Perhaps you've heard of the traditional Irish wake – approximately three days where someone who has died is laid out at home, with family and friends stopping by to visit, pay their last respects, and raise a glass. Singing, dancing, eating, and celebrating the life of the deceased make an Irish wake not only a festive occasion but also create the space and time for family and friends to begin to accept the death. Those attending may also draw comfort from the sense that they are participating in their loved one’s transition from this world to the next. Although many wakes in Ireland are now held outside the home, the traditional home wake still holds appeal. If it interests you, have you considered a home funeral for yourself or a loved one?

With the rise in popularity and availability of eco-friendly burial options, how people view death is also evolving. More and more are drawn towards being more involved and hands-on after the death of a loved one, whether by spending time with the body or participating in the preparation and the funeral itself. There are many aspects to a home funeral, and you can choose how involved you wish to be in the various stages between death and final disposition; some elect to be involved from beginning to end, while others feel drawn to bathing and dressing the body, waking the person at home, or hand decorating the casket.

When someone dies, the steps between death and final disposition (cremation/burial, etc.) are:

  • Transportation from the place of death (if the person did not die at home)
  • Filing for a death certificate
  • Preparation of the body (this can take many different forms)
  • Wake and funeral service (optional)
  • Transportation to cemetery, crematorium, medical school (if the body will be donated to science), or other resting place.

If you think you’d like to hold a home funeral for a loved one, the first step is to determine what the regulations are in your state regarding transportation, embalming or refrigeration (some states require refrigeration after a specific time), and filing for the death certificate. Some states mandate the involvement of a funeral director in one or more of these steps. In fact, many people who hold home funerals work with funeral directors throughout since most find the process of preparing the body and waking it in the home the most meaningful parts of a home funeral, but appreciate the support of a funeral director experienced in death certificate filings, transportation regulations, and other aspects of death care. Although hiring a home funeral guide is also possible, it is important to know that they are not licensed or regulated like funeral directors and cannot replace a funeral director for steps your state requires a funeral director to handle.


If you choose to transport the body yourself (and it is allowed in your state), you will likely have to fill out and file a burial transit permit. Keep in mind that even if your state allows you to transport the body yourself, it is still relatively rare for families to do so. Facilities you are picking up from may not be aware of this right, and if you happen to be stopped by the police for some reason, they may also be unfamiliar with your state’s regulations. Therefore, if you decide to handle transportation yourself, it is highly recommended that you print out and keep your state regulations and any permits with you as you pick up and transport the body.


Once the body is home, there are several steps to prepare for the viewing. The body must be washed, cleaned, and dressed. Cooling will likely be needed, although this does not necessarily mean refrigeration; cooling with ice or dry ice is permitted in most states. A common question is whether an organ donor can have a home funeral, and the answer is yes - the person is simply brought home after any organs have been procured. Due to the incisions, however, the body may require slightly different care; the same may be true if an autopsy is performed. Your funeral director can advise you on all the steps to preparing the body, and you can also read an overview on the National Home Funeral Alliance’s website. Many will plan to keep the body at home for 2-3 days, followed by a memorial or funeral service.

Personalizing the Casket

Many feel drawn towards either building their loved one's casket or personalizing a cardboard or plain wooden one. This can be a wonderful participatory activity that can help to provide some closure, as can sewing a special shroud if the person is buried in a green burial ground that does not require a casket.

Death Certificate

If you are working with a funeral director, they can file for the death certificate electronically and procure it quickly for you. If you choose to get the death certificate yourself (and your state allows it), you will need to speak with your local county clerk's office. The death certificate will be required for transportation and burial purposes, and you should purchase multiple copies as you will need to provide them to financial institutions, life insurance companies, etc.


If your loved one will be buried in a green burial ground, it may be possible for you to help dig the grave if you wish to, and some crematoriums will allow you to assist or witness the cremation. Home burial is also possible in some states; again, consult your state's regulations to find out more.

Spending time with your loved one after they have died may help you to accept and begin adjusting to the loss, and caring directly for their body may be very meaningful. Although not for everyone, home funerals are growing in popularity and will likely become more common in the future as our attitudes toward death and dying continue to evolve. Many resources are available to help you find more information; speaking with your local funeral director or county clerk's office is an excellent place to start. With good support, you can craft the home funeral experience that will be most meaningful for you and your family.