Effective June 27, Michiganders can designate a Funeral Representative

We are finally catching up to other states; soon it will be possible to designate someone to make your funeral arrangements for you instead of having to just leave it up to your next of kin. A Funeral Representative is like a healthcare advocate: they are authorized to make decisions regarding your funeral and burial or cremation. Until now, there has been no guarantee that your funeral wishes would be followed, because carrying out the funeral wishes does not come under the purview of the designated healthcare agent. Now you can rest assured that your funeral representative will be able to have decision-making capacity.

Here’s an example: Say you are a member of an unmarried couple. You have chosen your partner to be your healthcare representative, meaning you have written your end-of-life healthcare wishes out, signed a form that names your partner as the one who will make healthcare decisions for you if you can no longer speak for yourself, and your partner has agreed to do this. When you die, those rights go away and the next-of-kin, meaning your long-lost sister or someone you aren’t close to, is the one who is legally responsible for carrying out your funeral. If you wanted to be cremated, the funeral director had to locate the legal nest of kin and get their signature in order to do the cremation. Many people have been caught off guard by this; they had assumed that they would be able to request the cremation without a problem. Now, you may sign paperwork designating your partner as your “funeral representative” and your partner can authorize the cremation.The long-lost relative no longer has to be located and made to sign.

You can imagine the difficulty this has caused in same sex relationships, or in the case of someone wanting very specific after death care such as home funeral or green burial. It will be more likely that your wishes will be followed.

It is imperative that you plan ahead, designate a funeral representative that knows and will honor your wishes, and fully inform them of the type of funeral and disposition arrangements you would like to have. While you are planning and signing forms, you can also put aside money to pay for what you want. The

For a form to use, please contact me.

US News and World Report on Green Burial

Fine article with data about preferences of most Americans for natural burial. But there are no local options for those of us in or near Ann Arbor. We have some work to do to establish this. If most of us want it, why are we lagging behind demand? Because we are afraid to talk about death, and therefore, we don’t plan ahead, which results in doing what our family has always done – conventional funeral and burial. Visit your local cemetery and ask them for natural burial. Chances are they will tell you that they don’t offer it because no-one is asking for it! Or they don’t really know what it is. You have to inform them.

The Ann Arbor Green Burial Network in action!

nature deathAs I write, the wind is howling and the sun is shining on this beautiful winter day. I have been busy consulting with folks from all over the state, and elsewhere, about one of my favorite topics: How to have a funeral and burial that is in line with our values to protect, preserve, and strengthen the earth. Everything from mushroom burial suits that mediate toxins to backyard family cemeteries to creation of new township burial grounds to collaboration with existing cemeteries to start offering natural burial. I’ll be attending the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in April to assist the Green Burial Council in spreading the word among those “in the industry.” I continue to do presentations whenever I am asked. So many of us want to change the paradigm and it takes the support of all of you to do that, slowly but surely.

I had the privilege of helping a family that found out about green burial at the Ann Arbor Green Fair last June. Sadly, after chatting with us and taking home some literature, a family member became ill. Through facing his death, educating himself, and making his wishes known, he was able to have a home funeral and green burial that gave everyone peace of mind and comfort. This is the work we do.

Thank you to all of you who have signed our petition. Melissa Anne Rogers and I met recently; here are our plans for this year:

  1. Encourage and help the Ann Arbor City Council to sponsor a resolution saying that they support green burial and that we need more green burial options locally. (Last year we met with county officials and they stated that there are NO public health concerns with green burial that would stop any cemetery from offering it in our county.
  2. Produce an educational article, video, CTN television show and radio show about green burial, highlighting local families that have had one.
  3. Host an Earth Day event (April 22). Currently, I’m thinking about a fundraiser concert!
  4. Have a table at the Green Fair again, which is on June 10 in the evening.
Obviously, we need a good amount of help to bring these goals to fruition. Please email me if you are willing to help us by being a planner and doer. We especially need help with social media and connections.
I hope to hear from you!
Merilynne Rush


Death, Dying & Dessert in Livonia

I’m starting a new discussion group in Livonia, my old stomping grounds. This one is called “Death, Dying & Dessert” and it meets at the Livonia Civic Library every second Monday, 7 – 8:30 pm, starting October 12. I had a wonderful experience today at a church doing a Death Cafe. The same topics came up that appear at the Ann Arbor Death Cafe. It will be interesting to see if the Livonia group varies much. Fears, wanting to be able to control how death happens, trying to accept mortality, the need to discuss all this… Talking about it in a discussion group is like practicing talking with one’s family.

I hope you’ll consider joining us Monday, October 12, 7 pm in Livonia!


Advice to someone who wants to do a home funeral

Dear Paul,

Thank you for contacting me; it was a blessing to speak with you yesterday. I consider the work I do informing families about natural death care to be a ministry and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you.
The plan for your mother that you have outlined to me is very lovely and do-able, and will be a dear way to honor your mother and her passing.
Your mother is at home in hospice care – this means that when she passes, the hospice nurse will come to the home. S/he “pronounces” the death and initiates the paperwork (death certificate), which will be sent to the chosen funeral director. S/he calls the funeral director and tells them that you will be contacting them when you are ready for them to come to the home in a day or two and help you go to the church for the mass. From there they will proceed to the cremation. The ashes will be returned to you a few days later.
This arrangement allows you to lovingly care for your mother’s body at home, including cleaning, dressing, “laying out” and cooling with dry ice, and visitation with family and close friends. This time in the privacy of your home is a very sacred and special time during which people typically pray, visit, relate stories and memories, share food and fellowship and grieve together. After this time, the circle is widened as you move to the church for the larger funeral and visitation with the open casket.
There are several things I recommend you do or think about ahead of time. We mentioned several of these and I have added a few others.
  1. Discuss your plans with close family and caregivers. This allows them time to ask questions and volunteer to help you. You will need help to do all this at home.
  2. Contact the funeral director you know and tell him what you’d like to do:
    1. That your mother is at home in hospice care and you’d like to care for her body there for a few days before having a funeral mass and cremation. He will want to be sure you know how to properly cool her body. He will probably put a 48-hour time limit on it – don’t worry about this at this point
    2. He may be able to help you figure out the payment contract you have through Neptune Society and work with that
    3. I would count on additional charges for the transport to the church, the obituary, the consultation and other paperwork
  3. Decide what type of casket you would like to have for the open casket viewing in the church. The funeral director should be able to provide a very nice “cremation casket,” which you can decorate or make to look nice, or you may want to purchase something on-line. This is something we didn’t talk about and I could go over with you in a family consultation. You probably don’t want to purchase something through the funeral home which would cost a lot of money.
  4. Discuss your plans with the hospice nurse or chaplain and elicit their support
  5. Contact the church as see if they will have any concerns with an open casket of an un-embalmed body. In the past, I have spoken with church personnel who have wanted education and reassurance.
At any point, please don’t hesitate to contact me again with questions. Please give out my contact info to anyone else who would like more information. As you can see, even though what you want to do is very straightforward and simple, it gets more complicated when you have to involve and educate other people, especially those who are accustomed to doing things another way. They may have concerns and it may feel that they are putting up roadblocks, but I assure you this is all very do-able. I am here to help you with this. I have confirmed that the funeral home I know would be able to help you if yours doesn’t work out.
In order for me to be able to continue this ministry, I ask that you consider making a payment for my consultation. As we discussed, I ask $100 for a family consultation and $400 if I come to the home after the death to continue to guide you through the process of caring for the body. However, I accept whatever you feel you can pay.
Bless you in this journey,