The long goodbye: Home burial can bring comfort



I never had any reason to think I’d have to plan my own child’s funeral. And yet, last July, that’s exactly what my husband and I found ourselves doing. Our unborn son, James, had just been diagnosed with trisomy 18, a terrible chromosomal disease, at 32 weeks of gestation. We’d read the grim statistics for this disease, the second-most common trisomy after Down syndrome (trisomy 21), and we knew that his time with us was likely to be short.

This awful news forced us to confront impossible questions: How did we want his brief life to look? How did we want him cared for after death? Instead of buying diapers and looking at cute baby boy clothes at Target, I was looking at cemeteries and trying to decide between cremation and burial. At 32 weeks pregnant in the miserable summer heat, I was writing a eulogy for my unborn child.

Catherine Ashe and her son, James

During this time, I came across a beautiful article written by a grieving mother whose adult daughter had died at home in hospice care after battling cancer. The writer cared for her daughter’s body, held an extended at-home visitation, and then buried her daughter at home. The article moved me to tears, because it captured perfectly how I feel about death.

In a society where death is largely relegated to hospitals, impersonal mortuaries and mass cemeteries, home burial has fallen by the wayside. Yet just a generation or two ago, death was recognized as a natural part of life. The deceased’s remains were handled by the family, and burial was done at home, in a family plot. Visitations often lasted for days. There was time for loved ones to say goodbye in a peaceful, familiar and welcoming environment.

After reading that article, I started researching North Carolina’s funeral and burial laws, and what I found surprised me. Home burial is permitted, as long as the interment is on private land, and just about anyone can transport the body. At no point does a funeral home have to be involved. The only specific regulations involve burial of a body too close to a reservoir or other public water source.

When James was born, he surprised everyone with his strength. He had five wonderful months with us. During his 154 days on earth, he was always with either me or his father. We cared for him through the good times and the bad. He was a fat, contented baby with big blue eyes and crazy brown hair.

On Jan. 2, 2017, he slipped out of this world, cradled in our loving arms. At that point, he was a patient in Mission’s pediatric intensive care unit. After his death, we held him, his grandparents and uncles held him, and his care team said goodbye to him. And then we simply walked out of the hospital, carrying James in our arms. We had cared for him in life; now we would care for him in death.

On Jan. 3, we hosted an extended visitation at our house. This was made possible by a CuddleCot — a cooling device that will preserve a small body for quite some time. It’s a noninvasive alternative to embalming. During my research, I’d also learned that embalming a body isn’t necessary: Cooling serves the same purpose.

Thanks to the CuddleCot, we were able to have James at home with us so we could say goodbye. Prior to his birth, I’d read about other parents doing the same thing — and at the time, much as I’m ashamed to say it, I thought it was morbid. Why would you want your child’s body in the house with you?

It wasn’t till James died that I understood: James was still James. Nothing changed when he died. He was still my baby. It seemed only natural to bring him home to the place he’d known his whole life, to give us time to adjust to losing him, to give his sisters (ages 3 and 5) time to see him, say goodbye and understand that he was gone.

His visitation was lovely, as lovely as something so tragic can be. My husband and I were in our own home, so we were comfortable, able to retreat into our bedroom when we needed to, and there was no established time frame limiting visits. We spent two nights with him, saying goodbye, telling him all the things we wanted him to hear.

On Jan. 4 at 4:52 p.m. — the same time of day he was born — we buried James in our backyard with over 100 people in attendance. His presence there, in the yard where his sisters play, brings us comfort on some very dark days: Though his spirit is gone, his earthly remains are nearby. We visit him often, keep fresh flowers on his grave and have wind chimes in the maple that he’s buried beneath.

I hope that by writing this, I can help others realize that home burial is possible for their loved ones — all of them, not just children.

Complete Article HERE!


Navigating the end of the road


Death doulas offer education, support to those seeking alternative options while dying or grieving

A screenshot of a video documenting a home funeral shows family members visiting their deceased loved on in a home setting. The video was produced by Lee Emmert and the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications Department.

By Courtney Vaughn

When both of her parents died six weeks apart, Nancy Ward had to confront death in a profound way.

She was lucky, sort of. Her parents had prearranged for their care after their deaths, but Ward recalls being uneasy with the post-mortem process when her father died of congestive heart failure.

“Up until this point, I had never seen a dead body because I was about as death-phobic as they come,” Ward says. “A man came into the room, he looked about 14, and unrolled a black plastic body bag on the gurney. I’m going, ‘Oh my God. This man was just living and breathing and now you’re gonna put him in a black plastic bag and do what?’ Put him out on the curb for waste management to pick up?”

Ward succinctly recalls the emotional sterility of the situation.

Nancy Ward

“This doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel loving, or respectful,” she thought to herself. “He doesn’t know my father. I know my father.”

Six weeks later, her mother died.

“I knew what was coming and didn’t like it, but I had nothing to replace it with,” Ward says.

Afterward, she became a death midwife, or “death doula” as some call it, availing herself to others so they didn’t have to go through the same process she did with her parents.

Ward is now used to confronting death. In fact, she and others have made a living out of it.

A few years ago, Ward and other colleagues in the death directives industry teamed up to form the End of Life Care Collaborative. Members help educate and guide people in their quest for home funerals and other self-directed death practices.

The group focuses on serving those who are dealing with the death of a loved one, or preparing for their own death.

Services range from home funeral preparation and arrangements, to help with navigating the traditional funeral process, to emotional and practical support for those delving into the end of their own lives, and a gamut of other services to serve those confronting death.

The ultimate goal, members say, is to help people achieve greater meaning, or a more comfortable process around dealing with death and accepting loss. To get there, clients must be willing to shake off some of the cultural stigma of death.

“As a society, we aren’t comfortable with dealing with death because it reminds us of our own mortality,” Ward says. “We think everybody should know what their options are and right now, they don’t. We’re trying to reach the people who want it done differently but don’t know what different looks like.”

Ward and the collaborative team help educate people on what their options are for preserving a loved one at home after they’ve died, or bringing the body of a loved one home if they choose.

Ward says most members of the collaborative try to operate on a sliding-scale fee system, to make sure no one is turned away because of finances.

“We all have different areas we like to focus on and that’s what makes the collaborative so important,” she says. “We can do everything from the totally esoteric to the toally practical.”

That means being a listener and helpful guide, or doing a load of laundry or providing a meal for a grieving household.

She points to a recent client she worked with- a woman dying of cancer- who wanted to be prepared when her final moments came, but more importantly, wanted to rely less on her family for her physical and emotional needs.

“She said, ‘my family is having a really hard time with this …I don’t want to burden them with my own questions and expressions, this is what I need you for,'” Ward recalls.

“Their psychological and emotional needs are unmet,” Ward says of many terminally ill patients. “My involvement is just simply working with the person on a psychological, spiritual, emotional level.”

Members of the collaborative are not isolated in their quest to provide resources and support for death directives, but their services aren’t widely available, or even widely culturally accepted.

Asher Wallis

“I have seen a good deal of anxiety arise from family members who are trying, in the midst of disorienting grief, to figure out what their loved ones, who had not planned logistically or financially for the events that would follow their death, would have wanted,'” Asher Wallis, an End of Life Care Collaborative member and grief counselor, explains.

He attributes some of the sources of that unnecessary stress to “culturally sanctioned misinformation about the physiological and psychological nature of dying such that both the family caregivers and the dying person think they are doing it wrong.”

Deborah Threadgill, a collaborative member who is also a certified funeral director, says the End of Life Care Collaborative focuses on making “everything family-directed,” meaning they never suggest or push services on clients. Rather, they try to educate them on their full range of options surrounding death and dying.

“We take something that is very, very traumatic in our society and taboo and make it something natural and beautiful,” she says.

Complete Article HERE!


You may not be able to get buried the way you want to in Colorado


By Oscar Contreras

People don’t generally think about how they want to celebrate the inevitable, but a few do. They may want a traditional party or they may want something more unusual: A sky burial in the mountains, a Viking funeral by a lake or if they’re really into history, they may want to get mummified.

If you’re among the few, you may want to rethink your options. But before we go into the why, let’s review some of these funeral practices.

What is a sky burial, a Viking funeral and mummification?

A sky burial, also known as a celestial funeral, is a simple practice in Tibetan culture where a corpse is left on a mountaintop to be devoured by birds of prey.

According to Tibet Vista, in Tibetan Buddhism philosophy it is believed that if vultures feed off the dead body, the dead has no sin and that their soul has gone peacefully into the heavens.  

Strangers are not allowed to attend the ceremony and family members are not allowed to be present at the burial site.

A Viking (Norse) funeral is generally thought to have been the preferred method for disposing of a body in the Nordic countries. Legend has it that warriors and other high-ranking people were sent sailing away and were set ablaze so that their bodies had a higher chance of reaching Valhalla.

We said “legend” because that’s not how Nordic peoples disposed of their dead. Yes, it is true – you’ve been fooled by Hollywood once again.

Norse funerals actually involved making burial plots shaped as ships marked by stones, according to TheFuneralSource.

Cremation did take place, but it did not involve a boat sailing into the sunset.

The deceased were also disposed of with their goods they used in life, so they could use this in the afterlife.

Mummification is the process by which the skin and flesh of a dead person can be preserved for thousands of years, as was the case with pharaohs in ancient Egypt.

While the practice has died out, a company in Utah is offering “modern mummification” and not just for you – your pet can also join you in the afterlife if you so desire.

Tough luck, Colorado

If you left a mark in life and wanted to leave one in death, you may not want to have your body disposed of in the state of Colorado.

“Final disposition” of a body is defined by Colorado law as disposing of human remains by means of “entombment, burial, cremation, or removal from the state.”

Nowhere in the law is it stated that you are allowed to have a sky burial, a “Viking funeral” or get mummified by your relatives.

Allowed burial practices in the state of Colorado

There is no law that prevents you from burying a loved one on private property. But – there’s always a but – the burials must be recorded with your local county clerk 30 days after the burial has taken place. 

Check with your county clerk before taking this step.

The same goes for scattering ashes – you must check with your local city and county offices to see what the regulations are and if you can proceed with the decedent’s wishes.

Want to scatter ashes in national lands, like Rocky Mountain National Park? It is allowed! But you have to have a permit to do so.      

Green burials, a growing trend in Colorado 

Less costly goodbyes known as “green burials” are growing in popularity in Colorado.

Natural Funeral, a Lafayette-based funeral service business, is helping people die as naturally as possible with minimal impact to the earth.

So what’s a green burial or natural funeral? It involves having the body placed directly into the ground in a pine casket or shroud. There is no fancy headstone, concrete vault, or costly casket. Instead, the company uses flat granite markers.

The green funeral home is hoping to open by this summer

Complete Article HERE!


The Life of a Death Midwife


Helping people through the dying process

By Claire Fordham

Olivia Bareham

Olivia Bareham wants to change people’s perception about death. “I want to break the taboo where we are excited about birth but dread death,” the death midwife said. “What if they were both explosive, incredible events?”

Part of a death midwife’s job is to sit with the dying at the end of their life. “To be able to bear witness to their dying process,” said Bareham. “The midwife is also looking beyond the last breath. We hold the space, not just for dying but for the funeral, burial or cremation rituals and even beyond that, to help the family and friends grieve.”

It’s hard to accept a terminal diagnosis.

“Some people can’t believe they are dying,” Bareham said. “It is unbelievable. It’s unbelievable that we’re even here. Once you play with the idea of the unbelievable-ness of everything, it’s not so unbelievable that you’re dying.”

Bareham believes a funeral or celebration of life service and properly grieving are important parts of the process.

“It’s declaring that the lost loved one counted and mattered and meant something to those left behind,” she said. “If you miss that, it’s sad, but perhaps it’s even more sad for the family and friends who have lost an opportunity to lean into their own mortality.”

Loved ones decorate a simple casket for a home funeral. Wooden caskets are also available. This cardboard one holds up to 200 lbs. weight.

Bareham has this advice for the living and dying: “Build a relationship with death. Befriend death. Be open to every little nuance of what it means to be alive — which includes pain, sorrow and loss — so you’re not thrown off by a catastrophe. Write your healthcare directive and death care directive because you never know when the end will come. And make peace with anyone with whom you have had conflict.”

All passings are different and not everyone gets a terminal diagnosis where they have time to plan their final moments. Having helped more than 200 people in and around Malibu as they die, or arranged their home funeral, Bareham has an idea how she’d like her own death to be.

Learning to lay a body in honor on a Death Midwife course. One of the attendees plays the body here.

“Some people want to be left alone at the moment of death. I wouldn’t mind having people in the room with me, but I wouldn’t want them touching me and close to the bed. Having a dear friend who totally gets me sitting vigil and holding the space is an anchoring that makes the dying feel safe.”

Just as there’s a popular movement toward natural childbirth, Bareham prefers the idea of a natural death. She isn’t saying don’t ever take morphine to help ease any pain, but suggests not taking so much that you aren’t aware of what’s going on. She may not want someone holding her hand or stroking her head at the end, “or telling me it’s OK to go,” she said, but is happy to do that for others, if that’s what they want.

For Bareham, a good death would be where she is aware of what is happening, where she is prepared and feels a sense of completion and fulfillment of the life lived — “so my dying is just another breath. I am ready and excited for what’s next.”

Bareham advises against waiting until you know you’re dying to forgive people who have hurt you or ask forgiveness of those you might have hurt. “It happens so quickly, and then you’re lost and scrambling. Try to stay in a state of consciousness that if death came, if a massive earthquake hit right now, you’d have a level of excitement,” she said.

People from all walks of life complete Bareham’s death midwifery course. “More young people in their 20s are doing it because they feel something is missing in our culture regarding death,” she described. “Some have been volunteering at a hospice, or are social workers. Others are intrigued with the idea that after the last breath, you can keep the body at home for three days and arrange a home funeral. Or they’ve had a horrible experience of death and are looking for healing.”

Bareham, who is fighting fit and looking forward to a long life, doesn’t find her career depressing.

“Death is just another chapter in life’s journey,” she said

Complete Article HERE!


Is there really life after death?


Brain activity is recorded 10 MINUTES after patient dies in an ‘unexplained’ case

Scientists from from the University of Western Ontario in Canada studied the extraordinary case of a patient continuing to release delta wave bursts after they were declared dead. We normally get these delta waves during a deep sleep

By Phoebe Weston

Life may continue even after death – just in sleep mode.

Doctors have found scientific evidence that people’s brains can continue to work after they are clinically dead.

A patient showed persistent brain activity for ten minutes after their heart stopped and experienced brain waves we normally get during deep sleep.

Doctors in a Canadian intensive care unit described the case as extraordinary and unexplained.

Researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada assessed electric impulses in the brain in relation to the beating of someone’s heart after life-sustaining therapy was removed.

Brain inactivity preceded the heart stopping in three of the four cases.

However, in one of the cases, the patient’s brain continued to work after their heart stopped.

‘In one patient, single delta wave bursts persisted following the cessation of both the cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure (ABP),’ the researchers said

There was significant differences in electrical activity in the brain between the 30-minute period before and the 5-minute period after the heart stopped.

‘It is difficult to posit a physiological basis for this EEG [brain] activity given that it occurs after a prolonged loss of circulation’, according to the paper which was published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information.

Across the four patients recordings of their brain were very different – suggesting we all experience death in unique ways.

The experiment raises difficult questions about when someone is dead and therefore when it is medically and ethically correct to use them for organ donation.

As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being ‘clinically’ dead.

However, scientists say it’s far too early to be talking about what this could mean for the post-death experience – especially considering it was only seen in one patient, according to Science Alert.

In 2013, a similar phenomenon was investigated on experiments on rats whose hearts had stopped.

In one of the cases, single delta wave bursts persisted after the heart had stopped and the patient was clinically dead. The experiment raises difficult questions about when someone is dead and therefore when it is medically and ethically correct to use them for organ donation

The research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed rats had a burst of brain activity one minute after decapitation.

The pattern of activity was similar to that seen when the animals were fully conscious – except signals were up to eight times stronger.

The researchers said that the discovery that the brain is highly active in the seconds after the heart stops suggests that the phenomenon has a physical, rather than spiritual nature.

It has been argued that the dying brain is incapable of such complex activity and so near-death experiences must have their origins in the soul.

It suggests something happens at the brink of death that pushes the conscious brain to a high level of arousal, potentially triggering the visions and sensations associated with near-death experiences (NDEs).

As many as a fifth of people who survive cardiac arrests report having had an other-worldly experience while being ‘clinically’ dead.

Typically NDEs involve travelling through a tunnel towards an intense light, being separated from the body, encountering long-departed loved ones or angels and undergoing some kind of judgment of ‘life review.

Some emerge from NDEs as transformed individuals with a completely altered outlook on life, or a new belief in religion.

But many scientists believe near-death-experiences are nothing more than hallucinations induced by the effect of the brain shutting down.

Complete Article HERE!


For first time, chimpanzee observed performing funeral rites for dead as mother cleans the body of ‘Thomas’


By Sarah Knapton

A chimpanzee has been filmed using tools to apparently clean the corpse of its adopted offspring, the first hint that animals other than humans may have mortuary practices.

The female, Noel, was seen at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia using a stem of grass to remove debris from the teeth of a nine-year-old male, Thomas, which she had looked after since the death of its mother four years earlier.

She was one of a number of chimps that surrounded the body for around 20 minutes, gently touching and sniffing Thomas despite offers of food to lure them away. Noel stayed on its own to clean the teeth of its adopted son, even when the others had left.

Dr. Edwin van Leeuwen, of St. Andrews University, lead author of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, said: “Noel approached Thomas’s body, sat down close to his head, turned her upper body sideways to select a hard piece of grass, put the grass in her mouth, and opened Thomas’ mouth with both of her hands.

Chimpanzees gather around the body of Thomas, a nine-year-old who died of pneumonia.

“Then she wrapped her fingers around Thomas’s chin and jaw, and used her thumbs to explore his teeth. After three seconds, she took the grass out of her mouth with her right hand, while maintaining focused grip on Thomas’s mouth with her left hand, and started to meticulously poke the grass in the same dental area as where her thumbs had been.

“This behaviour has never been reported in chimpanzees or any other non-human animal species. Chimpanzees may form long-lasting social bonds and like humans, may handle corpses in a socially meaningful way.”

Nina, Noel’s adolescent daughter, stayed at its mother’s side and observed the cleaning efforts.

The researchers say Noel might have been trying to understand how Thomas had died. She was seen tasting the debris she picked from his teeth. A post mortem found Thomas had most likely died from a combination of a viral and bacterial lung infection.

Complete Article HERE!


A Man’s Primer on Funeral Etiquette


“How we treat the dead says an awful lot about how we live. For the strong and able to serve the helpless dead, to honor frail remains, reaches deep inside us to something basic to humanity.” -Paul Gregory Alms

By Brett & Kate McKay

Funeral etiquette. Unless you’re preparing to attend a funeral, it’s a subject that almost never crosses your mind. As a younger person, funerals tend to be few and far between. It’s possible to make it into your 20s without ever attending one. The sporadic nature of funerals, and the general absence of discussion of the subject in our culture, makes it hard to learn what’s expected in terms of proper behavior. You just muddle through each funeral, hoping you’re doing the right thing, and then muddle through it again the next time.

But being a gentleman of tact, respect, and sensitivity is never more important than at the occasion of someone’s death. Instead of adding distractions and stress to the already grievously burdened, be a source of great comfort. People are at their most fragile, and your job as a man of honor is to be supportive and dignified.

Condolence Visits

If you are a family member or close friend of the family of the deceased, pay a visit to their home to express your sympathy and offer your help.

Before a wake, bring over a platter of cold cuts and rolls; the family will be hungry afterwards and not want to cook. Or bring over some pastries that they can eat on the morning of the funeral. You can also offer to watch the kiddos while they run some errands. It seems like the women folk often take on these responsibilities, but there’s no reason that the modern man can’t also lend a hand.

During your visits, it’s appropriate to offer your sympathy and share your fond memories of the deceased. There’s no need to stay too long; if it seems that you’re actually getting in the way, then drop off what you brought, chat for a few minutes and leave. Of course, if they’re alone and clearly need a listening ear, then stay longer.

If you don’t feel close enough to the deceased’s family to come to their home, wait until the wake to offer your personal condolences.


Sending flowers is a traditional way to express your condolences. You can send flowers to the funeral home, to the church, or to the deceased’s family’s home. The card attached to the flowers should read, “With Deepest Sympathy” along with your name. If you’re sending them to the church itself for use in the service, include “For the funeral of ____” on the address. Some families ask for donations in lieu of flowers, and you should honor this request.

When it comes to sending flowers and different faith traditions, there are some considerations to be aware of:

  • Some Protestant churches use only one flower arrangement-offered by the family-in the service.
  • Do not send flowers to an Orthodox Jewish service. The policy amongst Reform and Conservative Jews varies.
  • For a Catholic family, consider getting the family a mass card in lieu of flowers. You don’t have to be Catholic to get a mass card. You make a donation to the Church, and in turn, the Church promises to say prayers or a mass on behalf of the soul of the deceased. The mass card says when the mass will take place, and you can give the card to the deceased family. For fellow Catholics, purchasing a mass card is a gesture of faith, compassion, and solidarity. For non-Catholics, sending a mass card shows your understanding, respect, and thoughtfulness.

The Wake

A wake takes place before the actual funeral service and is usually held in the evening. If you cannot make it to the funeral, it is a good opportunity to come and support the deceased’s family. The wake may be held in someone’s home or at the funeral parlor. When you arrive, first offer your sympathy to the grieving family. This is the reason for the wake, really. It gives the family an opportunity to hear from family and loved ones when they’re prepared to deal with it and in the grieving mindset. They get it all over in a night instead of having people offering their condolences at work, at the gym, and at the grocery store-over and over, in places where they’d rather not have the emotion come rushing back and hit them like a ton of bricks.

Unless you’re close to the family, be sure to clearly introduce yourself to them and tell them how you know the deceased. Don’t leave them awkwardly trying to place who you are.

Don’t worry about not knowing what to say or being emotional. Neither eloquence nor stoicism is expected.

If the casket is present, take a moment to stand by it, saying a prayer or thinking of the deceased’s life. Then you may mingle with the other guests. You don’t have to stay too long-just long enough to make your presence felt and pay your respects. Be sure to sign the register with your name and address before you head out, as the family may wish to look it over later and/or send you a note of thanks.

The Funeral

Should You Come?

Unless the death notice that appears in the paper says that the funeral is private, or you hear that it is such, any of the deceased’s acquaintances, friends, co-workers, and family can attend the funeral.

If you’re the divorced husband of the deceased, you should almost always come. The same for the passing of an ex-girlfriend with whom you had a long or meaningful relationship. Unless the acrimony between you and your former love (or her family) approaches the level of the Hatfields and McCoys, and your presence would cause them further grief, or you hear specifically from the family that you are not welcome, attending the funeral is entirely appropriate. In times of grief, old differences are forgotten and all that matters is that you were once an important person in the deceased’s life. Be warm and supportive and don’t bring up any bad blood.

“Always go to the funeral” is an excellent motto for a man to adopt. Yes, going to funerals isn’t fun. They can be boring, somber, inconvenient and emotional affairs. You may feel awkward. But fun is the yardstick that boys use to make decisions. When you become a man, you do things because they’re right and good, and because your desire to serve others supersedes your own comfort.

It may be tempting to rationalize that the person is dead and won’t know if you’re there or not. But funerals are not for the dead, they are for the living. One of the few comforts available to the grieving is to see a full church, the pews packed with people who also care for and remember the deceased. There is power in that show of humanity. The family knows that attending a funeral is inconvenient, and that’s why they’ll never forget that you came anyway.

If you absolutely cannot come to the funeral, be sure to write the family of the deceased a sympathy note which includes your regret on not being able to make it.

Where to Sit

There’s kind of a progressive seating pattern with funerals; family sits in the first pews, followed by close friends, with acquaintances and co-workers farther back.

Dress Code

When we think of funerals, the first image that often leaps to mind is that of people dressed in black. While black is still the traditional color for funerals, this standard has loosened up in modern times to include other dark, conservative clothing. Still, the best way to go is donning a black suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and well-shined black shoes.

I know there are contingents of men who generally don’t see the point in dressing up and believe that real men dress however they want. But this is one time where no matter how rebellious you fancy yourself, you need to sack up and put on your best duds. Death is life’s most solemn occasion, and the inability to put aside comfort and personal preference to show your utmost respect for the end of a life is inexcusable.

Being a Pallbearer

Being a pallbearer is a traditionally male job. The family will typically choose six men to attend the casket (sometimes “honorary pallbearers” -who have a strictly symbolic role-are also chosen). The invitation to be a pallbearer is a great honor and one you cannot refuse except for the most serious of reasons. It’s like the somber flip side of being asked to be a groomsmen.

The job of the pallbearer was once a functional one; they were charged with carrying the coffin from the church to the cemetery. Now the role is almost entirely symbolic. The casket is typically set on a rolling cart, and you just put your hand on it as it rolls, only lifting it up when it is time to load and unload it from the hearse.

If you are chosen to be a pallbearer, come to funeral about 30 minutes early and find the funeral director. He or she will gives you instructions on what will be expected of you-where to gather, when to come into the church, and in which row to sit.

You should be dressed well at a funeral anyway, but if you are asked to be a pallbearer, make an extra effort to look presentable and respectful.

Perhaps the most famous historical pallbearer story involves Southern Civil War General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston had surrendered to General Sherman at the end of the war and had been so impressed with that man’s magnanimity that he would not allow an unkind thing to be said about his former enemy for the rest of his life. When Sherman died, Johnston was asked to be a pallbearer in the General’s funeral. As is common for a public figure, Sherman’s funeral procession proceeded through the streets of New York City. Johnston walked alongside the casket with his hat in his hand. The freezing temperatures and rain caused fellow mourners to advise Johnston to return his hat to his head. Johnston replied, “If I were in his place and he standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He soon came down with pneumonia and died several week’s later.

Be sure to check out this excellent article on the symbolic importance of being a pallbearer.

Additional Considerations

It should go without saying, but for the love of TR, turn off your cell phone during the funeral. Don’t be texting and checking your Blackberry during the service. This is the very last time this person will ask for your undivided attention. Also, having your Lil Wayne ringtone go off during the eulogy will brand you a cad for life.

Be civil, don’t come in late, don’t leave early. If you come with kids, and they cause a fuss, take em’ outside.

Driving in the Funeral Procession

Funeral processions are one of the few remaining outward signs of death in this society.

After the funeral, everyone will get in their cars and proceed as a group to the cemetery. The cars will follow behind the hearse. Turn on your headlights and emergency blinkers and closely follow the car in front of you. The procession will drive slower than the speed limit. If the procession starts through a light while it’s green and it turns red by the time you get to it, keep on going. State laws allow funeral processions to drive through red lights and stop signs.

As a normal driver, when you come upon a funeral procession, do your best to let them pass and stay together. Don’t try to cut into the procession. If safe, pull to the side of the road and let the line keep going. In the old days, men got out of their cars and doffed their hats while the procession passed. Probably too dangerous on our modern thoroughfares, but a nice thought.

Post Funeral Luncheon

Many families host a luncheon at their home after the graveside service. It’s a time to be a little more light hearted than is expected at the wake or funeral and share a laugh as you reminisce about the deceased.


Perhaps the most important part of “funeral etiquette” is not to let your consideration for those in mourning be a one day affair. After all the hoopla of funeral planning is over, the grief and reality of the loss of a loved one will really set in for the family and friends of the deceased.

So don’t forget about them in the weeks and months after the funeral. Stop by and give them a call. Invite them out for social gatherings. They may say no for some time, but they’ll eventually reach the point where they’re ready to go back out, and they’ll be grateful that you kept thinking of them.

Call your friend or family member on the anniversary of their loved one’s death. They’ll appreciate that you still remember and continue to acknowledge their passing.

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