2009 Annual Meeting

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Funerals but Didn’t Know Whom to Ask,” was the title of the program at our Fall 2009 Annual Meeting.   Carol N. Coan wrote this summary:

Report on the 50th annual meeting 

Sunday, October 25, 2009, 2:00 p.m. at Rockridge Retirement Community, 25 Coles Meadow Road, Northampton, Mass.

Annual Meeting Succeeds—FCAWM to Continue; Home Funerals Lauded

    Vice President Doug Barnshaw opened the meeting shortly after 2 pm.  Trustee Carol Coan gave an abbreviated history of the first 50 years of the FCA of Western Massachusetts.  She pointed out that, although the specific needs have changed—for example, it’s a fairly simple matter now to arrange for cremation, unlike 50 years ago—the need for unbiased information on end-of-life options continues today.  

    Carol introduced our panel on home funerals.  Erica Gees, Dorian Gregory and Celia Riahi each spoke of her experiences with caring for a dying loved one at home.  Erica said, “After death, the pain of dying falls away.  After he died, the person my father was came back, he came out.  He looked more beautiful every day.”  Each also spoke of difficulties with the conventional funeral process.  Dorian noted that death has become “an opportunity for someone to make a profit; they take away the process and sell it back to us.”  Celia told us, with some humor, that there were many deaths in her family when she was young, and each time “the bodies just disappeared.  I spent years in therapy because of that.”  

    While each panelist’s story was distinct, there were also common themes:  wondering a little whether it was permissible to care for her loved one’s body at home, yet knowing it was exactly right; feeling responsible to do things for her personally rather than hand the body off to strangers; finding healing in the process of caring for her before and after death, in knowing how the body was cared for, and in the grieving.  The stimulating discussion afterward made clear that caring for a recently deceased loved one at home can be a moving and empowering experience, and that knowing it is an option is vital.

    A short business meeting followed.  Vice President Doug Barnshaw announced that, during the special meeting immediately preceding this gathering, there was strong interest in keeping our organization going, and two people volunteered to serve on the Board.  Those two, Sandy Ward and Ted Ennis, were elected by the members to serve three-year terms (2009-2012).  Continuing trustees are Will Thayer (to 2010), Don Bourcier (to 2010), and Ceil Lewonchuk (to 2011).  The meeting adjourned at approximately 4:15 pm.

Erica Gees, Dorian Gregory and Celia Riahi are members of “Return to the Circle,” which they recently founded to “bring death back into the circle of life.”  

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Exerpt from the President's Report, by Sandy Ward, in the newsletter the following spring:

The Fall 2009 Annual Meeting, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Funerals but Didn’t Know Whom to Ask,” was well attended and sparked a lively discussion. (See Carol Coan's report.)  We all learned much from the three panelists as they shared experiences with home funerals: body preparation,  involvement of sometimes-skeptical family members, and their reflections on the results. Each woman had to overcome some barriers and solve problems on her own.  None of them had previously known of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.  There's a lesson here; we should be more proactive in getting the word out about the useful information we can provide. For instance, straightforward answers about whether embalming is required (no, it is not) would be helpful and reassuring to people considering the home funeral option.