• Home-funeral

      Home-funeral

      Until the early 1900’s, the responsibility of caring for a loved one after death was left to family members and close friends.

      By Rev. Olivia Bareham

      The rituals of bathing, dressing and anointing the body; laying the deceased in the parlor for viewing, and gathering the community for a goodbye ceremony, all took place in the home. Death was accepted as a natural, inevitable part of life. Almost everyone had seen at least one, if not many, deceased friends and family members by the time they reached middle age. Death was neither macabre nor unknown. Death was what happened. Taking care of the body was what the family did.

      Gradually however, over the next 100 years, this very natural part of the life-cycle was taken over by the Funeral Industry. Well-meaning funeral directors were quick to convince us that we could avoid the ‘unfortunate business’ of death care by relinquishing the practice to professionals – for a small price. It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on. In a 1930’s Ladies Home Journal it was announced that the parlor would no longer be needed for laying out the dead. The funeral home would now host the funeral parlor, and every American household would now enjoy a ‘Living Room.’

      Today, the collective consciousness accepts that funeral directors are the death-care providers. Morticians clean and dress our deceased relatives and apply make up. If we wish to view our loved one’s body we must agree to embalming – an expensive, toxic, invasive and unnecessary procedure that replaces body fluids with chemicals. Visitation is limited according to the schedule of the Funeral Home. We accept this as the ‘right thing to do.’

      But by banishing death from our homes, have we lost a profound opportunity for healing, mourning and celebrating life? Can the ritual of caring for our loved one’s body after death provide significant emotional and spiritual benefits? And what about the opportunity to unite families and communities during the 3-day wake following a death? Have we traded a ritual that allows us to feel the depth of human love, grieve our loss, embrace our fears and perhaps change our perspective on life itself, for the sake of convenience?

      Witnessing my own mother’s transition, made it clear that this is sadly the case…

      After suffering the effects of ovarian cancer for many months, mother died peacefully at home on hospice, surrounded by loved ones. Her death was a profoundly moving experience, as the death of a parent always is, but it was the events that followed that were to change the direction of my life forever.

      The first was when the hospice nurse arrived and invited me to help wash and dress my mother’s dead body. “We’ll do it together.” She said kindly. “What was her favorite soap?” As I cradled Mother’s frail body in my arms the nurse used a washcloth and warm lavender water to gently wash Mother’s back. She quietly hummed a lullaby. I wept. The tears dripping freely onto Mother’s creamy white skin. But they were not tears of sorrow. The sorrow and grief would come later. These tears were those of love, and awe and gratitude. Caring for Mother’s body evoked profound gratitude. Every thing she had ever said or done for me was crystallized here in her lifeless body – and this was my final opportunity to say ‘Thank You.’ My sister and I dressed Mother in a white lace, burial trousseaux. We laid her on the bed with a rose on her chest and her bible in her hands. We held each other. We prayed. The veil to the ‘other side’ had lifted and the room was transformed by a tangible and profound peace. It was breathtakingly beautiful.

      And then the Funeral Directors came.

      They pulled their rattling gurney over the white carpet and parked it by the bed. They stuffed mother, in her beautiful white dress into a black plastic bag and zipped it up. They wheeled her out across the lawn, and into the waiting green van. They didn’t even say goodbye. “Wait!” I wanted to call out. “Wait! We aren’t finished! Come Back!” But the van had turned onto the main road and was out of sight.

      I didn’t know what it was that we needed to finish. I just knew that something didn’t feel right about Mother going away with strangers like that. Where was she going? Would she be on a shelf in a refrigerator? On a cold, metal table? Frightening mages raced through my mind. The peace and love from moments earlier were replaced with fear and anxiety. This wasn’t right. Why did she have to go? For months, we had done everything for her. We had fed her, bathed her, soothed her, dressed her, changed her soiled clothes and sang to her. And when she died, the kind nurse had helped me experience the exquisite. Mother’s body lying in the living room had evoked the essence of eternity – a depth of love that the living couldn’t provide. I wanted to integrate it, understand it. But I needed more time, just a few more days. I needed time to grasp what this whole thing called life and death really meant. But the funeral directors took her away.

      That was 8 years ago. When I returned to ‘life after the loss of mother’ I began to investigate alternative ways we could care for loved ones after death. Do we really need a funeral director? I wondered. Could we keep the body at home for a three-day wake until burial or cremation? I immersed myself in anything I could lay my hands on about death, dying, and after-life. I took a course in Death Midwifery and learned that in most states it is legal for a friend or family member to be designated as the funeral director; the body can lay in honor at home on dry ice for a vigil of up to three days; the family can complete and file all legal documents themselves, decorate a simple cremation casket and transport the body to the crematory in their own vehicle.

      I decided to make it my mission to educate and empower families to reclaim what I have come to term as, ‘The lost art and healing ritual of a home funeral’ and founded Sacred Crossings. Sacred Crossings offers a compassionate end-of-life service to the growing number of people in Los Angeles seeking “green,” cost-effective alternatives to traditional funeral home practices. Sacred Crossing Guides are certified in the Art of Death Midwifery providing support to those who desire a conscious, holistic dying experience. We guide families through the intimate process of after-death care and preservation of the body; help them to create a quiet, sacred space for visitation and provide bedside singing and grief support. We offer guidance in how to decorate the cremation casket, file the paperwork, host the end-of-life celebration in the home, and transport the body to the crematory in a family vehicle.

      Although it is always best to make preparations in advance, Sacred Crossings can help a family at any time.

      ! Death Midwifery, Home Funerals & Green Burials takes place Thursday, May 21 at Throop Fireside Room and is facilitated by Rev. Olivia Bareham.

      Rev. Olivia Barham has a Bachelors degree in Natural Theology and Sacred Healing, is an ordained Minister, and a certified Home Funeral Guide. Her company, Sacred Crossings educates and empowers families to reclaim the lost art and healing ritual of a Home Funeral.


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      Comments

      1. Alex Nodopaka says:

        A very sensitive and timely article dealing with the peculiarities of our society for having distanced us from an ultimate fate that we must all deal with. All except me, of course, because death happens only to others… lol

        I remind myself how considerate are the ways of the Tibetans when treating the dying. And as I always said to myself, when I die I wish to be in the arms of a kind good looking attendant instead of a white-bearded old man fluffing through the clouds.

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