“We were literally transformed by the experience of keeping our mother’s body with us and continuing to care for her until the cremation. You were right when you told us that it would soften the experience of loss and grief and it became perhaps the most important factor in our ability to move forward. So many friends and family commented on the unique and incredible experience of having a home wake.”
Many families speak of the traumatic and distressing experience of having a funeral director come, often in the middle of the night, after the death of a loved one. These strangers proceeded to zip their loved one into a plastic body bag and whisk them away. These families remember feeling helpless and afraid, unable to process their feelings in the sudden departure of the person they have loved and cared for.
Keeping the body of the deceased in the home for one, two, or three days can be extremely beneficial on many levels.
Gives the gift of time
The time during the vigil allows families to be together. There is no rush. Life within the home can take on a peaceful rhythm allowing connection and healing. Families report sitting with the body at all hours of the day and night, praying, singing, sitting in silence. Together for hours and days of unstructured time families tell stories and share memories.
During this time certain tasks can be accomplished:
Puts families in charge of decision-making
From the very beginning of the vigil families decide how each aspect of days and evenings will proceed. This can include beginning with washing and dressing the body in special clothing that honors the uniqueness of the individual. The body can be laid out in a bedroom which has been prepared with flowers, candles, and special photographs. Favorite music can be played.
At some point during the vigil, the family may come together to check in with each other and together decide that they are ready to let her or him go. It is a very powerful moment when they feel that they are ready to step out on the next phase of their journey.
Allows the beginning of healthy grieving
Because we are so out of touch and so fearful when it comes to the issues at the end of life, we have allowed a funeral industry to grow and take us even further away from this profound experience. Many people are walking around with deep and sometimes complicated grief because, when strangers and professionals take over, they have not been allowed to fully experience the loss of a loved one.
We believe that home wakes and vigils allow individuals the time to fully comprehend and begin to accept the loss. There is research to support that after any trauma the living body needs time to literally incorporate a new reality into life going forward. If we are unable to do this, we can push the grief below the conscious level where it can do us great harm.
“Move your body, move your grief”
A home funeral also allows family members and their community of friends to work through the initial stages of grief by becoming involved in all variety of tasks, from making phone calls, cooking food, cleaning the house, playing music, writing the obituary, and so much more.
“First off, a big thank you to all of you. I and my family felt held physically, soulfully (if there is such a word), and spiritually. My father sends his thanks, my sister Lisa tells me it was as good as it gets, and Yogin noted that it was the first family gathering of this size where there was no unnecessary stress. While ‘happy’ is a strange word in this context, this group was happy in their participation in a difficult labor of love.”