Home Funeral Movement: A natural extension of the home hospice movement?

Monday, 21 Oct 2013 01:07

About Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy (120 Posts)

Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy is a Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician, who practices in one of the largest emergency departments in the United States at Huntsville Hospital. Through her writing and speaking, she is devoted to transforming the end of life into a time of peace, closure and healing. Media Page

In 1918, if your little brother died in the influenza epidemic, it’s likely that you would have cared for him as he died, at home, and after he died, at home.

In the early 1900s, my grandmother helped care for her own mother in her own home, as she died of cancer. After she died, the family built a coffin and buried her.

This has been the normal pattern of dying and after-death care for all of human history until very recently, as death has become transformed into a life-cyle event which is managed by specialists. Modern medical and technological advances have enabled us to delay, fight and sometimes reverse death (remarkably, but ultimately, temporarily). Thus, we ”give” our bodies to doctors and healthcare facilities for this type of care. This type of outsourcing the “care” of our bodies to specialists also includes after-death care- after we die, in 2013, the vast majority of us have our bodies sent to funeral homes where our bodies are prepared for their final dispositions.

Now, we are entering an era where a shift is occurring in how we care for those who are dying…we are bringing them back home. This is one of the core principles of the hospice movement. In a continuation of this line of thought, the home funeral movement asks: “Why not keep our loved ones home for after-death care?” Hmm…very interesting.

Home funeral guides argue that after-death care at home and home funeral services allow families more time for intimacy, closure and healthy grieving, which have been degraded by outsourcing the care of the dead in recent human history. They argue that this movement is nothing more than a return to our former practices, like the hospice movement (remember, 100 years ago we cared for our dying and dead at home but did not assign specialized names to this practice because it was the cultural norm).

By now, most Americans are familiar with what hospice care looks like, but only a rare few know what after-death care at home, or a home funeral looks like, so check out these pictures, videos, and resources for yourself.


A family building a coffin for a loved one (courtesy of


A home funeral photo (courtesy of


A family directed funeral (courtesy of

NBC coverage: “More Families are Bringing Funerals Home”

Read this overview of natural death care and the home funeral process

Watch this video: Bringing Funerals Home

For more information or to find a home funeral guide near you check out or )

Our Book: It's OK to Die

"It's OK to Die" is a ground-breaking book filled with graphic stories straight out of the Emergency Room illustrating how most Americans are completely unprepared for death and dying. In response, the authors have created a unique and comprehensive guide urging EVERYONE to prepare in advance, to assure their own peace and to prevent the suffering of their loved ones.
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12 thoughts on “Home Funeral Movement: A natural extension of the home hospice movement?

  1. Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy Post author

    I actually just returned from speaking at the Annual Conference of the National Home Funeral Alliance. I found the attendees to be refreshing, open and frank in their approach to death and dying. They are all committed to serving their communities better. The growing interest in this topic is a clear sign that we as a society are interested in reclaiming control over the end of our lives.

  2. Merilynne

    Your talk at the home funeral conference was inspiring and right on. We must have both advance health care directives and advance death care directives. For those who want to die naturally at home it makes sense to consider a home wake, vigil or visitation. No need for embalming, expensive funeral, and the impersonal nature of a funeral home setting. Legal in all 50 states, too!
    Thank you so much for joining us at the Home Funeral Alliance! It was a pleasure to meet you.
    Merilynne, Home Funeral Guide

  3. Rochelle Martin, RN, MDiv, Home Funeral Guide

    Thanks so much for this blog entry, and for speaking at the NHFA conference this w/e. As a mental health RN who supports people dying in ER (and their families!), I am in total agreement with your message, and very grateful that you are able to share it so widely and well. People need to hear, esp. from us MDs and RNs, that it’s OK to die!

    In the spirit of family-directed after-death care: After a death in ER, I usually bring the family in ASAP (while tubes and lines are still in), explain gently what happened as their loved one died (to explain tubes, blood, crushed ribs, etc, and so they don’t have to guess), and then offer them A WARM FACECLOTH.

    I say “It’s OK to wash his face, hold his hand, or say goodbye however you want to.” It’s totally beautiful to watch family who, when the death was announced, were initially uncertain if they even wanted to SEE their loved one, end up jumping right in to hands-on after-death care (if only in ER for a few minutes before the body goes to the morgue – most families still do not know that they can take their loved one’s body home for further vigil)… and all it took was a warm facecloth and permission! Precious, and I believe profoundly healing, moments for many families, in a setting that might have otherwise completely taken away the opportunity to say goodbye.

    Rochelle Martin, RN, MDiv, Home Funeral Guide
    Hamilton, Ontario

  4. Rea

    Important movement in eol care. Bringing death and dying still more out in the open and back home again – finally. It’s been a long road home, long time away. We’re moving in the right direction, diminishing fear of death, teaching our children. It’s the best way we can reassert control and make sensible advance plans. Maybe the early stage of bereavement is eased a little by the reestablishment of home care/home funeral after-care. It allows more people to intimately participate, support eachother, and form meaningful family/caregiver rituals and traditions. Lots to think about. Also, some excellent resources (incl. poignant video) presented here for more detailed understanding of home funerals. Yes, very interesting! Thanks!

  5. Kristian Murphy (Monica's husband)

    I wanted to let everyone know how much I enjoyed attending the Home Funeral Alliance’s conference in Raleigh, NC this weekend. It was great to listen to a group of people who so CLEARLY CARE about the wishes of the departed and their families. Those in attendance really enjoyed Monica’s presentation…..and I joked we were “preaching to each other’s choir.”

    Over the past 75 or so years, we seem to have industrialized death and in fact have lost the family intimacy we once had….at the end of life. While home funerals are not for everyone, those who wish to have one, should.

    For those Conservatives like myself who celebrate the freedoms our country offers, this is just one more example of why We The People, as individuals, should be in control of OUR lives…..and disposition of our bodies after death.

    Preparing for The End, which we ALL will ultimately face, is common sense. We hope you will all get the information you need…..have the discussions with your family….and then put YOUR directions and desires in writing. If you want a home funeral, talk to your family about it. If you want to skip the metal casket and have a “Green Burial” (which is another topic by itself) then specify that. Me, I want to be burned on top of a large funeral pyre….like a Viking/Roman.

  6. Pashta MaryMoon

    Two comments — as well as many thanks for this article.
    1. Advance Directives and Representation Agreements are extremely important in themselves; but for those choosing less medical intervention and dying at home, they can be critical to then having a home funeral in the most family-centred and relaxed way possible — that is, without having to fight officials to keep, or take, the body home post-death.
    2. keep publishing photos of home funerals. “A picture is worth a thousand words” — and in this case, families are more likely to consider the ‘home funeral’ option (and not be scared or put-off by the idea) if they are presented with ‘real life photos’.

  7. Olivia

    Thank you so much Monica for your fabulous presentation at the Home Funeral Alliance conference! What a pleasure to hear an ER physician speak out about the importance of Advance Directives and how to face death with grace and acceptance rather than fear and denial. Thank you for your important work. Who knows..perhaps a Home Funeral Guide will be speak ingat the next Emergency Medicine Conference! :)

    Olivia – Death Midwife & Home Funeral Guide
    Sacred Crossings, Los Angles, CA

  8. Pingback: Home Funeral Movement: A natural extension of the home hospice movement? | It’s OK to Die | All Things Palliative - Article Feed

  9. Jim Bates

    My family did exactly that last year when my Dad died. We brought him home to hospice care where he peacefully passed away. With a little bit of help form the hospice nurse, we cleaned him up, dressed him, and put him in a pine box coffin. We used dry ice from the grocery store to keep his body cooled down, then held 2 services; one in his home, the other at his graveside 350 miles away 4 days later. We transported his body too. No biggie. I describe the effect of hospice and home funeral as being “quiet amongst the noise”. The hospital and funeral vendor systems are very “noisy” with their procedures, fees, and schedules. But hospice and home funerals are very quiet, because it is done at the family’s pace and control. Friends described the experience as “nicer”, and family described it as “easier”. My adult children and their children helped out. So now they now how to do it when it is my turn to die. And they know they will like it better than the typical funeral vendor process.

  10. Lee Webster

    Monica, your presentation and the crowd response was riveting. And it demonstrated that social and cultural change, which we at the NHFA are striving for, must occur in step within all the various enclaves of authority, simultaneously. It’s extremely heartening and inspiring to realize that we — parts of the medical community, palliative and hospice, home funeral and green burial advocates and educators — are all working in our own sphere of influence toward a common goal. Thanks so much —

  11. Deana Darby

    Thanks again for speaking up! Your message is paving the way for the Home Funeral movement to thrive, and for that I am extremely grateful. Its beautiful to see an ER Doctor bravely admit that death is not a medical emergency it is a sacred threshold. Thanks for being you!

    Deana -Death Midwife and Home Funeral Guide
    Full Circle Healing, Wilton NH

  12. Mark Knister

    I love the idea on “getting back home.” We (Americans) are so afraid of the aging process and death. We try ti avoid them at ALL costs. What a privilege to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with a family. Then to finalize the cycle at home.


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