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Planning a DIY Funeral or Memorial Service

Harbor Caskets - Planning a DIY Funeral or Memorial Service - A funeral or memorial service at a funeral home location isn’t the only option. Families have started to opt for a service of their own design. These funerals and memorial services are commonly known as “Do-It-Yourself,” or DIY. Harbor Caskets offers a guide on how to DIY a funeral or memorial service.
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Having a funeral or memorial service at a funeral home location isn’t a family’s only option. While funeral homes offer many different services to assist a family during the early stages of losing a loved one, these services can be expensive and standardized, meaning that there are few opportunities to express one’s true preferences or add personal touches.

In recent years, more and more families have opted for simple, less expensive funerals at a more intimate location – such as a residence or a place cherished by the departed – and in a ceremony of their own design, rather than the conventional service delivered by most funeral homes. These funerals and memorial services are commonly known as “Do-It-Yourself,” or DIY.

Putting together a DIY funeral offers many benefits; however, a person and their family should know exactly what goes into planning a such a service before choosing to eliminate a funeral home from their plans.

In this guide, we will discuss:

  • Selecting a location for the farewell process
  • Planning the funeral ceremony at home
  • Planning the burial or cremation
  • Benefits of a DIY funeral
  • Additional helpful resources

Selecting a location for the farewell process

  • Home: Most people find it easiest to have a DIY funeral or memorial service at a residential location – it is an inexpensive choice that also has the benefit of being intimate and relatively comfortable.
  • Outside the home: Planning a DIY farewell service outside a residential location also has its share of benefits. To ensure the process is as stress free as possible, we recommend doing the following:
    • Contact the establishment well in advance:No matter where you choose to have the farewell service, it’s essential to contact the organization or entity that owns the space. The space owner will tell you whether they permit funeral services in their establishment, or on their land, and provide information regarding use of the space. Common guidelines include how many people are allowed in/on the property, how to navigate parking, and requirements for vendors. The organization will almost certainly require the signing of a contract, which guarantees the rights and responsibilities of all parties.
    • Arrange for transportation: First, find out your state’s laws concerning body transportation. The simplest way to begin is by doing an internet search for “body transportation services in (your state).” If it’s legal to transport a body on your own in your state, make certain have access to a vehicle (such as a truck or SUV) that can accommodate a human body and the container holding it.  Another option is to ask local funeral homes about their transportation policies and if they offer any transportation services that accommodate your specific needs. 

Planning the funeral ceremony at home

  • Caring for a body: For information on how to care for a body at home, click here
  • Funeral vendors and other DIY funeral professionals: In order to successfully plan a DIY funeral or memorial service, there will be several items and services which will need to be planned in advance. The items and services which we recommend are:
  • Caskets and urns: Although many caskets, coffins, and urns are traditionally purchased through a funeral home, people are increasingly starting to choose the option of purchasing a container for their departed loved one online. Harbor Caskets carries high-quality, handcrafted, American-made caskets that are built with locally-sourced materials and offered at low prices. Harbor Caskets also has the resources to custom build a casket or coffin to your specifications. To read more about why you should by a casket or coffin online, click here.
    • If you would like to understand more about how to choose the right casket or coffin for your loved one, click here
    • If you would like to explore Harbor Caskets’ top choices for caskets and coffins, click here
    • While Harbor Caskets does not currently sell urns, we do offer caskets and coffins suitable for cremation. For more information, click here
  • Crematoriums: If a person chooses to have their body cremated after a DIY funeral (or before a DIY memorial), make sure to find a crematorium willing to plan directly with the family. In terms of legality, most states allow for a body to stay at home until transported for cremation, so it is not uncommon for a family to directly make service arrangements with independent cremation providers as to eliminate the use of a third party, such as a funeral home or funeral director.
  • Flower vendors: Contact local flower shops to ensure you can obtain the variety of flowers you want, when you want. To save money, consider harvesting local flowers, plants, and branches yourself.  Many establishments also rent silk flower arrangements for a small fee.
  • Fresh Flowers: When it comes to purchasing flowers for an end of life celebration, make sure to shop around for the most economical provider. These providers tend not to be a florist shop, but an online retailer or grocery store. If possible, floral arrangements can be less expensive if you order them well in advance, choose in-season blooms, and opt for an arrangement of just a few boldly-colored flowers against many leafy fronds. 
  • Silk flowers: Silk flowers are typically made using a polyester silk blend. These flowers are hypoallergenic, do not wilt in the sun, are available all year-round, and last longer than fresh flowers. Silk flower arrangements are a great way to save money.  There are many services nationwide that offer silk arrangements for a much lower fee than a fresh flower display.
  • DIY funeral help: There are many people who assist in DIY funeral and memorial services professionally. Here are just a few:
    • DIY funeral directors: Some funeral directors are open to helping people plan and execute home funerals. For more information on where to find and contact a licensed home funeral director, visit the Home Funeral Alliance directory and search for a home funeral director. Don’t forget to specify your location to make your search easier! To begin your search, click here
    • Home funeral professionals: There is a growing community of professionals who are not licensed funeral directors but are able assist families and friends plan, execute, and officiate a DIY funeral or memorial service. These specialists are typically called “end-of-life doulas,” or “death doulas.” Many are also referred to as “death midwives,” or “home funeral guides.”
    • For more information on what an end-of-life doula is and does, click here
    • For more information on where to find and contact a doula, visit the Home Funeral Alliance directory and search for an end-of-life doula. Don’t forget to specify your location to make your search easier! To begin your search, click here
    • For more information on where to find and contact a guide, visit the Home Funeral Alliance directory and search for a home funeral guide. Don’t forget to specify your location to make your search easier! To begin your search, click here
  • Religious officials: Some religious officials may be open to officiating a DIY funeral. If this is a suitable and appropriate option, contact your official and ask if he/she is willing to participate in the service.
  • Family-run funerals: Funerals can be officiated by anyone – consider a nonprofessional such as a friend, a member of your family, or even you! DIY funerals are often headed by a handful of friends and family members who recite poems, perform music, and share beloved memories of the loved who passed. Taking on this role, and encouraging friends and family members to help, can also assist you in reducing costs and more deeply connecting you to the ceremony, which can be therapeutic – bringing you a sense of peace and closure.

Planning the burial or cremation

  • Cremation or cemetery burials: There are usually a great number of cremation and burial services available both through, and independent from, the use of a funeral home. How to move a body to a cemetery or crematorium will depend on the services you feel most comfortable with, what local services are available to you, and what legal options are available in your state. In terms of choosing a cemetery for your loved one, Harbor Caskets provides a guide for how to choose the right cemetery. For more information, click here

Also, if you are arranging the burial on your own, make certain you know if you will be opting for a natural burial or if your loved one’s body will be professionally embalmed before burial. This decision usually comes down to the requests made by your loved one before passing however, this is not always the case. To assist you in making an informed decision, Harbor Caskets provides a detailed explanation of embalming vs natural burial. For more information, click here.

  • Home burial: At-home burials are not the most common choice for burial location, but they certainly are an option in some states. Before making at home burial arrangements, be sure to fully understand your state’s burial laws. For more information on at home burial laws, click here

If you have decided to opt for a legal, at home burial, consider the equipment and machinery required to create an appropriate burial site.  Burial plots are large and quite deep, and it is important that they meet all practical and legal requirements. For a firsthand, detailed account of how one family DIYed their mother’s grave, click here.

  • Grave markers: If you’re arranging your love one’s burial, remember that you’ll also have to purchase their gravestone, or other type of burial site marker. Harbor Caskets provides a guide which provides readers with a few tips concerning how to buy a grave marker, and what to look for when buying a grave marker. For more information, click here

Benefits of a DIY funeral

  • Cost savings: Most DIY funerals are less expensive than traditional, full-service funerals and memorials that take place in a funeral home. People can typically save money by performing many post-death duties on their own, rather than delegating every task to a hired third-party.
  • Customizing the location, timing, ceremonies, and vendors: DIY funerals and memorials allow those closest to the departed to be a part of and plan every part of the service, as well as shop around for their own, individually picked vendors. Often people even choose to include others by assigning certain tasks to willing friends and family, rather than hire a vendor or multiple vendors to fill those roles.
  • More control: When you DIY a funeral or memorial service, you have more control over what you pay for, who you hire, and other aspects of the funeral (decorations, timing, caskets/urns, etc.) rather than allowing a funeral home (or other institution) make, or limit, those decisions for you.
  • Saying goodbye on your time: If a person chooses to have their body remain in their home after their death, family and friends typically can spend hours to days with their loved one – depending on their state’s body laws. This includes intimate opportunities to:
    • Care for the body: Caring for a body at home can be a cathartic experience which brings closure to many who have chosen this option. For more information on how to care for a loved one’s body after passing at home, click here
    • Sit with the body: Having a DIY funeral typically allows friends and family a chance to give their loved one a meaningful goodbye without time constrictions, interruptions, or excessive fees. Family and friends can sit bedside, discussing memories they have of their passed loved one, or adorn the body with family heirlooms.

If after reading this informational guide, you feel that planning a DIY funeral isn’t the right choice for you, Harbor Caskets offers additional guidance on how to plan a service with the assistance of a funeral home or other established institute which professionally handles farewell services. For more information, click here.

Thank you for reading our guide. If you are planning a funeral, please let us know and we would be honored to help.

Additional helpful resources

For more information on planning an at home funeral or memorial service, click here

For more information on your state’s requirements for an at home funeral or memorial service, click here.