Advance Care Planning means completing your Advance Directive and having the conversation with your healthcare advocate. Advance Directive documents alone don’t really work!. It is necessary to share your values and wishes through facilitated discussion with those who will be making decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. The process involves a number of interactions over time that increase the likelihood that your end-of-life care wishes will be followed.
A home funeral is a loving way to honor and care for your loved one in the hours or days after death. It can include any of the following: Bringing the body home (if not already at home), caring for the body yourself, including washing, dressing and cooling with dry ice, inviting friends and family to a home visitation or wake, having a funeral service and/or having a green burial.
Here’s a more formal definition: “A ‘home funeral’ is a noncommercial, family-centered response to death that involves the family and its social community in the care and preparation of the body for burial or cremation, and/or in planning and carrying out related rituals or ceremonies, and/or in the burial or cremation itself. A ‘home funeral’ may occur entirely within the family home or not. It is differentiated from the ‘institutional funeral’ by its emphasis on minimal, noninvasive care and preparation of the body, on its reliance on the family’s own social networks for assistance and support, and on the relative or total absence of commercial funeral providers in its proceedings.” – Holly Stevens, Project Leader, Undertaken With Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities
Is it Legal?
It is legal in all fifty states for the family to care for their own dead in the home for a few days immediately following death. Laws vary from state, however, and in some states a funeral director must be hired to sign the death certificate or transport the body. Some crematories or cemeteries will not accept the body directly from the family. This is not a law, it is an individual institution requirement. See below.
Do I have to hire a funeral director?
In Michigan the answer is Yes. Most other states do not require this. Current Michigan law states that a funeral director must sign the death certificate and supervise transport of the body to final disposition (crematory or cemetery). Other than those two things, you can do everything else yourself.
In other states, the law does not require you to hire a funeral director, but an individual cemetery or crematory might be unwilling to accept the body directly from the family, thus making it difficult to not have a funeral director. Plan ahead, ask for what you want and know your legal rights. As more families have a DIY funeral, I believe more institutions will be supportive, over time. For information about legal recourse or laws in other states, please contact me or consult the Funeral Consumers Alliance, www.funerals.org.
It is important to know that most health care facilities in any state will not release the body into the care of the family. This is not a law but a facility regulation, so funeral home staff may need to be contracted to transport the body to your home. Not all funeral directors will do this so try to plan ahead. Referrals to a supportive licensed funeral director or other care provider in your area are available upon request.
Is embalming required?
Very rarely and only under very unusual circumstances. However, most funeral homes will not allow public viewing without it. Again, this is not a law; this is an individual funeral home requirement. If you know you do not want embalming but want family and friends to be able to see the body and say good-bye, having a ‘home funeral’ will allow for as many visitors as you wish.
How does one care for the body?
The body is washed and dressed and laid on a bed or couch. It is cooled with dry ice. For step by step information, please see the Threshold Care Circle website. It is helpful to have a care team that has discussed this ahead of time. I offer consultations to families on the phone or in person, to help you learn how to care for your loved one at home. If you would like more information or guidance, please contact me.
Can I bury someone in my backyard?
Yes, but in most states you must first go through the legal channels to establish a family cemetery. Then you can bury anyone related to you. You usually can not do this in a city. Check with your state’s cemetery board, or contact me for more info. Please plan ahead! It is nearly impossible to do this without setting it up in advance.