April 7, 2020

Sacred Crossings Provides Dignified Home Funerals



Sacred Crossings Provides Dignified Home Funerals

The Rev. Olivia Bareham conducts a home funeral for Bernardino "Dino" Zanini at his home in Topanga.

When Bernardino (Dino) Zanini, 66, learned that he was terminally ill with leukemia, the Topanga resident chose an empowering process of conscious dying highlighted by hospice care and planning a home funeral with his wife, Medria Connolly, and the Rev. Olivia Rosemarie Bareham, the founder of Sacred Crossings.

During the last few months, Bareham guided Zanini and Connolly through the dying process and helped them plan the funeral exactly as they wanted it to be held.

Thus, when Zanini passed away on the evening of October 7, 2014, his family and friends quietly gathered around his body, preserved on dry ice, for a three-day vigil at his hilltop home on Skyhawk, visiting, saying prayers and comforting his widow.

The funeral, on October 11, was beautiful, set in their sunny hilltop home and presided over by Bareham, who is a death midwife and home funeral guide who facilitates conscious dying and family-directed funerals.

To offer their final farewells during the funeral, more than 50 family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues of Zanini and Connolly gathered around where Zanini was laid out in a hand decorated cardboard casket with his body covered in rose petals.

To begin the ceremony, funeral guests participated in a prayer and burning sage to the Four Directions. Then, people spoke of Zanini, offering reminiscences, stories, poems and songs.

At the end of the funeral, to the strains of Zanini’s favorite Shostakovich symphony, as the funeral procession walked outside, Connolly released a white dove symbolizing the release of Zanini’s spirit as pallbearers transported his body for cremation.

“He was absolutely a part of it, right up to the very end,” Connolly said of the collaboration with her husband during months of planning. “It was really funny. We wrote his obituary together, not for publication, but the process of writing it brought out facts of his coming from Italy in February of 1973.”


Sacred Crossings Provides Dignified Home Funerals

Friends and family comfort Medria Connolly, center, during the home funeral for her husband, Bernardino "Dino" Zanini in October.

Connolly, who is a psychologist, told the gathering that Zanini was a clinical psychiatrist in private practice in Santa Monica and a member of the Jung Institute.

“We have been married for 25 years, since 1989,” she said. “What an exceptional human being; he was kind and gentle, funny, smart, loyal, hardworking, he got to do what he wanted to do. He loved art, music, opera (his favorite aria was from “Tosca”) and symphonies by Shostakovich and played the guitar. He and I did all the repertoire of music together; he was also a sexy guy; he was so honest and present and straightforward. He was cute but that’s not what hooked me, it was his humor and intelligence.”

When Zanini became terminal, Connolly sought hospice training at Anam Cara in Topanga, where she attended a one-hour lecture on home funerals given by Bareham and learned what their options were. It was then that Connolly and Zanini knew they wanted to have Bareham facilitate a home funeral for them.

“She would just ask the right questions,” Connolly said. “She cared about us; it was wonderful, sitting down, planning the service and she would give us options. There is something about collaborating that was so wonderful and easy. After Dino died, I was bathing him and she would ask, ‘What was his favorite shampoo and soap,’ and what kind of clothes to lay him out in? As I was doing it I could not imagine a stranger doing this.’”

Connolly ultimately felt that a home funeral was the right choice.

“I was so excited; I never knew one could have a home funeral,” Connolly said. “It appealed to us; the idea of renting some place that we had no attachment to for a couple of hours for a memorial left me cold.”


Sacred Crossings Provides Dignified Home Funerals

Pallbearers transport Bernardino "Dino" Zanini to a waiting van.

Ultimately, that is how, under the gentle guidance of a death midwife like Bareham, that Connolly and Zanini planned his funeral in order to empower them to take control of the end of his life.

“He was happy to be at the planning sessions,” Connolly said. “It was not anything that I would influence; he was taping sessions for hours. We also had a hospice that did a life review video and Olivia put together a photo slide show of the service; it’s a five-minute slide show; it’s lovely.”


Rev. Olivia Rosemarie Bareham, founder of Sacred Crossings, is a certified Death Midwife, Home Funeral Guide and Celebrant. She holds bachelors degrees in Education and Natural Theology in Sacred Healing and is an ordained Inter-faith Minister and Celebrant.

Bareham’s experience as an auxiliary nurse, hospice volunteer and her mother’s end-of-life caregiver inspired her to investigate a more meaningful and personal alternative to traditional funeral practices.

Her experiences and the at-home funerals she provides stands in stark contrast to the usual experiences in the United States of having a funeral home whisk your loved one away, only to face thousands of dollars of expenses while not really honoring your loved ones in the way you or they may have wanted to be remembered.

In fact, a few months earlier, Bareham presided over the home funeral of Mitch Metzner’s beloved husband, Gabe Gelbart, who had married just a few months before. Gelbart died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart condition.

Gelbart’s funeral was conducted by Bareham in the lovely garden of Anam Cara, the hospice he founded in Topanga with Metzner.

Thus, a trend was born in Topanga, one which, said Bareham, that more and more people are now opting for—an at-home funeral that they can plan on their own. According to Bareham, it’s legal and the numbers are growing.

For instance, did you know that in California a family-member could be the funeral director when a loved one dies? Law does not require embalming and the body can lay “in honor” at home on dry ice for the three-day vigil.

It is legal for a funeral home to bring the body home from a hospital so the preparation of the body and a service can take place in the home.

Part of the ritual is for family and guests to decorate a simple casket that can be transported to the cemetery or crematory, all of which can be done for a fraction of the cost of a traditional funeral.

As a result, Bareham says she now performs about 15-20 home services a year and her business is growing.

“I now work all over the place—Los Angeles, the Westside, Culver City, Mar Vista, and Costa Mesa,” she said. “I don’t say no to anyone; people can just have a one-day vigil or just want parts of a ceremony.”

Bareham said there are no legal complications about taking a body from the hospital to home and she uses different funeral homes to transport the body.

“At Sacred Crossings we are seeking to become a licensed funeral home service that does the paperwork and transportation,” she said.

In many ways, Bareham was perfectly prepared to become a death midwife. She had been a healer for 25 years and it was during the process of caring for her mother and subsequent death 10 years ago in Hartfordshire, England, that Bareham realized strangers didn’t have to prepare her mother’s body; she could do it herself.

After her mother died, Bareham bathed, dressed her and laid her out in a beautiful way so family and friends could honor her passing.

“What happened after she died catapulted me into this work,” she said. “A hospice nurse informed me of the possibility of saving her body and washing her with lovely lavender soap while I held my mother’s body in my arms; it was a profound experience. The passing of her life cracked open my awareness of life. I am now doing what she did for me when I was first born. It was not scary, it was not morbid, not even sad; I got to access the depth of how much I loved this woman. We had this whole time together to the end.”

To prepare for a home funeral, Bareham suggests taking one of her courses and seeking information before embarking on this process.

“Sit with your loved one,” she advises. “It’s a difficult subject to bring up, but it’s an important one. Embrace the fact that we are all going to die. It’s a huge benefit for your loved ones to choose what to wear, what kind of casket, the music to play; it’s a huge feeling of peace of mind, putting life in the time you have left.”

In order to empower people in the process of dying or seeing a loved one through the process, Bareham teaches a three-part death midwifery course: The Art of Death Midwifery, Conscious Dying and After-death Care of the body to learn how to bathe, dress, prepare the body and lay out the body in honor.

“The third part is all the different components—life celebration, funeral service, event planning with only two days to prepare—encapsulate a life in a 45-minute ceremony. It is important that everyone has a funeral service that honors them; this prepares people to honor their parents or significant other in a meaningful way.”

If you would like to learn more about the legalities and options for affordable after-death care, green burial and bio-cremations, Bareham invites people to join her for an intimate conversation.

For more information or to take classes: (310) 968-2763; sacredcrossings@gmail.com;or sacredcrossings.com


Rev. Olivia Rosemarie Bareham, founder of Sacred Crossings, is an inter-faith Minister with a BA in Natural Theology and Sacred Healing. She is a certified Death Midwife and Home Funeral Guide committed to empowering and guiding individuals in the art of Conscious Dying; Alternative After-death Care; Home Funerals and Green Burials.