Sacred Transitions: Home Vigils, Green Burials, at Saint Joan of Arc

Sacred Transitions: Home Vigils, Green Burials
Do you know what the 2010 Family Rights After Death Legislation allows for more environmental, economical, and ritualistic options at the death of a loved one?
Learn more with Rep. Carolyn Laine, MN State Representative (who sponsored the law) and Nancy Manahan, Ph.D., (teacher and author of  Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully) who represent Minnesota Threshold Network, providing education on conscious dying, home-after-death care and natural final disposition.
Monday, December 9, Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Community, Upper Room, 6:30 – 8:30 pm.

Interest in Home Funerals in Two Harbors

DSC02085Rep. Carolyn Laine and Nancy Manahan gave a presentation at Two Harbors Public Library on September 26, 2013, about home funerals and green burials. The event drew an attentive audience of 40 people who had many questions. The Lake County News Chronicle published an article featuring Carolyn and Nancy:  It is clear that interest in green burials is growing.


The next day, Carolyn, Nancy, and Becky Bohan visited the Duluth Casket Shop at the invitation of the proprietor Jude Collins, who makes a range of caskets and urns, some appropriate for green burials. She also offers handmade shrouds, one which can been seen hanging on the wall behind Nancy and Jude. Jude does education on natural burial and is encouraging owners of Duluth cemeteries to accommodate green burials. For more information about her company, see

Threshold Network members at Women and Spirituality Conference

Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: Affordable, Ecological, Sacred Transitions

The personal story of Diane Manahan’s final journey as told in Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully, A Journey with Cancer and Beyond. Other stories about end-of-life choices possible for you and your loved ones. Environmental, economic, and emotional benefits of home funerals and green burials, as well as the legal parameters in Minnesota.

The program includes video clips and Q&A

 Part of the

MSU Women and Spirituality Conference

Saturday, October 12

4:00-5:30, 202 Student Union

PRESENTERS: Carolyn Laine, M.A., a Minnesota State Representative who authored the 2010 Family Rights After Death legislation that re-established the right to have a home vigil without embalming and with friends and children present.

Nancy Manahan, Ph.D., a retired community college English teacher whose books include the award-winning memoir Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: A Journey with Cancer and Beyond and the international best-seller Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.

More information on the conference at the MNSU website.

Large Turn-Out for Community Forum

Almost fifty people attended the June 29, 2010 Minnesota Threshold Network forum on home care of the deceased and green burials. Minnesota State Rep. Carolyn Laine summarized the new law taking effect August 1st, 2010, including the right to hold a public visitation of an unembalmed body, use dry ice instead of embalming for up to four days, have minors present, and have flexible transportation options. Linda Bergh (Beholding the Threshold) and Heather Halen shared their personal experiences with home funeral vigils, and Theresa Purcell (Trust for Natural Legacies) explained green burial practices. John “Chip Fort” (Green Graves) shared his plan to open Prairie Oaks natural cemetery in Inver Grove Heights. Steve Willwerscheid of Willwerscheid Natural Burial and Cremation in St. Paul was introduced.

Both the high attendance and the many thoughtful questions indicate an increasing interest in home death care and green burials. At least four ministers attended, signaling potential religious interest in alternatives to conventional, professional care of the dead.

Thank you to the MTN members who brought delicious treats to share!

Next up: 

July 18, 2010: Book launch for MTN member Marianne Dietzel’s Laughing in a Waterfall: A Mother’s Memoir, the inspiring story of Marianne’s daughter, Nina, who died in a car accident with her best friend, Kirsten Bergh. The book chronicles the post-death rituals of care for the girls, the memorial services, and how the family survived the loss. This engrossing memoir offers insights into how to create a new culture around the threshold of death. Minnesota Waldorf School, 3-6 pm. Free.

July 24: Life Rearrangements: Spiritual Legacy Class at the Center for Wholeness, by MTN member Penelope Martin. The class covers ways to leave your family, friends, and others your ideals, memories, wishes, and values that you want passed down. For reservations, email or 4506 Valley View Road, Edina, MN. $20.

August 25: Screening of The Most Excellent Dying of Theodore Jack Heckelman, a 70-minute documentary about the conscious dying and home death care of a global environmental and peace activist from Minneapolis. Jack’s wife Linda Bergh will introduce the movie and answer questions. 7 pm at Southdale Library. Free.

September 11: A half-day home-death care training for Minnesota Threshold Network members. Details forthcoming.

September 21: Minnesota Threshold Network general meeting at the home of Nancy Manahan and Becky Bohan (21 East Rustic Lodge Ave., Minneapolis 55419) to discuss outreach, education, training, future film screenings, etc. Open to all.  Free.

October 8-10: Second annual National Home Funeral Alliance Conference, Boulder, CO. Keynote speaker, Josefine Speyer of the Natural Death Centre in the UK. Register online. October 7 pre-conference workshop by national home-death educators Beth Knox (Crossings), Jerrigrace Lyons (Final Passages), and Karen van Vuuren (Natural Transitions).  Discounts for early-bird sign ups.

Minutes from May 13, 2010 Meeting

We had an exciting meeting with lots of energy from the fifteen people attending. Now that Home Care of Our Deceased legislation has passed, the group focused on the next steps. Solid plans for the summer and fall emerged:

  • Hold a Public Forum on June 29, 2010. This gathering will feature State Representative Carolyn Laine discussing the new law; Linda Bergh and Heather Halen will share information about doing home care of the deceased, home visitations, and home funerals; Theresa Purcell will share information about green burials. Nancy Manahan will be the MC. The event will take place at Washburn Public Library  6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
  • Support the Minnesota Department of Health in creating a brochure. The DoH is planning to put out a brochure on how to care for the dead at home and how to have a home vigil/funeral. Rep. Carolyn Laine has suggested that the MTN help with this project. Nancy will provide resources that the department can use as it writes the brochure. We hope that the brochure will be available by August 1, when the law goes into effect.
  • Identify supportive funeral directors. Theresa Purcell, president of the Minnesota chapter of  Trust for Natural Legacies, with help from Julie Tinberg, will be meeting with funeral directors in the area to discuss their support for home care of the deceased, home vigils/funerals, and green burials. Theresa will compile the information and make it available to MTN.
  • Identify and list death care guides. More and more people are seeking information on what to do when someone dies and they want an alternative to conventional death-care practices. Linda Bergh has a list of people who are willing to be on call to help a family through the process of caring for their own. She will contact those people to see if they are willing to be listed on the MTN blog as resources.
  • Screen a film. We talked about showing the new documentary about Linda Bergh’s husband, “The Most Excellent Dying of Theodore Jack Heckelman” in August to continue educating ourselves and the public. Theresa will see if it can be screened at Trylon Cinema, a 50-seat theater at 3258 Minnehaha Ave So. After the movie, we could talk about the work of MTN and announce plans for upcoming workshops.
  • Educate! Educate! Educate!. Education will be a major focus of MTN. Linda Bergh, Heather Halen, Becky Bohan, Nancy Manahan, and others have expressed interest in being involved. Given the work of hospice and the availability of training that deals with caring for the dying, MTN would focus its training on after-death care in three categories:
    • MTN members. Training would focus on after-death care, and if time, planning for death, including Five Wishes, Physician Ordered Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), or equivalent documents. It would be open to the 100+ people on the MTN email list. Part of this training could involve train-the-trainer so MTN would have a bank of presenters. The first session will be on  Sept. 11, 2010. Karen Greer will see if space at the Spirit United building is available that day.
    • Professionals. Training would focus on hospice staff (what happens AFTER someone dies), coroners and medical examiners, nursing home staff, ministers, parish nurses, etc. One aspect of this training would be to emphasize the rights that families have when a loved one dies.  Nancy will contact Charlene Elderkin who is doing a presentation at the Wisconsin coroners and medical examiners convention in to see what materials she is using that could be incorporated into our training. Linda, Heather, and Lisa Venable will investigate offering CEUs for this training.
    • Education for the general public. This training would include presentations at churches, libraries, and other public venues. These sessions could focus on Advanced Care and Advanced Funeral Directives, POLST, planning for a death, home after-death care, working with funeral directors, vigils and visitations, and green burials.

Minutes prepared by Becky Bohan.

Home Care of Our Deceased –Family Rights Legislation Passes Senate!

On April 15, 2010 the Minnesota State Senate passed by a big margin (50 to 13) the Home Care of Our Deceased bill (HF3151) which supports home-based after-death care. The bill will now go to the Governor for signature.

What does this mean?

• Families can hold a public visitation on private property without embalming for up to four days

• Minors are no longer prohibited from being in the presence of an unembalmed body

• Safe, appropriate transportation options for the body are broadened

Special thanks to some key players:

• Representative Carolyn Laine who championed this bill and spent many hours working out the details for a smooth passage. Her diligence and deep understanding of the issues involved were impressive.

• Senator Sandra Pappas for sponsoring the bill in the Senate and her eloquence in speaking to the committee and defending the bill on the Senate floor.

• Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center of Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the U of M, whose testimony before both the House and Senate committees and subsequent letter to legislators gave a strong scientific foundation for the public health safety of funerals with unembalmed bodies.

Finally, many thanks to all of you for your support. Writing and calling your representatives made a big difference in the overwhelming votes in favor of these changes in both the House and the Senate.

Pictured below after the first Senate vote on April 12, front row from left to right: Nancy Manahan, Senator Sandy Pappas, Reprsentative Carolyn Laine, Michelle Dehn; backrow: Marianne Dietzel, Becky Bohan Heather Halen

Removing Outmoded Restrictions on Home Funerals

At the October 26th meeting of the Minnesota Threshold Network, we spent most of our time strategizing on how to improve Minnesota state laws governing home funerals.

Our major concern is that Minnesota is the only state in the nation that requires  embalming for public viewing [149A.91 Subd. 3]. This means that families cannot legally hold a vigil for a deceased loved one (without embalming) in their own home with anyone other than immediate family members present. There is no scientific basis for such a requirement, and this statue should be removed to give families more choices at the end of life.

 Other concerns:

 1. SF 802 puts new limits on who may care for the dead, hampering a family’s choices. Now, only the person with the right to control disposition may transport a body, for example, not another family member, church committee, or unpaid designee. [149A.01 Subd. 3 (c)]

 2. MN law maintains a provision for hospitals and other institutions to refuse to release a body directly to a family that might wish to care for their own dead, requiring the use of a funeral director instead. [149A.01 Subd. 3 (e)]

 3. MN law now bans family members from the preparation room in a funeral home. [149A.91 Subd. 2]

The home funeral/green burial movement is gaining momentum nationally, as evidenced by feature stories in the March 2009 issue of Smithsonian magazine and in the October 2009 AAPR Bulletin. A July 2009 front page story in the New York Times (and in the Star Tribune) on home funerals quotes Minnesota Threshold Network member Nancy Manahan and mentions Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully.  She also was featured in a WCCO TV News story on green burials last fall.  There is no reason for a state as progressive as Minnesota to be so far behind the curve and have such outdated and unnecessary regulations.

The group drew up preliminary plans to identify friendly legislators and to set up meetings with them.

We did not set a date for the next meeting. When we do so, it will be posted here as well as sent out to all members via email.

We welcome anyone who has the time and energy to help change these unnecessarily strict laws!