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Are You Afraid to Plan for Your Own Death?
Posted on Mar 27, 2010
By Frankie Colmane
I asked Lyons if there is any possible collaboration with funeral homes. “Some funeral homes are starting to offer home funerals. One woman, whose father owns a mortuary in the Midwest, took our class and wants to bring in the home funeral aspect. Some people see that this isn’t going away. There is a difference in the quality of care. I know some funeral directors are well-meaning but they don’t realize that they’re disempowering families. They think they’re taking the burden off of the family. When we teach, we talk about the difference between funeral directors and home funeral guides. It’s important to guides that the family is made to feel that they are in charge, that they are making informed decisions and that everything is done legally and correctly. We guide, we facilitate but we don’t direct.”
Home funeral educators and guides also have to contend with people’s resistance to the inevitability of death. Our consumer society would rather have us focus our energies and money on the possibility of delaying the aging process rather than on facing the reality that we are born to die. “Lots of people come to our workshops because they have aging parents and they want to know how to take care of them, so they’re not caught off guard,” says Lyons. “Other people do it because they want to prepare for their own death. We never know when we’re going to die. In our culture not many people acknowledge that.” Lyons likes to quote this Buddhist commentary: “America is the only culture that considers death as optional.”
Lyons is in the process of forming a California Home Funeral Alliance to organize the community of home funeral educators and guides, as well as friends of the home funeral movement. Currently she relies on her educational workshops and private grants to keep her organization going. Lyons deplores that foundations offering funding for death and dying projects do not as yet include categories for after-death care, and home or family-directed funeral guidance.
There is an urgent need to educate hospitals, hospices and coroner’s offices, who often don’t know that families have the legal option to care for their dead. At the time of death, they usually give the grieving relatives a list of local funeral homes to choose from. On the Funeral Consumers Alliance Web site a chaplain working in a Georgia hospital leaves a comment asking for help in the case of a family member who requested to take the body of their dead relative. The chaplain admits to being “unprepared for that” since they always release the body to funeral homes. Lyons contends that people can’t be blamed for being uninformed when nobody wants to talk about death.
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There are currently 54 listings under “Home Funeral Guides and Consultants” on the Home Funeral Directory Web site and many books on the subject of do-it-yourself funerals are widely available. A new edition of Lisa Carlson’s Caring For The Dead: Your Final Act of Love, published in 1998 is in the works and the Funeral Consumers Alliance adds updates on its Web site to changes in state laws since the publication of the book. The site also lists local organizations available for counsel and information is readily accessible from the Consumer Protection branch of the Federal Trade Commission as well as your local Department of Consumer Affairs.
“No one can care for our loved ones as tenderly as those who have loved them,” says Beth Knox. Olivia Bareham founded Sacred Crossings, a company offering cost-effective alternatives to current funeral practices, in the wake of her mother’s passing. Since she died at home, the nurse asked Bareham if she would help her bathe the body. “I had never seen my mom’s naked body! I don’t regret I said yes. The experience was unforgettable and deeply honoring of my mother.”
A young woman was originally “creeped out” when her mother told her she wanted to have a home funeral for her husband who succumbed after a long battle with cancer. Upon viewing the body of her deceased father peacefully laying on his bed on the day of his passing, she spoke these words to me: “My dad worked so hard, he started out with nothing and he took good care of his family; he bought this house, this is his home; for him to pass here is safe for him, and safe for his spirit to relax for a few days. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
“Since we’re all going to die, Jerrigrace Lyons wisely advises that we should have a death plan. Waiting to be grief-stricken or dead to get informed and shop for funerals is a bad idea. But beyond the financial aspect of after-death care, what these guides are asking us to consider is why would we want to miss out on this last chance to care for those we love? Maybe because we’re all so busy working full-time jobs and conforming to society’s material demands that we hand over one of our most important rites of passage to strangers at a significant cost to our own evolution.
Frankie Colmane lives in Los Angeles, where she reports on local independent artists and activists. Links to her stories can be found on The Smiling Spider blog.
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