Home Funeral Guide

What is a home funeral?

Before the mid 19th century, the dead were often cared for by the family and displayed at the family home in the parlor (this is where the term funeral "parlor" came from). As embalming became more widely accepted and private viewings in funeral parlors became more popular, the home funeral became less common.

While today it isn't common to have a home funeral, there is a growing movement to hold home funerals. According to Lisa Carlson, a pioneer in the home funeral movement and author of three books on funeral law, including Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death, "a home funeral can help relieve the feeling of helplessness by being directly involved in caring for the person who died - especially in the case of a sudden death where there was no time to say goodbye."

For those who had time to prepare and plan for a home funeral, they might attend a workshop led by a home funeral guide. If someone is interested in having a home funeral but did not have time to attend a workshop, a home funeral guide can be available to coach family member(s) prior to the preparation of the body and let them know what their responsibilities are.

How to learn more about home funerals

To read about home funerals on your own, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Joshua Slocum is the most comprehensive book in print today. You can download the chapter from the book about your own state for $5 at the Funeral Consumers Alliance bookstore.

A directory of home funeral guides offering workshops or advance coaching can be found at the Home Funeral Directory website.

For more information about home funerals, you can email Funeral Ethics or contact Lisa Carlson. You can also email the Funeral Consumers Alliance or visit their website.

We encourage you to confirm pricing, ask for references and interview any funeral professional you are considering hiring.

What to expect from a home funeral guide

A home funeral guide charges a fee to teach the family what they need to do with the body and advise them of their responsibilities - laws vary by state.

Home funeral guides are not licensed funeral directors. Only a person licensed by the state they are performing the service in can legally accept payment from a family to prepare a body for viewing. Unless they have a license, they cannot touch the body if they are being paid.

Ms. Carlson suggests, "Having an outsider in attendance may take away from the involvement of the family. They (the family) should feel entitled to the privacy of their own family during this time - it's therapeutic and helps them process their grief. Furthermore, preparing a dead body is not rocket science or some secret society. You treat a dead person just as you would when the person was alive."

Ms. Carlson wants those considering a home funeral to know "it's important for you and your home funeral guide to follow the law of your state. When someone does not follow the law, home funerals risk becoming illegal."

Donna Belk, a trained celebrant and home funeral guide from Texas, likes to incorporate her celebrant training into a home funeral. "As a celebrant, trained in the art of ritual and ceremony, there is value to adding ceremony and ritual into the preparation of the body. It helps to create a tenderness and significance to the event which gives meaning to those present." To find out more about celebrant training and roles, please visit Heart2Soul's celebrant page.

Heidi Boucher, a home funeral guide for over 25 years and writer, producer and director of In the Parlor: The Final Goodbye, has watched the home funeral trend evolve over the years. "It's important for anyone considering a home funeral to understand what's expected of them and be realistic. Family, community and physical support are all important aspects of caring for your loved one at home (after death) and doing a home funeral."

What if you want to have a home funeral, but don't have the physical support? Ms. Boucher suggests, "You may be able to still do a home funeral and/or have the body at home for a couple of days. Many family-run funeral homes are willing to help. For instance, if you don't have family/community to assist in the bathing, dressing or transporting the body, ask what a funeral home can do to assist you."

The important thing is to strike a balance that works for you. Be creative, be realistic and ask questions. Many home death care guides are happy to assist you even over the phone.

What does it cost to have a home funeral?

On average, a home funeral can cost less than $1000. 

A home funeral guide can consult in person or on the telephone. They can offer workshops lasting anywhere from an afternoon to several days. Fees will vary, but costs for services can be as low as $50 and upward of a few hundred dollars.

We encourage you to confirm pricing, ask for references and interview any funeral professional you are considering hiring.

These costs do not consider the cost for disposition of the body, such as cremation or burial.

Sources: ehow.com, Homefuneraldirectory.com

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Final Rights
By Lisa Carlson and Joshua Slocum
Lisa Carlson