HEATH — There are home births, home schooling and home hospice care: why not home funerals?
Peg Lorenz will be in Heath on Saturday to lead a workshop on “Caring for Our Own After Death: Reclaiming a Loving Tradition.”
Lorenz, a hospice caregiver for 25 years, has spent the last seven years helping families with pre-planning and after-death care. She also provides educational workshops to hospices, churches and community groups.
The Friends of the Heath Free Public Library are sponsoring the 1 to 4 p.m. workshop at the Heath Community Hall, 1 W. Main St.
This is Lorenz’s second talk in Heath, which was one of the first Franklin County towns to approve a green burial policy. This allows burials in the Heath Cemetery without embalming fluids and without permanent metal vaults to contain the remains.
“Home births aren’t for everybody, and home funerals aren’t for everybody. But when families really get it, they get so much benefit,” said Lorenz. “We should be able to do this without a lot of stress; it should be part of life.”
Lorenz said in her years as a hospice worker, she would sit with gravely ill people for many hours. And sometimes, when she attended their memorial services, she would hear from the families about how hard it was to lose the ties to the hospice, and the shock of seeing their loved one zipped into a plastic bag and whisked away to a funeral home. “That was their final experience and final memory of their loved one. This was really not OK.”
“I started researching and I did get trained on how to take care of the body, and how to educate a family,” Lorenz said. “I wouldn’t have that, working as a funeral director. I just wanted to educate and guide people to do the work themselves.”
“It’s not rocket science,” Lorenz said. “Cavemen did it. People on the prairies did it.”
Lorenz said embalming was not done until the Civil War, when the bodies of dead soldiers were transported by trains for long rides back to their family homes.
Also, after his assassination, Lincoln’s body was embalmed for a 13-day journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Ill., with 11 stops along the way, so that mourning citizens could pay their respects.
Lorenz said embalming became a “status symbol” of the wealthy, and also among people as they moved from the country into cities.
But without embalming, “bodies don’t deteriorate if cared for properly, in the immediate days after,” Lorenz said. “There’s no rational reason for embalming in this day and age.”
After washing and cleaning the body, frozen gel packs can be placed beneath the body and rotated to keep it cool. Also, keeping the room cool is a recommended while the body lies in state.
“How to do it, and how to do it well — it’s really common sense,” she said.
For centuries, she said, families have taken care of their own. “We’re just so far from that, handing it over to this multi-billion dollar industry. We’re so afraid of death, we cannot talk about it,” Lorenz said. “It’s very painful.”
Lorenz said she usually works with families ahead of time, and they should talk with loved ones about their wishes after they die.
Lorenz founded Peaceful Passage at Home, and has assisted about 40 families with “after-death care.” Her website: peacefulpassageathome.com has information about state laws, caring for the body and resources.
Something that families may not realize is that embalming is not required, a family can fill out and file the death certificate and a family can transport the deceased to the cemetery or crematory.
The workshop includes an introductory talk, a slide show and excerpts of a PBS special that shows a home funeral. Also to be discussed are legal issues and what happens in a home wake, along with slides about green burial. The second part of the workshop is for those interested in the details of a home wake and funeral, such as how to bathe, dress, cool and carry the body.
The workshop is free, although donations are welcome, and seating may be limited. To pre-register for the workshop, call Rol Hesselbart at: 413-337-6659 or email: email@example.com.