Death is a reality of life. Though it may be difficult to talk or even think about at times, it is what awaits us all. The inevitability of death counsels us to prepare for the time to come, for the day our physical bodies leave, or are left by, our loved ones. This means planning not only for how you will be remembered, but where you want to rest.
The idea of being buried at home or in a family graveyard can provide enormous peace both to the one preparing their final arrangement and for the family members who will remain to honor and take comfort in their memory.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to create a family cemetery or even to continue to utilize one that already exists. Though home burial was once the norm throughout North America and Europe, today the practice is highly regulated and even prohibited in many areas.
Your Guide to a Home Burial
Why Home Burial?
For centuries, it was common practice to lay loved ones to rest on the family property. This was often less a matter of choice than of necessity, as many households had neither access to a public burial site (because none existed) nor the ability to purchase a burial plot.
However, because many families lived in rural areas on large swaths of farmland, it was both convenient and comforting to dedicate a portion of the property to home burial.
These family cemeteries were usually tended by members of the household across the generations, providing a sense of both history and continuity. Family members had peace of knowing that they would lie among their loved ones, both those who had gone before and those who would come after. At the same time, the bereaved could take solace in keeping their loved ones close by always. The cycle of life, death, and renewal would play out across the decades and centuries on the family property.
In the modern era, though, burial practices have changed significantly, even in rural areas. A host of burial and cremation laws have been put into place to protect the environment, guard against potential disease, and ensure the safe and orderly disposition of human remains.
Nevertheless, interest in a return to traditional home burial practices persists and, indeed, seems to be growing. This is motivated principally by the desire to rest alongside loved ones and on land that is likely to have belonged to the family for generations. Home burial, in other words, helps to ensure that the link between home and family is never broken, even in death.
As appealing as home burial can be for many families, it is not always practical or feasible. For instance, private burials are now forbidden under federal, state, and/or local law in some areas. Even in areas where home interment is allowed, the process is likely to be subject to an array of restrictions and regulations.
For example, in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Illinois, Alabama, Iowa, and Nebraska, home burials are only allowed if there is a funeral director involved. Washington, Indiana, and California have banned home burials outright, though establishing a family cemetery is one possible way around these these state laws. All other states allow home burials to some degree. To figure out what home funeral laws you must abide by in your state, Nolo has a handy resource for just that.
Establishing a Family Cemetery
Another significant obstacle to home burial is simply the reality that we are an increasingly mobile society. Family properties that pass down from one generation to the next are increasingly rare. Most of us do not remain in our ancestral homes and few of us die in the cities and towns we were born in.
That does not necessarily mean, however, that you have to abandon the idea of being buried on your own property. If you hope someday to establish a new homestead with a family cemetery that will be passed down to your children and your children’s children, you can certainly make it happen.
The key, however, is to do your research before you settle anywhere. When you are deciding the best place to live and start a legacy, the first order of business is to research state and local laws regarding private burials and home cemeteries in the town you are considering making your own.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to remain close to home. Sometimes, life takes you, both literally and figuratively, where you never expected to go. And even though these changes are often positive and exciting, that does not mean that they aren’t also difficult.
So, if you are preparing to relocate, it’s a good idea to take time and care to attend to your emotional needs as you make the transition. This should include, at the very least, spending time saying goodbye to your current neighborhood and, in particular, your family cemetery before you depart.
This can give your heart, mind, and spirit the opportunity to be reconciled to the reality of leaving the physical space behind, even as you carry your loved ones’ memory and spirit with you into your new life and home.
Home Burial: The Takeaway
Home burial can be a beautiful way to enter into your final rest while maintaining your physical connection with your home and loved ones. Before you decide on a private interment for yourself or someone you love, however, it’s critical to understand current burial and cremation laws in your area.
By ensuring that your family remains in compliance with relevant statutes, your family cemetery can, indeed, continue a precious tradition that endures for generations to come.