- This Week
DEATH ISSUE: Death midwives shepherd the dying and then help the living say an intimate, inexpensive, and eco-friendly goodbye
10.29.13 - 3:53 pm | Janina Glasov |
Jerrigrace Lyons trains new death midwives to assist in DIY funerals.
"When the person's kept at home for several days, it normalizes death a lot," Lyons states. "The family is there, making everything beautiful and natural. There's the comfort of the home, the privacy. And it isn't just for the family. It's also for the person in transition."
When Carol Singler had a home funeral for her father in 2012, she swore she could feel his spirit there with them. Lyons had made things easier for Singler in every way that she could, guiding her through the process and even driving her downtown to drop off the necessary paperwork. Lyons recommended a cardboard box that people could decorate instead of a casket.
"When somebody dies, it feels like if you could give them something of your heart, then you would know everything was at peace. This gave us the opportunity to do that," Singler remembers. "Decorating the box with paint and collages, putting all of our love into it for my dad, we had tremendous emotional processing. We talked a lot about death and dying. By the time we finished, my nephew, who had taken the death really hard, was saying to me, 'I never knew it could be like this. I don't feel afraid of death anymore. I want to die like this.' If my father had just been whisked away, that would have been the end of it. Nothing would have happened to really heal our hearts."
Singler's husband is dying of lung cancer. The doctors predict that he has a month and a half to live. She wants him have a home funeral assisted by Lyons too, so that their grandchildren can have the same opportunity to process their grandfather's death.
Kim Gamboa's teenage son Kyle committed suicide five months ago by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Another mother put her in contact with Boucher, and, within hours of Kyle's death, she was at the Gamboas' house, explaining and arranging things.
Boucher was prepared to answer the usual concerns about legality and decaying. Gamboa attended a home funeral a decade ago. At the time, she wondered how the family could stand having a dead body in the house. Once it was her own son's funeral, however, she had no apprehensions. "When it is actually your loved one, you have such great comfort in having them home with you," Gamboa explains. "I had wanted to do everything for him, for his soul, and then it turned out to be everything for us, and the community, to help us say goodbye."
For three days, Gamboa and her husband kept their house open to everyone who wanted to visit Kyle. They placed his body in an open casket in their living room, surrounded by flowers and candles. Kyle's many team jerseys hung on the walls and the pictures and letters his visitors brought crowded the fireplace mantel.
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