When my great aunt died many years ago, I told my mother “Don’t let them take her body until I get there.” I didn’t know why, but it was important to me to be able to see her in her room and share some time with her and my mother before she was taken away. I hold that time as a precious memory.
In 30 years of professional life I have been helping people make empowering choices concerning their health care, specifically in women’s health and childbirth. My work as a home birth midwife for many years gave me the privilege of working very personally with families during a major life transition. I also worked as a hospice nurse, caring for the dying person and the family. Through these experiences I have witnessed the benefit of walking through, rather than around, profound emotion. I want to share the knowledge and the gift of caring for your own dead so that more people know that this is an option.
In some cultures and religions it is believed that it can take up to three days for the spirit to fully leave the body. Others have specific rituals or traditions for care of the deceased immediately after death. Just as I believe that birth can take place in the home and be an intimate family experience, I believe that home visitation or home funeral can be the best way for individuals or families to engage in the process of caring for and saying good-bye to their loved one.
I first became interested in home funeral and natural burial in 2008. I train End-of-Life Doulas through Lifespan Doula Association in Ann Arbor, MI. I am a certified Advance Care Planning facilitator through Respecting Choices®. I am President of the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA) and also served on the Board of Directors of the Green Burial Council and the National Home Funeral Alliance, a nation-wide network of those advocating for personal choice in caring for our own dead. I hold an MS in Hospice and Palliative Studies and a Nurse Health Educator Certificate from Madonna University, a B.S. in Nursing from University of Michigan, and a B.A. in Humanities and Women’s Studies from Michigan State University. For a decade I volunteered as a nurse in Nicaragua for several weeks per year and I speak fluent Spanish. My husband and I have raised two children and have five grandchildren.
If you feel that caring for your loved one at home after death is something you’d like to consider, I would be honored to speak with you.
“Thank you so much for your guidance, support and friendship which made my wish to have a home vigil for my dad not only possible but natural and effortless. And I thank you for being such a stand for home funerals and green burials – our family is indebted to you for our current planning of a family cemetery, completing one home vigil and plans for my husband’s mother’s. Your tireless vision and work is a gift to our community.” -Mary, 11-2-14
“Merilynne met with my family at our home when my grandmother was dying. She taught us how to care for her body and have a simple ceremony. We’re so grateful that Merilynne helped us learn how to do this naturally. It was in keeping with the way my grandmother lived her life. It was just perfect.” -Sierra H. 4/10/11
“Hi, Merilynne! I am sitting here with a sick baby on my lap and reading the info on your website. After reading about your home death services, I am so relieved! This is something that my family has been talking about for a while. I have every reason to believe that my parents will live for many more years, but both of them have expressed a wish for a home death and natural burial. I have heard about some home deaths in the Steiner community in Ann Arbor but I just feel overwhelmed by the thought of arranging a home viewing and funeral. Although my brother is supportive, I know that the work and planning of a home death for my parents will fall mostly on my shoulders.
When I read about your work, I finally felt like we could make home death happen for our family. I always said, in conversations about home death, that it would be really good to have a “home death midwife.” I thought, “Somebody needs to do this!” And here you are. Not only are you doing this work but you are someone I know, love and trust.” – J.S. 9/12/10
“You may not find it uplifting but dealing with the end of life is just as important as preparing for the beginning of life, or as Merilynne Rush says in the video “Birth is as safe as life gets; Death is as real as life gets.” I say let us live our lives in a healthy and aware state and when we die let us leave only a barely discernible footprint.
When my father died and then 10 years later, in 2009 my mother died I felt I had been given a lifetime gift to be able to be with them as they drew their last breath, to give them one final kiss and tell them I loved them as they slipped away. It was a form of closure that most people never get the honor of experiencing. My parents were both in nursing homes when they died, so the last I ever saw of them was in their respective rooms, totally at peace, but not in their familiar environs. Within hours someone I never met and did not previously know picked them up and whisked them away for cremation. You have little choice in a nursing home setting (although I should look in to that as well). However, if a person can stay at home and perhaps have hospice care or even just be cared for by their children or spouse things can be quite different.
I now know why we went down this path but it doesn’t mean I have to like it or accept it. I have never liked funerals whether in a church or a funeral home. I hate looking at an embalmed body and I detest words spoken from a mouth that never even shared a cup of coffee or a bit of a natter with the dead. I have made it clear to my family that I do not want a funeral. I don’t want tears shed; I want a celebration of my life with laughter and joy. Cremation seemed the logical answer and a big celebration with good wholesome food and a glass of wine but now I feel this, this after death home care, answers that burning question of how to celebrate my life. If it also allows me to leave a small footprint all the better. Celebrate my life, wrap me in a shroud, bury me in a landscape that is sustainable and plant a tree at my site to grow and represent all I was and will ever be.” Kris C.P. 2011
“When I first contacted you, there were not any apparent urgent health issues with my Mom. Something told me to get going on it, but nothing obvious. After a lovely morning of (apparent) great health and beautiful high spirits, Mom took the proverbial dreaded “turn for the worse.” She died 2 days later with all of us who love her fully and deeply with her. There were some bad moments a couple of hours before she died, but the docs and nurses made her comfortable quite quickly. The nurse whose job was to wash Mom asked if I would like to participate ~ which was very important to me.
I feel very fortunate. It was not perfect, but I feel we did pretty well by her. She was never without someone who loved her and knew what to do, or how to get help. She never once awoke without a known and loved caregiver.
An experienced advocate would surely have made a few things easier – and I wish I had followed through with you when I had the chance. I should have called you once Mom was in the hospital. Her amazing “recovery” confused me… now I know that an advocate would have been the right thing to do no matter what. I will carry that learning with me, and share it with others who might be in a similar situation. What a tangle of confusion for the patient and families …
I thank you for your ongoing work. I can tell that you are experienced, skilled and exceptionally caring.”