Home Funeral Resources - Last Things

Home Funerals:  A Resource Guide

Primary Resources:

These sites offer a book which will give you the basic information you will need to perform a home funeral. The movie shows you how to do it:

Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death -
Beth Knox's Crossings Resource Guide is now online as a free pdf which you can download here

Undertaken With Love:
A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities Holly Stevens spearheaded this effort. It's available free as a pdf download, or you can order a print copy from the website.

Passing Through Our Hands is a guide to home funeral care. The video starts from when the person dies and covers how to wash the body, dress and layout the body, hold a vigil, how to move the body into a coffin. The video also includes printed guidelines in addition to the video training. Available from www.homefuneraldirectory.com. for $15. They also offer a free 18-page e-book, "Checklist for Planning a Home Funeral."

Funeral Consumers Alliance: The most complete source for information about funerals. Look at their "Family-Directed Funerals" page and their "Funeral FAQs." The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine conducts a price survey every few years. Lifetime membership is $25.

Books that provide much helpful information:
Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial, by Mark Harris (Scribner, 2007). Describes the typical modern funeral, including a thorough description of the embalming process, then offers alternatives, ending each chapter with a "Resource Guide."

The Good Funeral Guide by Charles Cowling (Continuum, 2010). A thoughtful, practical guide to planning a funeral. The details are British, but the advice is very useful even in the US.

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford (Vintage Books, 1998). This is an updated edition of the classic expose that first raised the issues in 1963.

Be a Tree by Cynthia Beal. She founded the Natural Burial Company and this book is a clear, thorough statement of natural burial facts, goals and philosophy. To be published soon, condensation available free online.

Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum (Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access Books, 2011). Final Rights is the definitive book for consumers on the modern funeral industry and how to navigate it. Part investigative report and part practical guide, the book explains in detail the tricks of the funeral trade, and how to avoid being victimized. And for those who wish to take charge of the funeral themselves without using a funeral home Final Rights will show you how, with a chapter on each state's requirements written in plain English. (Copied from the Final Rights website, finalrights.org)

Dealing Creatively With Death, by Ernst Morgan. Suggests and describes things to think about before death, and offers instructions on alternatives to the common funeral-director-handled experience. I like his suggestions on writing and performing a funeral or memorial service.

Coming Home: A Guide to Dying at Home with Dignity, by Deborah Duda. Describes her own experience participating in three home funerals, including that of her own father. Alternates practical advice with discussions of the spiritual nature of the experience.

Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life, by Maggie Callanan (Random House, 2008). Maggie Callanan co-wrote "Final Gifts" and has specialized in care of the dying since 1981. This book contains forty short chapters distilling her experience. Excellent advice that should be read by the family, the caregivers, and even the patient.

Nancy Jewel Poer's book Living into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community is full of helpful stories about her experiences with home funerals.

Other useful sources:
National Home Funeral Alliance
A nation-wide organization promoting home funerals.

Lisa Carlson, author of Caring for the Dead and director of the Funeral Ethics Organization, answers questions about funerals online here.

Conscious Aging by Ram Dass (an audio CD from Sounds True, $13.30 plus s&h He offers a guide to aging and dying from his considerable experience and insight. He taught me more in less time than any other source.

Need Help? People in Maine who have done this and are willing to advise and assist:

Create Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service:
Grave Expectations: Planning the End Like There's No Tomorrow, by Sue Bailey and Carmen Flowers (Kennebunkport: Cider Mill Press, 2009). A good humored guide to planning your own funeral, creating a lasting memorial, throwing a goodbye party and much more.

The Art of Dying: Honoring and Celebrating Life's Passages, by Salli Rasberry and Carole Rae Watanabe (Celestial Arts, 2001). A very encouraging book.

In Memoriam: A Practical Guide to Planning a Memorial Service, by Amanda Bennett and Terence B. Foley (Simon & Schuster, 1997). A very complete, practical book.

Many other books on this subject are available. Do a Subject search in your library's catalog for "Funeral services" or "Memorial services." Ask your librarian - they're very helpful people.

You may contact a Celebrant, who will create and perform a custom funeral service. There are other ordained interfaith ministers in Maine that can help you with memorial services: please see www.chimeofmaine.org and click on "Graduates."

After the Funeral:
There are many details that must be taken care of after the death. The most complete checklist I found can be viewed at this website. A web search for "what to do after the death" will find others.

A Family Undertaking. A POV Film aired on PBS:
http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2004/afamilyundertaking/index.html The web site hosts additional information and a study guide. The film is available for sale, or can be obtained from Netflix.

Departures. This is a Japanese movie about a cellist who loses his job, then returns to his hometown. He applies for a job with a company called Departures, thinking it is something like a travel agency, but it is in fact a job ritually preparing bodies for encoffining. You'll want to be treated that way when you die.

Read review here

The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn't allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

DIY Coffins This site offers a plan for a coffin and a pretty comprehensive list of links to coffin/casket kits and plans.

See "Different Kinds of Coffins" page on this website

Kenneth Copp (948-9663) makes traditional Amish coffins.

Plain Maine Pine Box

Maine Green Casket

Trundy Urns A Maine company that will use your wood to make an urn.

Natural Burial Company

Dragonfly Hollow Cabinetry

Shine on Brightly - Cremation urns and memorial objects that are works of art.

Bury Me Naturally - They sell "I Can't Believe It's Cardboard" Coffins, and offer other options and information.

Any funeral home should be able to sell you what they call something like "a composition material alternative container," basically a stiffened cardboard box, used primarily for cremations. It may need a piece of plywood on the bottom to keep it from sagging. Expect to pay about $100.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance website has a list of online casket sales companies HERE.
On Green Burials:
Green Burial Council is an independent, nonprofit organization founded to encourage ethical and environmentally sustainable deathcare practices, and to use the burial process as a means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and stewardship of natural areas.

Green Burial sites:

Here's a list of the crematories in Maine:
  • (Auburn) Gracelawn Memorial Park & Crematory - 782-3741
  • (Bangor) Mount Hope Cemetery and Crematory - 945-6589
  • (Belfast) Maine Coast Crematory - 866-338-9199
  • (Freeport) Lighthouse Crematory - 865-5500
  • (Portland) Brooklawn Memorial Park & Crematory - 773-7679
  • (Presque Isle) Northern Maine Crematory - 764-6478
  • (Saco) Laurel Hill Cemetery Associates - 282-9351

Hospice Choirs in Maine
We sing at the bedside of those approaching death
Tourmaline Singers (Waterville area) Harbour Singers (Saco/Biddeford area) Heartsong (Belfast area) Evensong (Hancock County)

Keeping a Body Cool:
A body can usually be kept in the home for three or four days if the body is kept cool. If there is an odor, it may be fluids seeping from the body. A layer of wood shavings, sawdust or kitty litter under the body, covered by a sheet, will absorb both the odor and the liquid. In the winter, open a window a little and turn off the heat. If the weather is warm use frozen gel packs or dry ice. Dry ice cannot be used if body is being transported across state lines. Dry ice is available from: Elm Ice Company, 56 Gray Road, Falmouth, ME 797-5691; Getchell Brothers Inc, 1 Union St., Brewer, ME 989-7335; and P. Gagnon and Son, 200 Main St., York, ME 384-2213. You'll need about 25 pounds of dry ice per day. Because of low sales and storage issues, dry ice is no longer available at local stores, but only from these dealers.