Tyrades! Home Is Where The Hearse Is

Friday, July 31, 2009

I just couldn't pass up the New York Times headline: "Home Burials Offer An Intimate Alternative."

Yes, more and more Americans are choosing to save money and create a different atmosphere by cutting professional undertakers out of the picture. Yes, in 44 states (including Tennessee), loved ones can be responsible for the body themselves without the involvement of funeral directors. The states don't publicize this more because tourism focus groups were a tad unimpressed with state slogans such as "Virginia Is For Embalmers" and "The Buried Under The Peach Tree State."

I know the concept is not without historical precedent. My own uncle lay in state at home in 1947 before being moved to the church for the funeral ceremony. I just think if you really want to get nostalgic and cut costs, you should go all the way, hire a horse-drawn wagon, and go with the Black Death model. ("Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!")

There are legitimate reasons that most people "outsource" the funeral process. Do we really want kinfolks having a tug-of-war over preparing the body? ("He liked me best." "No, he liked me best." "Me." "Me!!" "Uh, Ma, what's the rule about the wishbone again?")

Some folks host just the immediate family, while others have a full visitation, with friends and acquaintances traipsing in and out of the house. I think this would be off-putting for a lot of fair weather friends. It's scary to gush, "Let me know if there's ever anything I can do," when there's the distinct danger of being handed a plumber's helper and told, "Knock yourself out."

I really don't see what's so comforting about a corpse lying in a home that once rang with laughter but now rings with "Don't he look natural?" and "Had he been hit on the head by a falling safe for long?" And I really don't see what's dignified about being displayed at home, surrounded by all the odd jobs you "meant to get around to" and never did. Odd jobs like, I don't know, giving the cat hairball medicine before he throws up on your burial suit!

And what's dignified about bands of unemployed undertakers roaming the countryside looking for a new profession? What kind of jobs are they suited for -- professional golfer? ("Whoa, I'm used to hitting a bigger hole than that!")

A growing number of individuals now work as coaches or "death midwives." Most of these midwives have wrestled with the "emotional disconnect" of the traditional funeral process and truly want to help others. But, because of a few bad apples, states are looking into licensing the heretofore unregulated business. ("First, put the body on dry ice. Then tie the jaw shut so it doesn't open. Then help me lug all the deceased's firearms, jewelry, and untraceable currency out to my van so the aura of the house is right for the ceremony...")

Even if you don't go the whole home funeral route, lots of people are making or buying inexpensive coffins ahead of time. Some of these caskets double as bookcases, entertainment centers, or coffee tables until they're needed for the deceased. I think this practice will interfere with the idea of resting peacefully forever underneath familiar soil. ("Uh oh... I think I figured out where I left the TV remote. Grab a shovel, Junior!")

Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at tyreetyrades@aol.com.