Michigan affiliate of the national Funeral Consumers Alliance
Forty-two states allow families to direct and complete the disposition of their own dead, including Michigan.
However, Michigan funeral law prevents families from caring for their own dead without the assistance of a licensed funeral director.
The following laws require Michigan families to purchase the services of a commercial funeral home, regardless of whether we want to or can afford to:
A licensed funeral director must be involved in every single death in this state, including body donation:
“The handling, disposition, or disinterment of a body shall be under the supervision of a person licensed to practice mortuary science in this state.” Estates and Protected Individuals Code, 700.3206
Michigan, to the best of our knowledge, is the only state that requires a funeral director to "certify" a death certificate:
"A death record shall be certified by a funeral director licensed to practice mortuary science in this state." Public Health Code 333.2843(3)
Hospitals, nursing homes, and other agencies typically will not release the dead into the direct physical custody of family. As a matter of policy, they will only release the dead to licensed funeral directors or their agents.
To avoid embalming, Michigan families have only 48 hours to hold visitation and funeral ceremonies, which is very restrictive.
So where does that leave Michigan families? The good news is that we can take a hand-on role in the care of our own dead. However, we cannot totally remove a funeral director from the process. This means we must find a funeral director that will complete and file the necessary paperwork and permits.
Now, this is not as easy as it may sound. No law obligates a funeral director to perform these tasks for a family. As one might imagine, this movement is often mistakenly viewed as a threat. But there are some home-funeral-friendly funeral directors in Michigan.
REFERRAL TO HOME FUNERAL DIRECTORS
You may contact us via e-mail for a referal to a funeral director. The feasibility of your home funeral plans will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, of course. Location is a major limitation.
NATIONAL HOME FUNERAL ALLIANCE
The NHFA acts as a clearinghouse of all things home funeral, providing connections and resource information to all who are looking for guidance. The organization also advocates for preserving the rights of families to care for their own dead while supporting home funeral guides in their calling to guide families when needed. To find out more, visit their website here.
Q: WHY WOULD FAMILIES CHOOSE TO CARE FOR THEIR OWN DEAD?
A: The family-led home funeral, commonly called a do-it-yourself funeral or home funeral, offers at least four significant benefits over the conventional funeral-home funeral:
The home funeral provides more time and freedom for family to say goodbye.
Instead of being frozen in grief, the home funeral allows mourners to channel their grief and find a sense of purpose through the physical preparation of the body.
The family-led funeral allows for a more personalized family ritual that reflects the life of the deceased and provides a better transition for those left behind.
The home funeral cost hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.
Q: IS A FAMILY-LED HOME FUNERAL THE SAME AS THE "HOME FUNERAL" OR "HOME WAY" THAT MY LOCAL FUNERAL PROVIDER OFFERS?
A: Probably not. Some funeral homes have a "home" funeral option, but it typically means that one is simply moving the venue of the conventional funeral to one's home and that the body is embalmed.
In contrast, a family-led home funeral is the reclaimed American tradition of family and friends, not strangers or professionals, directing and performing after-death care and rituals in the comfort on one's own home.
Q: WON'T IT BE TOO EMOTIONALLY TRAUMATIZING?
A: In reality, those that have cared for their dead testify it to be a very therapeutic labor of love, a blessing, and a privilege.
Q: ISN'T AFTER-DEATH CARE A JOB THAT IS ONLY SUITABLE FOR A PROFESSIONAL?
A: While we have been conditioned by Hollywood and the funeral industry to believe that after-death care is something that only a professional can handle, in actuality, this isn’t so. The only thing a funeral director does that requires specialized training is embalming, and, fortunately, embalming is not part of a home funeral.
Q: HOW DOES ONE PREPARE A BODY FOR VIEWING?
A: The physical preparation of the body is safe and relatively straightforward. It involves a thorough hygienic cleansing of the entire body with soap and water. The process is pretty much identical to how a live bedridden person is bathed, only more thorough. Afterward, the body is dressed and prepared for viewing, which might include such things as closing the mouth and eyes if desired, positioning the arms and hands, and styling the hair. If the deceased is male, facial hair can be shaven; if the deceased is female, everyday makeup can be applied, if desired.
Q: DON'T THE DEAD HAVE TO BE EMBALMED?
A: Many people mistakenly believe that embalming is required by law, necessary for the public health, provides long-term preservation, or disinfects the body. However, none of these beliefs are true. Only Americans and Canadians routinely embalm their dead. In Michigan, embalming is only required if the body is not cremated or buried within 48 hours or if one has died of certain contagious diseases. AIDS does not fall within this category.
Q: IF NOT EMBALMING, THEN WHAT METHOD IS USED TO SLOW DECOMPOSITION OF A BODY?
A: Embalming is just one way to provide short-term preservation of a body, it is not the only way or the best way, especially if one takes into consideration the violence and invasiveness of the process to the deceased and the release of cancer-causing chemicals into the environment and the embalmer.
On a nonembalmed body, the rate of decomposition depends on a variety of factors, including temperature, condition of body upon death, etc. It typically is a slow process.
With a home funeral, it is recommended that the body be cooled with dry ice. Specifically, 1-inch thick sheets of dry ice are placed inconspicuously under the entire torso and one sheet placed on top of the abdomen. The dry ice is replaced every morning as needed. This is more than sufficient to slow the decomposition of the body until cremation or burial.
Q: WHERE DO I GET A CASKET?
A: Caskets can be homemade, purchased from a local or online retailer or from Costco at a fraction of a funeral home’s price. For cremation, you can use an inexpensive cardboard cremation container, also known as an alternative container, and personalize it by painting and decorating it. Not only will it be a work of art, many have found it to be a work of art therapy. Alternative containers wholesale for approximately $10.
Q: ARE FAMILY-LED FUNERALS APPROPRIATE FOR EVERY DEATH?
A: No, the feasibility of a home funeral must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
A home funeral is ideal for hospice situations where death is expected and, as a result, no autopsy is required and the body can remain in the home. In fact, it is a natural progression for family to continue the care that they have been providing for days, weeks, or months for just a few more hours after death.
In addition, the weight of the deceased must be taken into account, as it would be very difficult to provide after-death care for and transport someone who is extremely heavy.
If there has been severe trauma and/or the body is not suitable for viewing, a home funeral may not be appropriate. In these cases, it may be possible for the family to take part in some of the after-death care with assistance from a funeral director as needed. However, those that loved the deceased in life, as well as in death, should be the ones who decide what is, or is not, appropriate for them. Before the recent advent of the commercial funeral industry, Americans cared for their own dead in all circumstances. In many parts of the world, families still do. It is a personal decision.
Q: IS THERE INFORMATION AVAILABLE OR SOMEONE IN MY AREA WHO CAN PROVIDE GUIDANCE OR ASSISTANCE?
A: Yes! Many resources are available.
First, educate yourself through books, step-by-step manuals such as Undertaken With Love, and any available hands-on training. Home funeral pioneers, such as Jerrigrace Lyons, of Final Passages in Northern California, and Beth Knox, of Crossings in Maryland, offer seminars and workshops.
Second, an FCIS board member or one of our members may be available to provide hands-on assistance at the time of death.
Third, visit the Home Funeral Directory for a list of home funeral guides in your area. Please note that some home funeral guides offer their assistance as a free community service while others charge a fee.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, remember that a successful home funeral does not require experience or perfection.
COPYRIGHT © 2014 Funeral Consumers Information Society of Michigan
Funeral Consumers Information Society, also known as FCIS, is a volunteer-run nonprofit dedicated to helping Michiganians make dignified, meaningful and affordable funeral arrangements since 1961.
In 2006, our mission expanded to advocate for the re-establishment of family rights in after-death care, including family-led home funerals, and to foster sustainable environmental practices, such as green burial, in the state.
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