The surprising satisfactions of a home funeral

Charles Cowling

For all that the funeral industry is aware of pressure to change, and has readied itself for that, and for all that newspapers like to run features about nice, funny coffins, nothing has essentially changed.

Death occurs. A stranger – a funeral director – accompanied by another stranger, his or her assistant, come to take away the body. You don’t know where they keep the body, nor who sees it, nor what they do to it. You shut your mind to all that, and undertakers are very much of the mind that there are things it is best for you not to know about. Instead, you get busy sifting paperwork, ordering flowers, ringing people up and telling them what’s happened. That, you reckon, gives you more than enough to do.

In doing so, you may be missing the point.

If you have cared for someone in life, and as they lay dying, why would you want to stop when they are dead? Why wouldn’t you want to complete the journey with them?

What’s really important here?

Is it really such a kindness of the funeral director that he or she relieves you of so much to do, freeing you up to do lesser things, many of which could, frankly, wait?

Does all this make the death easier to bear?

I doubt it. I suspect that the grief counselling industry has got so big because people pass up the opportunity to, in Tom Lynch’s words, deal with death by dealing with their dead.

And that’s the point of a home funeral. That’s the point of working with a funeral director to wash and dress your dead person, and sit with them, and observe the changes, and become aware, after a few days, that it’s time to go.

It’s not all about cost and simplicity and fusslessness, it’s about joining up dying to farewelling. Nothing makes better sense of death than the present absence of the one who has died.

Read this.

Then listen to Lisa Carlson and others here.