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I'm a sixth generation funeral director. I have a grad degree in Missional Theology and a Certification in Thanatology.
And I like to read and write.
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Posts by Caleb Wilde
Many of us have the gift of moving through the grief process as we find a way — often after years and years of remaking — to put grief to a restless slumber.
Anne Lamott writes,
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
It only takes something small … maybe a smell, a scent that reminds us of our loved one; or a picture; an activity to cause an overflow of the deep well of tears to burst forth from the depths. Even after years, grief is always at the surface. Tears we had momentarily forgotten about, feelings we had buried with the everyday activities that we’ve used to help us move on, and then it happens. Our buried, bruised soul awakens.
Grief sleeps lightly; ready to be awoken by the slightest touch.
But there’s a grief that doesn’t sleep.
A grief that has no beginning and seemingly no end. A grief that may never heal.
I walked into the hospital, carrying my toolbox-sized brown box by the handle. Dressed in my suit, tie, and dress shoes, I get awkward glances from the observant staff as they process “A man dressed for business … carrying what appears to be a toolbox … in a hospital.”
I walk into medical records, Maria the secretary recognizes me from previous visits and she asks, “Who are you here for?”
“Baby X”, I say.
She tells me to take a seat as she rummages through her files.
After a minute or so she arises from her paperwork, finds what she needs and makes eye contact with me, signaling me to come closer.
“Here’s the release. I’ll call the security guard”, she says.
“Great!” I say cheerfully, thankful that process seems to be going more smoothly than expected.
“One more thing … who’s going to sign the cremation authorization?” I ask. “I was told that the case worker was going to sign it. Is she here?”
After another minute of rummaging and five minutes worth of phone calls, “No, the caseworker’s not here.”
“Here comes the obstacles” I think to myself.
I explain what’s going on, making sure Maria fully understands the situation: “The mother’s in jail, so she terminated her rights to her newborn ….”
Maria interrupts, “I understand the child lived for an hour.”
“ … being that the mother is in jail, with no money and no family who wants to give the child a funeral, we were asked by the mother’s case worker if we’d cremate the child pro bono. We agreed … but I still need a signature for cremation authorization from whoever the rights were given to ….”
“Okay. Let me make some phone calls.”
Ten minutes later I was walking to the morgue carrying my little brown box by the handle, having resolved the situation.
As I entered the morgue, and gently placed the dead infant in my box, I couldn’t help but think about how the mother of this child will process her grief. It will be an apparition. Here and there. Such a short beginning with no closure.
These thoughts have haunted me over the past couple weeks, so I want to do something right here and now, with you present. I want to remember this short life by offering the only act I know to do. I’d like to write an obituary.
Baby X, passed into and out of this world on Sunday, January 8th, 2012 at the Chester County Hospital. He is survived by his mother, who cared for him for nine months, had the chance to name him upon his birth and who has been thinking about him ever since.
Although your time was short on this earth, you have not gone unremembered. Today, I remember you. Today, we remember you. In our silence, we remember.
PREFACE: Sometimes I write a post that’s not all that great, but I post it anyways. Today’s post is one of those posts.
If you keep tabs on pop culture, you’ve heard that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian had a baby. Congratulations, Kimye. I hope that your love for your little girl forces you both into an early retirement.
Either of their names — but especially Kanye’s — raises my blood pressure and puts me into a bad mood. ”Why?” you ask. Because I don’t like them (especially Kanye). There’s a number of people I don’t like … Newt Gingrich, Justin Bieber, Alex Rodriguez, Bashar al-Assad and Rush Limbaugh make my list, but for me, Kanye is today’s incarnation of Narcissus.
After Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV MVAs, Barack Obama responded by saying that Kanye West is a “jackass.” When the President of the United States and the leader of the free world takes time out of his very important day, and — instead of spending that moment deciding about the future of America, or the future of the earth — decides to comment on a trivial pop star, you know that said popstar is worth the title of “jackass.” To further solidify his position on Kanye West, Obama again reiterated in 2012 that although Kanye is indeed talented, he remains a jackass.
Let me be clear: when I say, “I don’t like Kanye West”, it doesn’t mean much. But when the leader of the free world twice takes time out of his day to call Kanye a “jackass”, there must be a general sentiment in the populace.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that Kanye is killing me.
Now to give credence to my assertion that Kanye West is killing me, we need to look at a concept called “micromort”.
This from Wikipedia:
Definition of a Micromort
How a Micromort is Calculated
The average risk of dying per day can be calculated from the average lifetime. Assuming this is 70 years, that means there is one death for every 25,550 days lived (70 × 365 = 25,550).
The number of micromorts per day is one million divided by that number of days; in this case, about 39 micromorts acquired individually every day. The number of micromorts per day is divided by 24 hours; that is about 1.63 micromorts per hour. This is just an average across an entire population: the number of micromorts per day will vary across different categories of people, such as by age, sex and lifestyle.
Here’s Where it Get’s Fun
Activities that increase the death risk by one micromort, and their associated cause of death:
- Smoking 1.4 cigarettes (cancer, heart disease)[unreliable source?]
- Drinking 0.5 liter of wine (cirrhosis of the liver)
- Spending 1 hour in a coal mine (black lung disease)
- Spending 3 hours in a coal mine (accident)
- Living 2 days in New York or Boston (air pollution)
- Living 2 months with a smoker (cancer, heart disease)
- Drinking Miami water for 1 year (cancer from chloroform)
- Eating 100 charcoal-broiled steaks (cancer from benzopyrene)
- Eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter (liver cancer from Aflatoxin B)
- Eating 1000 bananas, (cancer from radioactive 1 kBED of Potassium-40)
- Travelling 6 minutes by canoe (accident)
- Travelling 6 miles by motorbike (accident)
- Travelling 17 miles by walking (accident)
- Travelling 10 miles (or 20 miles) by bicycle (accident)
- Travelling 230 miles (370 km) by car (accident) (or 250 miles)
- Travelling 6000 miles (9656 km) by train (accident)
- Flying 1000 miles (1609 km) by jet (accident)
Increase in death risk for other activities on a per event basis:
- Hang gliding – 8 micromorts per trip
- Scuba diving – 4.72 micromorts per dive
- Skydiving (in the US) – 7 micromorts per jump
And finally, I will add my own: Hearing the name “Kanye West” — 2 micromorts.
Two micromorts, you say, how do you get that number? Here’s how.
A single micromort typical value is around $50[2009 value]
An application of micromorts is measuring the value that humans place on risk: for example, one can consider the amount of money one would have to pay a person to get him or her to accept a one-in-a-million chance of death (or conversely the amount that someone might be willing to pay to avoid a one-in-a-million chance of death). When put thus, people claim a high number but when inferred from their day-to-day actions (e.g., how much they are willing to pay for safety features on cars) a typical value is around $50 (in 2009).
How did I estimate that hearing Kanye West’s name causes two micromorts to my lifespan? Because you’d have to pay me $100 to hear “He-who-must-not-be-named”.
Exact science. Bam. Thank you scientific method.
1. Lead by Example.
By virtue of my 10-week-old son, this will be the first Father’s Day that I celebrate as a father. And like many new fathers, my first born has caused me to re-evaluate myself and my priorities, making me feel nervously unprepared to be the example that I now am.
In many ways, I’ve emulated my father. Though I may not consciously know how to be a great father, there’s a real sense that I can trust the instincts my dad’s instilled.
2. Being Caleb is better than being Superman.
My son – if he so chooses – will be the 7th generation of Wilde funeral directors. Not only am I the 6th generation funeral director on my paternal side, but I would have been the 5th generation on my maternal side had my mom decided to join her father’s funeral business. I’m a thoroughbred funeral director.
After 11 generations of my progenitors breathing formalin fumes, I have yet to develop a superpower. And even though I’ve wanted to be in the linage of Superman since I saw Christopher Reeves don blue tights, I’m content just being Caleb. After all, it’s Caleb that my dad has always loved.
3. Presence is better than Presents.
The greatest gift my dad ever game me was his time. As a funeral director and a new father, I realize how hard it was for him to make time for me. He could have worked harder, made more money and given me cooler things, better cars, etc. Instead, he worked less, made less money and gave me himself.
4. Service over Business.
People are an end in and of themselves. Money is a means. This I know, for my father showed me so.
5. Respect Your Elders.
My grandfather was born on the second floor of the funeral home and was embalming bodies by the age of fourteen (so he says). For dramatic effect, Pop-Pop secretly hopes he’ll die while embalming a body.
Upon starting at the funeral home nearly a decade ago, I’ve studied my grandfather like a text book and, as a result, I think I could pass the “Good Funeral Director” test. Oddly enough, it’s by respecting my elders that I’ve been prepared for the future.
6. Smile. Look people in the eye and shake their hand.
It’s a lost art. But, it’s an art that I’ve regularly seen my dad practice.
7. Everyone Has a Story.
My dad is one of the most tolerant people I know – partially because he has an understanding personality and partially because the funeral business makes tolerance a necessity. While others pigeon hole certain groups that are “different,” I listen to their story. I want to hear their story because I’ve always seen my dad be more interested in people than kowtowing to the interests of his tribe.
8. “If you did something wrong, it’d be in the newspaper the day before you did it.”
At first, I wasn’t a fan of having a legacy I didn’t create. Everybody knows that I’m a Wilde. And everybody has an expectation that I SHOULD be just like the rest of my family. When I was younger, the “Wilde” name was a restraint, now I wear it – not as a burden – but as a badge.
Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking. In funeral service, there’s many times when “nobody is looking”. And every time I’ve secretly watched my dad, I’ve seen him doing right … whether at home or at the funeral home.
10. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
How many times has my present strength been arrested by worrying about what’s ahead? Be present … we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
11. Laugh as often as you can.
Whether it was watching The Three Stooges, Monty Python or his propensity to flatulate, my dad always found a way to make me laugh.
12. “Not everybody is as lucky as you are.”
Fathers are rarely neutral figures. They’ve either been monumental failures or, well, father figures. I’m lucky. And while not everyone is as lucky as I am, everyone has the opportunity to be the best they can be and make their son or daughter as lucky as I was. And my hope for this my first Father’s Day is that my son will one day be counted among the lucky.
Last year I wrote this “Father’s Day” post for funeralOne’s blog. If you’re in the funeral industry, and you don’t read funearlOne’s blogs, you’re missing out on some of the best online content available.
funearlOne’s blog content writer, Krystal Penrose, has one of the most beautiful father’s day tributes you’ll ever read, “What Losing My Father Taught Me About Father’s Day.” I teared up when I read it … it’s that good.
Today’s guest post is from Bryan Stucky. Bryan is a graduate of American Academy Mcallister Institute of Funeral Service. The first in his family to become a funeral director, he has dreams of opening up his own funeral home and passing on his love for service to a second generation.
Early in the week I was busy at work screwing someone’s skull back on. There is nothing new here, just about everyone that comes from the medical examiner I have to put together. But as I stood there, putting this young girl back together I couldn’t help but think “What a waste”. I’ll see anywhere from about 2-6 deaths a month that are due to suicide or drugs.
I, of course, never have an actual conversation with the deceased but everyone tells a story. Thankfully most tell a common story. I bring them into the prep room and begin my work. I carefully remove the blanket their family wrapped them in. Often they are holding a cross, or a photo of a memory. The wrinkles of age appear on their body and you can tell they were old and have had their time on this earth, hopefully most of it happy.
Unfortunately on those occasions where a body comes from the medical examiner the story is often different. Sometimes there are bruises, or needle marks. Other times the neck will be destroyed because of a hanging, or there will be a bullet wound to the head. Cuts on inner thighs can often indicate self-mutilation.
After I’m done you won’t see the needle marks, nor will you see where the noose was hung around their necks. I’ll spend my hours sewing up their bodies and hiding their wounds. However, despite this I feel like I would not be doing my duty to society to not share some of these stories. Suicide and drugs are needless deaths.
At some point, everybody has thoughts about their own death. I know I have. There are times when ending one’s life seems better than living. For those that do choose suicide, you don’t get to see the physical aftermath. Nor do you see the complicated grief, pain and devastation aftermath that you leave behind. You don’t see the family that I have to meet with.
And, It turns out all those people you thought didn’t care about you really did. Your mother or father or siblings will ask me why you killed yourself, what they should have done, and how to go on with life without you. These are questions I can’t answer. I’ll be with them as they try their hardest to pick out a casket or an urn, still not fully realizing you’re gone. I’ll also be there at the funeral service when all your friends and family will talk about the hole that you have left in their lives.
If you are thinking about ending your life — coming from a person who listens to the stories after you’re gone – let me tell you, YOU ARE A BIG PART OF THE PEOPLES LIVES AROUND YOU. It’s a deed that cannot be undone, and the people around you are the ones that have to live with it.
I’d also like to talk about drugs.
A family came in to meet with me about their daughter. She was a senior in high school and about to graduate. Her family had no idea why she died. She was brought up in a Christian household, with a family who loved her. She was always happy and wasn’t one to run with the wrong crowd. She was found dead one day face down in her bedroom; there was no needles present, no gun, no signs of trauma.
Because of this, the time I spent with the family was very difficult. First they had to bury their young daughter, but it was made even harder since they did not know what killed her, nor would they for months to come (as the medical examiner often takes months to confirm findings). We spent hours as they told me stories about their little girl.
It was painstakingly hard to select a casket, flowers, folders etc. … you could tell with every decision the realization that their daughter was gone was becoming more clear. At the end they handed me her senior photo so I would know what she looked like. Looking at the photo I couldn’t help but wonder myself what killed this girl. Normally it is fairly obvious, especially when I am piecing them back together.
I would not find out until much later that the cause was an overdose on cough syrup. Her and a friend were trying “Tusin tripping” (Robitussin). She had never used any sort of drugs before. When I called the family months after the service to deliver the news, you can imagine their reaction. They had a happy family, and strong faith.
They will likely spend the rest of their lives wondering what they could have done to prevent this.
This is not an uncommon story in my line of work. If you’re using drugs STOP. Especially over the counter drugs. I’ve seen people die from trying heroin once. Or from abusing pain killers. You may not think that trying something once will kill you, and you’re probably right it most likely won’t. But why take the chance? You will be literally torturing those you leave behind as they spend their days wondering what THEY did wrong.
When I meet with families, it is too late. I need the help of others to try to reduce needless deaths. Neither you nor I can save everyone from drugs or suicide. But maybe we can help one person, and by saving them, save all those they would be leaving behind.
When an individual dies, that death throws a web of relationships out of balance, causing the bereaved to *attempt* to find a new homeostasis. This disrupted “new normal” is best found together in community.
When grief isn’t shared. When there is no community to share it. When it isn’t recognized by society, then grief becomes complicated.
There is grief that is produced by “deaths” (both literal and real) in our society that aren’t recognized. This kind of grief is a disenfranchised grief.
Here are a couple forms of grief that simply aren’t validated by society:
1. Grief from miscarriages. This is a silent grief. A grief that few people share; and when they do share, few people show compassion. And while the mother may have the greatest form of disenfranchised grief, the father can also be the silent sufferer as he is sometimes thrust in the supporting role, being unable to deal with his own emotions.
2. Death of a pet. Pets become part of the family; and when they die it’s almost like losing a family member, except no one in the community recognizes your loss. ”It’s just a dog” is both true and false.
3. Grief from abortions. This topic has become so political that it has lost its human element. Abortions hurt. And the mothers who choose abortions will often grieve. Even if they don’t grieve at the time of the abortion, they will often grieve later in life.
4. Grief of the supporter. When death occurs, roles quickly play out. There’s the main mourner(s) and there’s the supporting cast. That supporting cast — those who take care of the main mourner (the spouse of the deceased, the children of the deceased) — are often very close to the deceased themselves. But because they are the supporters, they simply aren’t allowed the time to grieve. They are the strong ones.
5. Grief from suicide. Suicide is such a difficult, tragic and complicated death that those who are left behind are often not sure how to grieve … or if they should even grieve at all. To complicate the issue, outside society can often look at suicide as such a taboo that they don’t recognize the grief of those surrounding the suicide.
6. Grief of the “Outsider”. At funerals, we will sometimes have family members state, “So-and-so is not allowed at this funeral. If you see so-and-so trying to enter the funeral home, ask them to leave.” We had a case not too long ago where two friends were out drinking. On their way home from the bar, the driver wrecked his car, killing the passenger while the driver walked away unharmed. The family of the passenger disallowed the driver from attending the funeral, even though the deceased was his best friend.
This outsider may be an ex-spouse, an unrecognized (often gay) love relationship, an “illegitimate” child or anyone that — for one reason or another — is not accepted or wanted by the insiders.
Have you ever experienced disenfranchised grief?
Have you even been the one who has disenfranchised someone else’s grief?