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  • Glen Burkholder

Home Funeral / Funeral Home

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

(2020 - Volume 5)

I am just one of the thousands of licenced funeral directors in Ontario and my voice accounts for little. It certainly does not account, reflect or represent that of the funeral service industry as a whole. However, some others in the funeral service industry may agree on some level with the opinions that I have prepared to share about the subject of home funerals. By current language we don’t regard it as a “Home Funeral'', but rather a “Family Led Funeral”. So, I am going to be very transparent and perfectly honest with you; this is not meant to offend anyone in any way, it's to tell my story. In the end, you will see that I want to help. To me, it's about respect, it's about dignity, it's about genuinely wanting to be there for others!


My first and slightly screwed up opinion of the home funeral movement was not a positive one, and I certainly was not one to embrace such an endeavor; not on any level. This is mostly because for the past thirty plus years I have made my living as a funeral director. This profession has enabled me to raise a family, send my children to post secondary school, own a home, enjoy vacations, and otherwise live a fulfilling life through my employment. I am not any different than any other hard-working citizen and I am particularly proud of the work I do. From the perspective of many, I should live in shame for the work that I do; capitalizing on heels of the bereaved. How dare I? What most people fail to realize is that the funeral service is a life event! It is a time-honoured tradition. Look at other life events such as baptism, birthdays, confirmations, and weddings; people think nothing of doling out pools of money to make those events special and memorable. Yet the funeral director is often criticized for taking on, or “undertaking” (hence the expression), the responsibility of the dead. I have assisted families through death, through the ceremony and the disposition of their loved ones. I have touched the lives of the surviving in ways that cannot be comprehended. I have honoured the dead. And, after all that I do, comes a movement of people who represent the ideals of the anti-establishment. “Do it yourselfers”, who preach the evils of the funeral director, and the funeral home; a profession that, in a free enterprising world, provides a service, and at the end of the day - makes a profit. No other industry sustains such criticism for providing a meaningful service and getting paid for doing so. To date, I haven’t seen any charities established to do this work for free.

And so, the “Home Funeral Movement'' began. Or better said, was “reborn”. Understand, that prior to the age of funeral service professionals, it was the family of the deceased who was responsible for the disposition of their own loved ones. At that time, it was a daunting task for most families. It was a lot of work and some of that work was very messy. Families looked to the local cabinet maker to build a coffin. Chemically preserving the body, and embalming, to get it through a couple of days to the funeral rites, is what evolved into the funeral home and the funeral director. This was more than one hundred and fifty years ago. The difficult times of personally caring for the dead on our own are long forgotten. No one is left to recount the agony, and now centuries later, we look back and visualize a certain beauty in caring for our own, rather than leaving it for someone else to do, much less pay for it. It's almost ironic that a century and a half ago, after generations of caring for our own dead, we wanted someone else to do it for us, and now, after a hundred and fifty years of others doing it for us, we want to take the responsibilities of our dead back into our own hands. As my Father used to say, everything in life travels a full circle.


Fast forward to present day; my friend and I have butted heads on this subject for years. She, who leans slightly more to the anti-establishment type of folk, and me, who is going to fall on my sword to defend the professional funeral service. Albeit, I have only her to thank for allowing me to open my mind and figure out ways to make the “Family Led”, once regarded as the home funeral, work in a positive and affirming way.


What I am trying to say is, YES, I can be all about the family led funeral, however, I do have a caveat. Stand by. I applaud those who do it on their own. It takes a special kind of person to be willing to do everything from start to finish. As I alluded to earlier, there is a certain romance in the idea of caring for our dead, but it's not a perfect world and caring for our dead can be a very beautiful experience, or it can be a very damaging and life altering memory. Therefore, you do not go into this lightly. A hundred and fifty years ago there was a reason why people started to pay someone to help them care for the deceased. After death a lot can change to the physical remains of a loved one and it can happen rapidly. So, consider the values and the beauty of having your loved one at home. Having your circle of support there, in your home with you. But, why not do this in collaboration with a funeral professional? Your funeral director has the means to care for and preserve the body, the proper equipment to transport the body and the means to fulfill, complete, and submit all the legal documents for registration. Several years ago, I was involved with a family who lost their young son. He was sick and died at home. The family wanted cremation but were not ready to let him go. We transferred him from the residence to the funeral home before we knew the struggle of the parents and how they were not ready to cremate him so soon. We suggested to them that we embalm, dress and cosmetize their son and bring him back home. The next day we brought the boy home in the same manner we took him; no casket. We laid him on his bed, in his own bedroom and his parents and family surrounded him, remembered him and honoured him for two more days. It was truly a work of beauty.

Today, I honestly believe with proper education and a full understanding, you can take responsibility and care of your dead. Today, you can trust your dead to the professionals. Today, we can possibly work in collaboration with funeral professionals to achieve a positive family led funeral experience. One that is economically viable, enriched in care, concern and love, as well as safe, secure and environmentally friendly. Today, more so than any other day, we have choices!


Next: October is International Infant and Pregnancy Loss Month. Lets talk about that and how funeral homes may help.


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