Continuing our recent conversation on DIY funerals, I wanted to pass along a link to this new report by Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR on the growing sentiment in the United States that families can better care for their deceased loved ones than the mortuary industry. Here’s a short clip from the report, followed by video of Murro Van Meter and Sophia Fox, who, when their 20-month-old daughter Adelaida died last winter of a rare genetic disease, chose to continue caring for her until her cremation. “We took care of Adelaida when she was an infant, we took care of her when she was healthy, we advocated for her in the hospital, we took care of her when she was sick,” Murro Van Meter said. “Why wouldn’t we take care of her when she was dead?”
…Obviously, families taking care of their dead loved ones isn’t new. Indeed, it was the norm until the last quarter of the 19th century, when a burgeoning funeral industry evolved. Today, “the funeral business is so effectively insulated from free-market competition that many families can’t even imagine a funeral home free of faux-Victorian sitting rooms and a fleet of Cadillacs,” writes (Joshua) Slocum, the co-author of Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.
The home funeral movement isn’t new either, Slocum says (think of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and on to the funeral business reformers of the 1960s and 70s). But even as interest grows in the DIY death movement, many people still believe that death should be left to the professionals. “Americans have a neurotic relationship with death,” Slocum says. “Most people are convinced they are physically or emotionally unable to handle it.” He says death should be no more legally controversial than any other “do it yourself” matter:
“We’d never put up with this in any other sphere; it would be laughable to contemplate state workers going around forcing citizens to go to Jiffy Lube instead of changing their own oil, or to hire licensed daycare workers instead of staying home with the kids. But that’s what some funeral boards do. The only reason we accept this is that we’re so psychologically removed from and afraid of death that we assume such absurdities are normal even when we’d recognize how ridiculous they are in any other context.”
[For details on Michigan laws pertaining to the care of the deceased, check out our conversation with Erika Nelson, who, until somewhat recently, taught mortuary science and had visions of starting a green funeral business in Michigan.]