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10 top tips for DIY funerals: #1 HOME-BASED FUNERALS

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

When I was in my early 20s, I attended the home funeral of a school friend. Although it was a deeply sad affair, the intimate way in which we were all able to sit in her house alongside her coffin and her community, absorbing the beautiful words her parents shared and the quiet spaciousness surrounding the speeches, opened my mind to a more personal way of doing funerals.

So, what exactly is a home-based funeral?

A home funeral is what used to be just called 'funerals' as all funerals were held at home! It's where the family and/or community choose to keep the body at home after death, rather than the funeral director taking the body away immediately, in the UK it is a safe and legal choice to make. This could be anything from the family sitting with the deceased for a few hours before funeral directors take away the person, to the family organising all the body preperations and paper work as well as organising the cremation or burial itself. You might want to enlist the help of a funeral director for part of the funeral like the paperwork, or the support of a death doula for the entirely.

A home funeral may happen in the family home, or elsewhere like a marquee in a field or a local community centre. So long as the dead person is kept cool, in most cases they can be kept up to a week at home - there are various factors affecting the decomposition process.

Home Funeral, willow coffin, woven coffin, wicker coffin, wovenfarewell coffin
Daughter Beth Barbeau and Beth’s sons, Marcellin and Jianmarco, spend time at Sharon Bailey’s bedside when her family had a home funeral for her in 2009. Photo credit: Beth Barbeau

What are the benefits?

Handling a funeral at home can be an intimate and theraputic experience, and ultimately support the grieving process of the family. It also often costs a lot less than using a funeral director. With a home funeral there can be more time to say goodbye, especially if you opt for a cremation. Normal cremation service slots are about 40 minutes long, and so choosing a home funeral if the person is being cremated offers longer to spend with the loved one. Home funerals can also provide more flexibility for the family, for example it can offer opportunity to wash and dress the person (some funeral directors offer this in their funeral homes too), I'll cover washing and preparing the body in a future top tip for DIY funerals.

What do you need for a home-based funeral?

Home Funeral, willow coffin, woven coffin, wovenfarewell coffin
Laura Bailey holds her mother's hand at Sharon Bailey's home funeral. A home funeral was chosen to reflect Sharon's lifestyle and because they wanted to spend as much time as possible with her after death. Photo credit: Beth Barbeau

If someone is dying in a hospital you can still have a home funeral, but it's wise to contact the hospital staff beforehand to arrange collection of your loved one from the ward, as bodies will generally be automatically transferred to the hospital mortury.

There are a few essentials:

- family or friends to help move the person, a home funeral is a group effort!

- a coffin, this you can buy or make yourself (covered in a future DIY funeral top tip post)

- dry ice or normal ice packs

- towels to pack around the ice and body in the coffin

- the room needs to be cool, so you might want a portable air conditioner

When is it not ideal to have a home-based funeral?

Some people simply prefer not to be so intimately involved in the funeral as they might not have the spare headspace alongside their grief. Other times it may not be practical, such as if:

- the person has died far from home

- the person has died in an accident

- a post mortum is required

- certain conditions may make it more challenging (see the Crossings manual below)- such as obesity, certain infections, bed sores, septicemia

Can you have a home-based funeral if someone has suspected or confirmed Covid-19?

According to the Deceased Management Advisory Group, a coalition of the government and many organisations to do with the funeral sector, a family can currently not have a funeral service in the home if someone has Covid-19 in the 28 days preceding death. A home funeral would not stick to Covid safety regulations partly becuase homes are usually not large enough to safely socially distance with a large group, and partly because of the rules restricting mixing between bubbles. It is also is a protective mechanism for funeral director staff, so that they are supporting funerals that are only in Covid safe vicinities.

Washing and dressing the person's body at home is also not allowed, although the family could do it in a funeral home if the funeral director has been trained in PPE by a professional. Wakes are not allowed in the family's home, but when restrictions surrounding Covid-19 are lifted slightly they'll be allowed in public places deemed to be Covid safe like community buildings. It's unfortunate, but least we've moved on from last year where in many cases no family members were allowed to attend funerals!

NEXT UP... Top tip for DIY funerals #2:


Further resources:

- Short 'how to' video

- Govenment guidlines on suspected or confirmed Covid deaths

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