Home Funerals:  A Resource Guide


Primary Resources:


These sites offer a book which will give you the basic information you will need to perform a home funeral. The movie shows you how to do it:

Crossings: Caring for Our Own at Death -
Beth Knox’s Crossings Resource Guide is now online as a free pdf which you can download here

Undertaken With Love:
 A Home Funeral Guide for Congregations and Communities Holly Stevens spearheaded this effort. It’s available free as a pdf download, or you can order a print copy from the website.

Passing Through Our Hands is a guide to home funeral care. The video starts from when the person dies and covers how to wash the body, dress and layout the body, hold a vigil, how to move the body into a coffin. The video also includes printed guidelines in addition to the video training. Available from for $15. They also offer a free 18-page e-book, “Checklist for Planning a Home Funeral.”

CINDEA (Canadian Integrative Network for Death  Education and Alternatives) has produced an excellent series of videos showing  ”Post-Death Care at Home.”

Funeral Consumers Alliance: The most complete source for information about funerals. Look at their “Family-Directed Funerals” page and their “Funeral FAQs.” The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine conducts a price survey every few years. Lifetime membership is $25.  The booklet  ”Before I Go, You Should Know” is available from either the national FCA or the Maine affiliate.  It is a great tool as a place to record your wishes and information your survivors need, and as a way to initiate the conversation about your wishes with the family.

The National Home Funeral Alliance:  Offers a lot of useful information,and gives you an idea of how much interest there is in this topic.
Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy is an emergency room physician in Alabama.  She is frustrated by how completely unprepared Americans are for death and dying.  Her website is where you’ll find excellent Preparation Checklists and both a book and a blog where “you will find a wealth of clear and simplified information including: insights into the process of dying, guidance for obtaining emotional and spiritual closure, clear explanations of end-of-life medical treatment options, new tools for making challenging medical decisions, and numerous other action steps to take so that when “your time” comes (and it will), it will be OK to die.”  I buy ten copies of the book at a time, because I think it’s that good and everyone needs to be exposed to her information.

Books that provide much helpful information:

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial, by Mark Harris (Scribner, 2007). Describes the typical modern funeral, including a thorough description of the embalming process, then offers alternatives, ending each chapter with a “Resource Guide.”

The Good Funeral Guide by Charles Cowling (Continuum, 2010). A thoughtful, practical guide to planning a funeral. The details are British, but the advice is very useful even in the US.

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford (Vintage Books, 1998). This is an updated edition of the classic expose that first raised the issues in 1963.

Be a Tree by Cynthia Beal. She founded the Natural Burial Company and this book is a clear, thorough statement of natural burial facts, goals and philosophy. To be published soon, condensation available free online.

Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum (Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access Books, 2011). Final Rights is the definitive book for consumers on the modern funeral industry and how to navigate it. Part investigative report and part practical guide, the book explains in detail the tricks of the funeral trade, and how to avoid being victimized. And for those who wish to take charge of the funeral themselves without using a funeral home Final Rights will show you how, with a chapter on each state’s requirements written in plain English. (Copied from the Final Rights website,

Dealing Creatively With Death, by Ernst Morgan. Suggests and describes things to think about before death, and offers instructions on alternatives to the common funeral-director-handled experience. I like his suggestions on writing and performing a funeral or memorial service.

Coming Home: A Guide to Dying at Home with Dignity, by Deborah Duda. Describes her own experience participating in three home funerals, including that of her own father. Alternates practical advice with discussions of the spiritual nature of the experience.

Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life, by Maggie Callanan (Random House, 2008). Maggie Callanan co-wrote “Final Gifts” and has specialized in care of the dying since 1981. This book contains forty short chapters distilling her experience. Excellent advice that should be read by the family, the caregivers, and even the patient.

Nancy Jewel Poer’s book Living into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community is full of helpful stories about her experiences with home funerals.

The Final Act of Living:  Reflections of a Longtime Hospice Nurse, by Barbara Karnes, RN (Barbara Karnes Books, 2003).  If you are taking care of someone who is dying at home, Ms. Karnes describes what to expect in the final weeks, days, and hours of death.  Very reassuring.  Her booklet The Eleventh Hour is a summary of the longer book.  Her website URL is

. . . and if you’re wondering what to do with the ashes, So You’re Cremated . . . Now What?  Over One Hundred Creative Ways to Scatter Your Ashes and Other Useful Information, by Jesse Kalfel (iUniverse, 2009).

Other useful sources:

Lisa Carlson, author of “Final Rights” and director of the Funeral Ethics Organization, answers questions about funerals online here.

Conscious Aging by Ram Dass (an audio CD from Sounds True, $13.30 plus s&h He offers a guide to aging and dying from his considerable experience and insight. He taught me more in less time than any other source.

Need Help? People in Maine who have done this and are willing to advise and assist:


Create Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service:

Grave Expectations: Planning the End Like There’s No Tomorrow, by Sue Bailey and Carmen Flowers (Kennebunkport: Cider Mill Press, 2009). A good humored guide to planning your own funeral, creating a lasting memorial, throwing a goodbye party and much more.

The Art of Dying: Honoring and Celebrating Life’s Passages, by Salli Rasberry and Carole Rae Watanabe (Celestial Arts, 2001). A very encouraging book.

In Memoriam: A Practical Guide to Planning a Memorial Service, by Amanda Bennett and Terence B. Foley (Simon & Schuster, 1997). A very complete, practical book.

Many other books on this subject are available. Do a Subject search in your library’s catalog for “Funeral services” or “Memorial services.” Ask your librarian – they’re very helpful people.

You may contact a Celebrant, who will create and perform a custom funeral service.

There are other ordained interfaith ministers in Maine that can help you with memorial services: please see and click on “Graduates.”

After the Funeral:

There are many details that must be taken care of after the death. The most complete checklist I found can be viewed at this website. A good book to use is “When Someone Dies” by Scott Taylor Smith (Scribner, 2013).  He also wrote a chapter on how to make life easier for your executor.  His book is based on “The Executor’s Guide” by Mary Randolph, J.D., from Nolo Press, which offers more detail but less personal experience.


A Family Undertaking. A POV Film aired on PBS: The web site hosts additional information and a study guide. The film is available for sale, or can be obtained from Netflix.

Departures. This is a Japanese movie about a cellist who loses his job, then returns to his hometown. He applies for a job with a company called Departures, thinking it is something like a travel agency, but it is in fact a job ritually preparing bodies for encoffining. You’ll want to be treated that way when you die.

A Will for the Woods.  An excellent documentary following one man’s path to a green burial.  You’ll find a “Screenings” page on the website.

On Green Burials:


Green Burial Q&A from the makers of the green cemetery documentary “A Will for the Woods.”

Green Burial Council is an independent, nonprofit organization founded to encourage ethical and environmentally sustainable deathcare practices, and to use the burial process as a means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and stewardship of natural areas.

Green Burial sites:

Here’s a list of the crematories in Maine that will serve families:

  • (Auburn) Gracelawn Memorial Park & Crematory – 782-3741
  • (Bangor) Mount Hope Cemetery and Crematory – 945-6589
  • (Belfast) Maine Coast Crematory – 866-338-9199
  • (Portland) Brooklawn Memorial Park & Crematory – 773-7679
  • (Presque Isle) Northern Maine Crematory – 764-6478
  • (Saco) Laurel Hill Cemetery Associates – 282-9351

Hospice Choirs in Maine
We sing at the bedside of those approaching death

Tourmaline Singers (Waterville area)

Harbour Singers (Saco/Biddeford area)

Heartsong (Belfast area)

Evensong(Hancock County)

Keeping a Body Cool:

A body can usually be kept in the home for three or four days if the body is kept cool. If there is an odor, it may be fluids seeping from the body. A layer of wood shavings, sawdust or kitty litter under the body, covered by a sheet, will absorb both the odor and the liquid. In the winter, open a window a little and turn off the heat. If the weather is warm use air conditioning, frozen gel packs or refreezable ice sheets (look on Amazon for Techni-Ice, Therma Freeze, Cryopac or Flexifreeze). Dry ice is hard to use: it is not readily available and does not store easily. Dry ice is available from: Elm Ice Company, 56 Gray Road, Falmouth, ME 797-5691; Getchell Brothers Inc, 1 Union St., Brewer, ME 989-7335; Valley National Gases, 1122 Outer Hammond St., Bangor, ME, 942-6393; and Vessel Services, Inc., 1 Portland Fish Pier, Portland, ME, 772-5718. You’ll need about 25 pounds of dry ice per day. Because of low sales and storage issues, dry ice is no longer available at local stores, but only from these dealers.