Some Americans return to old tradition of home funerals
For decades, Americans have turned to professionals to prepare the bodies of dead loved ones for burial. But now, in at least some circles, that practice is being challenged as a few Americans choose to prepare their own loved ones' bodies on their own.
A small, but growing, they say, group of Americans are choosing to say no to involving funeral homes and undertakers in the funerals of their loved ones, choosing instead to take matters into their own hands — and finding a sense of closure at the same time.
In 2011, Alice Forrester's teenage son died unexpectedly. Finding herself in shock, Forrester decided to bring his body home and prepare it for burial herself.
"I was very fearful of seeing my child's body. I had no concept of how I would react and I was terrified of it," she said
On her plane to Denver, Forrester found herself in the middle of a spiritual experience as she battled her doubt of whether she could handle this task. But once she arrived, Forrester says, she felt peace with her decision.
"When I did see him, he was already in the little house that we were going to have him in, I wasn't shocked — I was scared and in awe. But I also really moved to a place of 'this is beautiful,' and that's a really hard thing to say when your child has died," she said.
Heather Massey, a close friend of Forrester's, works with the National Home Funeral Alliance, which helps families prepare their dead loved ones. Massey says some families who decide to be part of the burial preparations find an important spiritual experience through the process.
"To be able to care for your own loved one under those circumstances is a very powerful and empowering feeling," Forrester said. "The family is basically acting as the funeral director."
By having home funerals, Massey says, Americans are reclaiming a tradition. Sensing a turn, many funeral homes and funeral directors are also joining the National Home Funeral Alliance, allowing families to be part of their process. The families can then turn the paperwork and transportation over to the funeral home, Massey said.
When Forrester arrived in Arizona, her son had been autopsied, wrapped and placed in a box.
Friends and family, Forrester says, brought photos and other mementos to place in his burial box as they celebrated, cried and sang together.
"It was just very intimate and very beautiful, sad, joyous. It's hard to put into words," she said.
Forrester never imagined having a home funeral for one of her children and says if she had chosen a funeral home memorial, the experience would've been very different.
"A funeral home to me is somewhat like a hospital, I mean it's cold, it's antiseptic, you file in and out… to me it's a world of difference," she said. "I think having that time with his body, there's an acceptance, there's a peace. You're ready to kind of let the body go, realizing it's not him anymore."
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