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6 Ways to Have a Funeral at Home


For centuries, when a loved one passed away, he or she was kept in the home before burial. The whole family was involved, in many cases, cleansing and dressing the body, being close to the deceased, and, in many ways, coming to terms with his or her passing.

An at-home funeral (while keeping in line with local laws) affords opportunities to involve the whole family in ways that a traditional funeral cannot.

Here are six ways that the whole family can be involved during an at-home funeral:

1. Keeping Vigil.

In modern usage, the terms wake, visitation and vigil are used almost interchangeably. However, originally, the term "vigil" was used to refer to the time when the deceased was kept in the home members of the family took turns sitting with their loved one who had passed. An at-home funeral once again provides this very special and personal time. Designated family members can take turns- either individually or in pairs-to sit with the remains in shifts. This allows individual family members to offer a prayer, a good-bye, their thoughts and feelings and to be able to not only fully accept the death, but to find closure with the life of the deceased.

2. Favorite meals.

So much of all cultures centers on food. Everyone has a favorite food or meal. Engaging the whole family in the preparation and consumption of that meal while the deceased is in the house is a way to not only reminisce about him or her and remember other meals spent together, but also a way to include the deceased symbolically in one final meal as a family. This is something that could most assuredly be done at most funeral homes.

3. Make it a celebration. By the very nature of being within the home, there's an ease and comfort to an at-home funeral that is lacking in one held in an impersonal funeral home. This comfort level and, in some cases, lack of formality, allows family of all ages a freedom to not only mourn, but to celebrate the life of the deceased. Have older children and teens begin by saying what they most appreciated about the deceased. Involve adult children, the spouse and friends in telling stories about happy times spent together.

4. Decorate the room and casket.

The entire family can be involved in decorating the room in which the remains are displayed with colors, objects and symbols that were important to the deceased. This can be anything from favorite plants, to family photos, the logos and paraphernalia of favorite sports teams, pastimes, hobbies, movies or career-related objects. Similarly, depending on the casket or container that you choose, you could decorate the casket with paint, cut-outs or by writing messages.

5. Watch a favorite film or slideshow.

While at first, this may sound disrespectful when viewed through the eyes of the traditional funeral, it's actually a fitting and personal tribute to a departed loved one. Father the family around to watch home movies or a slideshow of family photos. Or, even, sit everyone down to watch a film or television program that the deceased enjoyed. Tell stories about which parts he or she loved. Reminisce about the first time the deceased saw the film or events when the film was a part of a family event.

6. Have every member of the family create something special. Using recyclable materials have each member of the family write or draw something that expresses their feelings about the deceased or symbolizes something special about the deceased. Display these messages near the casket or around the room. Make sure to have each person read their thoughts or interpret their drawing. Use this, again, as an opportunity not only to celebrate, but, also to grow as a family.

Should you be considering an at-home funeral, you should be aware that most states in the U.S. clearly allow families to care for their own dead as long as state law is followed. Several states are unclear on their statutes and regulations. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York tend to be vague in their guidelines.

Regardless of which state in which you live, make sure to contact a funeral home or state agency for more information on the exact laws.

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