Bringing death home

Natural Transitions, publisher of NATURAL TRANSITIONS MAGAZINE, began as an organization specializing in helping families prepare for death by creating after-death care plans and then supporting them to conduct family-led after-death care known as home funerals.  We are still experts in this area, offering our knowledge and experience of dying and hospice work, providing information about resources for families facing the death of a loved-one.

It used to be that we were born at home and died at home. Hospice has made significant inroads in bringing death back into a more personal, intimate setting, by providing families with the support they need to care for a loved-one who wants to die in their own bed.  Natural Transitions supports the work of hospice. We consider ourselves advocates and believe that family-led after-death care is a natural extension of the kind of family-centered care for the dying that happens under the umbrella of hospice.

Home Sweet Home Funeral

The term “home funeral” is just entering the modern lexicon. In our view, it is an extension of hospice, sort of “hospice” after death, where the family is able to stay connected to the care of their loved-one, through personal involvement in the after-death care, and the after-death care occurs in the room where the person has died rather than in a funeral facility.

The term “home funeral” can be misleading as people focus on the word “funeral,” and associate it with some sort of service as in a religious service. It is really a rite of passage or ritual created by the family, as simple or as elaborate as they choose, that involves the family, so the “home” aspect is synonymous with “family-led.” In fact, the family may not have any particular spiritual beliefs, but merely believe in the value of doing things themselves, caring for those they cared for in life.

Home funerals are the way we cared for our loved-ones in most Western countries until the latter half of the nineteenth century when modern embalming with formaldehyde meant bodies were removed from the home and taken to a funeral facility for preparation.  The funeral parlor instead of the family parlor became the setting for the visitation or the wake.

Fran Macy’s home wake, 2009.

There is now a longing among many for a return to home-based, family led death care, and Natural Transitions is at the forefront of providing information and support for greener, more personal options in how we care for our loved-ones at death.
The definition of a “home funeral” provided by the National Home Funeral Alliance is as follows:

A home funeral is a family or community-centered response to death and after-death care. Families and communities may play a key role in:

  • Planning and carrying out after-death rituals or ceremonies (such as laying out the deceased and home visitation of the body)
  • Preparing the body for burial or cremation
  • Filing of death-related paperwork such as the death certificate
  • Transporting the deceased to the place of burial or cremation
  • Facilitating the final disposition such as digging the grave in natural burial

Home funerals may occur within the family home or not. (Some nursing homes, for example, may allow the family to care for the deceased after death.)  The emphasis is on minimal, non-invasive, and environmentally-friendly care of the body.  Support and assistance to carry out after-death care may come from home funeral educators or guides, but their goal is to facilitate the maximal involvement of the family and its social network.