Home funeral guides are an invaluable resource for families seeking support through the after-death process. But where do home funeral guides turn when they need information and support? The NHFA provides educational information, advocacy training in legal matters, connections to teachers and trainings, directories to help families find them, and venues to meet and engage with others doing this challenging and beneficial work.
Every situation is different, and a Home Funeral Guide may be a great resource to facilitate a family’s time in caring for their loved one. Read our fundamental premise: that home funerals are family-centered, and that the prime directive of home funeral guidance is that home funerals are created and conducted by and for families. Learn the role of a Home Funeral Guide, including what they legally can and cannot charge for.
Home funerals are safe and legal in all states. Read about the laws, about the states with restrictions (and how you can help change that), and what to do if your rights are challenged in the Law section.
Ask an Expert
Q: How do I train and become certified to practice as a Home Funeral Guide?
A: Here is a list of teachers who train others to care for a deceased body. It is important to note that some courses offer a certificate of completion. Since there is no national certifying board for home funeral guides, it is incorrect to say you are a certified home funeral guide. However, if you complete a course of study then you can say you received a certificate of completion from a course that offers one. Here is our position on certification.
Q: So is it Home Funeral Guide, Death Midwife, Death Doula…or? What is the difference between what these different people do?
A: Learn what terms we recommend – and why – in our survey and whitepaper What are We Called?.
Q: Are there rules about what a home funeral guide can and can’t do?
A: There certainly are! For example, a Home Funeral Guide cannot touch a dead body for payment – only as a friend or volunteer for the family. Asking for payment for hands-on body care could be construed as acting as a funeral director. Find out more in the must have book, Essentials for Practicing Home Funeral Guides.
Q: Is there a ruling or governing body for Home Funeral Guides?
A: The NHFA is an educational nonprofit organization that does not regulate or credential. We do provide guidelines for ethical practice for home funeral guides, and invite you to read the NHFA Code of Ethics. Our Ethics Committee is poised to answer questions and evaluate concerns.
Essentials for Practicing Home Funeral Guides by Lee Webster is everything you need in one book for practicing home funeral guides – manuals, templates, and best practices all-in-one collection that every home funeral guide needs to organize necessary paperwork in order to ensure consistent, quality service to families caring for their own after death.
Planning Guide and Workbook for Home Funeral Families by Lee Webster and Donna Belk. This home funeral-specific, all-in-one planning guide and workbook ensures that your family will have all the information needed to follow through with your final wishes for a home funeral or vigil. Task lists give everyone something to do and direction on how to do it. Leave a meaningful legacy of trust by writing it all down – and then have the conversation with friends and loved ones.
Undertaken With Love: A home funeral guide for Congregations and Communities by Holly Stevens and Donna Belk. While a motivated family can acquire the legal knowledge and practical skills to arrange a home or family-directed funeral, the process is eased considerably when a group assists. Undertaken With Love was created to help families and community care groups learn ways to continue caring for their loved ones all the way to the cemetery or crematory. This manual will teaches how to research state laws and identify legal rights and responsibilities, how to handle, bathe and transport the body, and how to create and sustain an effective community care group.
Building Bridges Along the Death Care Continuum: Advocating for home funerals to hospices, hospitals, and care facilities by Lee Webster, Lucy Basler, Su Jin Kim. Get inside information, samples and examples of institutional policies, and tools for assisting home funeral advocates in building relationships with local hospices, hospitals, and care facilities to help pave the way for home funerals. This blueprint for change in local agencies and institutions includes in-service presentations, sample letters and policies, handouts, flyers, and more.
Restoring Families’ Rights to Choose: the call for legislation change in America – including What to Do When Families’ Rights Are Challenged and the Quick Guide to Requirements for Home Funerals in Your State by Lee Webster, Josh Slocum. Get tools to help you educate and work with policymakers considering funeral law changes that could impact families, and learn about pertinent funeral laws and the issues around them in this white paper that lays out a vision in clear language for legislative funeral reform in America that empowers families while addressing the needs of government. Plus learn how to navigate and overcome noncompliant institutional policies. What to Do When Home Funeral Rights Are Challenged contains a concise list of potential obstacles and how to anticipate and resolve issues quickly.
Home Funeral Guides: Illuminating the Path by Merilynne Rush – A serialized subscription eBook that describes the growing occurrence of home funerals and those who are making it happen.
Opting for a funeral at home: Challenging cultural norms “The greatest misconceptions are that we are fringe people looking to shock or challenge people’s sensibilities and go up against the established funeral industry. Neither is the case. We are looking to unveil realistic options about a topic that has been mystified for decades to people regardless of their ability to pay or their religious or spiritual leanings. We hope that the industry listens to what the public is demanding by responding with real change from within.” by Amy Wright Glenn, PhillyVoice 8-28-16
Start-Ups Take Rites From the Funeral Home to the Family Home “In the last decade, a small but growing segment of the funeral industry has begun catering to those who want a more natural, intimate end-of-life experience. Home funeral advocates and practitioners link their movement to the home birth, hospice and environmental movements.” by Claire Martin, New York Times by Claire Martin, New York Times 1-30-2016
Who Owns the Dead? For decades, Americans have been increasingly distanced from the dead. A small group of women is working to change that. By Libby Copeland, New Republic 6-24-15
What’s a Death Midwife? Inside the Alternative Death Care Movement Char Barrett, progressive funeral director, breaks it down. From funeral cooperatives to green burials, there’s a kinder, gentler, less expensive way to die. By Jennifer Luxton, Yes Magazine 9-3-15
The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals Progressive funeral director Amy Cunningham shows why Baby Boomers Are Drawn to Green and Eco-Friendly Funerals. By Susan Chumsky, The New York Times 3-12-14
At the End of Life: Death Doulas and Home Funerals “In caring for the body of the loved one for the last time, in washing the body for the last time, in having them be present with you after the death for a period of hours, it’s a very different experience than the ‘detaching from’ that we conventionally do, and we can miss out on some important emotional experiences.” At the End of Life: Death Doulas and Home Funerals by Shannon Firth, MedPage Today 4-16-2015
Home Funerals Grow As Americans Skip The Mortician For Do-It-Yourself After-Death Care “There are people who get it and think it’s a great idea. And there are people who have been so indoctrinated to think a different way, a less hands-on way, that they can’t imagine anything else,” says Elizabeth Knox, the founder of Crossings, a Maryland-based home funeral resource organization, and the president of the National Home Funeral Alliance by Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post 2-21-13
Remembering My First Home Funeral “My first home funeral totally captured and reinforced the circle of life. Two years ago, I could only read about and study how home funerals promote healing and closure; how they provide a comfortable place to discuss life and death; how they allow us to express our grief and loss. Now I knew all this to be true because I had lived it!” By Sara Williams, Chrysalis Emerge Foundation Blog 4-25-15
Water Falls From My Eyes: The Home Funeral of Bhim Darjee Not all home funerals are the same. Not all home funerals follow our ideal of how they should look and feel. Sometimes we are simply called to witness…The newly assimilated Christian Nepali community of Concord, NH, was expecting their first death on American soil. When the call came that Bhim had died…By Lee Webster
Remembering Baby Burton I remember standing at the front door of his little green house on the top of a hill in Seattle, overlooking lake and trees. I shook because I hadn’t met him or his parents, and because I was about to hold a very ill baby who didn’t have long to live. I was about to enter the space where I would hold both sides of things: the liminal house of love and loss, and the glaring world of timetables and paperwork. By Kateyanne Unullisi, Chrysalis Emerge Foundation Blog 11-2-2014
Passing Through Our Hands Home funeral body care demonstration video by Donna Belk and Sandy Booth of TexasHomeFunerals.com (1 hr. 5 min.)
Post-death Care at Home Series of videos showing home funeral body care by Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives
Gabriel’s Home Funeral Gabriel Gelbart and his husband, Mitch Metzer were in the process of creating a hospice in Topanga Canyon, Los Angeles, when Gabe died suddenly at 52. Sacred Crossing Guides and over 200 people from the community came together to honor Gabe with a home vigil and funeral on his beloved Anam Cara land. 2014 (5 min.)
Home Funeral Discussed In this thoughtful interview, Merilynne Rush discusses death as a normal part of life, death acceptance, embalming, making death sacred again, holding space and being carried by the community, and more. 9-25-2012 (20 min.)
Download | Donna Belk and Kateyanne Unullisi, authors of Home Funeral Ceremonies: A Primer to Honor the Dying and the Dead with Reverence, Light-heartedness and Grace, discuss their book and how profound and empowering creating your own ceremonies can be. By weaving together one or many short ceremonies during a home funeral, you can add a component that is poignant and memorable. See how you can be empowered to create your own ceremonies from these home funeral guides, funeral celebrants, and NHFA board members. 7-8- 2016 (1 hr.)
Download | Advocacy and Legislation overview of issues around the country and the NHFA response, including what we anticipate on the horizon. We’ll unpack the role of the NHFA in regard to the Virginia bill, SB595 the Dead Body Storage bill, and how our members coalesced magnificently to educate senators on funeral rights. 5-8-2016 (1 hr.)
Listen | In the Reluctant Home Funeral Guide, Ellen Macdonald of Eloise Woods Natural Burial Park talks about how, although she only wanted to open a green cemetery, she’s had to wear the hat of home funeral guide, funeral officiant, and grave digger. You’ll appreciate Ellen’s down-to-earth manner and sense of humor as she tells some of her stories from the graveyard. 8-9-2015
Listen | Talking about death isn’t easy, but mortician Caitlin Doughty is trying to reform how we think about the deaths of loved ones — and prepare for our own. “My philosophy is honesty,” Doughty tells NPR’s Terry Gross. “I think that we’ve been so hidden from death in this culture for such a long time that it’s very refreshing and liberating to talk about death in an open, honest manner.” 10-8-14 (30 min.)
Listen | In Death Becomes Us II, Cassandra Yonder, Jerrigrace Lyons, Josh Slocum and others discuss how death has been outsourced to mortuary professionals. Now multinational chains are buying up mom-and-pop operations, offering package deals on funerals. However, the corporatization of death is being challenged: death midwives are returning care of the dead to families by helping us face death and aiding families in arranging intimate home funerals. CBC Radio 5-7-2014 (55 min.)
Listen | In exploring Death Midwifery & Grieving we talk with Cassandra Yonder about the pan death experience and some thoughts about how home funerals help with the grieving process, in particular about the concept of death midwifery. Intention Radio 4-29-2014 (1 hr.)
Listen | In Eco-Friendly Funerals And Death In America Today, listen to trends in eco-friendly funerals and burials—how they reflect how we’re dealing with death. NPR On Point program WBUR, featuring Amy Cunningham and Esmerelda Kent 4-10-2014 (46 min.)
Listen | In My Experience Working with the Dead, a crematorium director, a woman who specializes in at-home funerals and a student who dissects cadavers all join us to share their stories. Featuring Jerrigrace Lyons KQED 3-12-2013 (52 min.)
Stay connected with other Home Funeral Guides
Become a member! As a benefit of NHFA membership, the NHFA offers information to all members who may have questions, or would like further support or advice about home funerals. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be put in touch with someone.
Join the conversation monthly teleconferences – All members are welcome to join in during this monthly hour-long question and answer call hosted each 2nd Sunday evening of the month. (Time: 8 pm EST, 7 pm CST, 6 pm MST, 5 pm PST). Once you become a member you receive this information through monthly emails, along with information on any guests and what will be covered during the teleconference.
Take a look at our Regional Network groups, and find folks near to your location who can help to support you.
Reach out to your community
NHFA Slide Carousel & Press Kit has everything you need for a presentation to the general public about home funerals
Talking-Points to use in your presentations to the general public about home funerals
NHFA Infographic Cards to pass out at presentations – order yours today in English or Spanish
Banner Stand NHFA is a design you can use for a retractable display at your booth during conventions or festivals. This home funeral retractable has a place to add your name and logo. Contact omgirlmarketing.com for a quote if you would like to add your business information into the design for your own use.
Take a look at these other organizations
Funeral Consumers Alliance protecting a consumer’s right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral
Funeral Ethics Organization promoting ethical dealings in all death-related transactions, and general consumer information
Green Burial Council encouraging environmentally sustainable deathcare and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas