Family funeral guide and educator Jerrigrace Lyons is a pioneer of the home funeral movement. Based in California, She is founder and director of Final Passages, a non-profit educational institute of conscious dying, home funeral and green burial education, and a founding member of the National Home Funeral Alliance. She writes:
Death is the last great taboo. Even though each of us will die someday, few people in Western society want to discuss death and dying — and this affects how we die. While 70 percent of people say they prefer to die at home in actuality 70 percent die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility.
When death occurs in a clinical setting, the body is whisked away, to be disposed of in an efficient, impersonal manner. The family pays their respects and pays a fee, and this concludes their involvement. They are bereft of any real meaning or closure.
There is another way.
Just a few generations ago, people cared for the dying at home. When someone passed away, their kin held whatever ceremonies were appropriate to their faith or community, and sent the departed on their way with a sense of love and release, rather than fear and grief.
Today, we’re pioneering a return to family funerals with Final Passages, an educational organisation that offers a personal, natural and green approach to end of life care. Through our courses, consults, and resources, we prepare individuals — and the community — to help plan, guide, and provide support for family-directed home funerals. Our work serves the needs of community members from all cultural, economic, religious and spiritual perspectives. Most importantly, commemorating your loved one’s life and death with a home funeral places the family back in charge, which promotes healing and closure.
It’s a joy to watch people move from anxiety to wellbeing by being able to fully participate in a loved one’s transition. Though I have a long history in holistic health care, I initially came to this work because a dear friend, Carolyn Whiting, died unexpectedly. Carolyn was keenly interested in a natural and conscious approach to death care, and had left detailed instructions for a home funeral. I took part in Carolyn’s home funeral and was profoundly moved by the entire three-day experience. Community participation and ceremony, at home, supported those grieving and allowed time for us to come to terms with her death. Her friends bathed and dressed her body with dignity. As barriers of fear and anger gradually dissolved, there was more room for love and celebration. This most personal, meaningful, and respectful experience catalyzed my passion to share it with the world. I created Final Passages twenty years ago to reawaken a choice that our ancestors once held sacred.
As a home funeral educator and guide, I work with a family every step of the way, ideally from before the family member in question dies. I meet with the family, go over all of their options, explain the components of a family-directed home funeral, discuss whether they want cremation or burial, explain the meaning of “green burial” and its benefits, inform them of casket options, and the paperwork required. I am available for as much or as little support as they request. I can lend the family a massage table with a covering drape on which to lay the body of their beloved during preparation. When asked, I guide the sacred ceremony of washing, dressing, sometimes anointing the body with oils, and applying make-up if desired. I show the family how to preserve the body using various forms of ice, and I bring a cardboard cremation casket that participants love to decorate. Finally, I coach them while they place the body into the casket and in their van or truck for transport to the crematorium or cemetery.
Demystifying the funeral process allows family members to say goodbye with a sense of fulfillment and grace rather than emptiness and stress. Our society discourages displays of grief because people don’t know what to say to someone who is expressing such deep emotion. In compassionately completing a loved one’s final passage, broken hearts are given a vessel in which to transform grief to a feeling of peace. By providing a place for the sacred, home funerals celebrate the cycle of life and death.
The work of Final Passages has spread internationally over the past twenty years. Hundreds of people are drawn to our courses, learning the ancient art of natural, family-involved death care, watching films about home funerals, and, ultimately, seeing how elegant, gentle and loving this option can be. In reclaiming death, we are reclaiming life: enabling people to live each day with less fear, in potentially greater joy.
by Jerrigrace Lyons
For more information about home funerals in the UK: www.facebook.com/homefuneralnetwork
Jerrigrace is in the UK to present at Kicking The Bucket’s event on 4 November – Funerals To Die For that Won’t Cost The Earth which is hosted by the Home Funeral Network. She is also here to hold home funeral guidance workshops in Oxford, Sussex and Devon. For more workshop enquiries and information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.