A Home Funeral: Choices In Death

Posted on November 11, 2013

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I carpooled up to Gainesville, Florida today for a course on home funerals.

If this freaks you out or sounds odd, just hear me out.

The event was hosted by Final Friends of Gainesville, a helping group for education and assistance with home funerals. It was hosted by Freddie who also works with Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, where the event was located.

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Prairie Creek is a cemetery for natural burials, where a body or ashes can be interred. They do not require a burial container and a person can be buried only in a shroud of biodegradable material or in a pine box or cardboard box (as they use in crematoriums). They do not accept embalmed bodies, as they are not biodegradable or natural. A burial at Prairie Creek costs $2,000 which goes to the land conservation they are helping support, and is a massive bit less than a traditional funeral with embalming, caskets, and graveyard costs.

So Prairie Creek provides an opportunity for a natural burial.

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A home funeral is not a necessity if you want a natural burial, and vice versa, but they both make sense together. A home funeral refers to the fact that legally, you are not required to have a funeral home collect the human remains of your relatives/loved ones, but if you are aware of the correct paperwork and procedures, you can prepare the deceased yourself, assisting in the grieving process, assuring it is what they wanted, and removing the impersonal element in a very personal thing.

We spoke about planning for a home funeral ahead of time if you’re dealing with someone who is ill or imminently dying and involving them in the decision making process to plan who acts as their funeral director. Chapter 497  of the Florida Statues discusses the allowance for someone (a family member or non-member) may act as funeral director in “effecting the final disposition of the decedent.” There was some talk of paperwork filing and what steps to plan for ahead of time to make transport of a body more convenient and less stressful, but I’ll include those bits at the bottom for your possible use and exploration.

The nitty gritty of bodily functions post death were discussed in their relation to care and there was a bit of connections made between midwives and “death doulas” as they are sometimes called – people who help to prepare bodies for burial and transition from this life into the next birth instead of their birth into this one. The group practiced some hands on moving of a body, positioning for washing post-mortum, preparing to shroud a body, where to place ice packs if you are required to keep a body cool (you are required to keep the body at 40 F or below if it will not be buried within 24 hours – whether in a refrigeration unit like a morgue or with ice packs), and how to take care of positioning a body and keeping it “proper” prior to the set in of rigor mortis.

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For me, being someone who didn’t even realize a natural burial was an actual option 6 months ago (I thought the class Jessica taught on green burial was just going to be theoretical or speak of old school natural burials from back before it wasn’t legal to do), learning about how to care for dead in-house (literally) is a fascinating bit. I don’t hope to use this information anytime soon as I don’t know anybody knocking on death’s door, but as it’s never really something we can be fully prepared poor (death knocks when he wants), knowing the options out there is liberating and comforting, since I know I could manage to pay for a spot at Prairie Creek but would never want Nate to be in the hole trying to pay for a $15,000 casket for my body to not even rot in. Let me compost with all the rest of God’s green earth, please. Not soon. But one day.

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Other helpful resources:
Movie: A Family Undertaking
The Centre for Natural Burial
Crossings Seminars on family-directed home funerals
Green Burial Council
Natural Burial Company: Nature-friendly Burial Products & Services

Information from the:
VITAL RECORDS
REGISTRATION HANDBOOK
December 2012 Revision

FAMILY MEMBER ACTING AS FUNERAL DIRECTOR/BURIAL WITHOUT FUNERAL DIRECTOR

Section 382.002(7), Florida Statues allows for someone to “act” as a funeral director in effecting the disposition of a decedent. This usually occurs when family members want to act as their own funeral director. The family member must follow all the laws and rules that pertain to funeral directors, as well as vital statistics.

Vital statistics is concerned with the proper and timely filing of the burial transit permit and death record. Vital statistics jurisdiction does not extend to the actual handling of the remains. Inquiries from families wishing to dispose of loved ones remains without using the services of a licensed funeral director/direct disposer must meet the requirements of Ch. 497, F.S. and should be directed to the Division of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services in Tallahassee, 850-413-3039

The following procedures must be followed regarding filing the proper paperwork for the Bureau of Vital Statistics:

1. The family member must contact the local vital statistics office within the county health department, who will assist them in this process.

2. Upon notification from a family member that they intend to act as their own funeral director, the registrar will advise them of their responsibilities as they pertain to vital statistics and obtain the following information:
a. The decedent’s name, date of death and location of death;
b. The family member’s name, address, phone number and relationship to the decedent;
c. The physician’s name who will certify the death record;
d. The location of death (hospital, hospice, nursing home, residence, etc.);
e. Current location of the remains;
f. The method of disposition.

3. The registrar must then:
a. Verify that the death occurred by contacting the physician who has agreed to certify the death record. It is suggested that the CDR (Chief Deputy Registrar) contact the physician immediately to determine if they will sign the death record for the family member;
b. If unfamiliar with the physician certifying the death, the license should be verified with the Department of Health; that web address is: http://ww2.doh.state.fl.us/IRM00PRAES/PRASLIST.ASP.
c. Verify that whoever is holding the remains is willing to release them to the family member;
d. Obtain a copy of the police report or contact the hospice, nursing home, etc., as appropriate;
e. If cremation, the CDR will need to provide a copy of the completed/signed death record to the medical examiner and obtain the approval number before giving the permit to the family member.
f. Report the death to the medical examiner if the death did not occur in a medical facility.

4. The family member or representative must make an appointment with the chief deputy registrar to obtain a blank death record and complete the application for burial transit permit (Part A). The permit cannot be issued (Part B) until the completed and signed record is filed with the county office.
b. The CDR will provide the applicant with instructions for completion of the death record (Chapter 5 in the handbook).
c. The CDR will advise the family member that the final disposition cannot occur until a completed death record is received in the county vital statistics office and the CDR issues the burial transit permit.

5. Upon receipt of the completed death record, the registrar must review the record for completeness and accuracy. If acceptable, the CDR will issue the burial transit permit (complete Part B) and instruct the applicant to return the Cemetery/Crematory copy permit within 10 days after final disposition to the vital statistics office in the county where the disposition took place.

Other statutory requirements or items to be considered:
1. A body must be buried within 24 hours of death unless embalmed or held in refrigeration at 40 degrees F (s. 497.386(2), F.S.);
2. Transportation of a dead body must be done in a container that does not allow seepage of fluids or offensive odors (s. 497.386(3), F.S.);
3. Cremation cannot take place until 48 hours after death (s. 872.03, F.S.);
4. The physician must be willing to work with the family rather than a license funeral director;
5. Obtaining paperwork and getting the registration process started might work with relative ease if a person dies at a “convenient” time, such as 8:00 am on a Tuesday. If death occurs at 2:45 am on a Saturday, it becomes more difficult to contact all the required parties (So, plan ahead if at all possible!)

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Posted in: green burials