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Reclaiming the Care of Our Deceased Loved Ones

by Ann Porto

One thing that most people fear in life is facing the death of a loved one or their own death. Interestingly, when there is pre-planning and closure, people report that it is easier to “let go” when the transition time comes, allowing for more personal intimate space and time for grieving, consequently fostering more confidence and peace.

Home vigils, which involve keeping the body of the deceased in the home for one to three days after death, are legal in most states and gaining some ground in America as they once had and still do in many countries all over the world. While home vigils will not be considered by all for various reasons, for example, some having to do with religious beliefs or cultural customs, family members, significant others and children attending home vigils have reported that their experience left them less stressed and relieved that decisions had already been made. They also reported feeling less fearful and more easily able to view death as a natural part of an end of life transition.

The increase in popularity of home vigils has to do with people’s desire to choose simpler funeral options and shorter viewings, and incorporate meaningful traditions or practices not traditionally permitted in more formal settings. Traditional funeral service expenses can be quite costly, whereas a death doula’s fees are substantially less, depending on circumstances and in some cases even donation based or free.

Other reasons for choosing home vigils include environmental concerns and a desire for a green burial in order to leave less of a carbon footprint. Even if one chooses to hire a funeral home director to manage part or all of the after death burial/cremation, substantial finances can be saved by purchasing products such as biodegradable shrouds and urns, caskets made from bamboo and grasses and other options to help in reducing costs. (See HomeFuneralAlliance.org and GreenBurialCouncil.org)

To assist with a home burial, one can hire a death midwife, or death doula, for assistance, support, coaching and navigation through the process from before death, during and/or after-death occurs. Death doulas are trained to make themselves available to bridge the existing non-medical gaps in the current system with, for example, services not offered by hospice care professionals. Additionally, the doula often will interact, based upon the instructions of the deceased, to offer assistance to family and significant others with necessary paperwork, transportation arrangements, and if requested, provide care with cleansing and preservation of the body. They are not qualified to embalm. Some doulas trained as chaplains and celebrants might also assist with psychological and, in some cases, spiritual care.

Ann Porto is a clinical adult and geriatric psychologist (retired), death and dying counselor, reiki and therapeutic touch energy medicine practitioner, and meditation instructor at Laughing Elephant Yoga, in East Greenwich. She is also a board member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance-RI.