The Intimacy of a Home Funeral
In part one of our series on death care in the Northwoods, we talked to a local funeral director about green funerals and how his job has changed over the years. Today, we’ll hear about those who are choosing to have their funerals at home.
WXPR’s Mackenzie Martin reports.
Windsong and Steve Moe have both been involved in massages and breathwork in the Northwoods for over 20 years. They’ve also invested a lot of time thinking about death.
“Well yeah, we talk about it a lot,” says Moe. "We just feel more alive today because of it."
Something they are especially interested in is home funerals and greener funerals. They gave a presentation on the topic a few weeks ago at the Northwoods Sustainability Fair in Rhinelander. Together, they're trying to share educational resources and to build a community around death.
Windsong went to a National Home Funeral Alliance Conference in Colorado eight years ago, where she learned how to care for a body with ice and other important aspects of actually having a home funeral.
“I really think it’s my responsibility to take care of Steve’s body,” says Windsong. “I’m married... I don’t want to give it to anybody else to manage.”
Windsong and Steve Moe aren’t making a career of their interest in home funerals, it’s mostly something they just do for friends. They also think it’s really important to reach out to professionals for help and for those services you don’t want to or can’t do yourself.
Four years ago, their friend Laura Ehmann had a home funeral for her late husband, Ron Parkinson.
“It’s very easy to have a home funeral, you’d be surprised,” Ehmann says. “I went to the county clerk’s office here in Oneida County and they were very helpful.”
Ehmann decided to cremate her husband’s body with a funeral home in the area, but kept the body at home for the 48 hours Wisconsin law dictates you have to wait after death before cremation.
“I’ve been in situations where someone has died and they’re whisked off immediately,” says Ehmann. “There’s that sense of you don’t know what happened, where they are. They’re not dead. It’s too abrupt, it’s like a trauma in a way. So being with Ron those two and a half days. He was there for the longest time and then he wasn’t. I felt I got to see him out of this world. I know people ask about the body, it maybe creeps them out a little bit, but when you love somebody and you’ve touched them and you’ve hugged them… The things you worry about, I just wanna say don’t worry about it.”
Laura Ehmann said after the funeral, people came up to her and said it changed their views about death.
Today, Steve Moe says thinking about death and talking about it as much as he and Windsong do almost gives him a certain level of comfort with death.
“If I’m dying, I want no drugs, I want to be able to get up and do my death dance and that’ll be it," he says. "And in that moment, am I gonna be not afraid? Oh, I don’t know... I can’t say that all of this has brought me to a place where I’m going to say ‘Oh, I don’t fear death,’ but it’s just like ‘Oh, okay, there it is, my old friend, and it’s okay, and we’ll meet up when the time is right.'”
Regardless of what kind of funeral you want, Windsong, Moe, and Ehmann all suggest thinking ahead, and not being afraid to ask questions.
For more information on home funerals: http://homefuneralalliance.org/
For more information on funeral laws in Wisconsin: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/wisconsin-home-funeral-laws.html
For more information on green funerals: https://greenburialcouncil.org/
This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.