It was the Natural Death Centre (NDC) which first advocated a return to the ancient, not long lost practice of caring for our own dead, and it was John Bradfield who did the bulk of the research into what you can legally do and what you can’t*. This re-birth of ancient practice was branded the do-it-yourself or DIY funeral.
Many people found the term repugnant, with its associations of botch, bungle and smashed thumbs. In truth, installing a new kitchen and caring for one’s dead share little common ground. Over in the US they coined the term home funeral. Much, much better.
Did home funerals take off here? No. And yet, while this is acknowledged, I am amazed how many funeral directors tell me that they have worked with families who have cared for their dead at home. It may be unusual, but it’s happening all the time.
Why would anyone do it?
Because if you have cared for someone in life, and through their dying, why would you not want to keep them with you and see it through? Why hive it off to strangers? As Lisa Carlson has it, this is a “final act of love”.
Before we can muster the courage to undertake any task in which we are unversed, we need the reassurance of three things. Here are my Three Things:
• a workshop manual
• an understanding of the worst that can go wrong
• the phone number of an expert who can help—or rescue us in case of calamity
People patiently tell me that home funerals will never catch on. After all, even communities which remember the old days prefer undertakers. I accept this, but I still feel that more people would care for their dead if they were empowered by the Three Things.
The home funeral movement is thriving in the US, where there’s a growing number of support networks to empower those who would care for their own dead. I very much hope that the revived Natural Death Centre will revive the movement in the UK and produce its own workshop manual.
In the meantime, home funeralists in the UK should know that the Three Things are in place for them now.
There are two very good US workshop manuals out there, and they are free. Download the Crossings Resource Guide. Download the Undertaken With Love guide. Be sure to make a donation if you can well afford to. The Crossings guide will tell you the worst that can happen.
Phone your local funeral directors and tell them what you’d like them to do. You’d be amazed how helpful most of them will be.
And now there’s a brand new resource out there. It comes from Undertaken with Love and it’s a flickr site from which the photo at the head of this post is taken.