria, what you did is an act of kindness and love unparalleled. You Ma’am are a stand up woman.

      • Ann41

        It is possible that Ela is just curious; however, her wording does suggest judgement or even doubt. Yes, her comment is strange. Ela, FYI, directors use photos because they don’t know the individual personally. They don’t always have current pics or emulate the persons look accurately. I had to re-do my uncles hair before his wake for this reason. Incidentally, it took over 40 minutes to gently comb out all the hairspray from the parlor perm a-do, dampen the hair, so that it had some flexibility and rework the part. These people are so made up, it’d be easy to make a mess. O.k.?

        • Crudy Thepuppy

          Thanks for honestly thinking she is human and can make human error or even sound like a dick and maybe not mean to

        • eln

          “parlor perma a-do” is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, I laughed so hard!! Because it’s truuuue!! :D

      • Esther

        From friends who have helped prepare bodies, it can be quite a different experience doing hair makeup etc. for a dead body than for a live person who can turn how you need them and support their own weight. Stop criticizing this poster, you’re only making yourself look like a jerk

      • Brennaliiah

        Ela, are you kidding???? Why would you even ask such an idiotic, non compassionate question?? Wow I am blown away by your coldness & non understanding of what Victoria shared with us!! You really have made a lot of people very disgusted & appalled!! You need a reality check & to learn to have respect & compassion for others!!!! SHAME ON YOU!!!!

      • mizcaliflower

        She never said “it took her all day”. She said, she “spent the entire day”… big difference.
        She was spending her last day on this earth with her best friend. She made it special as well as personal. Very UNLIKE “most directors use pictures for hair and make up”. Sorry Ela, but you missed the whole point of her comment.

  • Lauren Ashley Sutherland

    Very beautiful story. Wow. Dedicated parents. Inspiring.

  • Mandy F.

    At only 25, I have dealt with the death of my maternal grandmother, father, and paternal grandfather. With each, I was more involved with the funeral arrangements than the last, and with each, I became increasingly disgusted by the capitalizing on tragedy that occurs with the traditional funeral market. I can think of few notions more abominable than making a profit of at least $5,000 off of a family’s sorrow. Talking about the cost of a coffin and burial plot and grave stone is a slap in the face when you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. I absolutely see the need to move away from such a horrific and impersonal system.

    • Vanstrom Dracul

      Totally agree, it is horrible and disgusting to make such a huge profit out of a family’s sorrow. I personally would have loved to have the chance of drawing or painting on the cardboard casket for a loved one, that is certainly cathartic.

  • michael logan

    I got to do this with my brother. He was cremated, but my sister and I did his funeral. Very powerful. Mike Logan

  • anna

    I lived in Guatemala and when their loved ones die,they have the funeral right away (within 12 hours) so no embalming, etc. They wrap them in cloth and build concrete blocks around them and they stack them on other family members who have died up to about 8 feet high. It ends up costing a few dollars. Death and birth are the most natural things, now days there also the most expensive things.

  • Elizabeth Westrate

    My PBS documentary “A Family Undertaking”, explores the home funeral movement. Feel free to contact me at Beth (at) fivespotfilms (dot) com for more info about the film.

    • J.L.

      Yes! That’s the name of the documentary! Watched it when I was back in nursing school. Was trying to recall it as I reading the article.

      Nursing education devotes such a scant amount of time to the topic of death and dying. Personally, I feel we need to be as comfortable with helping families and patients let go when they are ready as we are with pursuing life-prolonging measures. Your film captured each families journey so very well.

  • mark

    We lost our daughter at 16 (Marfans Syndrom). If we would have known this was legal in Tn, we may have made different decisions. as it is, we are still paying bills for her funeral 4 years later. The La. system (where we are from) is EVIL. We had just moved to Tn. and did not realize they allowed this here. Thank you for this article.

    • AF

      Never heard of this syndrome before, and now twice in one day. You might know about this already, but if you don’t, I’m sure you might know someone who could benefit from the article. (a man in the uk decides to fix his own heart….)

  • Claire Woerner

    I live in North Alabama, where home birth is illegal, and so I generally assume home burial would be as well. There’s currently a guy in Marshall County who buried his wife in his front yard and the state wants him to dig her up and put her in a cemetery, which I think is ridiculous. The area is dotted all over with family plots, and people have only been burying their loved ones in cemeteries here for less than 100 years. Before that, it was all family plots. People need to be able to do what feels right when a loved one dies, and if that means a wake or funeral at home, or a family plot burial, that’s okay.

    • Mandy F.

      I’m in AL too, and was just reading about the man you mention. AL government, as a rule, seems to resent any moves of its people to take these matters into their own hands, rather than giving up their rights to a corporation,

      • kayumochi

        Ah, those Southern freedom-loving ultra-conservatives …

        • Vanstrom Dracul

          So much for freedom, but a home birth and a home funeral/burial, which are very personal things are prohibited and given the right to corporations to make the decision for the families. Figures.

          • kayumochi

            American conservatives are all about freedom except when it stops corporations from making money.

          • Gloria Hayes

            Please take your rhetoric to a less sensitive subject to spew.

          • Vanstrom Dracul

            Dang true. Sad, but true… and the worst part is the average Joes and Janes that defend these jerks -corporations- with nails and teeth and refuse to see they are acting against their own best interest.

        • grannieannie

          I’m a Northern freedom-loving conservative who is totally onboard with home birth, home death, I’m anti war, pro-life, anti death penalty, and vegetarian. Oh, and I recycle like I’m OCD and pay extra on my electric bill for wind power. Don’t blame conservatives………

          • kayumochi

            Talking about Alabama here …

          • Gloria Hayes

            and prejudiced people with preconceived,archaic notions about things they know nothing about…kindly remove your head from the area you have it stuffed into, before sitting down.. that could be painful, if not fatal. Goodbye.

    • Babycatcher

      An FYI, home birth is legal ther, but it’s illegal to pay someone to help you. I have several friends who help there….

    • Josh Slocum

      Remember, “home burial” is NOT the same thing as a “home funeral.” Home burial refers to actually burying the body at home. A home funeral means the family takes care of the funeral, and the body may end up at a cemetery or crematory instead of at home.

      Are you sure that home birth is illegal, Claire? I strongly suspect that whoever told you that was working on misinformation. Whenever someone makes a claim like that, insist that they show you the law on paper. In my experience with the death end of things, it’s almost NEVER true.

      In most states, including Alabama, the decision of whether to allow body burial at home is a local one. Most municipalities will not allow you do to do so in urban areas, but will likely permit burial if you have rural land.

      Josh Slocum, exec. director, FCA

    • TelevisedRevolution

      *stunned that home birth is illegal anywhere in the US*

  • Dejahthoris

    When my beautiful fun artistic awesome daughter died at 21 in 2001 in a 4 wheeler accident, I was in shock and totally unprepared. I didnt even see her body. I could not bear to walk into the hospital and see my dead child on a slab. I would not have been able to do it, but the home ceremony would have been such a help to me emotionally. I do not believe in closure, but I think it would have helped me assimilate it emotionally. . We are in no way prepared for death as a society. But it does happen. We need to talk about it instead of making it taboo. I have never had anyone to talk to about this except my immediate family. People shun you in this situation, perhaps they are scared. No one really cares or understands who has not been through it. We did have her cremated and i have her urn with me. Now we have plans for what we would do if one of us dies. When my daughter died, we did not. It was just collapse and shock and about ten years of extreme mental anguish. Doing better now, but still have our days…

    • Tawnee Cowan

      the one thing that troubles me most about your experience, is that you do not believe in closure. I also do not think people shun people who are going through death, that is just preposterous because death effects every single one of us. I am sorry that you felt the things you felt, but life and death are married, and there is not separating the two. I wish you healing, and I wish you to find some professional aid in your path to healing, because it seems as if ten years was yesterday, and I know that feeling, and I wish you freedom from that. <3

      • gwen

        Closure is exactly what she described- the emotional assimilation. Sorrow may never end. And as far as the shunning, you can not speak for someone elses experience. I noticed, when my mother died, my best friend kept saying, ‘we don’t have to talk about that” everytime my emotions would surface. Definately her unease, and could feel like shunting, if not shunning.

      • trudy cary

        Closure is a Myth…Acceptance is a Gift. Words from my mother last year when my son died. They are true.

        • Al

          Please accept my sympathy, on the loss of your beloved son. I lost my brother in 1980, and a day doesn’t pass where he is not a part of it.

      • Buddha Mom

        There is no closure when it comes to the death of a child; we assimilate to a certain extent, we accept as best we can, we do our best to continue to live our lives, but we are forever changed and there is no closure….I don’t know any grieving parent who believes in it, quite frankly. And people certainly do shun others who are dealing with death – I think many feel that if it could happen to you, it could happen to them (which is of course true) and so they avoid you and therefore avoid having to acknowledge the truth. At the very least, they think you should be “over it” when the last casserole has been eaten and the final sympathy card opened. I too miss my son, every single day. Dejathoris’s experience is similar not only to mine and but to that of most grieving parents I have come to know.

      • Patty

        Trust me. People do shun you. My brother committed suicide — people were so aghast (?) that they know what to do so they did nothing. A death is a death, no matter how it occurs, and this was an especially lonely time.

    • LucyLou

      I understand and went through something similar, emotionally, when my 16 year old son was killed in 2002. The shock and all the rest of it was horrid to experience. A parent never expects their child to predecease them: it defies the natural order of life. I never saw my son’s dead body, so a tiny part of me didn’t believe he was GONE, never to be seen again in this lifetime. His body was cremated and I, still in shock and overwhelming grief, was present at the cemetery with his sisters when we buried his ashes in a pottery vessel thrown on a wheel by one of his uncles and glazed by one of his aunts. We buried the vessel with is pink & white stuffed toy bear and his glasses…it was seeing his glasses placed in the hole in the ground that told me he was gone. If he was here, he’d need his glasses. Eleven years later, i still weep when I think about my son. I’m grateful that as the years have passed, I can think about him longer before the tears stream down my face. I miss him every single day.

      • rocketw


      • Val

        Lucy thank you for sharing, I am so so sorry for your loss. I believe that you are entitled to your own experience and belief, how vulnerable and tender to share here. As a mother I do not think I could have closure in this lifetime if I lost my son. I wouldn’t want closure — that heart connection would be there always and in the heart is joy and pain. The preciousness of motherhood is unlike anything else. I wish you well.

    • lynnb

      I agree with you. Most people cannot handle the topic of death. It makes them too uncomfortable. I am happy to hear about this new DIY movement and hope it becomes the norm. It would be easier on everyone if we experienced the rite of passage of preparing the dead. It wouldn’t harden us, but make us more compassionate and we would be better trained to deal with death. My sympathies to you on your horrible loss.

    • trudy cary

      I totally agree that the home ceremony might have helped and wish I had known about this when my son died last year while he and his boys were living with me. When the funeral home director (a friend) came to take him, there were others that said I probably should not see him beforehand because that would upset me. It would have been impossible to upset me more at that point. I had found him and tried to revive him, what could upset me more? (His heart stopped in his sleep from a problem he/we had not known) I said they would not be allowed to take him until I spent some time with him and what were they going to do…fight me for him? I am so glad I did. He just looked like he was sleeping. Now, I really wish I had been able to keep him here for a bit more, wash him, dress him, and let my other family members spend some time with him. I didn’t know I could do this. Now I know.

  • Heather Radcliff

    The washing the body fine making the casket fine. Keeping the body around 3 days bad idea. You would not be okay keeping raw meat sitting around three days the bodies have the same pathogens.

    • Dejahthoris

      Reread th article, they were packed in ice:)

    • Justyna

      Your comment implies you must have never worked in the medical/biomedical field or paid attention in high school biology class. They mention dry ice (which is a solid form of carbon dioxide) as something used to preserve the body. That keeps it at -110 degrees F. That low of a temperature will preserve a body.

    • sad mommy

      You’re not eating your loved one’s body. Keeping “raw meat” in your home, chilled, for 3 days, is not going to harm you. The key is keeping the body cool enough to slow decomposition. As someone who was able to bathe, oil, diaper and dress her stillborn son herself, swaddle, cuddle, sing and rock him as much as I needed to in the 15 hours following his birth (with intermittent stints in the cooler throughout) I can tell you it went a long way towards easing my transition and acceptance of reality. The hard part was leaving him behind at the hospital and not seeing him again as the funeral home discouraged it. I’m so glad I had those precious 15 hours.

    • Amanda Frye

      I think the important thing here is the idea that we have severely dissociated ourselves from “death” and have become very afraid of it, don’t like dealing with it/admitting it, like it’s something that happens to someone else, or an animal, and not us, and it’s process as a society. Death is natural, it is universal. And yes, the bodies would be packed in ice, or bathed with essential oils. I think a very major part of the DIY funeral process is acceptance, that it breeds and encourages acceptance, and I think that it highly promotes that, especially with the fact that dead bodies will start to smell. Yes, there will be fluids, smells, weirdness, maybe even noises. But when a loved one is given the chance to participate in the “awkward” and terrible process of a person’s death, they are probably more likely to accept it much more honestly and emotionally, and will probably heal and grieve much better. If you want to kid yourself, and believe that you won’t die and be a smelly, stiff corpse, fine. But, it happens to every single one of us eventually. And personally, if I could go back and do this when my brother died suddenly, I would. I can firsthand say it would have probably helped me heal many things that a typical ambiguous funeral couldn’t, give me much more closure, and I will have to work on those things for a very long time. Just think, this is what people did for hundreds of years before us… and it’s not like you’re going to EAT your dead loves ones like hamburger, so your worries about a dead body laying around for 3 days are strictly based on fear, pride, embarrassment, and misguided “what is right” ideas and maybe youthful ignorance. Everyone farts and poops, right? That’s awkward and uncomfortable and smelly, but it’s a very true part of life. Well, so is death. We are so afraid of it, because we don’t want to accept that it happens to people we love, or ultimately to US. To you and me, those who go on living and think we won’t die, no two ways around it. We kid ourselves, we even sometimes rely on traditional funeral processes to let ourselves think that death is what happens to other people and not us, to protect ourselves from the fate we all have, and focus on tragic mortality at another’s expense, not our own. I do so hope that there never comes a day for you, when you have to re-consider your opinion. Unfortunately, and years from now though, I think there will. We like not believing it could happen to us, or that we are immortal, or that we are entitled to being alive…. we like convincing ourselves that people we love don’t cease to exist (youth tends to be a great factor in this). But, they do. We all do. We all smell, and rot, and cease to exist at some point. What’s so wrong with being realistic about it and not afraid of it?

    • Alexandra

      When my Mother died in the Netherlands, my sisters and I decided to keep the body in her house. She loved that house and the garden and lived there for over 45 years. We did have a funeral consultant who helped us with all the paperwork. She arranged for a cooling unit to be placed underneath the casket. These cooling units are especially made for this purpose.It was not difficult to get this unit and she told me she me she rented them from a funeral home.

    • Josh Slocum

      Heather, I understand your concern, but happily, the danger you fear does not really exist. The microbes that cause decomposition are NOT those that cause illness. You are not going to contract an illness from a dead body except in RARE cases, usually the embalmer opening an otherwise intact body.

      Remember, you’re touching and kissing living family members right now. You’re far more likely to get sick from them. Pathogens die relatively quickly with the body. Again, the microbes that cause decomposition are NOT illness bearing.

      I’ve rounded up some information on this sourced from the World Health Organization and the CDC. I think you’ll find this helpful to ease your concerns. The article is called “Dead Bodies and Disease: The Danger That Doesn’t Exist.”

      Best wishes, Josh Slocum, exec.director, Funeral Consumers Alliance

  • Andie

    Yay NPR! Thank you for sharing this information! We need to get the word out!!!!! <3 Much love!

  • Shimmana

    For those of us who believe a persons soul lingers on with the body after death allowing the body to stay in the home is a good thing. When my Mom died, my older siblings took charge and rushed her body away. I did not have the time to do the rites I felt would help her transition to the other side. I was angry, and felt that I had been robbed of performing my last gift for my Mother. Our society is so frightened of death,, when we should look at it as a time of transition from one form to another. Like a caterpillar becoming the beautiful butterfly. People should be allowed to do the last rites as they see fit, in their loved ones home.

    • Dejahthoris

      Yes, they are afraid.

  • Transatlantic99

    Thank you for this article. I had no idea that this was allowed and will seriously consider staying out of funeral homes when the time comes.

    I was still a child, but I remember that my uncle in rural Germany was laid out at home after his death. He was lying on the dining room table, and friends and family came to pay their last respect. Following his church burial, the family returned to eat at the same table. Chilling and comforting at the same time.

  • AF

    I totally support the idea of home burials, etc., but I don’t think it is a case of hating the alternative. Funeral directors can be very helpful for people who can’t face the problem alone, or perhaps have no family to help. There was a case in the UK recently, where an old veteran had died, and the funeral home was worried no one would attend the service, so they placed an ad in a local paper to ask if any other veterans would be able to attend. This ended up being tweeted and the place was full of vets and serving military. Had that not happened, the staff of the funeral home, were ready to be in the chapel themselves. They weren’t doing that for money, but for the dignity of the man.
    I myself, will probably choose the home method, though, if I feel I can manage it.

  • Boomer

    We have done two funerals from home to grave and will do it from now on.

    (Hospice in both cases was anti-home-funeral where we live — we totally avoided them due to this the second time. They must be very mis-educated in our area about grief and deathcare. Ironic, considering it was a “home death” movement forging the way for more family involvement and moving home to die.)

    I am no longer afraid of dead bodies. The moment of death as each happened was a little traumatic. But the death care was peaceful, poignant, even humorous as we all worked together. Caring for our dead felt natural and right; fulfilling our responsibility.

    My family is agreed we dislike funeral businesses and having strangers with a vested financial interest involved with such a personal occasion. We dislike the exorbitant and unconscionable markups in costs at funeral businesses.

    The reaction I get from friends is, “I didn’t know that was legal!” then, “How do I do it!?” We found out, ahead of time. Join FCA if you can. There are brochures on the site — that’s where we learned.

    • Michelle Conchita Alanzo

      Hospice may not be on top of their game when it comes to home funeral education, but I think its unfair to slam them on grief and end of life care. If you and your family do not want to use hospice that is your choice, but to say they should be avoided because of their ignorance re: home funeral doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. To my knowledge there is no other organization that takes the place of what hospice does, they deal with death on a day to day basis with more grace than I’ve ever seen anywhere in healthcare. Not sure what happened in your experience to make you distrust them, but they have been a guiding light and a helping hand to many in their greatest time of need, including my own family. I strongly believe people should have the right to pass peacefully, pain free, in the environment where they feel most comofrtable, hospice makes that possible and in alot of cases cost free to the family.

      • D.M. H.

        Our family was assisted by Hospice and we found them to be most considerate and helpful in the dying process of our mother. I, however do not feel the Boomer story above advocated for others not to use Hospice, they simply chose not to based on their local Hospice and their experience. Perhaps in their grief they felt unable to educate Hospice workers on this point of view for home funeral, but that was their local experience, not saying anything about the Hospice movement in general. I wish we had been able to keep from sending our mother/grandmother to the funeral home and embalming her as she had a home death which she and we both wanted. I was unaware in my numbness of grief that we could have bypassed the funeral home and handled the viewing and burial on our own with perhaps the assistance of our local church. To each their own.

      • Kevin Brintnall

        The article does not, unfortunately, identify the role of the hospice worker who tried to dissuade the family from taking this DIY approach. And this was one person’s opinion. We don’t know if the worker was trained in bereavement either. As a hospice spiritual care coordinator and bereavement coordinator, I will definitely pursue this topic and find out how the laws work in the state where I serve. People need options. The only caveat, beyond learning local laws, is that people MUST do the hard work of decision-making IN ADVANCE, so that the steps following that decision are somewhat automatic after the death occurs.

        • grevyturty

          Spiritual care coordinator? What an absolute crock. What is the evidence based practice model for that approach? Scammer.

          • elorie


            There’s tons more out there; do the research.

          • grevyturty

            Ironic comment. There is nothing about an evidence based approach. Nice try though.

          • elorie

            There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that religious beliefs and practice help in the grieving process. I’m not sure you understand what evidence is, though. It’s so cute when anti-religious people demonstrate how tenuous their grasp of reason actually is.

            Based on the evidence, I conclude that you are willfully ignorant and pointlessly belligerent. You also don’t understand what “irony” means.

          • grevyturty

            By asking for peer reviewed research, I show lack of reason? That’s so backwards it’s actually funny. Keep up the emotional thinking and belief in myths and fairy tales.

          • gudrunb

            you know, when some one dies the family could give a rat’s you know what about evidence based any thing! they lost a person on this earth they loved – some times more, some times less; if their belief system allows them to grieve in a way that is healing to them, they really do not need evidence any thing; the beginning and the end of life does not always fit in our science based models; i’d rather have some one finding comfort in their own, what you call fairy tales, than drugged up to overcome a deep depression. most folks are some where in their own life experience you have not much of an idea about by packing it all in evidence based and fairy tale drawers. life and death happen on an individual continuum and for science to completely decipher that will take a long time.

          • guest

            Someone asks you a question and doesn’t take everything you say at face value so they are willfully ignorant and pointlessly belligerent? No, you are willfully deceptive, manipulative and unpleasant. And, naturally, you are religious.

          • Grannieannie

            I suspect a spiritual care coordinator helps train other hospice workers, increasing sensitivity in serving at times of grief. They probably help other workers become familiar with various religious beliefs and traditions around death.

          • Jess

            I would imagine a spiritual care coordinator would do things like get a call a priest if the family requests a priest. That kind of thing. Nothing dishonest in that.

          • grevyturty

            Promoting false hope by facilitating religious nonsense is unethical.

          • Helen

            To grevyturty;
            As a non- religious person myself, I still find your comments insensitive at best. Very little different, in fact, from a fundementalist insisting that their views are absolute, correct, and everyone else is wrong. Dogmatic and rather egotistical.

          • DeboraR

            You have the right to your opinion, but to force it on others is both intolerant and unethical.

          • Ell

            Please stop making the rest of us atheists look like dillholes. Thanks in advance for shutting up.

          • MaryRey

            It is a non-denominational title for a Chaplain.

          • Kevin Brintnall

            Interesting that you resort to name calling. Look into the spiritual side of life a bit more and please reserve your judgment until you do some actual research before weighing in with ad hominem comments. You may not agree, but you are certainly not very polite. Maybe it’s the anonymity of using a pseudonym that gives you some kind of cyber-courage to write with such crude comments?

          • Aims

            There are many aspects to spiritual care, especially when it comes to end of life. Although you may not be particularly religious, many people are and working through the dying process as it relates to religious beliefs can be very important for some people. Spiritual care can also be things like accepting death/dying, unresolved issues with family or friends, meditating, relaxation, helping to ease anxiety, etc. Some hospices even provide additional services like pet therapy, reiki or music therapy. Anything that can bring comfort to a dying person or their loved ones is worth it in my book!

        • Caitlin

          This commenter seemed very specific in mentioning multiple times that this was her experience locally.

      • Renae Dutkowski

        My experience with hospice is that they provided very little assistance to the family and in the end did more harm than good, especially in my father’s case. Hospice offered bathing twice a week, took vital signs (to what end, I’m not sure), and provided morphine, which I don’t believe to be a particularly effective pain killer. And that was pretty much it unless you include access to not-very-helpful, in my experience, social workers. As I discuss the experiences of others with hospice care, I find that my experience was by no means singular and in fact the norm. I believe that hospice is highly romanticized and overrated.

        • shak

          Hospice nurse seemed more worried about the morphine than the person (my mother)…

          • othertuscaloosa

            Agree. Hospice is a fine idea and may work well in some places, but seems the norm is to keep patients heavily medicated and immobile for the convenience of the nurses and the comfort of their families. Morphine + Ativan + Bedrest is not the best prescription for every dying person.

          • kelli

            My mom died of cancer Nov. 2004 and Hospice was only with her a week from time he stopped treatment and passed away. My daughter and I preferred to do all her care and since in nursing I would give her pain meds. When we called a nurse after my mom died the first thing she did was ask for all morphiene and ativan. She never said she was sorry and never nd spoke with us after they picked up my mama. Now I wish we had taken care of her after death too. But overall we had good experiences with Hospice. Just one bad apple :(

          • gudrunb

            i am so very sorry for your poor experience!!!! having been a hospice nurse in the past i feel for you! there are nurses and there are nurses, just like there are doctors and doctors…. some just do a job, others care

        • Upset by Hospice

          It is with a very heavy heart that I agree with you. I will add to that, refusal to provide supplies that are the norm (nothing unusual at all) a nurse who shut out certain family members, and a chaplain who was so disrespectful to a family member that s/he broke down in wracking sobs. No one who is losing a beloved family member should be treated that way, especially by the people who are supposed to be the most compassionate. The nurse at one point made it clear that even though the dying family member was not getting adequate care, nothing different was going to be done due to cost.

        • Mary

          I’m sorry you, and some other commentors, had such bad experiences.
          The hospice nurses were a godsend when my Dad was in the final stages of cancer at home. They assisted Mom in his care, helping to bathe and take care of other personal needs. They provided the medications the doctors prescribed for pain and so on, and helped keep him comfortable at home, which is what he wanted.

          I think every family, and every Hospice program, is different. It’s important to work with people who respect your family’s unique dynamic.

        • Dr. Apothecary

          Umm… my mother did not have official hospice as she was dying of cancer, but she did have care, and I think you’re a bit confused about what a dying person actually needs. Bathing is a way to make someone feel more comfortable and to care for a person. My mom’s hair had, at one point, become very dirty, and she felt better after having it washed. Bathing can also alert providers to bed sores and prevent infection. Two times a week is not unreasonable. As for vital signs, it was likely more to monitor how your father was doing, in part so that if they took a nose dive, the family could be gathered to say goodbye. Lastly, what exactly do you think is a good pain killer, if not morphine??? As a pharmacist, there aren’t a lot of other options, and as someone who has had it for pain relief and have had family members who’ve had it, it actually does relieve pain quite well.

          I don’t know what you were expecting from hospice, but if you think what your father went through in hospice wasn’t helpful, imagine what it would be like to die in a hospital, as people were still trying to treat conditions that were ending your life. That is what hospice is trying to prevent. It is not going to make death beautiful or not painful or a wonderful experience. It’s just trying to make it less painful than it could be and usually trying to allow the person on hospice to die in a familiar place.

        • asdfasdf

          Oh, morphine isn’t good enough for your dying father, for FREE? What exactly do you think he was entitled to, lady?
          Also, folks, a lot of hospice nurses are VOLUNTEERS!

          • WWWeaves

            Hospice was a volunteer movement, I’m not sure if is any longer. I know in my area it is a professional team fielded by the local medical system.

      • annglover

        Different hospices have differing rules. Some allow no IV’s with fluids to make the person more comfortable. Seriously, my husband insisted on fluids and pain meds when he refused to have his mom in very advanced Alzheimer’s receive a permanent feeding tube. Hospice came into the nursing home, and left when they insisted she be without any comfort measures. This was in Pennsylvania, and that is the only hospice experience that I have. I do know that here in Nebraska hospice can be much more supportive.

        • justme

          my parents did hospice for my dad last year. not sure if it was right thing. id prefer a more diy, but i was so incredibly uneducated. they gave him pain meds and morphine, but i dont know if ivs would have helped, or what they would have done in a hospital? my mom wasnt happy with the whole situation, but neither one of them had accepted or really planned for his death. he was on blood and chemo 2 years. they had 2 years to accept and plan, but chose not to. my mom is controlling so i stayed away. maybe my wrong cowardly approach? id prefer diy sick care, and diy after death care. i wanted to be in room more after dad died around 6 am, but i was ushered out saying “i wouldn’t want to remember him that way”……that was my dad-the dad who raised me my whole life and was there for me in adulthood! i wanted to be there for him, but feel i failed. and now, hes gone. i could have brushed his hair and changed his clothes. i could have wiped him down. if my mother did not want me to see certain parts of him, she could have done that or gotten someone else to do that part. death is just still a horrible part of life to/for me……..:(

      • Upset by Hospice

        Unfortunately, I now disagree with you. I was a firm hospice supporter, my wife works for a hospice. However, (and yes I know that one bad experience doesn’t tarnish the entire “industry) the hospice care that our beloved family member just received was nothing short of terrible and bordered on negligence. Yes, negligence.

        I no longer believe that just because an agency has “hospice” in its name, that it is a guarantee of compassionate end of life care.

        I would agree that any hospice should be educated regarding home funerals.

    • CmLRN

      I work for a Home health and Hospice agency, as an RN, and we are currently in the process of starting a program that aids families in home funerals! All hospice agencies are different! Hospice is a very rewarding and beneficial program for many, including my own family.

      • Babycatcher

        Cool beans! Do you know of ant resources like this near Knoxville TN?

        • Josh Slocum

          I suggest getting in touch with the Funeral Consumers Alliance of East Tennessee. They’re great. Find them at—>find a local FCA.

          -Josh Slocum, exec. director, FCA national

    • Scott Bakalor

      I am a hospice nurse, I fully support a families choice. I would never discourage this final choice from any family looking into it.

    • Micah 李 文 Jung

      well it is a business so. I do like family taking care of the dead body instead of a stranger.

    • gudrunb

      i worked as hospice nurse for over 6 years and i know the comments some of the nurses make when it comes to “unconventional” things – though hospice itself was once regarded as unconventional! hospice filled a niche that was created by hospitals no longer “allowing” people to just die there…..
      home funerals will be the next niche filled, but like with every thing changing, the average people have to adjust. birth and death had been delegated to the medical establishment, now we are beginning to take it back
      Good for you doing your own thing!

  • Alison

    great article…I am one of those folks who thought this was illegal. I’ve already talked to my husband and shared the article with him for future reference :).

  • Lisa_Carlson

    A pediatric oncology nurse says there’s a dramatic difference in the healing when parents have a hands-on funeral experience for a child. Likely true for any untimely death.

  • bakerbill

    Yes, there are alternatives to the traditional funeral and all the trappings.