How Do We Return Funerals Back Into The Home? The answer may be simple.

homeThis is the question I have been working on for the last six years. I was eight months pregnant when I left the funeral industry forever. That baby I was carrying is now six years old. Motherhood added a new perspective to everything I do, including giving me the drive to make social changes in America and making sure I raise children that do not fear death or life. Motherhood can also be isolating. With my background as a funeral director I knew I had a decent chance at getting people to not only let me tell my story, but to actually LISTEN and reflect on their own lives and one day deaths. But where to begin?

I cannot lie and say I woke up one day and said, “Today I am going to start a non-profit to educate on home funerals and green burials.” It took many years of telling myself “This is crazy” to “How can I NOT do this?” This internal bickering went back and forth until I met a wonderful group of woman who forever changed my life. At one of our monthly meetings I shared my work, my “heart song”. I did a mock workshop and “death cafe” and everything changed.  My dreams bloomed into reality in front of sisters. I received an unanimous “YES, DO this. NOW!”  One sister led me to a local non-profit that solely gets non-profits started, another volunteered her work as a graphic designer, three more volunteered to be board members and support this vision. This passion, my purpose that had been lurking in my heart and mind, was revealed and overnight was a reality.

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Community. That one word is the first thing I tell anyone interested in a home funeral. You must have community. Is that family? Is that close friends? Is that church members? Is it a sisterhood? It can be anyone, but you cannot have a successful home funeral without it. We all need support and that is where our traditional funerals are currently failing us (But more on that another day) If I did not find my community I would not be here today. Community is the golden answer.

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So how do we start the process of returning funerals back into the home? The first step is finding our communities again. We have become a society of “Do-It-Yourselfers” I guess even a Home Funeral can fit into that DIY box but we are so much more than that. Let’s begin with Step One : Meet your neighbors. This is a HUGE one and an easy place to start. I don’t know when or why people thought it was ok to move into a neighborhood and never meet their neighbors, but unfortunately this is becoming the norm. Our neighbors are our closest allies and when you show kindness, kindness is returned.

One of the saddest statistics with funerals these days is the amount of robberies that take place during a traditional funeral. Robbers search obituaries and wait until they know the families will be away at the funerals to rob them. What heartache for that family to go through. If you take the first step of meeting your neighbors you just instantly added a safe guard to your home and possibly a new friend. *Also, I will add, when you do have that Home Funeral in the future it is a good thing to have the neighbors know what is going on in your home not only for the support, but so we don’t get “nosey neighbor” syndrome where they find it in necessary to investigate, or worse, call the police. “Nothing illegal going on here officer, but thank you for causing some un-needed emotional distress during this sensitive time”


 I will continue writing on community because it is crucial to the work I do, but today please call a friend, visit a neighbor, join a weekly hiking group, or just say hello to a stranger. Our society needs to shift, we need to embrace love and support again. We can do many things by ourselves but death and dying should never be one of them. Let’s regain community!

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

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What do you get when you combine cremation, a young female funeral director, and a sarcastic wit? The wonderful memoir, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, And other Lessons From the Crematory”, written by Caitlyn Doughty. Now it isn’t often I would tell you to read a book with so much death and somewhat vulgar imagery (not true I will always recommend these books), but with Caitlyn’s unique writing style it is easy to get swept up in this hilarious recount of her years at a crematory in the Bay Area. This New York Times Bestseller faces the challenge of making death a friend and not a foe. The stories are so detailed and humor fills the pages. You instantly feel the fear of death slip away and understand why her role, and this book, is so important in our death denial society.

Although this is Caitlyn’s first book she already has a large following with her popular YouTube videos “Ask a Mortician.” Viewers write in their questions and with the same wit and detail found in her book. She will paint a picture for you about the realities of death. This books answers all your questions and more. Want to know when and why we started embalming bodies? Easy, The Civil War in 1862 “during the battle of Vicksburg the two sides called for a brief armistice because of the stench of corpses disintegrating in the hot sun.” Transporting bodies hundreds of miles in this odious condition was a nightmare for train conductors, even the most patriotic among them.” This kind of imaginary continues as she delves into the modern embalming industry and her co-worker Bruce, the trade embalmer. She makes her claim that it is not something required and quite a barbaric act to preform on a body. “If embalming were something a tradesman like Bruce wouldn’t do on his own mother, I wondered why we were performing it on anyone at all.”

   The book isn’t all trade secrets and gruesome facts but Caitlyn does make a point to lift that curtain behind the scenes so you can come up with your own judgments about what you may want your funeral and end of life to look like. We follow her story from the crematory to a Mortuary college and her first funeral directing job. She paints the picture of her ideal funeral home, where families take the reigns and conversations about death are not to be feared. Unfortunately this funeral home does not exist…yet. Caitlyn is working hard to make this funeral home a reality in Los Angeles and I can’t wait to follow her on her next adventures.

Read this book if you are curious to know more but need a safe and humorous touch to get you through these morbid thoughts and curiosities. We will all be there, someday, knocking on deaths door. Why not start your conversation now by reading, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory.” You won’t regret it.

Purchase the Book HERE

Why I Was a Sad Funeral Director

Being a funeral director is not easy,in fact, it is extremely stressful. I always referred to it as being a wedding planner with only 3-5 days to plan the whole wedding. I ordered flowers, made church arrangements, hired a pastor, ordered the casket or urn, made sure all the legal paperwork was filed, printed and folded service cards, it was enough to make your head spin, but that’s not why I was a sad funeral director.

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Almost everyday was a new family, a new story, a new tragedy. I understood that. What I didn’t understand was “How do I help them?” That may sound silly when the obvious answer is “Plan a memorial service that will help the family honor their memory.”  But during my 3 years as a funeral director working for a mega-corporation (Yes, you read that correctly, CORPORATION not a family business like you thought. There are still family run funeral homes but they are becoming more and more scarce.) I felt like I should do more, there SHOULD be more. When tragedy hits a family your truly get to see what makes a family, how their stories are weaved together. As a funeral director my duty was pretty basic, ask cremation or burial, get all the vital information for a death certificate and burial permit, plan a service (if the family even wanted one). Some days this was simple work : “Mom wanted to keep it simple, direct cremation, no service.”  Other days…”I don’t know we want, my seventeen year old son  shouldn’t be dead, I shouldn’t be sitting here. We have no money, how will we get through this?!” As different as the scenarios where both people felt pain, both wanted help, and both made me realize that something was amiss in our dealings with the dead.

Changes in myself and my funeral home started after I saw the documentary “A Family Undertaking”.  The film  introduces  families who are caring for their own dead and working through death. I saw families and communities come together and grieve and celebrate.  And that’s when fireworks went OFF IN MY BRAIN! That’s what I was missing. Community, tradition, celebration. Families came to me because they didn’t KNOW anything else. The “traditional funeral” had only been a tradition for the last 50 or so years. Before that it was the families, the neighbors, the church members who rallied around a family and helped care for those families and the deceased. It was beautiful, sacred and meaningful.  Something needed to change I knew this  with all my heart. And then something did change. I got pregnant with my first child.

 

Life is amazing and unexpected and then it ends. That’s the way it is and always will be. I left the funeral industry when I was 7 months  pregnant and never looked back. A seed had been planted in my heart, and a baby in my belly. As I began a life as a mother I also began my life as an advocate.  I knew the funeral industry was shifting. We had all seen rises in cremation, no services, the most inexpensive option. I knew that money was only a portion of the issue here. We as a society had forgotten our roots, our community was spread thin and fraying, and the heart and sacredness of caring for our dead loved ones had been passed onto complete strangers.

I had been that stranger, and even though my heart was there for those families, like most funeral directors, I was just a blip in their radar. A stranger who was chosen to help in this huge transition and then never to be heard from again. Just as birth is a momentous occasion that takes months of planning and months of recovery, so is death. But somewhere in the folds of time our society forgot. We decided death was unsanitary, it needed to be hidden and unseen, and when the time comes have a stranger take care of it and then try to move on as quickly as possible.

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Well, my beautiful friends, I am here to tell you this hasn’t been working. You may think it has but you don’t know what you have been missing.  There is a healing that comes from sitting with a dead body. There is a healing that comes with bathing and blessing that body. There is a healing that comes from celebrating a life lost with friends and community. And you don’t need a funeral home, a stranger, to do any of it. I am here, no longer as a stranger, but as an educator. To shift the American views on  death and caring for our dead. It can be a beautiful thing.