Home Death Care

“The elaborate expensive display of an open casket with all the makeup in the slumber room enforces the belief that the person is only asleep and in my personal opinion would only help prolong the state of denial.”
– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

Up until the moment when a body passes from mother, husband, daughter to dead mother, dead husband, dead daughter, it is part of a community.  A member of a family.  Yet as soon as a person dies, the family seems to want nothing more that to get rid of the body as soon as possible.  Call the funeral home to come and whisk the body away into the night in the back of an unmarked van.  To where, they do not know.  For what, they do not know.

The question is why.  Is it true that the modern family is a slave to the siren song of capitalism, delighted that they can simply pay someone else to do the dirty work for them?  The Order argues that more families would choose to take responsibility for their own dead if they knew that it was a possibility.

In the past 75 years the use of a funeral home has become the norm.  So much so that our collective memory has forgotten that for thousands of years of human history your family was your burden from cradle to grave.  There was no option to shift responsibility to a funeral director or mortician.  You washed the body, shrouded or dressed the body, sat with the body, and finally accompanied the body to the grave or crematory.

To take care of your own dead loved one you must remember 2 things:

  1. Dead bodies are NOT dangerous.  Unless the person died of a highly contagious disease, they present no threat to you.
  2. Taking care of the dead is NOT illegal.  Find out the law in your own state/country:   It may be that you will require some assistance from your local mortician or funeral director. Click here for some excellent info for the US and Canada.

Taking care of someone you love after they have died is not the easy option.

Grief is not easy.

Facing your own mortality is not easy.

But it is right.

Next Post
Natural Burial & Embracing Decay
  • Lisa Jonte

    In her 18th century diary, Martha Ballard referred to the final preparation of a family member for burial as performing the, “last office of friendship.”  

    That sounds nice, doesn’t it?(see “A Midwife’s Tale” by  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.)

  • Thank you so very very much for opening up this much needed dialogue.  I am a Home Funeral Guide assisting families in the Los Angeles area to reclaim what I refer to as ‘the lost art and healing ritual of a home funeral’.  There are a growing number of us, and the Home Funeral/Green Burial movement is growing too.  
    The time is now, for each of us to bravely embrace our inevitable crossing over, and prepare a sacred, open, loving space in which to do this.  A Home Funeral is a powerful opportunity to feel the depth of human love, compassion and gratitude. Let us grasp this opportunity with glee. Life is short.With deep gratitude for the opportunity to have lived a life in this incredible world.Olivia BarehamHome Funeral Guide & Death Midwifewww.sacredcrossings.com 

  • Jamie Akureyri

    Dear Caitlin,

    Thank you for your advice, your reflections on death and burial, and your willingness to challenge the status quo.

    May I ask you some questions about this photo sequence?  Who is the girl who has died and what did she die of?  How old was she (she looks rather young)?  How was her husband able to keep himself so composed while he was burying his wife?  (I would be distraught and disconsolate if my husband died, and there’s no way I could dig his grave.)  How is he doing now?

    Photo #12 shows a solution you have prepared.  What kind of flowers are those and what else did you put into it?

    In photo #14 you are positioning something grey under her chin.  What is this object and what does it do?  (It looks like it might be a rolled up towel.)

    Thank you for your reply.

    Jamie Akureyri

    • Vanessa Hooper

      Jamie, I had many of the same questions you did. I know you posted this years ago, but I don’t see any answers to your questions. This sequence looks very familiar to me. It reminds me of a documentary I watched on Netflix awhile back about the home funeral movement.

    • Daughter of Asopus

      One of those she addressed in a video. When you’re dead your mouth hangs open so you can either sew it, use metal pins to shut the mouth of you can simply roll a towel under the chin to keep the mouth shut.

  • Scarsonslc

    How does this work in connection with organ donation? Can this still be done AND allow for my organs to be used by others.

  • My earliest memory at age 2-3 yrs was one of smell in a home where a deceased relative was being shown as I related in one of my blog pieces.  .  Glad to read more specifics here about the home process. 

  • Turningleafhomefunerals

    Organ Donation for Home Funerals: Depending on the nature of the death and the organs harvested, it is still possible to bring a loved one home. If an autopsy is required for any reason, it is important to let the medical examiner know your plans and work with him or her – the ME is the final authority in terms of releasing the body. Organ donation may take a short period allowing the body to be released to the family within hours, while other donations may delay release for hours to days. Always let the authorities know your wishes to bring the body home and they should do their best to accommodate you. There is nothing different about body care beyond the usual cooling, cleanliness and possible seepage, all easily managed.
    Controlling Smells: Even in this heat, a body kept in a 70 degree room will be fine for at least 3 days with all other mentioned things managed. I’m allergic to essential oils and such that many use to manage potential odors so don’t use them and have yet to smell a bad thing (beyond general old person smell which has been documented as residual chemical breakdown) due, I believe, to good hygiene practices of hospice nurses and families. Get around some good smelling dead people and replace that olfactory memory!

    Lee Webster
    Home Funeral Guide

  • Pashta

    Another note.  CINDEA now has 6 designs for shrouds (as used above) – 2 unsewn and 4 sewn — with graphic and written instructions at http://cindea.ca/shrouds.html

  • >^Ailurophile^<

    Oooooooooooh, I got a piece of the puzzle done “figgered” out with the home care pictorial. I’m not going to ruin it for everyone, cuz you did a fantastic job Caitlin. It R mysterious & makes people think. However, I just gotta’ ask: what’s with the catheterwiring??? All for show or whaaaaaa? Bravo, bravissimo! Just gotta’ letchoo know that because of you & your linky-dinks, I was able to find a local “green” burial ground & funeral homes (in New Friggin’ Jersey even!) to make sure I don’t get all pumped up with chemicals & made up like a cheap slut before returning to nature. However, a few of my family members are sort of against my wishes, esp. my wish for attendees of my FUNeral (get it?) to play kazoos to the tune of the ol’ Alfred Hitchcock show & sing ‘The Hearse Song” with my own made up verse of “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, up yer keyster & out yer snout, maggots dance around your spleen, then beetles make yer bones real clean.” Those party poopers can stay home & be all butthurt. Too many funerals are dreadful & full of woe & sorrow. I’ve been battling an autoimmune disease & assorted ailments for about 15 years & due to my wants & desires from childhood to not pollute & take up land that looks horrendously artificial, I was leaning toward cremation but when I found out “green” burial options are available for my impending carcass, I can actually say I am relieved. I couldn’t & wouldn’t expect my husband & best buddy to have to do post mortem care & in NJ, it can’t happen with a whole lot of red tape & bureaucratic BS anyhew, so the 2 local funeral homes that work with Steelmantown Cemetery will be fine. You;re doing a great job getting attention for a great cause & even helped me, so thanks & GREAT JOB on this home care dealie.

    • phtmom

      Funerals are more for the living than for the dead. What are you going to care about what happens at your funeral when you’re gone?

  • I cried going through the photos. beautifully told through photography, i really wished more people would view life and death this way. x

  • I am pleasantlly surprised with the website! My daughter is very progressive and posted it on her facebook page giving me a chance to learn more about the “Green movement” in terms of home deaths and caring of the body. Thank you for telling us truth about death.

  • JOY

    I AM DEEPLY MOVED BY THE PICTURES AND THE LOVING AND RESPECTFUL WAY THIS YOUNG WOMAN’S DEATH WAS HANDLED. I WOULD WISH FOR THE SAME THING FOR MYSELF. I AM VERY DRAWN TO THE HOME FUNERAL MOVEMENT AND CHERISH THE MEMORY THAT I HAVE OF THE CARE I WAS ABLE TO GIVE MY OWN FATHER DURING HIS PASSAGE.

  • Thanatos

    These photos (though beautiful), are staged. That’s why there are no responses from the author. Look at the members of the OOTGD. Any of them look familiar?

    • Vanessa Hooper

      How are they staged? The woman is clearly dead.

      • Poffel

        Clearly dead? Because her eyes are closed?

        Lol

    • Phuktard

      Yeah, she’s alive, but it is supposed to be educational. There would probably be legal issues with using a real corpse. But most people are not familiar with lividity, etc., so if it looks real, it’s good enough for them.

  • Sophie

    I learned of your organization only recently and am very happy to have found you. Your pictures made me vividly remember my mother’s death. She died at home and stayed there for three days until the funeral company came with the casket (because this was the legal delay). I stayed in her apartment during the whole time and I think it was very important and helpful, although my brothers kept asking me if I wasn’t afraid, or feeling awkward. My mother died in the big bed she had always slept in, and on the other side of which I had also slept sometimes when visiting her. Death is sad, and losing a loved one feels always too soon, but it is inevitable and an organic part of our lives. My mother and also I have had home births and it felt natural to just let her stay in her surroundings after she had died, in stead of attempting to “get rid of” the body. Thank you for all your work.

  • VeeUnderEm

    What a beautiful idea and post. I absolutely hadn’t stopped to consider that it might be legal for me to take care of a loved one’s body. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it and I’m surprised this isn’t discussed more. Thanks for the inspiration to look into this. 🙂

  • mary anne

    That grave looks awfully shallow—wouldn’t wild animals get the scent of the body and dig it up?

    • Vanessa Hooper

      I agree. That was my first thought

  • Jodi Wright

    My greatgrandmother had a awake back in 1947. I always wondered why they decided to send your loved one to funeral home It cold and it smells funny. I realize why they have to keep it cool to keep family members from decomposing. I get that. It seems so unemotional and detached at a funeral home.

  • Christine

    Hello! The link for more info on home burial in the U.S. is no longer working. Is there a new web address or something?
    I’m not expecting anyone to pass anytime soon. Also, I am really young. Haha. I just had a discussion with a family member the other day about burials and how much it stinks they’ve been used to make the big bucks and it got me to wondering. Thanks so much for the info!

  • Sara Pair

    I want to specially thank Mr Larson for the help they rendered me. I have be able to preserve my lovely mother’s corpse for the past four years now without the corpse delaying or smelling. If you have lost someone you love so much and you want preserve the corpse for a very long time with an embalming powder then contact Mr Larson on homeofembalment@gmail.com

  • Rhonda Ryan

    How beautiful!! To be able to fulfill your marriage vows , “to love you/support you in sickness and good health to the day that I die” ( if this is applicable) this man is so unbeivable. Could I do it??? NO. there would become a time I would have to pass my loved one onto the funeral director. Yes I could nurse them at home, give a supportive / tranquil / loving environment, to allow time to spend together. No way could I dig the grave site. I would be able to carry the coffin from the chapel to the grave site as my final farewell, and watch the funeral director complete the buriel. I have a large respect to others that can do what this person has done.

  • Luisa Abreu

    I did not know you could take care of your own dead, I’ll be definetly doing it with my parents once they die. It just looks like the most respectfull thing you could do for your dead loved ones.