My Letter

Dear Readers:

I am a home funeral guide. This means that I help people remember how to care for their own loved ones after death. And you can understand that most people I encounter are pretty much afraid of death. Many, like my sister Denni, are disgusted with bodily secretions and avoid at all costs the sight and smells of what comes out of our orifices. I still see her fanning the air vigorously while changing one of her children's diapers, gagging at the site of blood when someone got a scrape, running at MACH speed to avoid someone vomiting.

ME? I was captivated by it all, and still am. These are signs of LIFE!

I write this letter because something very special happened when my sister ended up accompanying me to a home funeral I was doing for a special friend. I witnessed the doubter become a believer. I've seen this many times - a magic moment when the "doubters" stand in the very real presence of death, and are amazed and awed by the power of a healing force which defies words.

I had agreed to help my friend Deloy do a home funeral for his wife Kate, who was dying of metastatic breast cancer. I had grown so fond of visiting them both, and it was easy to do because their home was only 15 minutes from Dad's assisted living facility. So over the course of 8 months, we grew in our comfort and friendship, even when that meant discussing Kate's eventual death and what she wanted to happen. These two headed straight into the inevitable, with courage, love and genuine humanity.

Denni and I returned to her home in Winston-Salem after visiting Dad one day last July. I had also visited briefly with Kate and Deloy and it was clear she was actively dying. Denni and I went to dinner, thoroughly relaxing over our fabulous food and wine. Once back at Denni's, my phone rang. It was Deloy, "Sara, Kate just died," he told me. It was about 7:30pm, and I asked if he wanted me to come now or wait until the early morning. "I really want you to come tonight." So I told him I would be there in about an hour.

"WAIT! I WILL GO WITH YOU!" Denni said. (Was I hearing things??) "You can't go back by yourself so I will go with you!" Was she serious? She wanted to accompany me on this home funeral? My little sister who really isn't quite sure about what to do, but knows enough to stay pretty far away and not ask questions?

When we arrived, I hugged the heck out of Deloy and he led me back to their bedroom where I had seen and spoken to Kate just hours before. And so we began... Kate's loving community: Deloy, his 2 sons Cory and Brandon, Celia and her husband Jose, a part of his family for so many years, and neighbors Kim and Martha. And there was Denni, all the while at the bedroom's door's threshold, taking pictures and videos with her cell phone.

These family and friends worked together in love as we washed, anointed, and dressed Kate to lie in state for 3 days, so other family and friends could come be with her in a home setting. There was laughter; there were tears; there was so much love in that house it was palpable.

Later that night as we drove back to Denni's home, she allowed that this had been a life-changing event for her. And I think that's what it's all about. How we reach out and educate our family and friends, however "gross" they may perceive this work to be, one home funeral at a time.


With love, Sara Willams

Sara Williams, Home Funeral Guide

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko