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Personalizing funeral services – Metro US

Personalizing funeral services

When Shelley Sherriff’s father died back in the 1980s, she and her siblings were by his side in his hospital room. After he had passed, they found they didn’t want to leave him. They stayed in the room all day, until finally the hospital asked them to go home.

“I wondered if there was another way,” Sherriff, now 56, asked herself back then. Sherriff spent many of the last few years caring for her aging mother, who was in her 90s when she died. Again, the process after the death felt impersonal.

So, the website designer, who lives in both Victoria and Salt Spring Island, started doing some research.

She discovered a so-called death midwife named Jerrigrace Lyons in California who both offered and taught others about offering at-home funeral services that could be both personalized and were environmentally friendly.

Over the last year, Sherriff visited Lyons and took three of her training courses. Although it’s not recognized by any official body, Sherriff was certified as a death midwife through Lyon’s company Final Passages.

Now, Sherriff is hard at work setting up Walking You Home. When someone dies, the family can call her instead of a funeral home. She’ll arrive and will help the family bathe and dress the body, which Sherriff says is often a very caring and meaningful experience. She can also provide a casket:

Either one made of cardboard, or local pine that will biodegrade. (Many caskets are made from lacquered exotic hardwood with have metal parts on them and won’t break down.) If they wish, the family can decorate the casket. “It’s a great opportunity for people to process their grief in a creative way,” she says.

Using dry ice to preserve the body — formaldehyde is very expensive and it is said to cause cancer in funeral home staff and is not healthy for the environment once the body’s in the ground — Sherriff can leave the body in her client’s home for as long as three days. Then, the family can have a traditional funeral, or a ceremony of their own creation, all run by Sherriff.

All the while, Sherriff helps the family fill out paperwork and can arrange for the final burial or cremation.

While she’s not yet open for business, Sherriff has been talking to people in her community and they’ve shown a lot of interest in her services, which are cheaper, more personal and greener than the customary approach to death today.

She plans to keep up her website work, but her long-term goal will be to guide people through death full time. “This is where my real heart and passion are.”

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