This week, Jaweed Kaleem writes about the resurgence of home funerals, a tradition with deep roots in American life.
Until the Civil War, he writes, home funerals were more common. Mortality rates were higher, hospitals and funeral homes were less prevalent, and for many rural Americans, death happened in the home. Family members placed unembalmed bodies in simple homemade caskets, without the supervision of coroners and medical examiners.
That changed, of course, but Kaleem writes about a growing longing among many Americans to return to the DIY approach. All but eight states have made it legal to care for family members after death. And a growing number of nonprofit funeral groups are making it easier for families to do so.
"In a society where seeing death and speaking of it is often taboo, home funeral advocates are challenging the notion that traditional funerals are anything but a natural end to life," Kaleem writes. "Instead, they assert, death and mourning should be seen, smelled, touched and experienced."
We meet Alison and Doug Kirk, a Nashville couple whose 9-year-old daughter Caroline died after years of suffering from Niemann-Pick, a terminal disease that damages the brain, lungs and nervous system. When Caroline died, her parents washed her skin and hair in the bathtub and dressed her in a white communion dress, and then placed her body in her bedroom, near her favorite stuffed animals and books. Friends and family came to visit, sitting in the bedroom's rocking chair, even stroking Caroline's hair and face. After three days, her parents lifted her body in to a simple pine box, and Caroline was buried in a bare country cemetery outside Nashville, in a ceremony with no formal religious overtones.
"We had taken care of Caroline her whole life," her mother said. "Why would we give her to someone else once she died?"
Elsewhere in the issue, Ryan Reilly checks in on one of President Obama's original campaign promises: to close the Guantanamo Bay naval base and detention center in Cuba. "In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantanamo, we have compromised our most precious values," Obama said in a 2007 speech.
Nearly six years after Obama pledged to close it, Guantanamo is still operating, with 166 people currently imprisoned and likely to remain there indefinitely. Meanwhile, the once-urgent need to close Guantanamo has diminished as stories of detainee abuse have faded, eclipsed by new concerns, like drones. As Reilly puts it, "The truth is that nobody is really in a hurry to close Guantanamo."
This piece appears in Issue 38 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, March 1.
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