Who Owns The Dead? - Home Funerals

David Trammel's picture

Here's an article that is both moving and strangely hopeful, about the rise, or should we say re-introduction of the long standing tradition of home funerals.



"As the family contemplated taking the girl off life support, and Knox thought about what would happen next, she knew she could not do what almost every person in the United States does after the loss of a loved one and hand her daughter over to a funeral home. “It’s unthinkable to me,” Knox said when we spoke recently. “Your child is gone, and you’re asked to give her to strangers and not see her again—except, maybe, for five minutes in this weird place.” She had cared for her daughter from the day she was born. She could not imagine anyone else caring for the girl in death. She wanted to take her home.

Knox said she saw the worst of the institutional approach to mortality that day. The hospital would only release the body to a funeral home, so friends called around until they found one willing to fulfill the family’s unusual request to bring the body to Knox’s house. When the funeral home staff arrived, they put Alison in a body bag and zipped it over her face, despite Knox’s plea to keep it open. They took the body on a gurney through the bowels of the hospital, with Knox “running to keep up,” she said.

But once Alison had arrived at Knox’s house, the girl belonged to her mother again. Knox and her own mother gave Alison a sponge bath in her bed and clothed her in a dress they’d bought at the beach that summer. They made a wreath of flowers for her hair. The funeral home staff arranged the girl over dry ice to slow her decay, and she lay in a small, child-sized casket made of pine, placed perpendicularly across the bed. Knox slept curled up in the small space beside it at night. Hundreds of people came through the house over the next few days, as Knox remembers it. Teachers and classmates brought gifts for the coffin. About three days after her death, Alison was taken to a crematorium, where Knox rocked the gurney on which her daughter’s body lay, and watched as she was put into the furnace."

Desmond Tutu: a dignified death is our right – I am in favour of assisted dying

"The manner of Nelson Mandela's prolonged death was an affront. I have spent my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying."

This article took me by surprise. I think modern medicine has mucked up both the beginning and the ending of life.

DIY Death: Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal

Well, it turns out that in most states it’s perfectly legal to care for your own dead. And, with new momentum to shatter longstanding taboos and stop tip-toeing around death — from “death with dignity” measures sweeping the country to projects promoting kitchen table “conversations” about our deepest end-of-life wishes — a re-energized DIY death movement is emerging.

This “personal funeral” or “home death care” movement involves reclaiming various aspects of death: for instance, keeping the dead body at home for some time rather than having it whisked it away; rejecting embalming and other environmentally questionable measures to prettify the dead; personally transporting a loved one’s corpse to a cemetery; and even, in some cases, home burials. Families are learning to navigate these delicate tasks with help from a growing cadre of “death midwives” “doulas” or “home death guides.”

The U.S. has been commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." I would very much recommend This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust:


It's rather amazing how our attitudes toward death have changed in that time--and they will change again.