What is a home funeral?
Also known as a family or community led death care, home funerals are when a deceased person’s circle chooses to care for (bathe, dress, etc.) and spend time with the deceased person in the comfort and/or privacy of their own home or space, rather than doing a viewing at a funeral home. By cooling the body with dry-ice or gel ice packs, a decedent can be preserved for an extended period of time (up to several days,) while folks gather to vigil the person who has died.
Are home funerals legal?
Yes! Unfortunately, it is possible that coroners, hospital/hospice staff, first responders, and/or funeral homes may try to tell you otherwise. Even professionals are misinformed about the legality surrounding home funerals. We can help properly inform anyone you may be getting push-back from. If someone says you “can’t” have a home funeral ask them to show you the law or statute to back-up their claim (there isn’t one.)
The Colorado Revised Statutes under Title 12 Article 135 apply to mortuaries and crematories, not citizens. Just as statutes that regulate restaurants don’t dictate what you do in your own kitchen, and statutes that regulate barber shops don’t dictate your right to cut/color your own hair, statutes that regulate mortuaries don’t dictate how you care for your dead.
Some institutions and facilities may have their own internal policies that make something like the release of the decedent directly to next-of-kin/appointed representatives more difficult, but there are work arounds/options.
Are home funerals safe?
When asked this way, what folks usually mean to ask is “are dead bodies dangerous?”
A dead body poses no more inherent risk than a living body. Even in the case of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis, you would take the same precautions interacting with the decedent as you did when they were alive.
Additionally, cooling a body slows the decomposition process.
What are some potential benefits of home funerals?
Intimacy, Privacy, & Comfort: Home funerals allow family and/or friends to be in the presence of the body, while they gather and mourn in the privacy and comfort of their own home/space where they can freely eat, drink, cry, laugh, sing, swear, and keen.
Time & Flexibility: Rather than being limited to a two-hour viewing (for example) at a funeral home, home funerals can allow for up to several days of being in the presence of the body. This provides more folks the ability to have meaningful time with the departed, rather than just lining up single file to take a quick peek into a casket. Home funerals are accommodating to a variety of schedules, in order to allow as many people as possible to spend time with the departed, without restrictive time constraints.
Cost-Savings: Not having to use a funeral home may help cut down on a number of costs, including charges for things like embalming, cosmetizing, the viewing itself, and more. Home funerals can certainly be as lavish as one wishes (custom floral, catering, a designer casket, etc.) However, many home funeral families prefer/appreciate not having to spend money on much more than the disposition (burial, cremation, etc.)
Reclamation: Home funerals are a reclamation in trusting in our abilities to care for our own, if that is meaningful to us in some way. We don’t need a “professional” or “expert” to tend to our dead (though we greatly appreciate death care professionals who do care for the dead.)
Is home funeral possible after a death outside of the home?
Yes. While the most logistically convenient type of home funeral occurs after an expected home death, home funeral is possible in the event of deaths that occur outside of the home. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the departed may have to go to a coroner’s office, where they may or may not be autopsied. Once the departed is ready to be released from the hospital or coroner, they can be transported wherever need be. There are options for addressing trauma to the body in the case of accidents, autopsied decedents, etc. In extreme cases, a body may be wrapped in a shroud and/or we can connect families to a trustworthy, licensed reconstructionist if reconstruction is desired.
Is home funeral possible after organ/tissue/bone donation?
Yes. Donor Alliance (in Colorado) when informed that a family is opting for home funeral, takes that into consideration when recovering organ/tissue/bone in terms of how much they recover, and the condition they release the decedent back to the family/personal representatives in.
Please let the donor organization you are working with know that you are planning on having a home funeral, that there will be no Funeral Director involved if that is the case, and that you ask that they return the decedent to you in a condition that is manageable for the survivors. This may include something like them wrapping recovery sites well, placing the decedent in a plastic Unionall suit, etc.
Is home funeral possible after an autopsy?
Yes. Coroner/Medical Examiner offices do not always do a great job of closing autopsy incisions, because most of the time the decedent will be going to a funeral home, who “cleans them up.” It is best to tell the coroner’s office that a home funeral will be taking place, and that you would like them to take care and close the incision(s) well. That being said, it is important to be aware of the potential need for additional clean up, bandaging, etc.
You can also ask that the Coroner/Medical Examiner consider starting with only a chest autopsy to see if they find the answers they need before also doing a cranial autopsy. They may or may not be able to honor this request.
What form of preservation is used in a home funeral ?
Dry ice, or gel-type ice packs are the go-to if opting out of embalming (which is not required by law.)
Is embalming required by law?
The short answer is no. Embalming (chemical preservation) is very rarely required by law. There are a few states where it may be required if a decedent is being transported across certain state lines, for example.
The Funeral Rule, enacted by the Federal Trade Commission in 1984, prohibits funeral homes from telling consumers that state or local law requires embalming if that is not true. Funeral homes must disclose in writing on their General Price List (GPL) that embalming is not required by law and they must include the following disclosure language:
“Except in certain special cases, embalming is not required by law. Embalming may be necessary, however, if you select certain funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with a viewing. If you do not want embalming, you usually have the right to choose an arrangement that does not require you to pay for it, such as direct cremation or immediate burial.”
Some folks simply don’t want to be embalmed. Many funeral homes, as stated in the disclosure above, may require embalming for a viewing. Funeral homes are within their rights, as a business, to put internal policies in place that require embalming for viewings that they facilitate.
That said, you are within your rights to have a home viewing which requires no embalming.
You may also choose to keep looking for a funeral home who does not require embalming for viewings.
What is a home-funeral-friendly funeral home?
Preface: There may or may not be a home-funeral-friendly funeral home in your area. You can look for a home funeral guide as an alternative and the National Home Funeral Alliance has a directory you can search.
A home-funeral-friendly funeral home is one that supports the bereaved’s right to have time, privacy, and autonomy in caring for their dead. Ideally, they welcome the bereaved to be as involved as they want to be, and the funeral home only steps-in where asked to* (the same way that a home funeral guide would.)
If the death occurred outside of the home, home-funeral-friendly funeral homes will agree to bring the decedent home for the bereaved so that the bereaved can prepare the body themselves, and have a vigil/viewing. Some funeral homes will happily prepare the body on behalf of the bereaved, if that is what the bereaved want.
If the decedent died at home and no coroner is to be involved, a home-funeral-friendly funeral home will support the bereaved in keeping the decedent home for an extended period of time before picking them up. Some home-funeral friendly funeral homes may impose a time limit for a home viewing, for example, 24 hours. Others are willing to support a several day home viewing.
Some home-funeral friendly funeral homes require embalming before they will bring the decedent home for a viewing.
Additionally, a home-funeral-friendly funeral home is one that, ideally, won’t tell the bereaved what they can or can’t “handle.” It isn’t uncommon for funeral providers to say things like, “you don’t want to see them this way,” but it’s not up to them to decide what someone is or isn’t capable of seeing/handling. A more helpful approach is for them to inform you of any details that will help you make your own decision, for example, by saying, “there is a large cut on the forehead and an autopsy incision on the top of the head.” If they don’t offer this information up on their own you can say something like, “I’d really like you to let me make this decision for myself. Can you please tell me a little bit more about where the wounds are, how big they are, and what they look like?” or anything else you feel it would be helpful to know.
*In some states a funeral home is required to file the death certificate and/or transport the decedent. Colorado is not one of those states.
Do we have to hire a Funeral Director in Colorado?
No. Some states require the use of a Funeral Director to complete death certificate paperwork, and/or to transport a decedent. Colorado is not one of those states. Families can file the death certificate on their own, on a paper form, though in most cases the provider you hire for final disposition (burial, cremation, water cremation, etc.) will file the death certificate.
What if we already called a funeral home and they are in possession of our person but we no longer want to work with them?
You are within your rights to get your person back from the funeral home, and/or have them transferred to another funeral home.
Sometimes folks feel rushed to call a funeral home after a death, and they may not think to ask about policies or pricing before having the decedent picked up.
If you want to change funeral homes, or you want to have a home viewing/funeral instead, you can, but you will owe the original funeral home any costs incurred for transport, refrigeration, and any other services that have already occurred.
Example: You call a local funeral home (A) and they pick up your person up from the hospital. When you go to the arrangement meeting you find out that their direct cremation price is $3500.00. You know there are local providers that offer cremations for thousands less. You call another funeral home (B) and they do direct cremations for $1295. You decide you want to work with funeral home B instead. Funeral home A states that you will still owe them $525.00 ($450.00 for the transport to the hospital and $75.00 for one day of refrigeration.) You opt to still go with funeral home B, and pay them $1295 for a direct cremation (price included the cost of one transport which is from FH-A to FH-B.) You pay Funeral home A $525.00.
**Note: It is illegal for a funeral home to hold a body or remains (including cremated remains) hostage for upfront payment, meaning they cannot require that you pay them before they release the body.**
How can we be more involved with our dead if we are using the services of a funeral home?
Funeral home offerings, policies, accommodations, and pricing vary greatly from one establishment to another.
There are some funeral homes that welcome the bereaved into their funeral homes to help with dressing the dead, doing their hair and make-up, painting their nails, anointing them, shrouding them, to participate in a witness cremation, etc.
Other funeral homes don’t even do body preparations on site (they send decedents to a large centralized care center) and so they may not be willing or able to accommodate the bereaved in their requests, for example.
If there are certain tasks that you feel like it would be meaningful to be a part of, and you don’t want to do those tasks on your own prior to the decedent being picked up by the funeral home, ask the funeral home (ideally before they take possession of the decedent,) if they can accommodate your requests.
You may still be limited in the amount of time you can spend with your dead, the funeral home may charge more to accommodate you coming in to help with certain things, so be sure to also ask about time frames and pricing as well.
We already hired a funeral home. Do you have anything to offer?
Yes! If you do not already have an officiant chosen for the funeral/memorial/celebration-of-life, we can offer Life-Cycle Celebrant services and work alongside the Funeral Directors that are coordinating services.
A Celebrant can significantly elevate gatherings, and are especially beneficial for secular (non-religious) families seeking a truly personalized ceremony.
How is a Life-Cycle Celebrant® different from other officiants?
Celebrants differ from other officiants in that they craft fully personalized funerals and living funerals, true to who the person being remembered is/was. Many officiants have a go-to script that they use for all of their funerals and they just change out a few things (like the name) whereas Celebrants, as story tellers, take time to gather as much unique information as they can in order to create a personalized ceremony. They provide the full script to the family for review, approval, and edits if time allows.
Do you offer virtual memorials?
Yes! We can craft a custom ceremony and officiate at a virtual memorial that someone else is facilitating, or we can facilitate the entire event (via Zoom.)
Virtual memorials can include many of the same elements as in-person memorials, like photo slideshows, eulogists, live music, open mic sharing, and more.
What is a do-over memorial?
Coined by Tawnya Musser, “do-over” memorials are for folks who never had, or didn’t get to attend a meaningful memorial for their person, or, the memorial they did have/attend was unsatisfactory. Whether your departed has been gone for a year, or a decade, it’s never too late to create, and participate in, a meaningful tribute.
Perhaps your person was given a religious ceremony when they themselves weren’t religious or were of another faith. Perhaps there was no ceremony at all. Perhaps the ceremony had a somber tone and you’d have preferred a more up-beat celebration. Perhaps the person died-by suicide, or died a violent death, and the complexities of the death went unacknowledged. Perhaps the decedent was hurtful and abusive but was put on a pedestal in death. Perhaps you left the ceremony thinking “whose funeral was I even just at?”
Do-overs are a second chance for an authentic ceremony, even if it’s a private ceremony for one.
What if my relationship with the dead was complicated? Do you have ceremonies for those cases?
For those whose relationship with the dead was complicated, and especially when trauma is a part the survivors’ past with the dead, it is critical to acknowledge the gravity of the situation in a way that gives voice to the survivors’ pain, by staying true to the narrative.
So often our dead are put on a pedestal. Dear Departures strives to convey legacies authentically, with candor, tact, and grace. We craft ceremonies that get right down to the nitty-gritty truths. We craft ceremonies that create space for cathartic release. Ceremonies that name, and hold space for the hurt, and anger. Ceremonies that don’t gloss over the complicated bits.
Because all our ceremonies are custom crafted, you get the say in what will feel appropriate and meaningful, to you, to mark the death.
What is a living funeral/exit-party?
A living funeral is an event where, when someone is nearing the end-of-life, they become the guest of honor at their own exit-party! More and more people are coming around the idea that, rather than have everyone sit around and tell stories about you after you’re gone, it’s a much richer experience to be a part of that conversation while you’re still alive!
Living funerals are also an opportunity for an aging and/or terminally ill person to share with others what an impact those people have made on their life.
Living funerals can be called anything you’d like it to be, for example, you could host a, “Send-Off,” or a “Farewell Gathering,” etc.
Do you offer ceremonies for miscarriage/pregnancy loss/infant loss?
Yes. Many, many bereaved parents, throughout time, have suffered in silence and/or missed out on being a part of a meaningful ceremony to mark a pregnancy loss/death of a baby. Tawnya has studied with the Institute of Birth Breath & Death to hold space for pregnancy loss/infant loss and she can also work with you to co-create a tribute, whether your child will die soon, died recently, or died decades ago.
Do you offer ceremonies for pet deaths?
Yes! Our furry, scaly, and feathered friends are family and we love to help folks craft meaningful send-offs for their pet-fam!
We offer ceremonies for before, during (in the case of euthanasia,) and/or after the death of a pet.
Do you write and/or help write obituaries?
Yes! We offer guidance in obituary writing, whether you are writing one for yourself, or someone else.
Obituaries don’t have to be simple timelines of events. They can be fun, witty, reverent, and lush!
You don’t have to be dying to start writing an obituary! Getting a head start means that when the inevitable happens, (be it tomorrow or years from now,) the things that are important to you about your life’s story have been highlighted!
Do you offer ceremonies unrelated to death/dying?
Yes. Tawnya offers all sorts of ceremonies across the life-cycle, including but not limited to baby namings/blessings, coming-of-age ceremonies, weddings, retirements, trans renaming ceremonies, and more.
This includes ceremonies to mark any kind of transition and/or loss.
What are the potential benefits of having a Death Doula?
Doulas work as an added layer of care, independent of, but alongside hospice staff.
Doulas offer emotional support, as well as non-medical care in the form of advance care planning, respite, care giving, care calendar coordination, legacy projects, downsizing support, vigil planning, sitting vigil during the eleventh hour, and more.
Do you write and/or help write eulogies?
Yes! We offer guidance in eulogy writing! Whether you need support from start to finish, or just need some feedback and editing support, we can help!
Are Death Doulas covered by insurance?
No. At this time, all charges incurred are paid out-of-pocket. Ability-to-pay/sliding scale options may be available. Please contact us for more information.
Can I use my FSA or HSA to pay for a Death Doula?
No. At this time, Death Doula services are not eligible FSA/HSA expenses.
Do you serve clients that aren’t dying?
Yes! We can work with anyone, of any age, on end-of-life care plans (advanced directives, legacy projects, obituary writing, ceremony scripting, vigil plans, referrals for legal advice, and more.)
Can you work with clients outside of the Denver, Colorado area?
Yes. Our in-person services are usually offered within thirty miles of the Denver-Metro area, and on occasion, we can accommodate a seventy-five-mile radius.
We can also work remotely, via phone or video conferencing, with folks anywhere in the United States. Remote services are best suited for offerings like end-of-life planning, filling out advanced directives, care coordination, support writing obituaries and/or eulogies, and/or home funeral guidance.
We may refer out-of-state families to trusted providers in their area, if we know of one.
Do you offer virtual/remote services?
Yes. Remote services are best suited for offerings like home funeral guidance, virtual ceremonies, end-of-life planning, filling out advanced directives, care coordination, and/or support writing obituaries and/or eulogies.
We may refer out-of-state families to trusted providers in their area, if we know of one.
Do you offer consultations for others wanting to get into this work?
Yes. However, due to the volume of requests we get from folks asking to connect about “how to be a death doula,” for example, we ask that those looking for mentorship/guidance consider compensating us for our time, where possible. You can, for example, “buy us a cup of tea,” and/or offer an hourly consulting rate, if we are to meet/chat.
What forms of payment do you accept?
Cash, Check, Square, Cash App & Venmo
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