Home Funeral Guide

What’s a Home Funeral Guide?

In my work as a home funeral guide, I have some duties of a death doula, death midwife, minister, and teacher. I can guide the family through the pre-planning for the funeral (when death is expected), prepare the body, hold the vigil, assure that the deceased is transitioning well, and officiate at the final farewell. In situations where there is no body (miscarriage, MIA, presumed dead, etc.), a surrogate or mock funeral can be held to bring the family closure.

Many people now are interested in living more natural lives. They want to care for their elderly at home, let them die at home, do their own funeral, and bury their loved one naturally. This requires a lot of planning, support, and guidance. A home funeral guide can do this.

I am a supporter of home funerals and burials and want to help anyone who wants to live and die more naturally. There is a lot of information here to help you navigate through the process. You don’t need a guide, but if you’d like one, just reach out.

Frequently Asked Questions about Home Funerals

Why would someone want to have a home funeral?

The process of witnessing someone’s passing is deeply moving and spiritual. It makes you realize your own mortality and the fragility and miracle of life. It fills you with gratitude. Being present for the process of death also helps you to accept that this life is over. You can’t see the body change and the light leave the eyes, and be unchanged.

You get to sing to your loved one, brush her hair, tell her all the things you have to say, and take your time. It’s a loving way to honor the life and relationship.

If your loved one dies in a hospital or with some type of medical emergency, the last moments are spent with strangers, being pumped full of medications, and in trauma. The body lies cold and alone before it’s put into a plastic bag then stored in a refrigerator. Once the funeral director gets it, all the blood is drained out and it is pumped with formaldehyde. (Which makes the final resting place a toxic waste dump). Her limbs may be sewn or broken to make them appear as if she’s peacefully sleeping. Then she’s made up to look more “lifelike.” (She’s dead, right?)

Home funerals allow death to be natural, peaceful, spiritual, and healing. You also get to personalize it. Do it in a way that truly honors the deceased and your relationship.

And I should also mention far less expensive!

Can anyone have a home funeral in Virginia?

It’s legal in all states for the family to bring or have the body home, wash it, view it, and honor it. Virginia requires refrigeration or embalming after 48 hours. You must wait 24 hours before cremating. If there are communicable diseases, these must be reported to the attending physician.

What should I do if I want a home funeral?

Write it down! Tell someone! Make plans in advance. This is generally not something that you can pull off on a whim. There is a lot to do in a small amount of time, so you have to have a plan. If you anticipate that your loved ones will find this weird, write it down. Tell lots of people. Tell them where to find your last wishes.

Is it safe to handle a dead body?

Yes. The organism that cause disease are not the same bacteria that decompose a body. Since the body will be refrigerated, decomposition is also arrested.

Can I be buried at home in Virginia?

Possibly. Check with your county zoning restrictions to find out what rules exist for private cemeteries.

Can the body be driven across state lines?

Different states have different rules. Generally speaking, the answer is yes as long as you have a transit permit and follow rules about having the appropriate container and refrigeration or embalming. To remove a body from Virginia, you need to get an out-of-state-transit permit from the locale where the death certificate was filed. To bring a body into Virginia, the out-of-state transit permit issued where the death certificate was filed must accompany the body into Virginia.

What are the cost difference between a home funeral, traditional burial, and cremation?

There are lots of costs associated with dying. Your costs will depend upon how you choose to send your loved one off. Your costs may include:

  • transportation by the funeral home
  • death certificates
  • burial permit
  • casket or shroud – the casket is the most important part (up to 34%) of the funeral. Shrouds cost between $300 – $1500.
  • supplies to lay the body in honor
  • flowers
  • dry ice
  • burial plot $400 – $11,000
  • cremation $800- $4000
  • headstones vary widely depending upon size and material and start at about $200 and $1500. Engraving, installation, and maintenance are extra.

If you are a veteran, the Veterans Administration may cover up to $2000 in burial expenses for service related deaths. For non-service related deaths, up to $798 is covered. You may be eligible for free burial at a national cemetery.

How is green burial different?

Green burial or eco-burial is a way to care for the environment. There are many shades of green, but strictly speaking, a green burial is one that prohibits the use of anything that is not biodegradable. No vaults, metal, embalming fluids, synthetic fabrics, or plastic is permitted. The grounds use no herbicides or pesticides.

Often the cemeteries are left natural and wild and do not have neat rows of headstones. Rocks, plants, or trees serve as markers. Since vaults or grave liners are not permitted, the land is not uniformly flat.

Since only 20% of funerals are natural (not “green”), the price tends to be higher, but this should change as consumers are demanding this service.

What other options are available to me?

  • return to the soil as compost. This is currently limited to Oregon, but I’m sure it will spread.
  • water cremation, also known as bio-creation, resomation, or alkaline hydrolysis. This is more environmentally friendly than traditional cremation, but is currently more costly
  • burial at sea is a cost friendly option if you live near the water. This can be done for a body or ashes after cremation
  • reef burial is similar to being buried at sea, but the cremated ashes are mixed with concrete then is deployed to create an artificial reef for sea creatures. It’s more eco-friendly than traditional burial.
  • space burial is for cremated remains and starts at around $2500
  • sky burial is the Tibetan practice of leaving the body on a mountaintop for the vultures to devour. The ground is too hard and rocky for an earth burial. This is a sensible and generous way to recycle back to nature. Theoretically, this is possible as there appears to be no laws against it if you have your own land.
  • tree pod burial uses either the whole body or the cremains. The remains are placed inside a biodegradable pod along with a tree. This is planted in soil and the remains return the nutrients back to the earth.

Should I pre-pay for my funeral?

While I think that it pays to plan ahead – particularly if you want a home funeral, it’s probably better to write down your plans, set aside your money, but don’t pay for anything until you need it. The funeral industry is changing rapidly. Prices are fluctuating wildly. More and more options are becoming available. The choice you make and pay for today may be obsolete in ten years, or whenever you need it. So, unless you think you are dying within the next year, my suggestion is to wait. However, you are the best judge of your situation, so do what you think is best.

What do I need to know about organ donation?

If you plan to be an organ donor, do not release the body for organ donation until after the home funeral. You cannot have a home funeral after organ donation.

Organ donation saves lives. You can donate to people who need organs, Tissue donation is not well regulated. Your tissues can be sold for a wide variety of purposes for a great deal of money. Whole body donation alleviates the need for burial or cremation. Whole body donations can be made for medical schools, anatomical firms, mortuary schools, or medical research.

It pays to shop around and ask lots of questions. Some companies do not disclose how the body will be used or how much money changes hands or between whom.

In the event of autopsy, amputation, communicable disease, obesity, or disfigurement, whole body donation may not be possible.

What do I need to know about autopsy?

What do I need to know about embalming?

  • embalming prices vary, but are in the neighborhood of $700
  • the body is washed with a chemical germicidal, insecticidal, olfactant.
  • some tendons and muscles are cut to place the body in a natural looking posture.
  • the mouth is tied or sewn shut
  • cotton is placed in the nose, eye caps, and mouth to absorb fluids and give the face shape
  • about 2 gallons of embalming fluid is injected into an artery while blood is drained from the body
  • gas and fluid are released from the abdomen and more toxic embalming fluid is injected into the torso
  • the anus and vagina are packed with cotton to prevent seepage
  • the body gets a manicure, hair styling, and make-up to create a natural, lifelike skin tone
  • embalming is almost never required by law, but some funeral homes require it if there is to be a public viewing.