Nine months ago, I received an email that will no doubt change the lives of many. It was from a bereaved mother, telling the story of her beautiful 4 1/2 year old son Max, and how authorities who didn’t know the law thwarted the release of his body to his parents after the investigation was complete. She wanted to spare other families the pain they suffered, being denied the chance to care for Max after his death.
At the time Max’s mom Keelia most needed it, there was no easy place to find information on her family’s right to take custody of Max and bury him at home on their ranch. Nothing to hand the misinformed authorities who insisted otherwise.
Now there is: Oregon Funeral Resources & Education, a non-commercial public interest site dedicated to helping Oregon consumers care for their own dead with or without the assistance of a funeral director. The site is being lauded by medical and funeral industry professionals as a much-needed resource for both families and professionals.
“I applaud you for producing this website; you have done an admirable job. This will be a good resource for families as well as investigators.”Dr. Sean Hurst, Acting Chief Medical Examiner
Packed with Info for Families & Professionals
The website is for anyone wishing to avoid unnecessary expenditures for funeral products and services they don’t want or need, or wanting to explore the continuum of hands-on death care options, including home funerals, home burial, and green burial. In addition to detailing death care law in Oregon, OregonFuneral.org walks readers through the practical “How Tos” of whichever aspects of after-death care they want to handle, and provides guidance in how consumers can get what they want from professionals they hire or authorities they encounter when a death occurs. The site provides quick links to get assistance, a glossary of terms, and informative stories of how others have cared for their dead. Because so many helping professionals are unfamiliar with family- and community-directed care for the dead, the site includes concise but detailed, professionally-specific in-service training materials along with resources for use in community education.
Oregon’s Acting Chief Medical Examiner has already updated the training provided to investigators based on the information Keelia and our site development team provided him. Dr. Hurst told Keelia, “We will continue to present this topic in our yearly death investigator course to hopefully minimize the chances of future miscommunication about families’ rights.”
The Stories That Are Our Teachers
Along with Max’ story, written by his mother Keelia, the site debuts with a portfolio of eight other Oregonians whose actual or anticipated deaths serve as teachers. Karen served as funeral director for her father, who was buried at White Eagle Memorial Preserve in a casket built by a friend. David died far from home but was honored with a home funeral in an Airbnb and a place of remembrance in his widow’s new house. Justin and Lina’s midwives and community carried them through the home burial of their newborn daughter Vera Luna. Marcy’s community organized her home funeral and green burial, with some tasks handled by a funeral home. Mark’s family challenged pioneer cemetery rules to bury him in a sheet for a shroud with a ’62 Suburban for a hearse. Jamie was buried at home on her rural property with the help of a supportive local mortician. Bill’s friends came together in a ceremony of farewell before his death and a candlelight walk the night after. Kim, 34 at the time, dealt with her lung cancer diagnosis by convening her friends to talk about her death and touring a cremation facility.
How You Can Spread the Word
We’ve created some easy tools for you to share this information with others:
- Print our one-page flier or quarter-page home funeral facts card.
- Download and distribute our For Professionals one-page training and policy guide documents.
- Share the link to www.OregonFuneral.org via social media and on your website.
- Include www.OregonFuneral.org alongside local funeral home listings provided by hospice, hospitals and care facilities.
- Use our Contact form to request an in-service professional training or community education presentation.
The Dream Team Behind the Site
Keelia’s email arrived just as I was digging into my sabbatical project, supported by Jodie Buller at White Eagle Memorial Preserve. In the four years since co-producing a 500-person daylong “Let’s Talk About Death” conference together, Jodie and I became determined to create something focused on the specifics of state law and the practicalities of deathcare that have remained obscure despite death as a topic becoming mainstream, even hip. I recruited Judith Moman, a lawyer I admired, to help with legal research.
As soon as I heard from Keelia, I realized how much was at stake. Her determination that other families not suffer the ignorance of the law opened the door for substantive policy change. We turned to the longtime national expert in this field, Lee Webster. As Past President of the National Home Funeral Alliance and current President of Green Burial Council International, Lee has literally written the book on this topic (Restoring Families’ Right to Choose: What to Do When Home Funeral Rights Are Challenged, among other publications). What’s more, she had already created a website that did just what we intended to create for Oregon and Washington.
It was like the universe was rolling out a red carpet for this project. Lee agreed to serve as website designer and content contributor, modeling it on the New Hampshire Funeral Resources & Education website concept she developed. We secured the gift of stunning landscape photography for exclusive use on the site from renowned photographer Joni Kabana. And my dear friend and funeral industry mentor David Noble, recently retired from five decades of service to Oregon families as a funeral director, cemetery owner/ operator, and Oregon Mortuary & Cemetery Board member, provided content review.
As we prepare to share the site with Oregon families and professionals – and then to replicate it with interested partners in other states – I am deeply grateful for the support of my work provided by a generous donor-advised grant from Nancy Wernecke, in memory of her parents, sister, niece and nephew, through The Oregon Community Foundation.
For me this project is something of a full circle back to the advocacy I did 30 years ago alongside sexual abuse survivors like myself and battered women who used the power of their personal stories to raise awareness and press for critically-needed changes in the law and policies and practices. I am honored to stand with Keelia and the Oregon Funeral Resources & Education team now, as we dedicate this new site in memory of Max.