For most of history we have cared for our dead at home. The deceased were memorialized in the family parlor and buried in the family graveyard. Even though embalming had been practiced as far back as ancient times, it was not widely accepted in the United States at the time.
The process from death to burial happened quickly enough that preservation was not an issue. During the Civil War, people became more familiar with embalming as surgeons turned to the process as a way to preserve the bodies of soldiers so they could be transported home for burial.
- A Home Funeral (or Family-Directed Funeral) takes place outside of a funeral home, usually in a residence or surroundings special to the deceased. The loved ones of the deceased take care of bathing, dressing, and tending to the body. Typically, embalming is not used. Instead, dry ice or synthetic ice is used to keep the body cool.
- A Home Burial is a burial that takes place on your own private property. Quite often the family and friends build their own simple wooden casket or use a fiberboard one.
When President Abraham Lincoln’s body was famously carried across the country by train, newspapers reported on the techniques used for preservation and Americans began to see the value of the embalming. While body preservation began to be embraced, the home was still the center of activity in terms of caring for the dead. The embalmer would come to the home to tend to the body and the funeral would still take place in the family parlor.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that conditions were right for the funeral industry as we know it today to be born. During this period, people began to turn to death specialists to handle the details of caring for the body and funeral parlors began to pop up in towns across the country. It was also during this time that we saw the growth of community graveyards as an alternative to the traditional family cemetery.
Today, the funeral industry is estimated to be worth nearly $21 billion. It is unquestionably an important and integral part of our society. It cares for our dead, comforts grieving families, and helps to sustain our legacy. Nevertheless, there is a small, but growing movement that is embracing the practice of holding the funeral at home rather than at a funeral home or place of worship.
Among the key factors driving the growth of the home funeral and home burial movement are the desire to find “green” alternatives to traditional funerals and the need to reduce costs. With the cost of the average funeral inching toward $10,000 home funerals offer a promising option since the cost can be significantly less.
But home funerals are about far more than just saving money. They offer a way to honor the lives of loved ones by making the process much more personal and dignified. They also allow the family to connect with their dead by giving them a hands-on role in making sure their final requests are honored.
Even the funeral industry has started to take notice with some funeral directors beginning to offer support to people who want to hold home funerals. The Green Burial Council, a group dedicated to advancing environmental standards for the funeral industry, is working to approve more funeral homes that accommodate families looking for home funeral options.
There is also a growing network of professionals who can assist individuals with carrying out a home funeral. While they do much more than just advise on home burial, death doulas or death midwifes, can help you understand what to expect when planning a home funeral.
Whether or not a home funeral is right for you or your loved one is a question that only you can answer. You will need to consider factors such as how the deceased would prefer to have his or her body handled, your religious or cultural beliefs, and how you and your family feels about handling the body. The important thing to know is that you do have the option of holding the funeral at home.
If you do decide that you would prefer a home funeral, it is critical that you document your decision in your funeral plan so that the individuals who are handling your arrangements are aware of your wishes.
Are Home Funerals and Burials Legal?
Yes! Home funerals are legal in every state. However, some states require that you use the services of a funeral director for at least some portion of the process. The regulations can vary widely. For example, Connecticut requires that a funeral director sign the death certificate and be responsible for removing or transporting a body. New Jersey requires a funeral director sign the death certificate and be present for final disposition of the body.
Right now the following states require that a funeral director be involved in at least some part of the process.
- New Jersey
- New York
If you are considering a home funeral or a family-directed funeral, be sure to check the regulations in your state. Regulations and laws are constantly changing so it important to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.
Home burials can be a bit trickier since they are likely to be governed by local regulations. In rural areas, home burial may be an easy task. In more urban areas, it may not be permitted at all. It is critical that you check with your local municipality regarding the regulations in your area.
How can I find out the requirements for my state or community with regard to home funerals or home burials?
A local funeral director can provide you with information on how to go about finding out what you need to do if you’d like to have a home funeral or burial. The National Home Funeral Alliance also provides information regarding the requirements for each state.
If I decide to have a home funeral, does my family have to handle every detail?
You do not have to handle all the details of the funeral if you can’t or don’t want to. Some people prefer to have a funeral director handle the paper work or transportation and take care of the other details themselves. Others prefer to have a professional handle the body. Exactly how you want the details taken care of is up to you.
It is important to check to see what the regulations are in your particular state since some require that a funeral director be involved at some point in the process.
Where can I learn more about home funerals?
There are a number of organizations that can provide you with additional information on home funerals and home burials. The largest is the National Home Funeral Alliance. Another group that is dedicated to providing home funeral information is Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death.