Home Funerals: Caring For Your Dead

My husband and I watched another Netflix documentary the other night, A Family Undertaking. If you haven’t seen it, it’s another MUST SEE.

The film follows several families as they care for their loved ones during their last days, and prepare their bodies for burial. It isn’t terribly sad (and this is coming from a hormonal, pregnant lady), nor is it gross or disturbing. It was actually very moving.

Contrary to popular belief, a body does not have to be embalmed or preserved or anything before burial. And it is several days before the body begins to break down, so you don’t have to get your loved one in the ground immediately either.

Something else I didn’t know, it’s legal in almost all states to care for your own dead. You will probably need to obtain a permit, each state has it’s own laws, but the majority of us have the choice to keep the body of our dear one and care for it as we wish.

After watching the film, my husband and I both agreed that this was definitely something that we wanted for our family.

“Why?”, you ask? Why keep the body of your dead loved one until burial? Why not just send them to the mortuary to have them deal with it while you mourn?

For us, the decision is based upon love and respect. Funeral homes are so incredibly impersonal, never mind the expense of it all. It is an industry, with trained professionals to oversee it all.

Nobody there loved your dear one. Nobody cares how their body is treated. It is their job, plain and simple. No matter how professional they are, they just can’t replace the tender care of a loving family member.

Once you see how a body is sliced and jabbed, drained and “pickled” as they called it in the film, you will think again about how you want your loved ones and yourself to be cared for after death. (It does show this procedure done, but in a very medical, non-gory way.)

Especially when you realize that all of it is unnecessary. Your loved one’s body will decompose whether you embalm it or not, why abuse it so horribly after death?

The biggest thing for me is if, dear Lord please have mercy, we were ever faced with having to bury one of our precious children.

I cannot even begin to fathom handing over their little body to some group of strangers to be absolutely brutalized. And then to have such a stale, impersonal funeral, all cookie cutter and empty.

I wouldn’t hand them over to strangers now, and I wouldn’t in death. No thanks. Not after I’ve spent every day of their lives cherishing and nurturing them. No. Thanks.

Instead, this movie shows you another choice. It shows family members surrounding the body of a loved one who has passed away and is now laying peacefully in their own bed. The family dresses him or her in their burial clothes.

They lift them gently into their homemade, hand decorated casket, and the children are allowed to touch the body and speak to it, and are no longer confused about where the deceased one is, or afraid of death.

Loved ones can mourn in privacy, for as long as they need, no rushing to get out of the funeral home for the next service.

Some of the families took their loved one to a cemetery to be buried, and some dug a hole on their own land, creating their own family burial site.

Personally, I am thankful to have our own land to be buried on, and that’s how we want it. I want to be able to walk out into the field or woods and visit the grave of my precious loved one every day.

I don’t want to be restricted by travel or time. And I want us all to be buried next to each other, without having to pre-buy grave sites somewhere.

I am so grateful to those who made this documentary, and shed light on an alternative to what we’ve all assumed was our only option. Like with so many other things, up until now I was completely unaware of what choices I have.

So, I share this with you… not to make you feel bad about decisions you’ve already made, but just to think about future choices you may be faced with one day.

Do what is right for you and your family, holding dear to the fact that you don’t have to do what the system and everybody else tells you is “just the way it’s done”.

33 thoughts on “Home Funerals: Caring For Your Dead”

  1. I read this article you wrote, Ken, & it really touched my heart. I always felt that mortuaries were impersonal & the common burial a type of “emotional blackmail” to get people to pay thousands for something that should be dealt with with sincerity & compassion, but in this greedy world that we live in everyone wants to make a “buck”, even in death. I, myself, have basically decided upon cremation for this reason & possibly have my ashes thrown over the ocean where I have spent so much of my life. That’s ok, too. I never want to be a burden, financially, on my family as I know how hard you have all worked so hard to save & make it in this world that is so difficult finanacially. Why should death be a burden? I think having your “loved ones” on your own land would be the most ideal thing possible. What a beautiful way to celebreate life in this world & into the next. Thanks you for sharing this info, it makes so much sense & is so beautiful to think we can always be together always in this life and into the next! I love you!
    Mom xoxoxox!!!!!

  2. I would like to point out a few things….
    (1) After life ends, mottling occurs, this is blood settling much like a bruise. This is not decay.
    (2) Before you can bury anyone, you must have the Death certificate signed by a Doctor… This is one reason many choose to use a morgue for body preservation.
    (3) If you have a home burial planned for yourself or loved one you should make your preperations in advance..including your physician.. nothing worse than needing your Dr. in a emergency situation and finding out he is on vacation.
    (4) Americans are taken advantage of, funeral directors should make all families aware of ALL their options..This should be a Federal law, however since Funeral home owners often make large contributions to our political leaders, this is a important topic that is often overlooked… Any self-respecting funeral director should be applauding Kendra for her efforts to inform the public not brow-beating her.
    Thank You,Kendra,This controversial topic needs to be addressed so our fellow americans can learn their rights!

  3. This fits right in with the Green Funeral movement. I have planned to have a green funeral and am looking for a nature reserve that will take me. I’m not sure if my family would be up to taking care of my body, but it would be very comforting for me to do it for them. And I personally find it a relief when a dead person looks dead, instead of all of that makeup and what not. When my 12-year old niece passed away, it was disturbing to see her that way. I hope that it is what her parents wanted and that they felt good about it.

  4. I think to clarify some info…at least here in Maryland, not only do you put the embalmed body in a $5,000 casket, but then it’s required that you put that $5,000 casket into a $5,000 vault. The vault is either concrete or steel…concrete being the lesser. That keeps the toxins from draining into the ground.

    If you haven’t buried anyone lately….it will run you a rounded number of $5,000.00 for EVERY single procedure. It can easily rack up to $25,000.00 without blinking!!! It sickens me that death has become a VERY lucrative business. And folks are taken advantage of in their grief, when emotional decisions are made instead of rational.

    I was never one to accept cremation until we spent $25,000.00+ to bury my MIL this past Sept. My dad was cremated just last month and the total cost was $2,600.00, tax free since Mom went out of state. His remains are in a candy tin that the funeral home provided. Mom was going to give them a shoe box! We encouraged her to upgrade! I however bought a beautiful little keepsake hand thrown piece of pottery from Lucy Fagella to house a wee bit of my precious memories.

    IF we could easily have home burials then I’d accept that, but since most states don’t allow it, my wishes are to be cremated and put me in a cookie jar!

  5. One thing to point out is “that body is sliced and jabbed, drained and β€œpickled” ”
    is really bad for the environment. The body will eventually leak into the soil.

    Is all that fluid (body & embalming)drained into the municipal water supply?
    Definitely something to to look into for you city water drinking citizens.

    Great tip Kendra ,I’m going to my Netflix queue right now!

  6. Funeral Home Waste Disposal

    Because many funeral homes employ an on-site sanitary system for disposal of embalming wastewater, EPA regulates these as Class V industrial process water and waste disposal wells. EPA has found that wastewater includes external corporeal wash water, internal body fluids, as well as residual arterial embalming chemicals. These chemicals typically include formaldehyde, phenol, and methanol.

    A funeral home disposing of embalming fluids in an on-site sanitary system, has three options:

    1)Connect to the sewer, if access is available,
    2)Containerize embalming waste and haul it off site, or
    3)Apply for a UIC permit, and operate under a UIC permit if granted

  7. My dad recently passed in March. He’d been in the hospital for 33 days and he and Mom decided that it was time for him to go home. And so we brought him home to die. It was the most loving thing I’ve ever experienced. Yes, it was hard. But he wanted nothing more than to go home to be with his wife and 3 adult girls. My sister flew in from CA and my other sister and I gathered with Mom to care for him in his last days. It was difficult for sure. His doctor had been honest and we knew his days were very short. He lasted 2.5 days until he entered into God’s holy rest. We were there surrounding him as he took his last breath. He had been bathed the day before by the hospice nurse, but he was without clothes. My sisters and I dressed him and put his favorite golf cap on, then placed a little baseball in his hand that his great nephew said would be the first autographed baseball in heaven! His last wishes were to be cremated without any services….you see he lived his life for the living! We stayed with his body for hours as friends came in to say their good byes. The funeral director was very caring and they covered him with a patchwork quilt, but left his face uncovered until they took him outside. I will never forget those days. His passing is a precious memory. Some may find it morbid, but death is a natural part of life.

  8. It’s an interesting choice! But, my thing is, once our last breath leaves our body, it’s just a body, our soul has gone on. So, to me it wouldn’t make any difference.

  9. Perhaps it’s different in a smaller community but our experience with a death and funeral director have been positive. The FD handled everything when my MIL passed away and did so with dignity and tact. A few months later, my Uncle died and my cousin’s experience with a FD and funeral home was horrible! The FD charged above and beyond what was advertised, wouldn’t release the body so cousin could go to a different funeral home…the list of grievances goes on. Like in any industry, there are good and bad; unfortunately, at such a sensitive time, the bad stand out. We’re in a rural community and know the FD outside of his business; my cousin lives in a large city.
    In Virginia, one has to have a “liner”…can’t remember what it’s called but a “box for the box”; a container, if you will. My apologies for my bad memory. At such a time as death, it’s so easy to be overwhelmed with all the choices and feel like one is being taken advantage of. The expensive is incredible! I don’t agree with embalming, don’t see the need when a person dies in a, more or less, healthy state. Sometimes it’s just old age and the heart stops beating; what’s the need for embalming then other than money?
    This is a good, informative post; made for good reading, thank you.

  10. In defense of Yvette, I actually knew a couple of young funeral directors years ago, and I can tell you, they do value their work for society. what sometimes people dont know if they dont know them personlly, is that they are people with feelings just like us. they do have to get impersonal to the job, to an extint, sort of like a cop or a hospital worker does, but thats just so they can cope with that kind of job day in and day out. My grandfather died at home of cancer a few years ago, we had him at home for a few hours before the funeral directors got there, and I can tell you, his body had already started to turn a little dark in just a few hours time. , my sister noticed it and pointed it out to me . the next day when we saw him, they had him looking 100 times better, it was a comfort to me to remember him looking good again. I dont belive that you could keep a body out for a couple of days without it starting to decompose. the lady who made to comment that home burials used to be done fairly quickly before the days of funeral homes was right. anyway, sorry for the book, but I just had to post, because frankly, there is a lot of education and science into what these folks do, and just because it can be done at home dosent mean its best. I will stand up here and say, Ive seen real death and to me it was just sad, I wouldent want to do this myself, and frankly, all your fans on here that sound like theryre ready to jump on the bandwagon for home burial probably wouldent either.its just that on the internet you can always find anything to say anything you want it to, the same with people, Im just being honest.

  11. I haven’t seen the movie, but we buried my father right here on our farm when he died about nine years ago. It was actually the funeral director who told me this was a choice when I called. We hadn’t planned a home burial, but it seemed doable, and was something my father would have liked.
    We rented a backhoe to dig the hole, we even angled it the same way his bed had been because he hated lying flat. We went ahead and buried him the same day he died.
    One thing that is very different, is all the handling and work kind of helps you know they are gone. When my aunts died, and was taken to the funeral home, the house was suddenly empty. The person I had spent 24hrs a day caring for, for months just disappeared. It was kind of a shocking silence, you kept forgetting they weren’t just in the other room. Home burial provides much more closure.
    Being able to touch them, having to touch them, should be part of the process. It is hard to describe, but having had to care for several relatives until they died, it is like home birth vs hospital birth. It is an entirely different experience if you do it yourself in your own space. Probably like raising your own food and feeding your own babies, modern people who experience none of that really miss a part of “being alive” that most all humans have known since the beginning, until the last century.
    The only home burial I had heard of before that, was a friend whose brother had died of leukemia at 8 years old. His parents insisted on bringing him home and burying him on their own land. Makes perfect sense to me now.

  12. My grandmother died at home a Christmas Day several years ago. Since it was Christmas Day and during a blizzard it took several hours for the undertaker to arrive. I was/am so very grateful for the time we had with her body there at her home. It was very please-full and even the small children where comfortable.

  13. well see kendra, that’s why embalming is so important!!!!! it kills the virus! so again saying this without trying to offend you let the funeral homes to their jobs and you stick to yours! your choice doesn’t offend me, its the lack of info you post about the funeral svc.. getting your info from a film isn’t bullet proof! I spent many years studying, just like other FD’s, and to have our names smeared in the mudd! offends me!! netflixs shouldn’t be your source of info! also you can still go to a funeral home and choose home burial!

    • Thank you Yvette. It’s so nice to have an unbiased opinion πŸ˜‰ Listen, I have done my best not to “smear your names in the mud”. All I have done is present a valid, beautiful, SAFE option to people. If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be allowed. This article was not at all bashing the work of funeral directors, merely stating the facts. I understand you are only defending your way of life. But I am allowed my opinion and free choice as well. Thank you.

  14. also for the dead to be viewed they must be embalmed for health reasons! and also not all diseases die after death! e.g. AIDS/HIV so many reasons to let the funeral director do his/her job!!

  15. You should prob be more informed before you make an decision!! My husband is a Funeral Director and I also have a BA in Funeral Services!! SO my dear, before you decide to take care of your family members maybe to should think of the number of things that can happen after death! and would you like to see them that way! get your informtion from a funeral director and not a film!!

    • Yvette,

      As far as spreading disease is concerned, flushing the viruses (like AIDS/HIV) along with bodily fluids out of the body and into the sewer system isn’t exactly a great way to contain it. You are obviously offended that we have a choice other than to use traditional burial procedures. And that’s okay. But for me, we will still choose a home burial for our loved ones.

  16. Wow, The documentary sounds wonderful. I sort of knew embalming wasn’t necessary but I didn’t know it was still legal to bury your own on your property or to even not use a funeral home. When my grandmother died of cancer she died at home, she wouldn’t eat I didn’t know why at the time and it wasn’t until my dad was dying of cancer the doctor told me it was because the brain releases endorphines(I think thats what he called them) and that it was causing him to feel euphoria so he wasn’t feeling hunger. He too wanted to die at home and we tried to get him home as fast as we could, but he died to soon thankfully he wasn’t alone he had everyone who loved him around him when he passed. I think death has been made to seem like its something bad or that it needs to happen in a hospital, I’m glad you reviewed this documentary I’m going to have to see it, thank you.

  17. Wow, this was very informative. My uncle’s father just passed away this week and my aunt told me they chose mostly the low cost of options at the funeral home and the cost ended up being $11,000! And that did not include the grave site or cost of digging/covering as he was being buried in a family cemetery. My husband and I were shocked.
    (On another note….I just found out I’m expecting again, and the comment on losing a child did make me cry. I saw my midwife this past Thursday for our first of many visits as I’m 11 weeks along!)

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this. I will definitely check out the documentary. I really had never thought about this before, nor did I even realize it was possible, but just reading your post completely made up my mind!

  19. Not all funeral directors/embalmers are impersonal. πŸ˜‰ The one that took care of one set of my grandparents knew them, lives in the same town as some other of my relatives, and was not exactly thrilled when they died. Granted, he seems to be more the exception, but he was/is great.

    Before digging on your land though, make sure you check into your local laws and land restrictions. Varies widely from place to place unfortunately. πŸ™

    Wasn’t embalming started because folks started not burying loved ones within a day or two of death? Add in the current (refrigerate) morgues and people wanting to wait for out of town folks to make it there… Or is it a throwback to ancient Egypt… Hmmm, I think I have a unit study for myself this summer. πŸ˜€

  20. i knew some of that. I didn’t know that a body didn’t have to be embalmed though. I thought that was a legal thing. Good to know, because I would definitely refuse that for a loved one.

  21. Thanks for highlighting another option.
    We weren’t quite brave enough to do this yet, but we chose not to have enbalming done and buried our loved one in a simple but beautiful cremation casket.
    My mother’s side of the family has a family graveyard on the farm, and it was incredibly comforting to lay my grandparents under a tree on the land they had worked all their lives.

  22. Just after we moved here to our new farm, the neighbors informed us that we had two gravesites on the hill behind us, the father and grandfather to the family across the street whose land surrounds ours. My thought–good. Then no one can mind what we chose. πŸ™‚

  23. Thank you soo much for sharing this! I had no idea that these options were even possible. The thought of publicly mourning is terrifying to me although I hope it’s something I don’t have to worry about for a long long time. We cancel our netflix over the summer months since it’s such a busy time and we don’t want to even tempt ourselves to stay up late and pay for it by being too tired the next day. It’s up in 6 days, so I’ll have to watch this one first!

  24. Hi kendra!
    this was very interesting! i didn’t know that it was still possible to do this.
    My husbands grandma just passed away…we knew she was dying as cancer was taking over. We spent time with her at the hospital and then she requested to go home and have nurses there.
    It was honestly one of the most beautiful things I have ever been around…you would have loved it. All her children were there and family from all over the country came to visit her. We would take turns going in groups to visit her as her appartment was small and we didn’t want to overwhelm her. She loved us doing the Lords Supper with her and singing hymns to her.
    It reminded me of my home births.
    The lighting was low. Hushed voices. Hugs. Compassion. Encouragement. Support.
    It was beautiful…I never knew what to expect of being around someone who was dying, but now that we have gone through it (and she is dancing with Jesus today), I am so grateful that I was able to be there.
    Hope you are doing well in your pregnancy…I’ll send a prayer for you and your birth!
    blessings in the Lord,

  25. Thank you for sharing this. I have always wanted to be buried on my own land, without embalming. I think that Rod & Staff publishers has a booklet on the Biblical standpoint that speaks against embalming. I also agree that if the Lord took my child to be with Him, then I would fight tooth and nail to care for their burial myself This is a good reminder for all of us interested to look into our state and local laws concerning this. Thank you! Sounds like a good documentary.-


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