Friday, July 8, 2011

A Family Undertaking

My next post will be about our second day with Elizabeth, but I wanted to throw this one in before that so that everyone could understand our wishes a little better.

Late one evening several years ago while flipping through the channels, I came across a documentary on PBS called, " A Family Undertaking". I love documentaries. As a matter of fact, they have become my favorite movie genre. So, I settled in to watch this one that had immediately caught my attention. It was about home funerals. This was definitely something I had never thought about before. I mean I'm all about the home. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a homebody. Homeschool, homebirth ( God willing someday), but home funeral? Do people really still do that today? Apparently so.

Did you know that they didn't even embalm people in this country until the Civil War? They started the practice so that soldiers could be shipped back home to their families for funerals and burial on the family's property. Anyway, I learned so much from this documentary that I began to do a little more research on the subject.  I won't go into all of it here, but I would encourage everyone to check it out for yourselves. Even if you're not interested in it for yourself or for your loved ones, it's still a very interesting subject. You can rent the documentary on Netflix. There's also a great book called "Caring for the Dead" by Lisa Carlson. If nothing else, it's good to be informed about some of the sneaky practices of dishonest funeral directors. Not that they are all bad. My husband comes from a family in the business. His grandfather, grandmother, uncle, cousin. They are all honest people. And one very special man we recently met that I will talk more about in the next post.

So, after my research back then, I told Jodie that my personal wishes when I die is to not be embalmed. I also don't want an expensive casket. I would prefer a simple home funeral if he thinks he could handle it. Then I talked to my dad about starting a family cemetery on his farm. He thought it was a great idea, but we never got around to filing the necessary paperwork with the city. Until, Elizabeth that is. As soon as we got the diagnosis I knew. I knew that I needed to get that ball rolling.

Constantly I thought about what it would be like to hand her body over to the hospital morgue, or to a funeral director. It became my worst fear. Though it sounds crazy, the thought of that hurt worse than the thought of her actual death. I knew that it would be hard to see her die, but I wasn't scared of it. I knew that she was entering a better place. But the thought of handing her over took my breath away. God gave me the awesome privilege of being her mother. A mother is expected to take care of her baby's' every need. So why does it seem like the right thing to hand her over to a stranger once she dies? And the thought of having her tiny body embalmed. No. She would stay with me until her body was put into the ground.

So I read everything I could get my hands on. I learned the proper way to care for her body. Got the permits we needed for the cemetery. Ordered a beautiful wood casket. And most importantly, checked into all of the laws for our state concerning a home funeral and burial. Indeed it is lawful to care for and bury your own dead in Kentucky. It is not the law that a body must be embalmed in our state unless the person has a communicable disease.

I let our doctor know our wishes. I told him we would be taking Elizabeth home with us from the hospital and he assured me that he would contact the hospital chaplain that very day so that if there were any problems with that they could have it all worked out in advance to our arrival. Needless to say, that was one of the many broken promises from our doctor. We did encounter problems. I will explain more in the next post.

I can tell you now from experience that there was never a "weird" moment while taking care of our baby after her death. It was very healing and brought us a lot of closure that I'm not sure we would have had otherwise. It was easier to let go. When a person is embalmed and "made-up" they can still appear to have life in them. But, seeing Lizzy in her natural state confirmed for us that she was really gone. She couldn't stay with us.

Elizabeth would've been 8 weeks old today. I have yet to get through one day without crying, but the tears don't flow quite as heavy as they did a few weeks ago. I miss her so much. Can't wait to see her again.....full of life!


  1. I know you hear this all the time, but I'm going to say it again.

    You are amazing.

  2. What a special idea and experience. I'm glad you followed your heart and were able to do this. I'm not sure it would have been right for our family and we were thankfully blessed with a loving, grandparent-like funeral home couple to care for our daughter. I look forward to reading more. HUGS on this 8 week anniversary.

  3. Tabitha you are SO full of knowledge! Thank you for sharing Elizabeth with us & also for sharing your wealth of knowledge about things that most of us have no idea about. Prayers for you & your family continue.