Owl you need is love

Charles 26 Comments

Screenshot 2014-05-23 at 10


The natural death movement in the UK of the early 90s was very much a child of its time. Its parents were the natural childbirth movement and the environmental movement. The happy coupling resulted in the birth of twins: the DIY funeral and natural burial.

The natural burial movement grew strappingly, but the DIY funeral didn’t. Not in the UK, anyway. But it has begun to thrive in the US, where DIY funerals are more fittingly called home funerals.

The buzzwords at the heart of the home funeral movement are empowerment and reclamation. Like all progressive movements in funerals it draws its inspiration from a golden age, specifically that time when people cared for their dead at home assisted by members of the community. It resists the commodification of funerals and the sidelining of those closest to the dying and the dead by specialist professionals:

“Reliance on a funerary industry to care for our dead and the removal of death and dying from our homes and communities are startlingly recent developments … Our modern approach to death has … left us blind to the extent to which we’ve forfeited our most personal, vulnerable and significant life moments to medical, funerary, legislative and commercial pressures.” [Source]

It may be worth reflecting, at this point, on the popularity of home births in England and Wales. In 1961 32.4% of women gave birth at home. In 2011, that was down to 2.4%.

The GFG has scrutinised the US home funeral movement from time to time, with the result that ours is the only UK website listed as a resource by the National Home Funerals Alliance. It only goes to show how incredibly little is going on over here. We’ve always been puzzled by that.

At last, though, we can announce the birth of a UK enterprise dedicated to helping people care for their dead at home. It has been created by Claire Turnham, who cared for her own father at home. In 2013 she attended the nhfa annual conference in North Carolina. In the autumn she will be hosting Jerrigrace Lyons, one of the great pioneers of the home funeral movement, who will hold workshops for those who wish to care for their dead at home.

Claire’s enterprise is called Only With Love, and you can find it here. OWL is a welcome addition to the UK’s diverse and highly creative funeral culture. We wish you well, Claire!


  1. Charles

    This is great and much needed. For more information on DIY Funerals, Home Funerals in the UK see the Natural Death Handbook (5thEdtn) available from the Natural Death Centre charity. There’s even a whole chapter on how to keep the body at home…. Great to see lots of you at the NDCs Home Funerals Salon on Sunday. We only hope interest continues to rise to that of the USA Home Funerals movement which is inspiring. Claire’s efforts will help spur that on. Susan, NDC Trustee

  2. Charles

    Good luck Claire – I’d love to become involved in your plans if you are ever thinking of branching out into Cambridgeshire.

    May I be so bold and suggest one thing that I think would really enhance your website? A photo of you. Having read through the site and felt overwhelmingly inspired by it, I was left gutted that I didn’t have a face to put to your name. It is such a personal service that you are offering, I yearned to know who it was I would be dealing with if I came to you.

    1. Charles

      Hi Andrew

      Feel free to be as bold as you like. All the photos you see on the website are personal ones and I am in some of them on the OWL story page leading my Dad’s funeral. There is also one taken recently with me surrounded by my children on the OWL services page underneath the quote from Charles. I do take your point though and will pop another one on soon. I am always happy to talk to you if you think a family in Cambridgeshire may wish to have a home funeral or care for their loved one at home. I am also happy to come and run a workshop in your area. It will be fabulous for families if we can work together for their benefit. Keep in touch, warm wishes Claire

    1. Charles

      Bless you Kitty! Thank you, to me it just makes sense. Home funerals benefit individuals, families and communities in many ways. I feel honoured to be a part of this naturally growing movement . It is happening and it is real! Definitely exciting times for us all.

  3. Charles

    It’s as natural as dying. Lovely, Claire.

    It’s so interesting for us oldies to watch as the world re-invents the past for new generations who have forgotten their culture. But even more interesting is how the new take on the old ways is improved, enhanced with new ways and new traditions. I love witnessing it.

    1. Charles

      Yes absolutely it is a reclaiming of a family’s right to care for their own and to do it their own way, in their own time. There is so much value and richness for families when actively involved in the process. I personally have found it to be both nourishing and sustaining and I know other families find it that way too.. When you have the courage to embrace the experience there are so many gifts which transform it.

    1. Charles

      Wow Gloria your words and sentiment mean a lot. Thank you – it is such a privilege and an honour to be guiding and empowering families to care of their own dead and to support them to lead the ceremony themselves. Exciting times!

  4. Charles

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Claire on a number of occasions. This “new” way of arranging funerals and caring for the deceased can only be a good thing.
    Although I am a funeral director, I am more than happy to recommend Claire’s services for those families that come to me but think she would be a better fit for them.
    This industry shouldn’t be so moneysentric, but should focus on people’s needs. If I think there is a better person out there to help a particular family, I am happy to say so.
    The advantage for me, is that Claire is right on my doorstep!

    1. Charles

      I absolutely agree Lucy and feel very lucky that within Oxford we have such a professional and individual funeral director as you. The families in our care can only benefit from us supporting each other and putting their needs first. You deserve to be highly successful and I am so glad we have the opportunity to be working together. It’s brilliant! As Evelyn says times are a changing….

    1. Charles

      Thank you Jenny for taking the time to say so. I am really proud of the home funeral service we are offering to families and the website has been a real labour of love for us to create. All the photos on it are personal and I hope show to others how tenderly caring for your own loved one and being actively involved in the funeral ceremony for them can be a very simple, beautiful and meaningful experience.

  5. Charles

    You are such an inspiration!
    Just by sharing your own experience with your dad’s death in such a positive and peaceful way, you’ve helped me deal with my grandad’s, my uncle’s and then my stepdad’s death in recent years.
    You’ve helped me realise that death is not gruesome and has to be accepted as part of the cycle of life; that funerals, although tears of sadness are shed, is not only a final farewell but a celebration of the deceased’s life; that we can still be close and connected on a spiritual level, and all of that has helped me tremendously with my own grieving. I have to thank you, I feel you’ve eased the pain of loosing them. You also gave me the courage and inspired me to get involved in the ceremonies, to make them special and meaningful and although I am proud of what I have done, it’s nothing compared to what you give and are able to produce for your own home funerals.
    I have witnessed you building your cocoon with strong determination, yet gentle care and a beautiful butterfly is coming out of it. Now is YOUR time to fly and shine…Bonne chance! Only With Love xx

  6. Charles

    Just catching up on my GFG Blog fix, and am very grateful to you Charles for posting this. What a great service and how well presented via the OWL website. We will certainly be promoting this to families coming to our Henley and new Aylesbury natural burial grounds.


  7. Charles

    We came to this because of tragedy and have learned so much these last 4 years. http://www.beyondgoodbye.co.uk was created after our son Josh died in an RTA in Vietnam and this movement recognised our work and awarded our films 2 years running thus helping us and many others to break the isolation we felt as bereaved parents. The major theme of our learning and website is CHOICE and that is what the home funeral movement is about. Thanks to you all for supporting us and congratulations Claire on your new book. We look forward to the workshop at The American Museum in 2 weeks and catching up with you and Paula. X

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