Radio documentaries and home funerals
Producing radio documentaries has given Molly Bennett ’11 the opportunity to ask interesting strangers personal questions since she began making them her sophomore year on the Hill. Now nearing the end of her time at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, Bennett is putting the finishing touches on a final project that introduced her into an intimate yet rapidly expanding world: home funerals.
A home funeral is a back-to-basics approach to caring for loved ones who have passed away, in which the family takes the place of a funeral parlor and performs such tasks as planning and conducting the ceremonies, preparing the body and digging the final resting place.
In her two-part documentary series, Bennett explores this interesting practice in the context of what is going on the funeral world today, speaking to Mainers that have conducted home funerals in the past.
“I came across the idea [when] interviewing a coffin builder in Waterville who told me about the movement and other robust communities in the funeral world,” Bennett said. After sitting in on meetings with such groups as the Funeral Consumers Alliance and hearing frank lectures on the best ways to prevent a body from rotting in your home, Bennett began to piece together a holistic picture of the world and the norms that home funerals avoid.
“People are interested in finding out what rights and options they have when somebody dies these days,” Bennett said, “and they’re finding out that there’s more out there than funeral homes.”
In this harsh economic climate, Bennett explains, the high cost of traditional funeral parlor services has caused cremation rates to rise. But while the lower cost of home funeral ceremonies is a contributing factor to their increasing popularity, the main reason people elect to have home funerals is a desire for intimacy.
In one interview with Bennett, an individual emotionally compared the process of washing his mother’s body to that of washing a baby. “People think of it as midwifeing death—as a counterpart to the home birth movement,” Bennett said.
Conducting funeral affairs in such a personal way effectively brings people closer to death in the hopes of making people more comfortable with mortality. “People are very willing to talk about home funerals because they have [had] a lot of positive experiences with them,” Bennett said.
Bennett hopes to continue producing radio documentaries after she graduates from Salt at the end of this semester. She hopes to freelance her way around, talking to strangers, learning their stories and using sound waves to craft a window into previously unexplored worlds.