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Is training necessary to be a midwife to the dying (death midwife) or home funeral guide?

Donna explains in person in this video  YouTube

Can I be a home funeral guide or end-of-life consultant as a profession and earn a living wage?

I wish I could answer this frequently asked question with a strong “Absolutely!” However, this work is just becoming visible in North America and it requires educating the public about what is available. I compare it to being a yoga teacher, celebrant or life coach … yes, people can make money at it and some earn a living wage. But most earn a little money, not a living wage, and do the work for the satisfaction that comes from the work itself.

If you want to earn a livelihood as a home funeral guide or end-of-life consultant then you will probably need to be self-employed. Being self employed can be risky, stressful and at times seems impossible. But it’s also brave, creative, and meaningful. It allows you to have freedom and independence while helping others and supporting yourself. Being self-employed takes its own skill set and is a skill that needs to acquired in addition to the skill set of working with death and dying.

Here is how one organization, META-Health, explains it:

To be a successful practitioner you need to develop in two different ways:

  1. First you need a skill-set that enables you to help people with a specific set of problems, this could be learning META-Health, EFT, NLP – all wonderful disciplines that, with the right training, will give you a high level of competency.
  2. Second you need to develop the skills of an entrepreneur or small business owner so – sales, marketing, financial planning, time-management etc.

Unfortunately, unless you are extraordinarily lucky or naturally good at business you won’t have a successful practice unless you also develop as a business owner because they are two separate skill sets. And this is where lots of practitioners seem to lose their way.

Being a good practitioner won’t necessarily make you a successful one and being great at business won’t ensure clients if your skills aren’t up to much. You need to be both, then you have a real chance of not only making a living doing what you love but also developing a thriving practice that helps lots of people.

In summary, after you build your “skills” as a death midwife or home funeral guide, the next step is to build your small business entrepreneurial skills. Thankfully, there are many different courses available online on how to do this.

How can I learn more about home funerals?

One of the best ways to learn more about home funerals and being a home funeral guide is through the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA), a non-profit educational organization: You’ll find many resources such as articles, videos, booklists, directories of practitioners and conferences/workshops, etc. You can become a member of the NHFA for free and receive even more resources to learn and stay informed about the home funeral movement. Here is an article you might find interesting from their website pertaining to becoming a home funeral guide and/or death midwife/doula/transition guide: Clearly Defined

What does the Beyond Hospice certificate mean?

To earn a certificate the following items are required:

  1. Assignment Sheet showing the modules you completed, the date and the time it took to complete the module
  2. Three two-page papers on the modules you selected to write about
  3. Two-page paper on a home funeral practice session
  4. Listen to two NHFA teleconferences and write a one-page opinion piece about each one.

This earns you a certificate of completion from the Beyond Hospice program. There is no national certifying body that oversees home funeral guides or death midwives/doulas, so anyone who says they are “certified” is simply referring to the course they completed.

Please read this excellent piece explaining this in more detail: NHFA Position on Licensure and Certification

What is the difference between online course and in-person training?

Many, many fine teachers offer in-person training for home funeral guides and midwives to the dying. With in-person training the participants benefit from the wisdom and experience shared by all participants, and the synthesis of the group dynamics creates opportunity for powerful transformation. I offer online training because it is more accessible to some people, and the student can go at their own pace, and dive deeply into the topics that interest them the most. I do recommend that students take advantage of in-person training when the opportunity arises.

Why call this practice “Beyond Hospice”?

Hospice uses a multidisciplinary approach which means that a team of people provide different services. I see the roles of midwife to the dying and home funeral guide as an extension and wider circle of that team. Although it didn’t begin that way, today a big part of the hospice experience is the medical involvement. Our work is more focused on the heart of the person dying, and the transition process itself from this life to the next. That practice or focus of transition is a step beyond hospice (hence the name!). To me, a home funeral or lying in honor at home, is the next logical step for people who die at home having been cared for by their loved ones. It is an extension of, or a step beyond hospice. ~ Donna

What books are required for the course? Or, what books will help me learn more?

The following books are required reading for the Beyond Hospice course, and are excellent resources whether you take the course or not. They are all short books and the first three can be purchased on for less than $40.

  1. “The Art of Death Midwifery,” by Joellyn St. Pierre, ASIN B00FKYHUMC, Kindle edition available, 274 pages
  2. “A Year to Live,” by Stephen Levine, ASIN: B002RLBKHC, Kindle edition available, 175 pages
  3. “A Good Death: Challenges, Choices and Care Options” by Charles Meyer, ISBN 0-89622-923-8, 60 pages (sometimes this is difficult to find, so if you can’t get it, don’t worry)
  4. “Undertaken With Love” [included in course as a pdf or available at]
  5. “Illuminating the Path” by Merilynne Rush [included in course as a pdf or available at]
  6. “Beyond Hospice Workbook” [included in course as a pdf]

Although these are not required reading for the course, I highly recommend these books by Felicity Warner with Soul Midwives in the UK.

  • “The Soul Midwives’ Handbook: The Holistic and Spiritual Care of the Dying,” by Felicity Warner, ISBN: 1848507038, 305 pages
  • “A Safe Journey Home”, by Felicity Warner, ISBN-10: 1848502079, 256 pages

I’m interested in setting up an organization for assisting those who wish to care for their own in my area. What advice can you give on this?

I was introduced to home funerals through the film, “A Family Undertaking.” The film was shown as at the Waldorf School in Austin, Texas. After viewing the film many of the people said they wanted to create a circle of helping friends to offer each other support in doing home funerals and green burials. The film is available through and is a great way to demonstrate the many aspects of family-directed funerals.

For me personally, the film was the catalyst for my advocacy work in death midwifery, green burials and home funerals. The woman who helped to bring the film to Austin through the Waldorf School was Sandy Booth. She and I continue to work together to offer presentations and workshops at libraries, churches, hospices, hospitals, other community groups, and people’s homes. We are very flexible and offer 30-minute, 1-hour or 3-hour presentations.

Sandy and I are both volunteers with a local hospice, and we are both members of the local chapter of the Funeral Consumer Alliance (FCA) called AMBIS. When we first started working with AMBIS we had to educate many of the volunteers about home funerals. We did this by holding workshops and presenting at their annual meeting. We have even done a fundraiser workshop for AMBIS where we charge for people to attend the workshop and donate the money to AMBIS.

Home funerals and green burials are definitely in alignment with what the FCA and their chapters support. It is part of the task of the FCA affiliate to keep up with the consumer funeral laws in their respective states. They can be an excellent resource for state laws pertaining to home funerals. Of course, some affiliates are more active and knowledgeable than others, but the national office is always available and very helpful.

We have offered fundraiser workshops for AMBIS as a way to work further with them. And whenever we do a workshop in the community we have information available and talk about the advantages of joining FCA.

As a way of gaining more exposure for home funerals, we offer library presentations which are usually about an hour in length. We reserve a room at the library (this is free) and announce the presentation in a local entertainment publication with free event listings. We usually hold these on Tuesday evenings. The library talks are strictly an educational event, and we have put together a slide show to give people an idea of what is involved with green burials and home funerals.

We also offer 3-hour workshops where we show people how to provide after-death care for a body and do an in-home vigil. We usually hold these on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We do a mock in-home vigil to really let people experience the process of caring for a loved one at home. We have held these workshops in art galleries, people’s homes, hospices, etc. We ask for a small donation for these workshops ($10-$15).

I would suggest working with a buddy if possible. It is strengthening to have someone to talk with about different ideas and to help publicize the talks and workshops.

I know the feeling of being alone out there in the wilderness in pioneering these ideas, but there is a growing support system across the US of other home funeral guides. One of the things that has helped me is to keep track of the articles about home funerals published in national publications. I keep a list of these and make it available to people to demonstrate that this is a growing US trend.

Helping people with in-home vigils and home funerals is a beautiful and rewarding way to be of service. ~ Donna

Can I take only the midwifery portion of the course and not the home funeral portion?

Of the 32 lessons in the course only two of them are focused on “home funerals”. The majority of the training is about the skills as a midwife to the dying because those skills are necessary before and after death. They skills can e used with the dying or with family and friends of the dying. I feel it is important to know how to provide natural after-death care for a loved one because the family will probably appreciate an in-home vigil of at least a few hours. And it is important to know the process to go through, the ceremonies that can help, and the laws that must be followed in your state. ~ Donna


Does the Beyond Hospice course apply for those of us who live in Canada?

Explanation from Rochelle Martin:

I live in Hamilton, Ontario, and took Donna Belk’s Beyond Hospice course in 2012. I found it very helpful for my learning, and as a means of connecting with the larger death midwifery and home funeral guide community. The online portion of the course was great, and I loved the in-person practicum w/e in Austin, TX! I would definitely recommend the course, to you and to others!

Just to clarify, though – there is no “certification” in this field at present (US or Canada) – so you’d receive a certificate of course completion, but there is no professional credentialing or certification that comes with doing any course. So the issue of taking a US vs. Canadian course isn’t an issue of certification relevance, but one of content: I was able to incorporate learning about local, Ontario, and Canadian laws and regulations, into my course projects. I felt like I was able to learn what I needed, to teach and practice here in Ontario. I believe Beyond Hospice is now collaborating with CINDEA <> as a way of more intentionally incorporating Canadian content into the program, for Canadian students.

Because no particular training is “required” in this field, it’s all about learning what you feel you need to, to teach and share with others – about death and dying, home funeral care, or whatever area you’re wanting to be involved in. Beyond Hospice was perfect for me, in that regard! [8-10-15]

Are there other organizations offering training similar to Beyond Hospice?

Yes, please visit the following international websites:, (Canada) (UK)