Notes From The Field, Issue 2

Today I had the opportunity talk with Doris Hutcheson of Alabama. Her dedicated research and steady drive has helped ensure the Alabama legislature would vote to shore up Home Funeral protections. What I love the most about Doris’s story is that she sourced her motivation to promote home funerals from a strong belief that families can do the work of caring for the dead and supporting the bereaved, together.

Doris’s path toward home funeral advocacy started in 1995 when her niece’s one week old baby died. The hospital in Memphis let the family know that they could bring the baby’s body home to Alabama to be buried at the family cemetery on their own. This opened Doris’s eyes to a different set of possibilities. When her father died in 1996, she felt she didn’t want the process to be taken care of by the Funeral Home, but lack of discussion around other options left them with a conventional funeral.

Doris lives in the 2 story cabin her grandparents built before the Civil War. The 300 acre Homestead includes the West Family Cemetery that goes back just as far. Here, Doris and her family preserve the old ways of living with a close relationship to food and family. So, when her niece recently died, the family intended to keep the body on the farm for the night before burial in the family cemetery. But there was a problem.

Due to the language of the Alabama law, the Wests’ funeral director would not allow them to take possession of the body unsupervised. He explained that he would remain present until the body was in the ground. The reality of self-reliant living on the old farm was at odds with the funeral director not allowing the family to have their privacy, she told me. ”Grieving is a personal thing, it’s family time.”

So shortly after, Doris began researching funeral law in Alabama, contacting Hospitals, Coroners and the Health Department to make sure that in the future, when death comes, her family and fellow community members are not stopped from having deeply personal home funerals for their loved ones.

We are so grateful to Doris for her work in Alabama and for sharing her story with us. It is a great example of the power we have as informed citizens to make a strong difference in our local communities. I asked Doris about her approach when making those intimidating phone calls. She told me that one of the things that helped her feel confident was to research all she could about the person she was calling, understanding their position and the purview of their title. She always had the exact language of the law in front of her so she could directly quote it when necessary.

Most importantly, she says, “always be courteous and not belligerent. Always remind the person you are talking with that your goal is to make a difficult situation easier for everyone.” It’s hard to argue with that approach, especially when the law is on your side. And in Alabama, the law is, now, clearly on your side, thanks to the dedication of Doris Hutcheson.

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