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Funeral Director: Why DIY Funerals Do Work

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Funeral Director: Why DIY Funerals Do Work

Funeral Director: Why DIY Funerals Do Work

Good news! While we have spent the last hundred years outsourcing more and more of life, the DIY movement has been claiming it back, and those who want to avoid funeral costs are working out the many and varied benefits of this approach to death.

In the last 120 years we have lost over 5000 years of knowledge about caring for our dead.

Every one of you is capable of caring for your dead. It is legal, it is possible and it can fundamentally change what it means to grieve in this world.

Facts –

   * funeral directors are not always a legal requirement in every situation;

   * there are many things you can do for yourself;

   * funerals don’t have to be expensive or done by professionals;


   * a home funeral can be many things, from a few hours at the bedside, vigiling when a person dies, through to having the body of your person in         your home giving care for days and making all the arrangements yourself; and


  * there are many independent death care workers skilled and knowledgeable enough to assist with organisation and support of families who              wish  to undertake all or part of a funeral themselves.

Home funeral is any action, intention, ritual or ceremony designed to remember and honour the dead which takes place anywhere a person feels they belong; home funeral could be where you live but it doesn’t have to be. It could be for days, but it doesn’t have to be. It is as individual as you are.

It is not one size fits all, there is room for everyone to do what feels right, and arguably, within the bounds of the law, that is what we should all be focusing on. Providing people with ALL the options and then supporting them in informed decision making to do exactly what feels right for their grief. In this article we look at why a funeral director is not a necessity when planning a burial or cremation and why DIY funerals just work.

What is the role of a funeral director?

The role of the funeral director is to make sure everything that has to be done gets done, and done correctly. Arrange the care for the body of the person who has died. Arrange a burial or cremation. Register a death. Organise a ceremony. But guess what? You can be your own funeral director. Or, you can do some of that and get a paid funeral director to do the rest. In home funeral there is more work to do, you are not hiring a professional to do everything for you and things still need to be done.

And some people say – but you want it done right, it has to be perfect! My response –

Home funerals will always be perfect. Perfect does not mean polished or professional, it does not mean everything goes like clockwork or to plan and it does not mean that it will be without mistakes. But it is perfect because as a family, you can make it your own;  you can put your time, effort and love into making the journey from death to farewell the community and family experience it can and should be.

As a family, you are able to express your love, gratitude, and deep sense of privilege through the making of a farewell. What could be more perfect?

Can you arrange a funeral with a crematorium?

Yes, you can. It will depend on the policy of the crematorium. They may require a funeral director to bring the persons body to them. They may have paperwork requirements. There are a lot of maybes. It also largely depends on what State or Territory you are in. But it is possible. And if you find it is not, you can look for a home funeral friendly funeral director who will just do the transport for you. Good news is, there are now also independent transport and mortuary services who will work directly for families and they can help as well.

Why are funeral directors more crucial than ever?

Well, they are and they aren’t. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were 100% necessary though. Funeral directors are a choice. For some people they are a very good choice. For the last few decades, they have been close to the only choice because of the way in which our society have been busying ourselves and hiring professionals. But the fact remains that for most functions after death, funeral directors are one of many choices a family or community can make.

They are crucial for people who want the industry experience. Who want the big chapel and fancy hearse and the structure that they provide for ceremony and the ease with which they can put the event together. We also need to make space for the idea that not everyone wants that. And that’s ok, there is enough death for everyone and funeral directors don’t need to convince people they are critical to a process for people to use them. If they do a good service at a reasonable cost and they listen to families and communities and respond with compassion, people will use them. If they are happy to do the bits families don’t want to, home funeral families will likely engage with them as well.

Wrap Up

There are social, emotional and financial benefits to the DIY approach to funerals. Home funerals do save on cost – and funeral poverty is a real problem. Home funerals do provide a well-supported and healthy grief and bereavement experience. Home funerals do create networks of care between people who come together to look after the dead, spend time with them and support the family and community.

Some people say that DIY funerals don’t work! Imagine that!!

You may have even encountered some of these ideas and thought, how have we been wrong all this time? Rest assured, you are not wrong… what’s wrong is the fear mongering and the scare tactics used by companies who have vested interests in pushing people towards industry approaches by supporting ideas that disempower people and perpetuate the myth that we are not the best people to care for our dead.

As I said in 2022

I started in the funeral industry 11 years ago and I have learned a great many things from a great many people in that time. One of the earliest and best lessons I learned, was to encourage people to slow things down. To consider how long people spend in planning celebrations to mark milestones in life – weddings, 21st birthdays, engagements, christenings… and to acknowledge that a funeral is the final milestone. It does not have to be done and dusted in three days.

Before the funeral industry, there was home funeral. Home based death care and family led funerals have always been possible; death care, the ‘how to’ of caring for those who die had, up until about 120 years ago, always been a shared community knowledge, a responsibility that we as a society freely undertook. Even in my grandmother’s lifetime she remembered taking food to houses of her neighbours when someone died where, as a community, they would grieve, mourn, care for, and spend time with the dead. Now, in the rush of our busy lives, this is an all but faded tradition which has resulted in the loss of knowledge, confidence, and belief in our own human capacity to care for each other at end of life.

I have learned a lot working in my years with death and what I know is that to spend time with and give care to a person who has died is the most humbling and life affirming gift we can give them, each other, and ourselves. Something happens when you spend time with the dead. It is a profound experience to wash and dress someone, to hold the hand of a person you have known in life and notice the missing breath. People are changed by these experiences, their grief and bereavement are made more gentle.

Those moments are extraordinary and they encourage us to live better. That’s what you can expect from home funeral.

Imagine a society where people come together to fulfill the end of life wishes for their person and by doing so, powerful bonds are woven between them. There is a genuine sense of achieving something wonderful and unique – those shared experiences are the basis for true and lasting networks of care. People’s grief and bereavement experiences are vastly different inside the scaffold of these networks. Once you choose a home funeral, you don’t have to go far to find the heart of it. It’s in the people.

Home funeral and family led death care has always been possible. It is a safe, legal and empowering choice for people to whom it feels right.  

I encourage you all to go and get informed. Investigate what is possible. Visit websites that don’t have a vested interest in perpetuating myths. Ask questions. Talk to funeral directors. Engage with professionals on your own terms. Think outside the box. Plan ahead, before you need to. Get death literate! Find people who say ‘lets see how we can make that work for you’ instead of ‘that’s not how we do things’.

And gather your people, share stories and reminiscence with each other. Listen to what feels right for you and support each other in that. Each and every one of you are capable of caring for your people in death as you do in life. It is your right and for many people, it is a gift. In my experience, your life will be richer and your grief made gentler by each tiny moment spent in service of your dead.

Bec Lyons, 21.12.2023

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