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Business offers aid to mourning with at-home funerals

By G. Michael Dobbs, Managing Editor
SPRINGFIELD When asked if Linda Caron is advocating a new tradition in funeral arrangements, she gently replied that caring for the dead at home is "going back to the traditions of our forefathers."
Caron is the owner of Guiding Angels LLC, a consultation service that provides information on home funerals. She readily admitted that washing and dressing the body of a loved one and then preparing a memorial service and a cremation or burial is not something that everyone wants to do or can do in a time of mourning.
The services of a funeral home and director are definitely needed and appreciated by many, she said.
She explained that modern funerals "felt very cold" to her.
"People don't know what to do. There is a limited time to see the loved one. It's never felt right to me," she added.
She noted that funerals for a substantial part of our history like births and caring for the elderly was a part of family life for many Americans and occurred at home.
Massachusetts state law, though, allows for the family to prepare the body at home, arrange a memorial service and burial themselves, which Caron said aids the grieving process. Many of the rules and regulations associated with funerals, cremation and burial are not set by the state but by the individual funeral homes and cemeteries, she noted.
One example is the use of concrete vaults in burial plots that are designed to keep the soil level in cemeteries, she said. Another is when funeral directors stipulate a coffin must be purchased for cremation. State law only requires a container that is plastic lined and has a solid plywood bottom.
She said, for example, under the present norm, if the family matriarch was ill and family members cared for her at home, once she passed, the body would be taken to a funeral home, a wake would take place over the course of two-to-four hours and then burial would occur.
She recounted one person with whom she worked who had unresolved issues with a parent. The woman "railed" at her mother's body, releasing emotions, Caron said, that allowed her to better deal with her grief. That opportunity for the release came because of the time the woman could have with the body of her mother by taking a non-traditional approach, Caron added.
The woman found the process "very healing," Caron said.
Caron also worked with parents who had to cope with the death of their young child. The at-home approach helped them as well, she said.
State law doesn't require embalming and a family member can transport the body as well, she said. The state's rules can be found on the Web site of the state's Office of Health and Human Services.
Embalming is required by funeral homes, she explained, in order to create a "memory picture" for the friends and family of the deceased. She said that without embalming and make-up preparation bodies will "look dead."
She said there is "an ick factor" in talking about home funeral arrangements. While she doesn't actually physically assist a family in the various steps, she provides information and "a calm presence" to help them.
Caron emphasized it is not her business to "try to persuade anyone" the home process is superior to the services of a funeral director.
Families often do a bit of both, she explained, using a funeral home for some part of the procedure.
Caron is also involved in the "green" burial movement. Green burials involve interring a non-embalmed body in a cemetery where natural decomposition can take place. She said there are only two such cemeteries in the state so far one in Chesterfield and another in Brewster. For more information on Caron's services, go to www.guiding-angels.us.