Home Funerals — An Old Fashioned Option

August 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Elders

by Laurie Israel, Esq.

In the not so long ago times, people kept their loved ones in their parlors prior to burial.  I remember my parents telling me that my grandmother (who died in 1955) was wrapped in a shroud afterwards, and the family was around her during the day she died, and overnight, until she was buried.

Our burials are very antiseptic arrangements.  The bodies are whisked away to a morgue and then sent to the funeral home.  Depending on our religions, we may (or may not) view the bodies of our loved ones.  We are taken away from physical association from the departed almost from the moment of death. This distances the grievers from their loved ones.

Though separating the dead from the living is now tradition, it was no always so.  People used to have home funerals. Preparing the dead for burial and funeral rites were generally done by the friends and family members of the deceased.  This “old-fashioned” manner of dealing with the dead offers much.  It is essentially a return to a more traditional, personal approach to honoring the dead and going through the grieving process.  It may seem scary to us, but that is because we are so used to the other way, where the body disappears, and professionals handle everything.

If you want to find out more about this end-of-life option, a good place to start is by seeing the movie, A Family Undertaking  (PBS 2009), a film by Elizabeth Westrate, available on Netflix.   The movie follows several families and friendship networks in the United States during the illness of a loved one, through preparations prior to death, sitting with the bodies, the funerals, and the burials.  It is an eye-opening and touching experience.

Another good source of information on home funerals is the classic Caring for the Dead:  Your Final Act of Love, by Lisa Carlson (1998).  It is still in print, and provides a wealth of information on home funerals, with articles written by various commentators on aspects of home funerals and caring for the dead.

In some states, home funerals are not permitted.  In Massachusetts, they are, but you have to follow the rules.   State health and sanitation laws and regulations must be scrupulously followed in the preparation and handling of the body, home funeral, and burial or cremation.   There are a number of individuals working in Massachusetts with people who want to have home funerals for their loved ones.  You can find Massachusetts information, find them, and get guidance by clicking on this link.


 The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has posted many useful resources addressing handling of bodies, burials, and cremations by family members for people planning home funerals.  http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/subject/about/burial.html

 If you would like to pursue this matter further, it will take time to address all the legal and practical issues.  Therefore preplanning is important.  You can’t wait until your loved one (or you) dies.  So if having a home funeral interests you, start now to prepare.

© Laurie Israel 2011.  All rights reserved.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.