My mom had been hearing about home funerals since 2005 when I was living in San Diego and I stumbled upon Thresholds. Mom grew up outside of Camden, a small southern town, and had been to many home funerals as a child and young adult. I don't believe there was a lot of embalming but I can't be for sure. When I would talk to her about her own funeral plans, she had no interest in a home funeral. She liked the idea of a simple wooden casket but that was all. She wanted the full works. Even after I went into detail of the embalming process (I was graphic) she would not budge. I had hopes when the time was near (this was over 5 years ago) she would change her mind. She didn't.
Having her at home on hospice at already been a huge blessing to all of us. I was grateful every day she was not in the hospital. But, I still wish I could have convinced her to not be embalmed. Mom's face was so radiant and luminescent a few hours after her death it was hard to see the changes that came with the embalming. I would have much rather seen her in her natural state and a direct burial. I had to shut my mind off so I would not think about the physical process and violation of her body to complete the embalming process.
My maternal Grandma died at age 94. When she was 90 she bought a beautiful wool dress and cashmere coat at Feinstein's that she said she planned to be buried in. She danced in that dress for her 90th birthday party and we have wonderful memories of her in the dress and a fancy red hat. The last time I saw her, about 4 months before she died, she told me she had lived a good life but she was tired and ready to go. At her funeral service, we heard stories about her running around town days before her death. She was seen at the grocery store, she had gone to church for chair aerobics, and had her nails done in "funeral pink" at the salon.
My mom on the other hand, talked about being buried in crisp, white cotton pajamas. She loved the color white, lounging in pajamas all morning, and sipping a cup of coffee. When I spent time in Bangladesh, I had three pairs of white pajamas made for her. They were thread bare when she died. About three months before her terminal diagnosis, she changed her mind about the pajamas as she did not want to be "cold underground" and wanted something warm "like her mama wore". Two weeks after her diagnosis she insisted on going to Feinstein's and finding a dress like grandma to be buried in.
Since starting this blog, I have always vacillated writing about home funerals versus exploring topics related to dying consciously. To me they seemed to be intertwined yet at other times completely separate. So to keep things simple I made my focus be on home funeral education.
Death and dying has been a constant presence in my life these last few months. Facing your own approaching death or that of a loved one is a journey everyone must face at some point in their life. Over the last three years, a large portion of my personal spiritual work has focused on the spiritual aspects of the dying process. Some of teachings occurred as part of my death midwifery training and some happened coincidentally with my spiritual studies. As I was introduced to these ancient practices, I would think to myself that the readings were preparing me for my mom's death. My mother had been given a "clean bill" of health three years ago after radiation treatment for a vicious squamous cell cancer of the face. After 30 days of radiation, my mom consistently received "clean pet scans" for the next 3 years. The cancer scare was a reality check for all of us and made me acutely aware of my mom's mortality.
In October 2017, mom was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. At her biannual PET scan, suspicious areas glowed in her lymph nodes, esophagus, right adrenal, aorta, and right lung. The squamous cell we thought we had successfully eradicated, had been slowly eating her up inside these last three years. With a very poor prognosis (after full work-up and biopsies), we chose a 10 day course of palliative radiation and the day after, we drove to her childhood home and entered hospice at home. My mom's death journey out of this earthly life ended January 1, 2018. It was a whirlwind of emotions from anger to exhaustion to despair. But at the very end, all that was left was love. She was luminescent in death.
I'm not sure how much of this journey I'll choose to write on this platform but know it will be on facing death with your eyes wide open. Both in sickness and in health.
Legal information is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I am still in the early stages of navigating the obstacles facing Arkansas families wishing to care for their own dead. I have done my best to provide the most accurate answers to the most common questions. As I begin work with Arkansas families and encounter new situations, I will update /modify answers as needed. If you encounter information that you believe to be incorrect, please notify me so I may research the issue. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!