By Kater Leatherman
          Home funerals.  Now there’s a subject few people want to talk about.   Yet they are gaining popularity, especially among the baby boomer generation.  We’re the ones who wrote our wedding vows in the ’60s, revived home births in the ’70s, popularized homeschooling in the ’80s, launched divorce ceremonies in the ’90s, and are currently redefining retirement, calling it “protirement.”  We’re also dealing with the passing of our parents and that is hatching thoughts about how we want to exit and be remembered.  
          We already know that people laid their loved ones out at home before death became professionalized around the turn of the 20th century.  While the funeral industry was – and continues to  be – a source of help to families, rising costs are a source of concern. Yes, the dawning of home funerals is upon us. 
          If your loved one is going to be buried and you want to plan an economical do-it- yourself home funeral, head to the Internet and research the subject.  You will get information on everything from building the casket to embalming and dressing your dead relative to finding someone to dig the grave.  You can also hire a death midwifery that will assist in all aspects of the funeral arrangements, including paperwork, legal matters, getting the burial permit and transporting and taking care of the body.  And yes, it is legal in Maryland to keep the deceased at home for a wake.
          Cremation, on the other hand, will make things easier.  Sometimes, this approach comes with lag time that will give you a chance to grieve first.  Honoring one’s life in a more personal way can also accelerate the healing process, especially when you share your thoughts, feelings and memories with others.
          Either way, embalming or cremation, here are 10 ways to create a celebratory memorial service at home that will inspire others, long be remembered and represent the deceased and how he or she may have affected you.             
          1.  Having an officiant present is optional, but you will want to have someone there to keep things organized much like a funeral director. This way you’ll be available to your family.
          2.  When people arrive, instead of a guest book that leaves you with a list of names devoid of feelings and memories, offer an assortment of pens and index cards.  Guests can take a moment to write a fond memory about the deceased.   After the ceremony, put the cards in a photo album for future generations to read.  
          3. Create an altar or sacred space  that includes the ashes (or casket), along with flowers, candles and photographs.  
          4.  Keep it simple and allow for spontaneity.  The eulogy might include anyone who wants to come forward and share what the person meant to them, including a favorite poem, song lyric or quotation.    Some may want to share a handwritten letter (very healing) or the sentiment that they wrote on the index card when they arrived.  You can also light a candle and pass it to those who want to speak.  Add an ethnic ritual or plan the service around a theme. 
          5.  Set up a table of photographs, memorabilia and favorite possessions for guests to enjoy –anything that represented the person’s occupation or hobby.  For example, if he or she played a musical instrument, set it out.  If there is time, write the significance of each item on an index card.  Keep in mind how you think they would want to be remembered.  Gathering these things may also help you move through the grieving process.     
          6.  If you have time, put together a silent slide show that will run continuously throughout the celebration.
          7.  Prepare and serve foods that the deceased enjoyed.  Place his or her favorite candy or snack in a bowl.       
             8.  Play music that reflects the tastes of the deceased.
          9.   Have bookmark’s printed up with a picture of the deceased and a quote for guests to take with them.  
          10.  If you want to do a balloon release, use the biodegradable ones made of latex which is a naturally occurring material made from tree sap.
          However you choose to do it, it can be done and don’t hesitate to call in professional help should it become overwhelming.
Kater Leatherman teaches yoga and has recently published a book: “MOVING ON:  One Woman’s Quest to Create  S P A C E  for Change.  To order, go to or e-mail her at: [email protected]


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