The Revival of Canadian Home Funeral Vigils – Strengthening Family Well-Being and Legacy
by Don Morris, MEd
There was a time before the rise of funeral homes in Canada where a deceased was cared for at home by family and or the birth/death midwife, then either kept in bed or casketed in the parlour. This benefitted the well-being of the family system and the community. First Nations people had their unique rituals expressing love, supporting grieving, and meeting deep metaphysical needs.
Over the past 100 plus years, we’ve outsourced death care to commercial providers, easing our burdens, yet in turn we’ve lost important intimacy with death. As a result, our grief and praise for this precious life has been subdued. Today’s memorial services without the body present, the ultimate reminder of our mortality and love of life, lack poignancy and potency. This leads me to question whether selecting “distanced ways of grieving” are actually a disservice, weakening our children’s, grandchildren’s, and each other’s will to live a richer, fuller, more conscious life? This question is worthy of deep and repetitive deliberation. In my experience, family and community-centred death care done at home over 24 to 48 hours pays significant present time and inter-generational benefits.
What is a home funeral vigil? Simply put, it is safely (and hygienically) keeping a deceased’s body at home (whether in bed, on a couch, in a casket, or at a retreat centre, church, etc. for a 1- or 2-day vigil managed by immediate family, a death doula, and/or your funeral director) before the cremation or burial. The big benefit is time; needed time to accept the death, show love and respect, and even “work things out,” if you get my drift. To learn more of these benefits, please visit the Home Funeral Practicum website: www.homefuneralpracticum.ca, go to “More,” then scroll down to “Benefits.”
Family and community directed after-death vigils are up and coming, a happening. Some of you baby-boomers may have had or heard of a grandparent or other relation in a “laying out” in the farm house. Today people are becoming more open-minded/heart-minded to reviving this old way. See the front page New York Times article—www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/world/canada/euthanasia-bill-john-shields-death.html to learn what John Shields, his family and community friends consciously did in Victoria, British Columbia.
Are home funerals popular? No, not yet. We’re in the process of taking back our power… and they are occurring. Why? Because we are becoming more fearless and concerned about the overall well-being of our family seven generations forward. We are concerned for our local community, the province, our nation, and the Earth. And last, yet not least, the home funeral option gives us the chance to leave a bold and loving legacy.
Don Morris, MEd Counselling, is a Canadian Home Funeral Educator and Advocate living in Victoria, BC. His love for life and the environment fuels his drive to support a societal return to natural, family- and community-led death caring and green burial. After completing a successful career as a licensed funeral director and cemeterian, spanning the ‘70s and ‘80s, he retrained as a therapeutic counsellor. In 2010, prompted by a concern for the environment and its nexus with wasteful/harmful funeral industry practices, he brought the Green Burial Council to Canada. His lifelong interest in death and dying also led to consulting to the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives and jumpstarting Canada’s first Death Cafe in 2012. In 2015, he co-founded and today continues teaching the Home Funeral Practicum all across Canada. He is a co-creator and core group member of Community Deathcare Canada. In Victoria, BC, he serves the Jewish Community’s Chevra Kadisha (holy burial society), teaches online for the Virtual School for Community Deathcaring (Nova Scotia), and volunteers as a Community Counsellor at the Esquimalt House in Victoria, BC. Don has a long-standing fondness for Saskatoon and the province dating back to his first visit in 1987. He has four grandchildren in Swift Current.
Do you want to learn more? See www.homefuneralpracticum.com. Feel free to contact Don Morris, co-founder/instructor at 250-580-2121 and/or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.