If I'd harbored any doubts about the viability of the home funeral movement in this country, last weekend's celebration of the Crossings organization's 10th anniversary would have laid them all to rest.
Crossings, as readers of Grave Matters know, is the Maryland-based non-profit that offers workshops that teach the basic skills of holding a home funeral -- how to wash and dress a body and lay it out for viewing in the deceased's own home, without the assistance of a funeral director. The group was founded by Beth Knox, who was inspired by the heartbreaking and, yet, affirming home funeral she conducted for her seven-year-old daughter, Alison.
Last weekend's event brought together the vast Crossings community, to share information, renew contacts and celebrate a decade's worth of good work. And what a community it has become. Some seventy people from around the country packed into the Seekers Church in Washington, D.C., for a day of presentations, networking and socializing. A number of them were home funeral "midwives" who'd taken Beth's workshops and now offer families in their own communities information and instruction on home funeral strategies -- and, in some cases, guide them through the actual washing and laying out of their deceased. More of them had come to simply gain advice on how start their own funeral group back home. A few, like the one widower who, though his grief, told of his wife's recent passing and home funeral, were there to attest to the very real, personal benefits that accrue when we take care of our own at death.
For me, the event showed that the home funeral, which I'd once thought an intriguing but mere historical phenomenon, was in fact a viable practice that was gaining adherents and traction in our own time.
And for good reason. One of the speakers last week was Nancy Poer, author of Living Into Dying (White Feather Publishing). Nancy told the story of a mother whose eight-month-old daughter had died in the hospital, in her mother’s arms. When the time came to hand the infant to the medical staff, the mother, Nancy said, "just did not want to leave her baby" in that cold place, in the company of strangers. A tug of war ensued between the hospital and mother. Nancy got involved. Thanks to her, the father could later tell her, "We walked out of that hospital with our daughter in our arms" and had a funeral for her at home. That, Nancy told us at the Crossings event, "is why we do the work we do."
One of the results of the conference will be a directory of organizations and individuals that offer home funeral services in their communities. I'm not sure when that list will be available. In the meantime, if you're looking for information on or help with a home funeral, you can consult this list, which was just compiled by the Crossings Care Circle of Austin, Texas.
Mark Harris, Author, Grave Matters (www.gravematters.us)