February 1, 2013

Do-it-yourself home funerals

Growing trend towards home funerals

What happened after Caroline's death was anything but typical.

Alison and Doug carried Caroline upstairs to the bathtub, where they washed her skin and hair, dried her limp, 45-pound body with a towel and placed her head on a pillow on the bed in her old room. Alison slipped a white communion dress on Caroline, turned up the air-conditioning and put ice packs by her daughter’s sides. She put pink lipstick on the child's paling lips, and covered up Caroline's toes and fingers, which were turning blue at the nails, with the family quilt.

Caroline stayed in her bedroom for 36 hours for her final goodbyes. There was no traditional funeral home service, and no coroner or medical examiner was on hand. Caroline's death was largely a home affair, with a short cemetery burial that followed.

"We had taken care of Caroline her whole life," recalls Alison, whose other daughter, Kate, has the same disease and will also have a home funeral. "Why would we give her to someone else once she died?"
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A small and growing group of Americans are returning to a more hands-on, no-frills experience of death. In the world of "do it yourself" funerals, freezer packs are used in lieu of embalming, unvarnished wooden boxes replace ornate caskets, viewings are in living rooms and, in some cases, burials happen in backyards.

Nobody keeps track of the number of home funerals and advocacy groups, but home funeral organizations have won battles in recent years in states such as Minnesota and Utah that have attempted to ban the practice. Most states have nearly eliminated any requirements that professionals play a role in funerals. It's now legal in all but eight states to care for one's own after death. And the growth of community-based, nonprofit home funeral groups and burial grounds that are friendly to the cause point to an increasing demand.

The reasons vary from the economic to the psychological and cultural. The average funeral costs $6,560, while a home funeral can cost close to nothing. In a society where seeing death and speaking of it is often taboo, home funeral advocates are challenging the notion that traditional funerals are anything but a natural end to life. Instead, they assert, death and mourning should be seen, smelled, touched and experienced.
Posted by Jill Fallon at February 1, 2013 11:00 AM | Permalink