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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
Here’s the text of the talk (the video is at the very bottom):
I’ve been a critical care EMT for the past seven years in Suffolk County, New York. I’ve been a first responder in a number of incidents ranging from car accidents to Hurricane Sandy.
If you are like most people, death might be one of your greatest fears. Some of us will see it coming.Some of us won’t. There is a little-known documented medical term called impending doom. It’s almost a symptom. As a medical provider, I’m trained to respond to this symptom like any other, so when a patient having a heart attack looks at me and says, “I’m going to die today,” we are trained to reevaluate the patient’s condition.
Throughout my career, I have responded to a number of incidents where the patient had minutes left to live and there was nothing I could do for them. With this, I was faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the dying that they are about to face death, or do I lie to them to comfort them? Early in my career, I faced this dilemma by simply lying. I was afraid. I was afraid if I told them the truth, that they would die in terror, in fear, just grasping for those last moments of life.
That all changed with one incident. Five years ago, I responded to a motorcycle accident. The rider had suffered critical, critical injuries. As I assessed him, I realized that there was nothing that could be done for him, and like so many other cases, he looked me in the eye and asked that question: “Am I going to die?” In that moment, I decided to do something different. I decided to tell him the truth. I decided to tell him that he was going to die and that there was nothing I could do for him. His reaction shocked me to this day. He simply laid back and had a look of acceptance on his face. He was not met with that terror or fear that I thought he would be. He simply laid there, and as I looked into his eyes, I saw inner peace and acceptance. From that moment forward, I decided it was not my place to comfort the dying with my lies.Having responded to many cases since then where patients were in their last moments and there was nothing I could do for them, in almost every case, they have all had the same reaction to the truth, of inner peace and acceptance. In fact, there are three patterns I have observed in all these cases.
The first pattern always kind of shocked me. Regardless of religious belief or cultural background, there’s a need for forgiveness. Whether they call it sin or they simply say they have a regret, their guilt is universal. I had once cared for an elderly gentleman who was having a massive heart attack. As I prepared myself and my equipment for his imminent cardiac arrest, I began to tell the patient of his imminent demise. He already knew by my tone of voice and body language. As I placed the defibrillator pads on his chest, prepping for what was going to happen, he looked me in the eye and said, “I wish I had spent more time with my children and grandchildren instead of being selfish with my time.” Faced with imminent death, all he wanted was forgiveness.
The second pattern I observe is the need for remembrance. Whether it was to be remembered in my thoughts or their loved ones’, they needed to feel that they would be living on. There’s a need for immortality within the hearts and thoughts of their loved ones, myself, my crew, or anyone around.Countless times, I have had a patient look me in the eyes and say, “Will you remember me?”
The final pattern I observe always touched me the deepest, to the soul. The dying need to know that their life had meaning. They need to know that they did not waste their life on meaningless tasks.
This came to me very, very early in my career. I had responded to a call. There was a female in her late 50s severely pinned within a vehicle. She had been t-boned at a high rate of speed, critical, critical condition. As the fire department worked to remove her from the car, I climbed in to begin to render care.As we talked, she had said to me, “There was so much more I wanted to do with my life.” She had felt she had not left her mark on this Earth. As we talked further, it would turn out that she was a mother of two adopted children who were both on their way to medical school. Because of her, two children had a chance they never would have had otherwise and would go on to save lives in the medical field as medical doctors. It would end up taking 45 minutes to free her from the vehicle. However, she perished prior to freeing her.
I believed what you saw in the movies: when you’re in those last moments that it’s strictly terror, fear. I have come to realize, regardless of the circumstance, it’s generally met with peace and acceptance, that it’s the littlest things, the littlest moments, the littlest things you brought into the world that give you peace in those final moments.
From People Magazine:
For the past 29 years, Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life – running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
So, it’s no surprise she is facing her death the same way.
And on Nov. 1, Maynard, who in April was given six months to live, intends to end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor – and she wants to make it clear it is NOT suicide.
“There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there’s not.”
Maynard has a stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.
“My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that’s out of my control,” she says. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
The campaign’s six-minute video includes interviews with Brittany as well as her mother, Debbie Ziegler, and husband, Dan Diaz, 42.
“My entire family has gone through a cycle of devastation,” she says. “I’m an only child – this is going to make tears come to my eyes. For my mother, it’s really difficult, and for my husband as well, but they’ve all supported me because they’ve stood in hospital rooms and heard what would happen to me.”
Maynard was a newlywed when she started having debilitating headaches last January. That’s when she learned she had brain cancer.
“My husband and I were actively trying for a family, which is heartbreaking for us,” she says in the video.
Three months later, after undergoing surgery, she found out the tumor had grown even larger and was told she had, at best, six months to live.
After researching all her options after her diagnosis, Maynard, who was living in San Francisco at the time, decided aid in dying was her best option.
Her entire family moved with her to Portland earlier this year so she could have access to Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, which has been in place since late 1997. Since then, 1,173 people have had prescriptions written under the act, and 752 have used them to die.
To read the rest of the article click HERE.
Below is the video where Maynard talks about her decision.
Today’s guest post is written by Kelsey Munger:
“Today we’re going to get into small groups,” my thanatology teacher announced, handing out a list of questions. The challenge: planning Wonder Woman’s funeral.
Wonder Woman, according to our assignment, had tragically passed away after many years of kicking butt as a sexy crime fighting crusader in the name of justice. Because she was loved the world over, Ms. Wonder Woman’s only direct request was that her body disposition (what’s done to the body), final disposition (the body’s final resting place), and funeral service equally include all of the many unique death-related practices without offending or marginalizing any of the inhabitants of the earth.
The request was sweet … but not exactly simple.
Despite appearing noble and caring, for a universal icon to not play favorites when it came to cultural death-related practices, her request wasn’t practical or even, well, possible.
“This is taking too long; we’re not going to get done on time if we don’t hurry,” I said, looking at the clock on the wall.
“Maybe we need to just pick something so we can get started—say embalming, that’s a popular option,” one of my funeral planning teammates suggested.
“Yeah, it’s a popular option here, in the States,” I reminded. “But not even everyone in the United States wants to be embalmed. Entire groups of people would still be left out.”
It’s just flat out impossible to sprinkle someone’s cremains and simultaneously embalm their body. It’s just not going to happen. And someone looking for an all-natural just-dig-a-hole-and-throw-me-in-it style burial won’t want all the embalming chemicals and they’re not going to want their body sprinkled somewhere like crumbs being shaken onto the ground off a picnic blanket, either.
Then there are always the more unusual options, like cryogenics or allowing the corpse to rot (yeah, it’s not really my first choice either) or possibly even rockets (well, at least in a universe infested with super heroes). That’s not even all of the options when it comes to deciding what the heck to do with someone’s body!
Therefore, whatever we did with the body of our deceased crime fightin’ gal, someone was, inevitably, not going to be a happy camper. Some entire culture, if not multiple cultures, would feel forgotten or completely offended. At least a dozen sacred religious traditions would be violated. And there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it.
We couldn’t even decide what to do with the body let alone what type of funeral service we’d have. Would it be somber or celebratory like a wake? Would it be religious—and, if so, what religious traditions would it follow—or secular?
“Why didn’t Wonder Woman just say what she wanted?” one of my partners said in exasperation. “Then, even if people didn’t like it we could at least tell them that it’s what she wanted—that it was honoring her wishes.” But now all the blame for this imaginary funeral planning would fall squarely on our shoulders’
However, unfortunately for us, Wonder Woman hadn’t considered the level of stress and frustration her vague request would cause her poor funeral planners in their sociology class.
As I weighed various personal, cultural, and religious reasons for cremation versus embalming, it suddenly occurred to me that “don’t spend a lot of money”—my only stipulation for my own funeral and body disposition—was just as impractical and potentially problematic as Wonder Woman’s request.
No matter how well my family knew me they would still be left guessing about the specifics: Would she have preferred embalming, cremation, or an earth burial? What about a viewing? Would she have wanted specific music or a slideshow at the funeral? Would she have wanted a funeral at all? And if so, should it be a secular or religious? Or some combination of the two? And what about a grave marker?
I realized not giving my family any details would be like when a friend says, “Oh, you know what I like” in response to what she wants for lunch. Instead of her nonspecific order helping the situation by making it less complicated, it just makes things unnecessarily difficult for everyone (Does she want a hamburger or a cheeseburger? What size fries? Would she want a drink? Diet or regular?).
Whether I want my family fretting about my funeral or not … they will. And unlike Wonder Woman’s funeral planners, who were sitting comfortably in their Sociology of Death and Dying classroom, their biggest concern being the upcoming midterm, my relatives will also be grieving. They’ll be mourning, overwhelmed with options, and unsure what I would’ve really wanted.
While it might be impossible to please all the inhabitants of Earth the way Wonder Woman had naively hoped, I can at least take some of the future burden of funeral planning off of my family members by making my final order a little less vague.
Fries, and supersize ‘em.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kelsey Munger is a born-and-bred Washingtonian who lives just outside beautiful, rainy (sometimes a little moldy) Seattle, Washington. When she’d not dodging showers, she can be found reading about social justice issues, American history, spirituality, or thanatology (people often refer to her books as “boring” or “morbid” but she enjoys them).
Miscarriages cause a silent grief. A nameless grief. Often a disenfranchised grief.
A grief for one who had no connections in life. No schoolmates, no friends, no co-workers … all of which translates to no funeral. A grief that can’t be shared.
A grief to be borne solely by the ones who conceived. A grief that is carried by the one who may now feel guilt upon silent grief because she miscarried.
This is a grief that is often carried alone. A grief that is too often complicated by guilt. A grief that is private and difficult to share. A grief for a nameless soul.
I’ve seen all too many women (and some men) try to be strong after a miscarriage only to find the grief manifest itself over the next couple months and even years. This is a very real grief and it’s not to be brushed aside.
It’s often traumatic.
Often bloody. Painful.
Often lonely. Powerless.
I remember a bible professor express the need for prayer to my class because his wife had just miscarried. Despite the fact he was asking for prayer, his request was quite smug and short, as if it wasn’t a big deal. Being that my class was a Degree Completion Course, there was a number of older women who quickly asked, “How’s your wife doing?”
He responded, “Oh, she’s fine. It’s not a big deal.”
To that another lady quickly rebutted, “It might not be a big deal to you, but it is to her. And if you have that attitude, it will be a bigger deal in months to come.”
Sure enough, she was right as months later the Prof. shared with the class that his wife was suffering from depression and was entering counseling.
The grief from miscarriages is very real and it doesn’t matter what trimester the miscarriage takes place.
“Women themselves will say, ‘How can a loss at 20-plus weeks be the same as a loss at six weeks?'” said Emma Robertson Blackmore, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center who has studied moods during pregnancy, post-partum depression and the effects of miscarrying. “But research says the level of symptoms and impairment is the same.”
Over the course of my 10 years in funeral service, I’ve seen the parents of a miscarried / stillborn child do two things that seem to be very healthy:
1.) Name their child.
2.) Plan a funeral for their child.
I have to admit that the first time I worked a funeral for a couple that miscarried, I thought it wasn’t worth my time. But that all changed when I saw the utterly disheartened grief on the face of the mother and expecting father. They were devastated.
We performed most of the services for free, and I imagine most funeral homes do the same, but honestly, especially for miscarriages, there is no need for a funeral director, but there IS a need for a gathering with your closest friends and family … those who love and support you … to express their love for you. It’s one of those seemingly selfish things that’s entirely unselfish. Because it’s a time for others to recognize the loss, grieve with you and have an opportunity to pour out their love for you.
Name the child.
Don’t let the child be nameless. For both the child’s sake and for your own sake. Name the child so that you can have a more defined grief process.
And even if the the child was miscarried years ago and you suffered in silent grief … it’s never too late.
Even if it’s just you and your spouse, or you and a close friend, have a small service where you remember and reflect on your hopes and dreams for a future that ended too soon.
Grief shared is grief diminished. It’s time to share.
And it’s time we take miscarriages / stillbirths very seriously.