Posted By lisacarlson on November 13, 2011
As a grandmother to the home funeral movement since 1987, I have been thrilled to see the interest in home funerals taking hold around the country. And how wonderful that there are significant learning opportunities to help spread this movement.
However, I am growing alarmed at one of the trends I see: women (typically) calling themselves death midwives (not just home funeral guides) and asking to be paid for being present with the body, to help prepare the body, get the paperwork, and transport the body. Why am I alarmed? For two reasons. One, it is “acting as a funeral director” without a license. When the industry gets riled enough (as they have been in Pennsylvania and in Oregon), there are likely to be measures taken to limit the possibilities for home funerals, to take away that right that we have in all but eight states. That would be tragic!
Secondly, the very activities that some of these death midwives are doing or offering to do thwart the therapeutic involvement for friends and relatives. Having something to do takes away the sense of helplessness. Those in the helping professions often have an enormous need to feel needed, and this can lead to overbearing behavior. In at least one situation I know of, the personality of the helper was so aggressive that she offended others.
Of his wife Ann’s death, Jack Manning wrote “No Grey Suits: End of Life as a Team Sport.” Because I get “high” on empowering others, I’ve put together a checklist of the kinds of activities Jack assigned to those around him when he needed help. He didn’t pay them. They all felt privileged to be asked, to be included in such an intimate way. Your friends and relatives will surely feel the same. I am hoping that this checklist will be helpful to the home funeral educators, too. It’s fine to charge a fee for a workshop or written materials, but any hands-on activities at a time of death should be given away for free in order to stay within the law. That’s also consistent with the practices of religious groups that bury their own dead without charge or the Colonial women of the community who were the layers out of the dead.
When a death occurs, many people don’t know what to say or how to act. They might add to their condolences, “Please call if I can do something.,” not being at all sure what they could really do. Will you be smart enough to ask for help, especially ahead of time when the death is expected? Not all of these will apply to every home funeral, of course. Leave your suggestions as a comment!
- Help with notifying family and friends, by phone or e-mail, Facebook or Twitter? Website?
- Be in charge of obtaining the required paperwork (death certificate, burial transit or disposition permit, permit to cremate)?
- Contact the cemetery, crematory, or med school to schedule delivery of the body?
- Bathe and dress the body?
- Make or purchase a casket, shroud, or cardboard container?
- Obtain dry ice or frozen gel packs if needed?
- Arrange for music?
- Contact any clergy desired?
- Arrange for flowers?
- Arrange for cleaning or housekeeping or pet-sitting?
- Arrange for meals or other refreshments?
- Meet out-of-town guests at the airport?
- Provide overnight accommodations for those?
- Collect and display photos or other memorabilia?
- Plan any service to be held, with or without the body present?
- Help if there will be more than one event or more than one location?
- Write the obituary?
- Write a eulogy?
- Video any events for the benefit of out-of-town family?
- Serve as pall bearers?
- Transport the body?
- Send thank you notes?
- Apply for veterans benefits such as a marker and flag?
- Notify Social Security if not already a part of EDR (electronic death registration)?
- Extend support to the bereaved after everyone has gone?