Can the Dead Hitch A Ride With You?
The Fear of Body Transport and Care for the Dead Runs Deep
I work with Vermont families regularly to assist them with the maze-work of Family Directed Funerals. It is SO far from rocket science but when there is a human obstacle with a “professional” title every step of the way it feels like what you’re trying to embark upon is totally illegal.
As a funeral celebrant, home funeral guide, death doula, nurse assistant I’d don’t have anything glamorous beyond six years experience helping families. But I also have a hefty community deathcare determination along with almost 40 years of living in small rural towns — enough to know that getting the home funeral work done takes finesse, persistence, patience, resourcefulness and a deep knowing for when to bite your tongue.
I speak with families about green burial, home burial, cremation and other disposition options in and sometimes out of the state. We talk about how to do transport from various locations, shrouding, lowering, dressing, cooling. I talk with town clerks, doctors, hospice staff, hospital staff, police, medical examiners, sextons. I do not talk with funeral directors unless absolutely necessary. There is no need because they often times are the most clueless of them all and provide zero help- even worse, they provide inaccurate information to others and set my work back ten paces.
I talk with these professionals sometimes for long periods of time and walk them through statutes, definitions, paperwork and websites. I put them in touch with others in their field who can attest that what they are embarking upon is different than throwing a random corpse into a van and tossing it out at an unmarked location. Sorry for the graphic imagery, but sometimes this is really what it feels like some folks think I am proposing.
In Vermont (and a great many other places) we are so far from caring for our own dead as something normal, (never mind beautiful) that sometimes these professionals do not want to assist the family. Really, they go to extremes to ignore phone calls, say they don’t know what the family is talking about or refuse to release the body to the family. The family is given the run around and sent to court houses, funeral homes, police, the State… they are told they are wrong and what they are asking is not possible. It sometimes seems they’ll do anything except look up the laws within the state surrounding Family Directed Funerals, transport or home burials.
Not everyone has time to look these things up, I understand. Sometimes doing the search for “do you need a funeral director in Vermont” or “Family Directed Funeral Vermont” or “can I transport a dead body in Vermont” is too much. It can be too much because the results show up as plentiful and perfectly legal, which means you then have to read it and learn how to go about the process. I get it. That’s why I speak directly to these professionals so I can give them the short cut version. Sometimes they listen and learn and implement. Sometimes they end up giving the family so much grief — at a time when the family is already experiencing unfathomable grief — that the family gives up. Giving up looks like calling the local funeral home that will “take care of everything.” And they will, gladly. For a minimum of $3500 or $10,000 or whatever it happens to be.
What I offer people is free. I am not a funeral director. I work for my community, which happens to be the entire state of Vermont. What I offer to people is empowerment so the next time a death occurs in their family or in their community, they can help. Deathcare empowerment is community work and it includes talking with the town clerk, again, because they didn’t follow through with helping the family the first time they were asked. It involves talking to a medical doctor who is wondering why they are on the phone with some random woman who has no license to do what she does. It’s an effort of the slow and humbling kind. The kind where street cred is earned and respected instead of just initials after your last name — if you live in a small community, you know what I mean.
Here’s the short of it all: to complete a Family Directed Funeral in Vermont you must be next-of-kin caring for your loved one. YOU may act as a funeral director for your own loved one and you can transport them yourself. Yep, in the back of a car, van, truck, hay wagon — however you and your family do. You will need the assistance of the doctor to make it go swiftly and the town clerk to make it happen — at the minimum. It can run very smoothly when this work is done in advance or, happen not at all if it is attempted at the last minute.
Find a family in your community who has buried a loved one on their property or transported their loved one to a cemetery and ask them how it was done. It can actually be a beautiful way to connect and they might be very happy to share! You’ll never know unless you ask. Humble-pie is a dish regularly served when talking about deathcare.
When it’s your time, if you wish to care for your own dead, I hope that you are met with kindness and individuals who are willing to help- even if it’s a little inconvenient and slows their daily work. Death should slow daily work.