Periodically people you know and love will die. The one thing that is certain in life is death. There is no way around it. You and I, our family, community, the entire human civilization alive today will all pass sometime in the next century. This thought is one most Americans try to avoid.
Let’s say your grandmother has had a stroke and is near death at a local hospital. You go to her to be with her in her last moments, and then, the beloved person before you, who had cared for you, raised you, and loved you is gone. No sooner has she passed when, you are asked to leave the room. A doctor will be in to fill out the death certificate and then your loved one will be whisked away to the hospital morgue, or worse to be sliced and probed in autopsy (if the cause of death was unclear). You choose a funeral home and they take care of the rest of the process. Her body is now property of the state. The next time you see her will be for maybe an hour or two at the wake where she’s been specifically prepared for extended viewing time (some liken this as being turned into a human pickle). From there it’s time to head to the cemetery or collect her ashes. It is a process that is far removed from a personal and private investment with your loved one who has passed.
Knox (2009) explains how she felt when her young daughter passed. “I had given birth to her. She had lived with me every day of her life. I had carefully chosen what she was exposed to, what she ate, where she went to school. I was required by law to care well for her. But now that her heart had stopped beating, I was being told that her care was no longer my concern.” Knox (2009) No wonder Americans have such a hard time with loss. Death has been institutionalized and turned into a series of merchandising and purchasing obligations. The whole experience is empty, demoralizing and expensive.
In Support of Home Funerals
Home funerals assist in the healing of and recovery of survivors. One dangerous coping method of loss “is to deny its existence” (Roussell, 1999, p. 6). A home funeral gives people the extra time needed to adjust to the reality that their loved one is gone. Not only is it healthier for the grieving process to have this time, the additional responsibilities also aid the grieving process. Those who have cared for their own dead have found the experience both meaningful and empowering. Knox (1999) describes the home funeral she held for 8-year-old daughter:
We brought her home and kept her in her room for three days surrounded by her beloved toys and pictures and stuffed animals. Her friends came to be with her one last time, and took as much time as they needed to say goodbye. Her teachers came to stroke her cheek. Her brothers, her aunt and uncles, her cousins, her babysitters, her grandparents could all be with her. We could all sit with her for hours if we chose, trying, trying to get used to the idea, trying to take it all in. This small and mighty child had led us through the valley of death, and an entire community experienced a brilliant light in the deepest darkness of loss and grief. It was terrible and beautiful (p. 3).A home funeral provides a loving, beautiful and meaningful way of saying goodbye, unconstrained by the schedules of a church or mortuary. It also gives the surviving loved ones extra time adjust to the loss. A home funeral is also more cost efficient. An average traditional funeral costs anywhere from $3,500.00 to $7,000.00, while a home funeral and natural burial can cost less than $500.00.
A good comparison of the differences between the two kinds of funerals (home versus mortuary) was showcased in the March 2009 Smithsonian magazine in an article titled “The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral”.
Legal Rights to Home Funerals
Many people do not know is that it is legal for them to take their loved ones home (in their own car) and to keep them (if cooled) for a number of days. Currently home funeral is legal in 45 states. Also, many people do not realize that embalming is not mandatory for burial and that it is actually a dangerous toxin for the environment. (Read more on the benefits of Green Burial.)
Legally, you can take your own dead home with you as long as you get the proper permit for transporting, and follow approved procedures for cooling, and length of time before burial. Even a home burial is not illegal in some states and counties.
The state of Oregon is silent on this issue. Title 97.120(2) says it is actually up to each individual county as to the laws concerning home burial. Most counties ask for a certain acreage amount, a distance of at least 150’ from a water supply, and at least two feet of earth on top. Before burial, the person in charge must sign the burial-transit permit and return it within 10 days to the registration of the county in which the death occurred. The practice is generally discouraged because of the potential affect on the property value. Because the practice is not common yet, society is still uncomfortable with it. Neighbors might find it disturbing to watch someone bring a body home, hold a funeral in their home, and then bury the body in their yard. However, a number of planned “Green Burial Preserves” are currently in development throughout the country to fulfill the demand for natural burials.
Alexander, M. (2009) The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Presence-of-Mind-Which-Way-Out.html
Knox, E. (2009) Crossings.
Knox, E. (1999). Resource Guide. A Manual for Home Funeral Care. Takoma Park, MD:
Oregon Mortuary and Cemetary Board (2009).
Roussell, J. O. (1999). Dealing with Grief: Theirs & Ours. New York: Alba House.
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