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.
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.