There was a time. a long stretch of time - in American history, where the home funeral was the de facto choice for death care. Of course we would hold a wake and a funeral in our parlor - where else are we going to do it? But that changed. As it so often does in America, Capitalism won out and enterprising folks figured out how to turn a funeral into a profit-generating business.
Tools and options that were originally created for the greater good turned into nickle-and-dime profiteering and misinformation. After all, before it was seen as a toxic and likely unnecessary add-on, embalming was created to give families a chance to see their loved one lost in war one last time, and that is certainly a noble goal for civil war scientists.
In either case, as time passed, home funerals were relegated to the fringe. The greater culture decided that death was a morbid thing better left to the professionals, and we began a slow march into a society that wants to lock us out of sight in nursing homes as soon as we show signs of serious age or visible illness, not addressing death at all outside of a few hours spent in a too-warm church while someone comments that "they did a good job, she looks like she's sleeping."
The home funeral movement has always felt a little punk rock - a little outside the mainstream. It has always felt small - one voice in the storm. And then the movement grew. And then it grew some more. And more. Other groups grew with us, adding their own voices and perspectives. The Funeral Consumer Alliance (which has always felt like our older sibling organization to me) has exploded as the voice for honesty, transparency, and law in the funeral industry. The Order of the Good Death helped birth the Death Positive movement - while the NHFA gives voice to the reclamation of lost tradition and a return to natural care, they give voice to a whole new generation more concerned with art and change and cultural acceptance. There are dozens more - The National End of Life Doula Alliance, the Green Burial Council, hundreds of individual advocates and protesters and legislators...
The "Traditional American Funeral Industry" writes about home funerals and understands the need to incorporate changing cultural norms if they want to keep customers coming back generation after generation. The idea of caring for your own dead has sprung up in Netflix series and in mainstream film. The histories of death care that felt so forgotten just a few years ago are now common knowledge.
That's an incredible thing, but it also presents new challenges to an organization like ours. There is a common Chinese saying that is typically attributed to Zen master Ryutan: "Empty your cup."
When people are already walking around full of knowledge, when their cup is full, it's hard to add more. The cup overflows, and some knowledge is lost. So the Zen teaching is to empty your cup - forget all of the knowledge and memory that is filling up your cup and prepare yourself to accept new knowledge as an empty vessel. I'm not a Zen master, but you get the idea.
What we're facing right now is a country of people walking around with full cups. People who have "learned" through TV and movies and stories that the dead are scary and gross and unhealthy. They've learned that home funerals exist, but also that they're weird and can upset your entire family. They "know" that talking about death is cool, but only if you wear black dresses and hang out in cemeteries and good folks that play football in high school just don't do that kind of thing. When you're part of a fringe movement, you're starting from zero - it's easy to educate people that are coming in with no expectations.
Now, in this more mainstream place, the home funeral movement needs to work to cut through the misconceptions and misrepresentations that our mainstream status has brought along. Getting people to talk about home funerals was step one - now all of us need to focus on making sure home funeral conversations are rooted in love and understanding. We need to show, through example, what home funerals are really about.
Blogs published on the NHFA Blog represent the views of their original authors, and not necessarily the view of the NHFA as an organization. Unless otherwise indicated, these blogs should be considered opinion pieces, and should not be considered legal, medical, or direct advice.