A community funeral society

Charles 5 Comments


Posted by Charles


I’ve always liked the idea of Viroqua, Wisconsin. It seems to be the hometown of a lot of very nice people, all four and a bit thousand of them. Viroqua was dubbed ‘The Town That Beat Walmart’ in 1992 because its small businesses are able to compete with the monster and hold it at bay. It has a flourishing food co-op and farmers’ market. 

Viroqua is also the home of an active and influential group of home funeralists, the Threshold Care Circle. They work with anyone who wants to care for their dead at home. They are skilled in body care and other aspects of waking a dead person. They provide a complete alternative to professionalised funeral directors.

They don’t charge for what they do. If they did it would mean that they were trading as unlicensed funeral directors. Thank goodness we are free of this unnecessary regulatory nonsense in the UK.

Here’s a piece about them by a Viroqua blogger: 

The women did their work – researching, educating and supporting – quietly and diligently for years until, in May of 2010, our community was engulfed in tragedy and grief when two 18-year-old boys were killed in a car accident in the early-morning hours of Mother’s Day. Living in a town as small as ours, no family was left untouched by the heartache of this tragedy, and once again, the community rallied together. This time, however, there were more resources in place for grieving family members who might wish for an alternative to the traditional choices of funeral and burial. With the care and guidance of the Threshold Care Circle, the family of one of the boys chose to bring his body home, bathe him, and hold a 3-day vigil on their front porch. The home-vigil was new to almost everyone who experienced it, and the family’s choice to do this undulated outward, reaching an unexpectedly large group of people. But in the midst of unimaginable despair, those who were sharing the experience were finding extraordinary moments of truth and beauty. All were profoundly moved and forever changed through exposure to such tender caring and collective grief. A wide segment of our community had been initiated into an alternative view of death and dying, and it deeply touched a place of longing and need. [Source]

I have a feeling that our funeral industry hasn’t the vision to coax us out of the dismal rut that we dignify with the name of tradition. In any case, it would be hard for it to survive commercially if it did. 

It’s inspiring to consider a way of doing things which offers an alternative to the present lo-cost craze which is sweeping our country. The irony is that, as alternatives go, a home funeral is actually a lot cheaper, despite being several hundred times more valuable. 

On Wednesday we shall look at a community enterprise in the UK which, perhaps, points the way ahead. 

In the meantime, spend some time on the Threshold Care Circle website here



  1. Charles

    This would be a fantastic service and I would love to be able to guide families towards something similar. Derbyshire perhaps?!!

    I have had two ‘lo-cost craze’ calls this morning. There was no one left to attend in one case and the ashes were to go abroad in the other. It isn’t a case of families being cheap or having a lack of engagement. It is mainly situations where this suits the needs or instructions.

    Good to see you yesterday Charles.

    X Rosie

  2. Charles

    Imagine my surprise to see a UK blog covering our humble educational organization! Thank you for the coverage.

    I’d like to clarify a few things, tho. We put in our share of volunteer time, but we do charge for our educational consultations and workshops. We cannot charge for care of the body as we are NOT licensed funeral directors, nor are we on call 24/7 like they are. Our mission is to we teach and empower families and faith communities how to do it themselves, which is legal in all but eight states in the US.

    As individuals, we have assisted friends and community members at the time of death (for free) when we’ve been asked by the family to do so. While we don’t ask for remuneration for hands on care, often people will give memorial donations to TCC to support our work after experiencing the beauty of a home funeral.

    We are all about changing the culture around death, advance planning, opening conversations and having more meaningful experiences with the passing of our loved ones.

    Also check out the National Home Funeral Alliance, there are people all across the US working to change how we honor the death of our loved ones.

    Charlene Elderkin

  3. Charles

    Thank you for this, Charlene, and thanks for dropping by. Thanks, too, for that clarification. And the link.

    It is very inspiring to see what you are doing, and it is very inspiring to see the home funeral movement gathering momentum over there. In the UK the home funeral movement is pretty much stalled and there seems to be a general feeling that it cannot and will not ever take off. You prove them wrong.

    It is time that we brought death back to life — where it belongs.

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