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Sharon Hunter - September 2021

Myth: The deceased can’t be kept at home

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It wasn’t long ago that when a person died, the only place they’d be found was at home. The family would wash and dress the body, place it in bed, then fill the room with candles and flowers to hide any smell. Relatives and close friends would visit during the week before a modest funeral was held.

From generation to generation, we passed on skills on how to handle the death of a loved one. But gradually, this end-of-life connection was lost.

Death became a business.

People died less at home, and instead died in hospitals, rest homes, and palliative care facilities. From there, bodies went straight to the funeral home where they were embalmed.

Increasingly, families want to take back aspects of caring for their dying loved one. For many, this means having them at home.

Thankfully, forward-thinking funeral directors and industry professionals are enabling this choice. Death Doula’s (also referred to as death midwives) accompany the dying person and their loved ones through the final months at home. Home funeral and natural burial practitioners are also advocating a return to family-centric approaches.

For some, having their loved one at home before the service is important. It gives opportunities for people to visit, to play music, to light candles and dress the space with photos and memorabilia. There will be an additional charge if the deceased is transported to a private residence from the funeral home or other facility, but this cost could well be worth the special moments experienced at home.

If you do choose to keep the body at home, you will need to think about keeping the body preserved. That doesn’t mean you need to embalm. If you chose not to embalm, you will need to take steps to keep the room cool.

  • Portable air conditioners in the room work extremely well.
  • Use ice packs, or chill hot water bottles in the freezer. Pack around the body and rotate often.
  • Place a towel around the hips, or use an adult diaper.
  • If the family are supported by a doula, palliative carer or other professional, they will assist.

"Increasingly, families want to take back aspects of caring for their dying loved one."

There are other ways.

For any number of reasons, having the casket at home might not suit. Another option could be having private time at the funeral home. Make arrangements with your funeral director; they will ensure you have the privacy and space you need. You could make the place your own with music and photos. Multiple visits to the funeral home can incur additional costs over and above the standard service fee.

Important things still to say.

In life, we imagine there will always be time to say the things that need saying. If death robs us of that opportunity, it can still be remarkably healing to grab the moment anyway. Regardless of which scenario works best, make time for people to have a chat and say goodbye.

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