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Posts from the ‘Caring for Our Own’ Category

Family-led Funerals in Tucson

At the end of September I will co-facilitate a new workshop with Jeremy Werner at the Caritas Healing Center, here in Tucson. We will cover what and who is involved with holding a home or family-led funeral in Arizona. Jeremy and I met during a Tucson Death Cafe in the spring. He is a healer devoted to his work and his clients in a clearly attuned way I dearly respect. He is also very interested in the work of empowering individual, family and community death care choices that are natural and family or community-led. As am I!

Upon realizing the unanticipated gift of meeting each other and sharing this mutual interest, we decided to try offering a workshop together where we will explore:

Alternatives and inspiring possibilities for legal and natural family or community-led death care at home, as well as how we may consider death as an emotional opening and healing opportunity. We will offer insight into how the dying process and after death care offers each of us a pathway toward greater personal growth and transformation. Healing meditations and exercises will be included to facilitate understanding. The workshop will run 9:00 AM to noon on Sunday 9.30.13 and an optional lunch will follow from noon to 1:00 PM for those who wish to continue the dialogue. Attendance is limited to 9 participants so please RSVP here by Friday, 9.27.13 to reserve your seat.

During lunch we will begin initial conversations around co-creating a volunteer Tucson Threshold Care Circle, similar to the volunteer community established by this group of women in Viroqua, Wisconsin. I am excited! This promises to be engaging and fun in a heart expanding way. Feel free to please leave a comment below or contact me via email or phone if you have more questions.

Handpainted message on a cardboard transport container

Handpainted message on a cardboard transport container

When does a family-led funeral make sense?

The simplest answer to this question is twofold: 1) when a death occurs at home; and 2) when care and vigil for a loved one after death feels natural to the circle of caregivers present.

While sitting with an extended family in their home yesterday, we discussed questions or concerns about holding vigil for a family member who may make her final transition at home. They are preparing for this possibility with painstaking care, profound love, and gracefully awake open-heartedness.  Their collective relief after our conversation made a lasting imprint upon me. They voiced how natural our conversation felt, despite not sensing the greatest fluency in the matter at hand. They acknowledged feeling more at ease with the moments, days, weeks or months ahead. The ‘left-brain’ information I offered in a time of heart-centered transformation and transition seemed like a kind of rare sustenance for their journey.

Family Conversation

If you live in a state where caring for our own is legal, having an open discussion about alternatives and factual choices for family-led care may bring more relief than you imagine possible. (Here is the most current place you can access state by state information.) Might this kind of discussion feel challenging and emotional? Yes. Can there be humor and tears woven throughout? Absolutely! Whether you are holding the conversation for clarifying your own wishes or planning for a close family member, the work it takes to hold the discussion will result in emotional, mental, perhaps spiritual or physical and sometimes even financial relief. (All this said, many variables surely exist. Depending upon location, nature of death or other factors, family-led care or home vigil is not for everyone.)

These thoughts from Nancy Jewel Poer, an author and maven of family-led care, expands on the simplistic answers I’ve offered above:

“To care for a death at home requires a group of people willing to help when needed and at least a few with full awareness of what needs to be done. This extensive ritual may not be possible or appropriate in many cases. What is practical, good and right for any person and their family is what needs to be done. But regardless of circumstances, of religious views, traditions, cultural mores or cultural cynicism, this is a deeply important time for all involved. Contemplation and support of the spiritual destiny and legacy of the dying one, and compassionate support of the survivors, always, always brings goodness into the universal scheme of life.” (Excerpt from her book “Living into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community.”)

Soon, I’ll be posting dialogue from a family I assisted, while they cared for their own mother at home, after her final transition. What they share will shed further light onto answering this question of when a family-led funeral makes sense. If you have any individual questions or would like a community presentation, please feel free to contact me either by phone or email, or the contact form on this blog.

A Tucson Home Funeral

The week of November 8, 2010, I served a family while caring for their elegant mother in their home – after she peacefully transitioned in her sleep. They had intensively and sensitively cared for her the past few years, so a home funeral was a very natural extension of their efforts. How they entered the work of caring for her body at home with pure stamina, gentle awareness and the tenderest kind of courage simply leaves me speechless.

As I left their home after a nearly twelve hour day of supporting their work, neighbors began visiting. The day had included an array of decisions and tending to legal details, communication, physical care and paperwork. By evening, gifts of food, flowers, wine, poetry and photos came pouring in. I paused for a bit outside, to witness expressions of both laughter and tears. I saw children, young adults and elderly all standing together to support the family. They were helping each other carry what was too big to carry alone in that moment: be it grief, relief or sadness. And all the while, the deceased was naturally lying in grace for people to sit with, too. It was poignant and oh, so very real.

This story from the New York Times yesterday, conveys many of the reasons why I feel the practice of home funerals is re-emerging. Increasingly, people want to hold celebrations for life passages at home: weddings, anniversaries, or even memorials. According to this article, 80% want to carry out the sacred act of dying at home, too.

The scenes I witnessed while serving the family I’ve described here, all illustrate the power of honest and open dialogue about caring for our own at home. What are your wishes about your final days? Do they involve being at home? Are you conveying these ideas to your loved ones? Opening ourselves to this dialogue is one of the kindest gifts we can give each other, in my humble opinion.

Handpainted message on a casket

Connections & Choices for Bereaved

As a Life Cycle Celebrant, I serve people at all stages of life’s milestones: new life, love and loss. I recently completed in-depth training about caring for our own at home – to help families care for their own departed. Today I found relevant articles that revealed two themes underpinning why I do this work: choices and connection for bereaved families.

One tells of the burgeoning home funeral trend, where we are returning to practices we know from our ancestors. The sobering photo in the article shows an elderly rancher looking at his coffin, handmade by his sons. It is a still shot from the film “A Family Undertaking“, which offers glimpses into contemporary family-led funerals. The other article tells how families are decreasing their funeral or memorial spending out of necessity during this slow economy. According to the independent funeral homes interviewed, families are more frequently opting out of the costliest line items and simplifying by choosing direct cremation.

Is the slow economy the only driver, I wonder? Or is this trend away from heavy spending on energy and material intensive products (steel caskets, concrete vaults and embalming) really a broader indicator? Is it a wake up call for not only Baby Boomers – yet all of us – to notice how we may return to simpler, less costly choices at the end of the road? Choices that involve deep connections through family care, support from a home funeral guide and perhaps even natural burial?

An interesting convergence of themes I think, these choices and connections for grieving families. Is a home funeral right for everyone? Well, no. Yet, with healthy planning and families holding an intention for death care at home, the end of the road may potentially become more emotionally healing and less costly in many ways.

Trends for ‘greener’ funerals

Last week I got a call from a TV Producer researching  trends in green burial and family-led home funerals. We enjoyed an open and engaging dialogue. She mentioned how she and her colleagues have discussed the topic for a few months.

More and more people are considering and even talking about (!) simpler, more meaningful after-death care and burial alternatives. I observe people seeking more personal relevance, less impact on family finances and more earth friendliness than what they usually find in today’s standard funeral practices. A recent USA Today article about the green burial trend in South Dakota reads, “People, especially baby boomers, are seeking a return to simpler times, simpler practices.” Wendell Thompson’s quote in this article nails it:

“I want something simple, dignified and environmentally sound.”

I serve as a Life Cycle Celebrant and Home Funeral Guide to help this dialogue flourish in southern Arizona. Based on training and first-hand work I’ve completed, I believe how profoundly meaningful and surprisingly achievable after-death care within families and communities is, when it fits for people.

The TV Producer’s questions indicated she is not just skimming the surface of this subject.  I hope her research efforts lead to an awareness-building production. If folks in Beverly Hills are exploring ways we can more meaningfully handle after-death care and the funeral process – and thoughtfully highlight the theme on TV somehow – I am encouraged.