+

Lucia Maya remembers getting a phone call from her 21-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. She was in agony.

A creative writing student at the University of Arizona, Elizabeth had been dealing with intense pain in her chest for weeks, along with swelling in her neck and face. The student health clinic told her it was probably bad allergies.

"She called me one day in tears because she was in a lot of pain," Lucia said. "She wasn't one to cry or complain. I said, 'OK, something is clearly wrong.'"


Elizabeth was rushed to the emergency room, where an X-ray revealed a tumor in her chest the size of a baseball. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Lucia (right) and her daughter, Elizabeth. Photo by Jade Beall, used with permission.

Six rounds of chemotherapy initially beat the cancer back, but soon it had spread to Elizabeth's brain. Not even a year after first discovering the pain, Elizabeth was placed in hospice care. She'd spend her final days in her mother's home.

There was nothing more the doctors could do.

Lucia was suddenly in the strange and tragic position of having to plan a funeral for her daughter while she was still alive.

The first step for many people who are grieving is to make arrangements with a funeral home. But there's another option gaining popularity with many families: home funerals.

Joanne Cacciatore, a research professor at Arizona State University who studies traumatic death, wants people to remember that caring for our own dead used to be, well, just the way things were done. It was around the Victorian Era (the mid- to late 1800s) that both birth and death were institutionalized, or shopped out to experts who had special tools and training.

She said more and more people are now bucking that norm and skipping the mortician altogether.

Photo by Jade Beall, used with permission.

A home funeral often involves bypassing the usual embalming process, instead opting for more gentle methods of preserving the body: keeping it cool with dry ice and bathing it, for example. Some families will hold a viewing at home before sending the body off to be prepared for a traditional burial or cremated. Others, depending on local laws, bury their loved ones on family land instead of in a cemetery.

While home funerals are often much less expensive then traditional ceremonies, Cacciatore said this choice isn't usually about money. For many people, it's about healing.

"I think it has a therapeutic effect, in that when the person you love has died, and they're at home, you can check in with that reality as often as you need," she said. "You can go in that room, you can sit in that room 24 hours a day for three or four days, and you can watch their body, and see that they're not there."

For other people, they wouldn't dream of doing things any other way.

"Who better to take care of someone you love so much than you?" Cacciatore said.

After two months of being cared for by her mother, Elizabeth passed away on a Sunday in late 2012.

Elizabeth's body was kept at home for two days and covered in silks and fabrics. Photo by Lucia Maya, used with permission.

Elizabeth hadn't eaten for weeks. Her mother woke up at 4 a.m. the day she passed away, sensing the moment was about to arrive. Lucia held her daughter's hand as she took her last breath.

By this point, Lucia, her partner, Elizabeth's father, and even Elizabeth herself had decided a home funeral was right for them, though Elizabeth didn't like talking about it much. She was at peace with whatever was going to happen.

"What was so lovely was that we knew there was no rush to call the funeral home to come pick up her body," Lucia said. "We knew that we had time."

Lucia and her sister bathed Elizabeth. Anointed her body with oils. Laid her on a table with dry ice packed underneath. Wrapped her in beautiful silks and cloths, with rose petals sprinkled on top.

Photo by Lucia Maya, used with permission.

On Monday, family and friends came and went, saying their goodbyes in the place Elizabeth called home. A friend brought a cardboard box that would later be used to transport Elizabeth's body, and visitors decorated it and filled it with notes of love.

On Tuesday, Lucia and close family members placed Elizabeth in the box and drove her to the crematory. They watched as her body entered the cremation chamber. Lucia thought it might be too difficult to watch, but she said when the moment came, she was ready.

By then, she felt her daughter's body was nothing but an empty vessel.

"It felt so healing to be able to do those last things to take care of her," Lucia said.

"To be the one to bathe her, gently, to be the last one to dress her, to cover her with these beautiful silks that I know she would have loved — it would have felt very, very strange to send her body off and have some strangers doing those things for her, no matter how loving and caring they might have been."

She knows a home funeral isn't the right choice for everybody, but she shared her story because she wants people to at least know that it is a choice.

For Lucia, being able to make that choice means she gets to live without a single regret about how she spent her final days with her daughter.

Celebrity

U.S. Soccer star expertly handles an Iranian reporter’s loaded questions about race.

Tyler Adams’s response proves exactly why he’s the captain of the US soccer team.

Tyler Adams expertly handles Iranian reporter's question

Reporters are supposed to ask the right questions to get to the truth but sometimes it seems sports reporters ask questions to throw you off your game. There's no doubt that this Iranian reporter who was questioning Tyler Adams, the US soccer team captain at the press conference during the World Cup had an agenda that didn't involve getting to the truth.

It's not clear if the questions were designed to throw the young player off of his game or if the goal was embarrassment. It really is hard to tell, but Adams handled the unexpectedly harsh encounter with intelligence and poise when some may have found it justified for him to get angry.

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
woman holding a cup of tea, writing in a notebook

It's no secret that everyone could use a little kindness in their lives and it can come in many forms. Sometimes it's the neighbor cutting your grass when your husband's away and you're too busy to get to it yourself. Other times it's sending a card to the elderly widow down the street.

One woman in Arkansas has taken to spreading kindness through writing letters to strangers. Allison Bond, 25, started writing letters over a year ago during COVID-19 when she couldn't attend school due to her medical condition. Bond has cerebral palsy and is at greater risk for serious illness should she contract the virus. Writing letters was an act of kindness that didn't require a trip out of the house.

Bond began by writing to soldiers and inmates. In fact, the first letter she received back was from a soldier. Bond told 5News, "I have one framed from a soldier. He had all his battle buddies sign it. So I framed it so I could put it up." She's kept every letter she's received.

Keep ReadingShow less

"Time is the one thing we cannot increase.”

Over his seven years as host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah brought us laughter and valuable insights, even with a pandemic and political upheaval. He made such a positive mark that the announcement of his departure from the show came as bittersweet news to fans.

During an interview with Hoda Kotb of “Today,” Trevor Noah gave further explanation to his personal decision to leave, and in typical Noah fashion, it touched on something universal in the process.

“I realized during the pandemic,” he told Kotb, “everyone talks about a ‘work-life balance.’ But that almost creates the idea that your work and your life are two separate things. When in fact, I came to realize during the pandemic that it’s just a ‘life-life balance.’ It’s just your life.”

Keep ReadingShow less

Phil Collins and George Harrison

This article originally appeared on 12.01.21


Beatle George Harrison was pigeon-holed as the "Quiet Beatle," but the youngest member of the Fab Four had an acerbic, dry sense of humor that was as sharp as the rest of his bandmates.

He gave great performances in the musical comedy classics, "A Hard Days Night" and "Help!" while holding his own during The Beatles' notoriously anarchic press conferences. After he left the band in 1970, in addition to his musical career, he would produce the 1979 Monty Python classic, "The Life of Brian."

Keep ReadingShow less