Sunday, November 24, 2013

DIY Funerals

A new, but old tradition is on its way back out to the masses. Something by most standards, that is considered very taboo. Can you imagine from the actual minute of death, to burial- handling your own dead? While anyone who may not have really heard the details of a DIY funeral, may think this sounds morbid, it really is a beautiful last gift to our loved ones.

Last night I came across an article, DIY Death: Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal. At first I admit upon reading its title, I honestly breathed a "WTF". With many satire pages gaining popularity, I admittedly thought this was one of those. Once I began reading I was blown away at how much this idea appealed to me.

The first family they talk about is the Van Meter-Fox family, who lost their daughter to a rare genetic disease. A quote he made, made total sense to me. It sparked something in me that inspired me to look deeper into the unheard of subject, and look deeper within myself. What if I lost one of my children? How would I feel? Mr. Van Meter says, “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. Why wouldn’t we take care of her when she was dead?” It suddenly made sense to me. Why would they want to hand their child over, that they created and loved, to strangers who would only place her on a cold table, among other dead bodies, number her, and store her away until her turn was up to be embalmed? I understood. An overwhelming sense of admiration to these parents overwhelmed me. I continued to read, and with every story the pieces came together. At home funerals. They made sense.

My Own Loss, My Parents

Being someone who's dealt with a personal home death (my dad), and also worked in nursing facilities and hospitals, I cannot count the number of times I've seen a loved one whisked off prematurely. When my dad died, I laid next to him for around 15 minutes or so. I remember the words reverberating through my body like ice cubes being dropped in a glass, "The coroner will be here soon." This was my father, the man that raised me! I had 25 years with him and a stranger was going to put a deadline on me saying goodbye? I remember watching him being removed from the home and thinking to myself he was being moved like heavy furniture. I wanted to remember him in his natural state. I never wished to see either of my parents made up like dolls by people who knew absolutely nothing about them. I wanted to remember then the way they were. Even my mom, dying in a hospital hooked up to tubes, I had no desire to see her embalmed and made up by a person who never knew her in life. What I wouldn't have given to have the time I needed to accept they were gone. No faster than I could cry my first cry over my loss, they were both gone....forever. And I knew I could never get that moment back.

How Families Handle Their Experiences With DIY Funerals

Many of the families that are featured in this article, talk about their experiences with their deceased loved ones at home. Many talk about an intimate bathing of the body which consists of varying techniques including using oils and flowers to bathe their loved one. They are then placed in comfortable clothes of choice, by the family. No suits or fancy garb, simple and personalized wear to honor their loved ones. They are then wrapped lovingly in blankets and surrounded by tokens of love such as flowers, pictures and other mementos. Religions and beliefs also seem to play into their individualized rituals. In private ceremonies, family and close friends participate in these wakes. The deceased are sometimes placed in handmade coffins or biodegradable Ecopods, or banana leaf urns, provided by at home funeral organizations..

Yes, these organizations do exist!


Now I guess something that many people would sensibly ask is, is this legal? The answer amazingly is YES! It is absolutely legal, and in all 50 states. Of course there are many factors that play into this. We cannot simply say, "OK Tommy is dead, lets go bury him in the backyard", and that's it. A medical examiner must sign off the death certificate and a permit must be obtained to transport the body to a cemetery or crematorium. There are other small legalities I'm sure when it comes to causes of death and such. Hospice or expectant deaths, I'm sure, would be much easier. If a death comes unexpectedly with a healthy individual, a medical examiner would need to determine cause of death. But after all is said and done, you are able to take your loved one home, and handle the details on your own. Many don't know that with embalming, you are not legally obligated to do it. Preservation of the body is something that has become popular after the boom of the funeral industry, but it is NOT necessary. To some, this is an unnatural part of the death experience. Why preserve a body that is going into the ground, never to be seen again? Normal practice is keeping the body refridgeratred or chilled on ice to slow decomposition times. This can easily be achieved with absolutely no odor.

As for burying the dead on your property, yes this is legal as well. But of course there are standards that must be met. I am sure that homes within city limits would not allow this, as most do not even allow you to bury a pet at a home within "city limits. But for example, Bill Cosby buried his son Ennis at him family property in Shelbourne, Mass. While city officials seem to mostly attempt to discourage families from this, it is truly legal to do.

Who is someone else to decide what is right for an individual or a family? I'm guessing that people's personal standards for ethics is what ultimately plays into what they think we can or cannot do.This doesn't makes these practices unethical. It just makes them different from what we're TOLD is right or wrong.

If we are allowed to care for our dying at home, why are we not capable of handling them once they have passed away? I think this is mainly because a lot of people have been programmed not to ask questions, nor do they research for themselves. Most people do not look into such things, as death is typically unexpected. The mentality seems to be- If this is cut and dry, and this is what I have been told we "need" to do, then we must do it. I have never been one of these people. I'm a questioner. I question everything. I buy into nothing. I always seek more information. Why must home funerals be any different than home birthing, or Hospice care for our loved one? Is it not the ultimate act of love to be with them on this journey?  

I think any parent or child of an elderly dying parent, especially, could understand. Its so personal it gives me goosebumps. I cannot imagine just handing my child over to a stranger who knows nothing about them, nor the struggles or achievements of their lives. Although I realize many don't have this choice, or this just wouldn't be for them, I feel its worthy of thought. I don't judge anyone for what they do or how other people feel. I feel it might be right for me, but I guess I wouldn't know unless I was in that position. There was a time it was exclusively the families "duty" to handle this. Even in present cultures today, this is still common practice.

A natural, unaltered, undramatic transition. What an act of love.

 Cultural Differences

In Hispanic cultures, a large portion of afterlife care, is handled by loved ones. Wakes are held in homes, which turn into more as social events, rather than a time of mourning. Family and friends use this time to reflect on the life of the individual and celebrate. Many religions prohibit embalming, including Eastern Orthodoxy, who strictly forbids it. Iglesia ni Cristo, allows embalming but prohibits autopsies and cremation. They feel these practices are disrespectful to the dead. Most Neopagans discourage embalming, due to it being believed as unnatural. Arabic Bahá'í Faith, also discourages embalming. Instead the body is washed and placed in a cotton shroud. They also forbid cremation. Jewish tradition forbids embalming and cremation. They usually bury their dead within the first 24 hrs after death. A Rabbi is sought in cases of delayed burial. During this time, shomrim recite Psalms within earshot of the deceased. They are then dressed in a white robe and covered in a cotton shroud. Coffins in the case of Jewish burials are simple and natural to permit natural decomposition. Muslims also do not practice embalming. The body is cleansed and perfumed by relatives. They are also wrapped in a white shroud called a "kafan". No coffins are used traditionally for Muslim deaths.

In many of these cultures and religions, funerals or wakes are held in a family home. 

Victorian Era "Home Wakes"

The 19th century was a time that was shrouded in death. Many illnesses were at their peek and medical advances, just weren't that advance. Child mortality rates were staggering. The practice of at home funerals and wakes were nothing out of the ordinary. Many traditions we use today stem from Victorian era funerals. The differences? We count of funeral homes to weed out the daunting details to avoid further emotional trauma to family, or so many think.

Most wakes would last anywhere between 3-4 days. This was to ensure that the dead were in fact deceased, and not in a coma-type state. This is the reasoning behind the name "wake" or wakening. Flowers and candles were used to masked odors. Icing the body was used to slow down the decomposition of the body. Once a wake had concluded, the dead were carried out feet first to prevent the spirit from looking back and prompting other family members to follow them to death.

As I previously said, in the 19th many lives were cut very short by disease. For many, this was one last shot of spending time with a loved one. This time was used to photograph the body in life like poses, as photography was expensive, many families did not have photos of their loved ones alive. This photography has been coined "Memento Mori" photography. 

To me, home funerals are not that strange. It is society itself, that make it strange or macabre. Preconceived notions that death is taboo and is better handled by professionals, seems to play a factor into peoples view of handling the dead. While, yes, I believe there should be certain regulations concerning disposal of the body, and determining causes of death- I believe it should ultimately be up to the individual and their family to figure out what is best for them. Governments should not be able to micromanage how we tend to our loved ones after death. Death is just as personal as life itself, and should be handled accordingly. It should be made to cater to those who must live with the fact that their loved one is gone. It is them, that must face that this will be their one last gift to their beloved. No one should be rushed to say goodbye. No parent should have to send their child away to a mortuary to be placed on a stainless steel table and placed among other strangers (corpses). If a family chooses to keep that child with them, in a dignified manner, I see nothing wrong with it.

Funerals are extremely expensive. These funerals can be very low cost. I think its important people at least know that there is an alternative. I see so many distraught families lose a loved one unexpectedly and left with the burden of how they will bury their loved one. Who hasn't participated in a car wash or other funeral fundraising effort? It doesn't need to be this way.

We live in such a judgmental society who would be more apt to tell another what is right for them, rather than minding our own business. Imposing our own beliefs on someone else because we don't agree with it, is ridiculous. What can this loving act do for a grieving family? I believe in giving back a family their control, and saying what goes. I 100% support DIY Funerals.

MEMENTO MORI: Remember than you will die.

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