Thanadoula contemplative end of living care
Thanadoula contemplative end of living care Thanadoula contemplative end of living care

Post Deathcare and Vigil

Thanadoula contemplative end of living care Barb Phillips
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Family Directed After Death Care, Vigil and Disposition Choices

Why Consider After Death Care and Home Funerals?

Additional Resources

Not that long ago, before the American civil war, funerals were essentially home and family affairs. As stated by Thomas Lynch, A Good Funeral, Death, Grief, and Community Care, the formula for human funerals was fairly simple for most of our history: by getting the dead where they needed to go; the living got where they needed to be.

When someone died the body was washed and dressed at home. Neighbours came to visit , to comfort, to pay their respects and to fill the family table with dishes of food. A coffin was made or a shroud sewn, a grave dug and within a day or two the deceased was carried to be buried.

After the civil war, soldiers that had died in battle needed to be transported back to their homes for burial and the only way this was ensured was by the process of embalming. The individual hired to carry out this procedure and responsibility was the Undertaker, now known as the Funeral Director .

As time passed, the care of the dead was handed over to the professional (the Funeral Director) by the urban wealthy and the funeral industry was born. The reality of handing over the responsibilities of after death care and disposition of a loved one's body to professionals was the beginning of a society disconnected from a tradition; a rite of passage that brought meaning to life.

"This estrangement, this disconnect, this refusal to deal with our dead (their corpses), could be reasonably expected to handicap our ability to deal with death (the concept). A failure to deal authentically with death may have something to do with the most recent generations of North Americans inability to deal authentically with life." ~ Thomas Lynch

Family Directed After Death Care, Vigil and Disposition Choices

Family led funerals focus on participation and choice. The family decides how the event unfolds so that it addresses their needs and helps them come to terms with the loss of their loved one. A family directed funeral is slow and focused rather than a cookie-cutter event hosted by a funeral corporation.Preparing to let go

"Barb, I have such gratitude for the care you gave us over the last months of Jody's life. I felt like you were a calm presence in the chaos, 100% there for us. It was a deeply moving experience to be able to care for Jody after her death. Your guidance and support opened a heart-focused space for this most difficult but yet beautiful experience. Our family, friends and I felt the unexpected gifts and this experience brought us together in grief, mourning and celebration of our dear Jody." - Melissa Gordon, 2017

This end of living care movement includes death becoming de-medicalized and will again be viewed as a natural event that can be managed in natural settings such as a home. This also includes families directing some or all of the funeral and after death care arrangements. From washing and anointing the body, to dressing the body and holding vigils (sitting with a loved one for up to three days), to transporting the body to a cemetery or crematorium, a family member or legally designated agent can carry out any or all of these tasks.

I would be pleased to provide consultation services for after-death home care and vigil and disposition choices for those who wish to learn more about natural death care options, including green burial.

Home FuneralsThere are no standard guidelines for home funerals. It may simply comprise a few friends and family members supporting one another in a vigil, or it could be a multi-generational gathering of extended family and friends, preparing and caring for the body of their loved one at home, in preparation for transportation to the church, cemetery or crematorium.

Why Consider After Death Care and Home Funeral?

  • It allows family and friends to be in control of the process of saying goodbye to a loved one.
  • It creates an opportunity for a more expressive closure which may nurture healing in the grief process.
  • You may find it comforting to know that the care and preparation of your loved one’s body is being carried out by family and friends instead of strangers.
  • By participating in the vigil process, family and friends can give and receive emotional support from each other.
  • We often feel helpless during this difficult time.  Participating in the after death care and home funeral process, allows us to feel useful and is seen as a final act of our love for the deceased.

Additional Resources

International Resources

Canadian Resources


I would like to thank Jerrigrace Lyons, Final Passages, Institute of Conscious Dying, Home Funeral and Green Burial Education, for the use of her photos for my website. I would also like to thank Esmerelda Kent of Kinkaraco,, for her consent to use her beautiful shroud photo and Michel Cabardos, , for the scenic photo of Union Cemetery.



Thanadoula contemplative end of living care Thanadoula contemplative end of living care
Copyright © 2018 Barb Phillips. All rights reserved.