Crossings: A New Vision of Death Care
By Elizabeth Knox
I am a mother of four children. Two are strapping, enormous young men in college. One is a step-daughter, in her last year of high school. One lives with the angels. She left suddenly twelve years ago at the age of seven. When the life support at the hospital was about to be removed, I was told that the hospital could only release her to a funeral home.
I had given birth to her. She had lived with me every day of her life. I had carefully chosen what she was exposed to, what she ate, where she went to school. I was required by law to care well for her. But now that her heart had stopped beating, I was being told that her care was no longer my concern.
As it turns out, the hospital was wrong. I had the legal right to care for my daughter, but I didn’t find that out until later. In the meantime, I found a funeral home that was willing to “pick her up” but then bring her directly to our home. (I later found out that I had the right to transport her in the van in which I had driven her to school each day. I was not required by law to call a funeral home at all.) I cared for her at home for three days, bathing her, watching her, taking in slowly the painful reality that she has passed from this life, and sharing my grief with her classmates and brothers and grandparents and our wonderful community of friends, before finally letting go of her body.
As a result of this experience, I have become what some call a death midwife, a home funeral guide, a funeral rights educator. I educate families and communities in their real choices in after-death care. I teach them how to care for the body. How to bathe and dress the departed, why it is a good idea to have them at home for three days, what to do about refrigeration, what the choices are in a final resting place and what is the impact of each choice, what are the particular laws in each state. I encourage the family to stay involved, to the extent that they are able - to touch, to hold, to be with the departed.
It is legal in 45 states in the U.S. to care for your own departed. In the other 5 states, you are still allowed by law to do much of the care yourself. Very few people know this. Our organization, Crossings, educates families and communities about these rights. Just as the home birth movement has brought the intimacy of birth back into the home, Crossings encourages and educates communities and families to take back and simplify death care – returning to its rightful place as a sacred last deed of love.