Each of us in every moment of our lives has the opportunity to reach out and share our stories with other people. After the profound experience of caring for my dad at home in New Zealand I came back to England wanting to talk to everyone I could about this most transforming time and to discover as much as I could about birth, death and the meaning of life in between. I was given the Natural Death Centre Handbook by a friend. From the very first page, everything I was reading just made sense. The words of Josefine Speyer and Nicolas Albery that death, like birth is a natural part of life, gave me great comfort and resonated deeply. It was also within that wonderful resource that I was introduced to the wider Natural Death Movement and the leading pioneers within it.
One of the most meaningful connections I made began with a telephone conversation with a trail-blazing death midwife and home funeral guide from California, Jerrigrace Lyons. She explained how she had also come into this work after the powerful experience of caring for her friend Carolyn, how she and close friends washed and dressed Carolyn and spent time with her body. She described this time as being profoundly healing and filled with gratitude and love.
From our very first conversation, we seemed to have much in common, and so began a natural friendship based on our shared beliefs, visions and values.
In 1995, a year after Carolyn’s home funeral, Jerrigrace founded Final Passages, an educational not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping people rediscover and return to family-centred green home funeral traditions. Since then she has been involved in guiding over 400 families with home funerals and training over 1000 people at workshops around the world.
We first met at the National Home Funeral Alliance conference in South Carolina in 2013, I was inspired by her gentle presence, generosity and grace. It was here that the concept of Only With Love was born, and I could see a way to bring all my life experiences with birth and death together to guide, educate and empower others. I had found my passion, my tribe and my calling as a home funeral guide and death care educator.
I invited her to come to the UK to teach and we planned to offer a series of home funeral workshops as part of the Kicking the Bucket Festival of Living and Dying the following year. Many of the wonderful, creative people who came to those first workshops have since developed their own independent funeral services and are now award-winning funeral directors, celebrants and home funeral guides, as well as founder members of the newly launched Home Funeral Network.
In the last year we have presented Home Funerals 101 together at the NHFA conference in Los Gatos, California with Home Funeral Guide, Anne Murphy and hospice nurse and co-founder of One Washcloth, Susan Oppie. The US has seen much growth in the conscious dying and home funeral movement. Within the UK we are also experiencing a sea of change with a strong, growing interest in and awareness of a more personal and participatory approach to death, dying and funerals. A wave of mostly female, dedicated natural death care facilitators who are each bringing fresh and exciting energy to this movement which is rapidly gaining momentum.
This positive energy was very clearly present at the first conference of the Home Funeral Network in November 2016: Funerals To Die For – That Won’t Cost The Earth. Over 75 people joined us from all over the UK for a day of inspiring talks, personal stories, home funeral films and creative workshops. Our focus for the day was on connection, participation and choice for everyone, simply because death affects everyone.
Listening to everyone’s stories and talks we were reminded of what is truly possible. We all have everything we need within ourselves and our communities to reclaim the rite of passage of caring for our own dead. In a similar way to when a baby is born, we each hold the knowledge instinctively to care for them; when we move as a society towards bringing death care and funerals back home into normal family life, we will all reap the benefit. It is like finding the missing part of a jigsaw, which can add meaning, richness and depth to our lives, birth, death and all that lies between.