Two Horses and a Cart


You never know who will come through the door of your house.

The other day I had a meeting with Dr. Linda Elder. She came to my house to discuss business. After a quick discussion of the business at hand, our conversation segued into a discussion about my work. I told Linda that I have studied death, dying and afterlife for the past three years prompted by the death of my mother in 2014.

She told me that her husband, Dr. Richard Paul, had passed away in 2015. Years prior to his death, she had attended the funeral of a family friend's son. He was in high school and had passed away in a tragic car accident. For several days the boy's family kept the boy's body on ice so that friends and family could say their goodbyes. Next to his body was a pine burial box where people could write or draw their remembrances. After several days of honoring his body, the boy was put into the pine box and buried.

Linda's husband, Richard, had a prolonged illness. Richard's slow decline gave Linda time to think about the way she wanted to honor Richard. Not only was he her dearly beloved, he was a noted scholar and major leader in the critical thinking movement. He had authored over 200 articles and published seven books on critical thinking. He also believed that money spent should be for something worthy.

With the help of a death midwife, Linda decided to ask a friend who is a carpenter to craft a pine box for her husband even though she knew in her heart that her friend's handiwork would be so wonderful that it would be difficult to put it into the ground. She then hired two horses and a cart.

Richard's memorial service was held at the Foundation for Critical Thinking, the place that she and her husband had founded. People were asked to write their remembrances on the box which held Richard's body. Then, the box was put into the cart and eight family members and friends sat alongside the cart as the horses pulled the cart along to the gravesite, about a mile away. Friends walked the mile behind the cart.

When the pine box was lifted to be put into the ground, the box wouldn't fit. Ultimately, Richard's body had to be transferred to a smaller mortuary coffin. Linda was right. She would never be able to bury the box!

Despite the need for a small change, Richard's memorial service was one that Linda holds dear. It was very befitting of him--noble, simple and deeply honoring.

Home deaths and funerals can be a transformative experience for loved ones. There are many personal accounts of how deaths have changed the life of a survivor. 

Perhaps this is why the home funeral movement is coming back into vogue after nearly 60 years of the medicalization of death. Dying and death are truly transformative experiences if embraced.

For more information about home funerals and post-death transformations, see below: