Archive for July, 2012
How do we learn to die?
We live in a world that panics at this question and turns away. Other civilizations before ours looked squarely at death. They mapped the passage for both the community and the individual. They infuse the fulfillment of destiny with a richness of meaning.
Never perhaps have our relations with death been as barren as they are in this modern spiritual desert, in which our rush to a mere existence carries us past all sense of mystery. We do not even know that we are parching the essence of life of one of its wellsprings.
— Foreward to “Intimate Death”
Death is not something that we like to think about on a consistent basis.
When I began this blog, I knew I’d be up against some challenges. Good blogs are by nature consistent. But who wants to subscribe to a consistent dose of posts about death and dying? I guess you could say that this is a good bad blog. As a way to lose more potential readers, I also decided to not only write about death, but to write about another topic that is equally as distasteful: God.
Nevertheless — despite writing about two topics most people like to ignore — I have found a way to communicate the intersection of Death and God through articles like:
If you’ve linked from Rachel Held Evans blog to here, let me say, “Thanks for coming!”
For my regular readers (I love you all), today I have the privilege of being at Rachel Held Evan’s blog as a part of her “Ask a … Series”.
Last Thursday, her readership asked me nearly 70 questions. Today, I respond to seven of the most popular questions.
Here are the questions I’ve answered at her blog:
1. From Marcus: Based on the numerous funerals you’ve had to observe, what’s the one (or as many as you’d like!) suggestion you’d give to pastors?
2. From Bobbie: What is the most unique funeral custom you have ever been faced with? What rituals do you find to be most helpful to the grieving?
3. From me: Does anything about your profession trigger doubts about your faith? Do you ever doubt the afterlife?
4. From Sam: What are your views on cremation? Do you ever run into pastors who are opposed to it?
5. From Chad: Caleb, what is the best part of being a funeral director? What are the bright spots in the dark business of death? How do you keep your soul alive in the midst of such loss and grief?
6. From E-grush: I’m a father of two young children (ages five and eight) and have terminal cancer. What can I do for them that would be most helpful in the dying process? And is there anything you can recommend that may help with the challenge to faith that these circumstances present? Most Christians’ answers are trite and too easy, in my experience.
7. From Martha: What about grieving as an act of worship? I’d love to know your thoughts. My husband died two years ago. I thought I was basically through the intense part of grieving, but recent events have forced me to re-visit some grief issues. How can I see this as an act of worship? How can I turn this very painful process into worship?
So, please, show your support and head on over to rachelheldevans.com and ask me any questions you want.
In the past seven days, a new trend has sprouted. People have used their obituaries to disclose previously unknown information.
Sally Ride — the first female astronaut — used her obituary to unveil her 27 year companionship with Tam O’Shaughnessy. And while Sally was a hero in life, here obituary just doesn’t have the flair that Val Patterson wove into his obituary.
Val Patterson — a little known scientist from Utah — wrote for himself one of the more intriguing (and long) obituaries I’ve read. It’s epic. The confessions start in the fourth paragraph, but — if I were you — I’d read the whole thing. It’s packed with goodness and humor, and a dash of wisdom.
1953 – 2012
I was Born in Salt Lake City, March 27th 1953. I died of Throat Cancer on July 10th 2012. I went to six different grade schools, then to Churchill, Skyline and the U of U. I loved school, Salt Lake City, the mountains, Utah. I was a true Scientist. Electronics, chemistry, physics, auto mechanic, wood worker, artist, inventor, business man, ribald comedian, husband, brother, son, cat lover, cynic.
I had a lot of fun. It was an honor for me to be friends with some truly great people. I thank you. I’ve had great joy living and playing with my dog, my cats and my parrot. But, the one special thing that made my spirit whole, is my long love and friendship with my remarkable wife, my beloved Mary Jane. I loved her more than I have words to express. Every moment spent with my Mary Jane was time spent wisely. Over time, I became one with her, inseparable, happy, fulfilled.
I enjoyed one good life. Traveled to every place on earth that I ever wanted to go. Had every job that I wanted to have. Learned all that I wanted to learn. Fixed everything I wanted to fix. Eaten everything I wanted to eat. My life motto was: “Anything for a Laugh”. Other mottos were “If you can break it, I can fix it”, “Don’t apply for a job, create one”. I had three requirements for seeking a great job; 1 – All glory, 2 – Top pay, 3 – No work.
Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for.
For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work.
Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland – you can now throw away that “Banned for Life” file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore – and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.
To the gang: We grew up in the very best time to grow up in the history of America. The best music, muscle cars, cheap gas, fun kegs, buying a car for “a buck a year” – before Salt Lake got ruined by over population and Lake Powell was brand new. TV was boring back then, so we went outside and actually had lives. We always tried to have as much fun as possible without doing harm to anybody – we did a good job at that.
If you are trying to decide if you knew me, this might help… My father was RD “Dale” Patterson, older brother “Stan” Patterson, and sister “Bunny” who died in a terrible car wreck when she was a Junior at Skyline. My mom “Ona” and brother “Don” are still alive and well. In college I worked at Vaughns Conoco on 45th South and 29th East. Mary and I are the ones who worked in Saudi Arabia for 8 years when we were young. Mary Jane is now a Fitness Instructor at Golds on Van Winkle – you might be one of her students – see what a lucky guy I am? Yeah, no kidding.
My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments. My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me. I feel such the “thief” now – for stealing so much from her – there is no pill I can take to erase that pain.
If you knew me or not, dear reader, I am happy you got this far into my letter. I speak as a person who had a great life to look back on. My family is following my wishes that I not have a funeral or burial. If you knew me, remember me in your own way. If you want to live forever, then don’t stop breathing, like I did.
There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response to my article “10 Burdens Funeral Directors Carry“. We funeral directors carry a unique set of burdens. And there’s ways — both positive and negative — that we cope with our burdens.
Here’s 10 coping methods funeral directors use.
The first five are coping methods that are negative or maladaptive techniques.
The last five are positive coping methods. One or more of these methods MUST be used if a person is to stay in this profession AND maintain a healthy personal and family life.
NEGATIVE COPING METHODS
Funeral service is a business that is both uncontrollable and unpredictable. Since funeral directors can’t control death and death’s schedule, we attempt to control those things and/or people that we DO have power over. We too often take out our frustrations, fears and anger on those closest to us.
And we often displace those emotions on those closest to us with some kind of aggression. In an attempt to cope and find a sense of control in our uncontrolled and unpredictable world, we will often emotionally and verbally manipulate and control our family, co-workers, employees, associates and those closest to us, making us seem nearly bi-polar as we treat the grieving families that we serve with love and support and yet treat our staff and family with all the emotional turmoil that we’re feeling inside.
Three. Emotional Suppression.
We are paid to be the stable minds in the midst of unstable souls. We withhold and withhold and withhold and then … then the floodgates open, turning our normally stable personality into a blithering, sobbing mess, or creating a monster of seething anger and rage. During different occasions, I have become both the mess and the monster. The difficulty is only compounded by the fact that you just cannot make your spouse or best friend understand how raising the carotid artery of a nine-month old infant disturbs your mind.
We cope with alcohol. I know a number who attempt to waste their troubles away with a bottle.
Sexual callousness. The sexual philandering that occurred in Six Feet Under was not just for higher TV ratings.
Compassion fatigue happens to all of us in funeral service. If we can’t bounce back from the fatigue, we begin a journey down the road to callousness. Once calloused, we tell ourselves that “death isn’t as bad as ‘these people’ are making it seem.” Once we trivialize the grief and death we see, we can easily justify charging the hell out of the families we serve.
POSITIVE COPING METHODS
The funeral business contains many burdens. Yet, the good we can do and the beauty we can find around death – if we look for it – may outweigh the darkness. Learning to see the light in the darkness of death is a positive way we can cope.
Learn to love serving others. Probably the best means to cope with the funeral business is found in the people we serve. Love them intentionally and don’t be afraid to find joy in meeting their needs. Don’t be afraid to hear their stories and become apart of their family.
Don’t be passive with the burdens you carry. Actively attempt to find positive ways to deal with your burden. Exercise. Eat better. Take a vacation. Go out with your friends. If you can’t shed your burdens on your own, seek counseling. Find a psychologist. Find a psychiatrist. Talk out your problems with someone wiser than you.
Nine. Spiritual Community and Personal Growth.
Using religion as an opiate to ignore reality is something I speak AGAINST on a regular basis. Instead, seek a community where there’s faith authenticity. Find people who can encourage you with their love and support as you worship together and ponder the mysteries and truths of a better world.
If this business is wrecking your life and the lives of those around you, then salvage what you have left and quit this business. Quitting doesn’t make you a failure. Quitting doesn’t make you weak. You know more than anyone that you only have one life to life. Live it to its fullest by doing something that breathes life into your soul.
Times are rough. And although I’ve yet to see a funeral home offer groupons, coupons and the like, there are some possibilities for those who are looking to lower the cost of dying.
Here are a couple of those options:
I would go with this service simply for the fact that the hearse is pink.
Deeper is always better. That’s what Budget Burials said.
If you’re really in a pinch, I bet these guys could sell you a certified used casket. Certified clean, classy and comfortable. So clean, in fact, that you won’t even know they were used.
Also, what does the “More” stand for? I’m frightened.
I’m not too sure what this means, but judging by the sign, I would think that “Dead People Things” are more inexpensive than “Living People Things.”