~ by Keelia Carver
I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am sobbing at my computer over a one-page hospital form.
St. Charles Hospital in Bend, Oregon has enacted a major change. It's a change I wish had been in place when my son Max was pronounced dead in their hospital and they refused to let us take him home for burial - which was our right under Oregon law.
The new Release of Body Form is intended for use when the hospital releases a decedent to a family member or friend instead of a paid funeral service provider. It is a simple form requiring name, relationship, and acknowledgement that the requestor will follow all state and federal laws when handling and disposing of the body.
With the creation of this Release of Body Form, St. Charles has ensured there is an easy way for any staff member to help a family take custody of their deceased loved one, whether to prepare them for burial or cremation, transport them, or spend time with them in a home viewing or vigil. Because it is in writing, the knowledge will remain accessible through staff turnover. The formal hospital documentation requirement provides reassurance of propriety for staff who may not be familiar with Oregon families’ right to care for their own dead. It's the much-needed policy document that supplements the improved family information sheet we celebrated in January.
The new release form and the expanded family information sheet represent marvelous things. These improvements, the result of never dropping the ball and continuing the work on this issue over an 18-month period, shows the longing of the human heart to do right. These changes reflect flexibility in a large bureaucratic institution. They're a tribute to the work of individuals in that institution, individuals who truly want to serve the families of their community. They showcase something that is so hard for us humans: the willingness to recognize a mistake and then do the work to correct it.
May these changes made by St. Charles help mothers, fathers, spouses and children. May they provide an opportunity for those who want to care for their own dead to do so. May they be widely copied by other hospitals and care facilities. May they prevent another situation like ours with Max, where misinformation and default practices kept a family from their child.
With The Seattle Times publishing an alarming and heartbreaking article about cemetery restrictions on all family or community presence at burials - even limited numbers observing social distancing spacing - today the Washington State Department of Licensing issued this clarification:
Licensed funeral homes and cemeteries may conduct funeral services in a funeral home or graveside under the following conditions:
Read our full Pandemic Care Guide, updated daily.
Here's the full memo to Washington State Funeral, Embalmer, and Cemetery Licensees:
While the dominant culture of North America has largely lost touch with family- and community-centered responses to death, there are cultures within the U.S. where these traditions have remained more intact.
A recent post on the website The Jew School explains, "The chevra kadisha (“Holy Community”) is a geographically-organized group responsible for all Jewish matters pertaining to death, including arranging people to sit with and guard the body (shemira), and preparation of the body for burial (tahara)."
Giulia Fleishman, a third year rabbinical student, shares her personal journey to joining a chevra kadisha, and participating in her first tahara. She describes tahara as "the loving act of ritually washing a deceased person, clothing them in white garments, and enclosing them in a simple pine casket." Giulia's story describes the process: "As they perform taharah, the members of the chevra kadisha chant prayers that ask forgiveness for any mistakes they might make, as well as lines from The Song of Songs that attest to the deceased’s beauty, even in their present state."
Read Giulia's full post.
At Keelia Carver's urging, the chaplain's office at St Charles Hospital in Bend has updated the information sheet given to families after a loved one's death.
When Keelia's son Max was pronounced dead at the hospital, she and her husband were handed a list of local funeral homes and told they would have to hire one of them to secure release of his body. Keelia contacted the chaplain's office a year later, armed with the statutory references to a family's rights to care for their dead. In response, they agreed to revise their information sheet. Now titled with the more inclusive header "Funeral Homes and After Death Resources," the sheet lists Oregon Funeral Resources & Education alongside the commercial funeral home options.
We thank St Charles for taking this small but significant step towards supporting families' rights to access accurate, non-commercial information. More information on how hospitals, care facilities, and hospices can support this legal right is on our For Professionals page. Request an in-service training for your staff here.
When Keelia Carver contacted the newspaper outside the town where she grew up, she never imagined her family would make national news.
The Eugene Register-Guard devoted the front page of their Sunday paper to the story of how Keelia was prevented from caring for Max after his death and this website, created to spare other families and professionals from the mistakes that were made.
Register-Guard editors were so moved by the story that, unsolicited, they followed up with an editorial praising the determination of Keelia and another mother to turn their families’ suffering into something of benefit to others.
Clearly USA Today editors felt the same way, picking the story up to run nationwide, with subsequent posting on MSN.com.
Messages of support and condolence are coming in from across the country, along with inquiries about family funeral rights in other states.
Read other media coverage about the launch of Oregon Funeral Resources & Education here.