I picked up the phone with my rehearsed, “Hello. This is the Wilde Funeral Home. Caleb speaking.” The voice on the other end says abruptly, “I have a problem … my son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”
Now that I know the nature of her call, the next five or six sentences are as rehearsed as the first.
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you” she says.
I pause … waiting to see if the silence elicits any farther response; and, at the same time I’m contemplating if I should deviate from the script and ask her about details of the death.
Keeping with the script, I continue on, inquiring about the hospital he’s at, the name of her daughter, her daughter’s phone number and then the hardest question of them all:
“Do you know if you want embalming or cremation?” I say with hesitation.
And what proceeded was her only scripted response.
“It depends on the condition of his body. The coroner told us he slammed into a tree without his helmet on, but they wouldn’t tell us anymore. If he’s bad … cremation. If he’s okay … embalming.”
We went over the plan of action, which consists of me calling the hospital to see if her son-in-law’s released, calling the coroner to inquire about the condition of the body and then calling her back to let her know a time she could come in to the funeral home and make arrangements.
I called the coroner’s office.
Got the release from the hospital.
And an hour later I was standing in the morgue unzipping the body bag to see if the body of this 40 year old man was viewable. It was the back of the head that hit the tree … something we could fix for his wife and four young children (ages 5 to 13), so they could see their husband and daddy one last time.
15 hours of restoration. He still didn’t look right. Dead people never look right. We’re so used to seeing them alive that dead is never accurate … but this was different. This was a motorcycle accident that threw a man into a tree.
We gave the wife the choice to continue on with the public viewing or close the lid and she chose to keep it open, sharing the reality and source of her pain in all its distortion … sharing it even with her four young children and all their schoolmates that came out in support, many of whom saw unperfected death for the very first time.
The scheduled end of the viewing came and went but people kept coming to view.
Finally the last person filed past the casket and the family knew the time to say their last good-bye had approached.
The viewing was held in a church, with the casket positioned at the front of a totally full sanctuary. As a way to provide privacy to the family, we turned the open casket around so that the lid blocked the view from the pews … creating a private space where tears could be shed in all their honest shock.
The sanctuary echoed with the cries of four children and their mother.
And the sanctuary echoed with the cries of four weeping children and their mother … making time stand silent.
The grandfather came up to the casket, wrapped his arms around the children and said, “This is hard for you to understand.” The tear soaked porcelain skin cheeks. The last look of their father’s physical body save the memories their young minds have stored.
In those moments as the sanctuary resounded with the cries produced by an inexplicable death, there wasn’t a person in the room who understood.
Yet all tried to understand. All grasped for an explanation.
In these moments — as we watched these young children — we all became like them. With all the well intended cliches emptied of meaning, we allowed our minds to reconcile with what our hearts were telling us: we simply can’t understand something that doesn’t make sense.
At 6:30 AM Friday morning the funeral home doors opened. This was the situation at 6:15.
This book sold out within the first hour:
Our “Two Funerals for the Price of One” was awarded to the first 15 customers in the arrangement room. Edna, Mary, Shirley, Evelyn and Ruth wait patiently to cash in on this special sale.
A melee broke out over our limited number of 80% off Funeral Director Lego set. Unfortunately, one of the participants involved in the melee passed away; fortunately, they passed away at a funeral home.
The highlight of the morning came at 10 AM when Tim Cook explained the advantages of the New RiPod over the RiPod 2.
As their wives wait in anticipation, Joe Schilling and Tom Johnson fought over a half-price casket:
The Barbie play set was sold out in 10 minutes.
In our “Used” section, customers took full advantage of our products, such as the one pictured below:
Finally, Adam Sweaty camped out in front of the funeral home for five days to be the first in line for this beautiful discounted Ford Mustang Hearse.
In Nederland, Colorado, there is an annual “Frozen Dead Guy Days“, which, among other things, includes a casket race (pictured below).
And you guys responded with nearly 200 glorious answers, many of which were very much industry specific (i.e., if you don’t work in the funeral business, you may not fully grasp the event. And, some of the events might seem disgusting to you, but are very real to us).
I absolutely love getting together with fellow funeral directors. Because we’re sort of a unique industry, it’s almost like we’re a part of some club. And when we’re together, we can share a part of ourselves that we hide from everyone else, even our closest family.
So, the idea of an Olympics would be AWESOME. And even though I have no plans to organize this event, if anyone else wants to, here are some event suggestions:
And here are some of my favorite event suggestions:
I’ve had some practice in this event:
And this guy would be the director of the Olympics ’cause he’s taking it all very seriously
And this is REALLY hard:
Absolutely disgusting. Seriously, though, I’d be good at it.
Today’s guest post comes from the innovative Jeff Staab. Jeff was a funeral director for 20 years; and eventually translated that experience to his entrepreneurial enterprise “Cremation Solutions”.
What is Grief?
Grief is defined as a state of extreme sorrow, especially caused due to the loss of a loved one. Grief is also accompanied by many other emotions depending on the type of loss and the kind of emotional attachment one had with the deceased. Irrespective of the cause of death and other similar situation, the pain is much more than a person is usually able to handle. There are other situations like paralysis, Alzheimer’s’ disease or a person gone missing when feelings of loss are felt.
The term is mostly used when someone witnesses the death of a loved one but the symptoms can also be seen with the loss of a job, children growing up and leaving home, disability, moving from one city to another. I was recently served with a Divorce from my wife and trust me it feels like death! The grief can feel the same whether the death is sudden or followed by prolonged illness. It basically is a mental condition and its extent varies with every individual.
Grief is further classified into disenfranchised, traumatic and complicated grief. While traumatic grief is due to a major unexpected event like a natural calamity, attack or any other violent method. This type of grief is often accompanied with anger, hatred, fear etc. Disenfranchised grief is relatively difficult to recognize and occurs due to smaller events like disability, loss of job, chronic illness, break up or any other public event. Complicated grief is the most difficult to identify and deal with.
Is Dealing with Grief a Part of Your Profession?
Loss and death are natural and inevitable truths of human life and we do need to create businesses to deal with these situations also. There are certain professions that have to deal with death and grief on a daily basis. People working as a doctor, nurse, paramedical, in funeral or insurance industry, police force etc have to learn how to deal with the extra stress of grief and sorrow. For an empathetic person, someone else’s grief also feels like his own and at times it becomes difficult to cope with it. I feel as a funeral director that for me to do a good job it’s impossible not to absorb elements of others grief. I tend to submerge myself into the situation and try to feel myself in their shoes to truly understand the needs of those I served. I probably should have been better at the art of disassociation because at year twenty I burnt out as they say, and became depressed for the first time in my life.
Working in the funeral industry is especially tougher because the medical professionals also get the opportunity to save people’s lives but this day never comes in the life of a funeral consultant. Thank god for the families that show appreciation and thanks. This is a tough job and it is real service to be around grieving people and give them the comfort and help them go through their pain till they reach a state of acceptance. Grieving people often become cranky and sensitized, so if there is any mis-communication , it is difficult to negotiate or remain stern with such clients. However, with time, you can prepare yourself and learn to be emotionally strong during these times.
Dealing with Your Own Feelings of Loss
As a funeral director I have attended many funerals and often found it hard to hold back the tears. We need to look strong and in control right! I cry like a baby now at weddings and tell others it’s from the buildup of having to hold the tears back at all those funerals. If you have suffered a loss, you know how it feels and seeing someone else in the same state may bring back your own feelings. Do not try to bury your feelings but learn to accept them. Death of a loved one is a prominent event of life and it takes it time to heal. Just because you are a person with a positive attitude, it does not mean that death of a loved one will leave you unaffected. Accept it as an inevitable life event and let it take the time it needs to heal. With this acceptance, you can feel better during the entire grieving process.
The trick is to let go as much as possible. Keep yourself busy with the daily activities. The tasks you usually delegate, do them yourself for a while. Keeping yourself physically active will also help you feel positive again and keep your mind in balance. Do not try to forget the person magically and feel bad when his or her thought come up. If you have spent a memorable time with someone, you definitely deserve to remember it.
Slowly, learn to move on. Keep faith in the almighty and accept that some things are just meant to be. Stop questioning and that will make life a lot more easier. It is important that you let go of the possessions of your loved one. The more you cling to them, the more you will remain miserable inside. Avoid getting into the state of denial and continue living the way you did, going to the same places, doing the same activities, eating the same food as you did with your loved ones. This will only deepen the grief and make it more difficult for you to carry on.
Being Around Someone in Grief
Most of us face the situation when we need to be there for people in grief. Many of us feel awkward in such situations and do not know what to say and how to react. The most important thing is to be there for them. If you don’t know what to say just don’t say anything. It is fine to be quiet at a funeral. Do not let the situation make you feel so awkward that you avoid it. A person suffering from a loss does not want more people to leave him alone whether you are a close friend, family or a stranger.
Most cultures have a huge gathering when someone is no more. Funerals should not necessarily be private or small. Having people around definitely helps. Just let them know that you understand and you care. It is not the best time to give them spiritual knowledge of how life and death don’t matter. If you know the person, feel free to talk about him a little. Share the feeling of grief and shed a few tears if you feel like.
Not many people think about it but a helping hand with the cooking comes as a great help during time of grief. Make them some tea, bring them cooked meals, do the dishes and take the garbage out. Practical help is much better than long condolences. Accompany them for routine tasks like shopping etc and drive them to public places once in a while.
Signs of Unresolved Grief
We often think that time heals everything and simply assume that the grieving period is over for someone just because few months or years have passed. In fact, the grief does not completely go away for most people. If the grief was not completely expressed initially, it may be piling up and explode at an inappropriate time. If there has been a violent activity involved with the loss, post traumatic stress can be seen. These symptoms can be identified as loss of appetite, inability to sleep well, constant headaches and backaches. All of these are signs of accumulated stress.
This happens when the person does not feel comfortable to share or express his feelings either publicly or privately. To avoid such conditions, it is advisable to attend funerals for people you care about. When a person hears others talking about the deceased, they also express themselves even if they are afraid to. If the grief is already accumulated, there are many ways to take care of it too.
Some Activities that Help Manage Grief
There are many things that you can do to keep yourself busy. Depending on your interest, you can choose an active sport or a creative hobby to devote some of your time regularly. Indulging in such activities will bring your mind back to the present moment for a while. You will get freedom from the anxieties of the future and memories of the past. Joining a dance class is a great idea because it will keep you physically and mentally occupied. Physical activity has been scientifically proved to reduce the stress hormones in the body.
Learn to meditate. It might be difficult at first but as you continue trying, it will heal you perfectly. Do not opt for an online meditation but rather go to a class to keep you committed. You can also get a massage or a spa treatment done. You might not feel like it, but go anyway. These are subtle techniques that reach and work at a level where you cannot reach on your own. .
Sometimes in life, we face situations that we are not prepared to handle. At these times, it is out faith in God that keeps us going. It is always helpful to attend a church or get exposed to other form of spiritual knowledge based on your religion and beliefs. It is possible to live a happy and healthy life in spite of the situation you are facing. There are many people who have faced big setbacks in life and still came out strong to face the world.
Remember than every situation that comes in your life can only make you stronger. Don’t only speak it but also live by it. Be thankful for the time you got to spend with your loved one and think of people who do not even have that much. Engage in community service and your heart will mend. Do something new, visit new places, make new friends. Take your time but get back to life head on.
Tears in the produce aisle of Wal-Mart.
Hugs at the gas station.
An affectionate gaze at the pizza shop.
Created by death.
To you, I’m all the depth without any superficial.
The person who helped you walk through the shadow.
The person who stood with you as you said your last goodbye.
As the lid was closed, I was there.
I am not your friend.
I am not your bar buddy.
We will never talk sports, or politics or local gossip.
I am almost your brother.
I am your funeral director.
And I carry your death experience.
I carry in my own heart your grief, you insecurities, your hardest moment.
I remind you of him, of her … in many cases, I remind you of them.
I carry the depth. Your deep is in me.
The depth of this community is my association.
Everywhere I go, I carry death.