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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
There’s a concept called “disenfranchised grief.” The idea is that there’s certain types of grief relationships that society either downplays as less important or outright ignores. For example, the grief over a pet’s death; the death of an ex-spouse; and — a big one — miscarriages and stillbirths. But perhaps the biggest segment of disenfranchised grievers are children.
Children are disenfranchised for two reasons: their parents haven’t confronted death on a personal level and have become so frightened of it that their natural reaction is to shield their children from the perceived “monster of death.” And two, parents simply repeat the evasive cliches and religious euphemisms they’ve been taught, leaving kids to believe that the deceased is just “sleeping” or “gone to be with the angels.” Cliches act as an unintentional defense mechanism that often keep the children from full death confrontation and thus grief.
I believe that allowing children to be a part of the death conversation and allowing them to be a part of the funeral gives them permission to be a part of the community of grief.
Many of the following suggestions depend on the age, maturity and level of comfort the child has with death. Certainly you never want to force a child to confront death. But if they want a role in the funeral process, here’s ten ideas (many of which were sourced and screen captured from the Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook community):
Involvement doesn’t necessarily mean DOING something. Involvement can simply mean BEING present in the context of community. When it comes to death, perhaps the greatest form of involvement is presence. And perhaps the easiest way to determine if your child should or shouldn’t be present is to simply ask them.
As a funeral director, I’ve seen children of all stages at the deathbed of the deceased, many have been brought while their parents made the funeral arrangements, they’ve been present for private viewings, present for public viewings and present for the funeral. It’s okay (maybe even healthy) to involve your children in as much of the funeral process as you want them to see.
2. Burial Involvement.
Have them great the family and friends that are coming to the funeral. Usually there’s a stand with a registrar book and memorial cards. I’ve seen young children take charge of getting people to sign in and handing out the memorial cards. It’s a very positive and fulfilling role for the children.
5. Sing Some Songs.
6. Hand Out Flowers at the Graveside.
Sometimes flowers will be handed out at the graveside as a “final token of remembrance.” It’s a beautiful thing when children hand out the flowers.
7. Junior Pallbearers.
Today’s guest post is written by Matt and Cheri Appling:
I’ve been to plenty of funerals. I’ve even conducted a couple.
We all eventually wind up at a funeral. Maybe it’s for a long-lived relative. Sometimes it’s a tragically unforeseen death.
We think that a funeral is a mandatory event on the way to the hereafter, if not for the deceased, then at least for the ones they leave behind.
But it turns out that, in reality, most of the people who have ever been born, never had a funeral. They were never mourned. Their pictures and obituaries were never in the paper.
Did you know that?
Because I did not, not until my wife and I started trying to get pregnant.
Pregnant For a Week
After a year of trying on our own to conceive, Cheri and I started pursuing fertility treatment. If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s kind of like an exercise program. You start small and work your way up, and hopefully you see results.
So Cheri had started hormone therapy and we started timing our…activities. And sure enough, within a month, the little stick had a plus sign on it!
Cheri went to the doctor to have it confirmed. Now, of course, that early on, she didn’t feel pregnant. And it’s not like the doctor could see the baby. They just measured the levels of certain hormones in her body, and like a litmus test, the hormones say “pregnant” or “not pregnant.”
A couple of days after the initial test, she went back to the doctor. Her hormone levels were still elevated, but falling. That wasn’t good.
And a couple of days later, her hormone levels were lower still.
A week after we discovered the pregnancy, she was officially not pregnant. We never told made any announcement. The tiny life never got to see the world, have a name, or be mourned by our friends and family. And it would take us three more years of ever-increasing treatment to see another plus sign on the pee stick again.
The Real Odds Against Us
What happened to Cheri is what doctors sometimes call a chemical pregnancy. And it turns out that there are many, many pregnancies that end the way our first one did.
The little fertilized egg doesn’t grow properly. Or it doesn’t find the uterus. Or something just isn’t right, and the woman’s body menstruates and flushes out the tiny little spark, unbeknownst to anyone.
It’s called spontaneous abortion and doctors think that half or maybe even two-thirds of pregnancies end in the first few days. For every one of us living here on Earth, going to jobs, raising our kids, thinking about our hopes and dreams, there are two, three or more little lives who were never even noticed by anyone, not even their mothers and fathers. They never had a birthday, much less a funeral.
Let that sink in. For each of us who get to live, who get to have a name and a family and a job and will get to be mourned when we are gone by the people who love us, there is a crowd of people who never have any of those things. The odds are ridiculously stacked against us before we even get here.
We would never have known Cheri was pregnant if we had not been looking. The little blob of cells passed away, unnoticed and unseen.
Gravestones As Milestones
In the years we spent trying to get another little blob of cells to stick around, we met a lot of hopeful parents. Some lost babies far into their pregnancies. It’s the kind of loss that cuts deeply, because you see the heartbeat and the face and it looks human.
And then we met other friends who could not even get past stage one. There were no lost pregnancies to mourn. They were mourning lost eggs month after month, year after year, because they had nothing else to mourn. There are no funerals for lost eggs.
None of us want particularly want to be at a funeral, because funerals hurt. But perhaps the next time we find ourselves at one, we can remember that a funeral is not just an end, but a rather elite milestone. For each of us who will have a funeral, who will have a cadre of mourners, there have been billions more who were never mourned. They did not have a eulogy or their favorite hymn sung in their honor. They did not get their name in the newspaper, because they never received a name from their parents.
A funeral is not something everyone gets to have. They are for the few of us who have actually lived in the conventional sense of the word. So maybe we take that to heart and be glad for the person who we are mourning.
And pay a moment of memory to all the people who won’t be mourned today.
Matt and Cheri Appling are the authors of “Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith and Love Together Through Infertility.” Find the book on Amazon or Matt’s blog at MattAppling.com.
Kenny and Helen Felumlee were introduced when they were teenagers – by Kenny’s ex-girlfried. After dating for two years, the couple decided to get married. Immediately. Even though Kenny was only two days shy of his 21st birthday – the legal age for men in Ohio at the time – the pair drove to Kentucky to elope. They married on February 20, 1944, and spent the next 70 years together.
According to their children Kenny and Helen never spent a night apart even preferring to share a bunk bed rather than sleeping in separate beds on a trip. When Kenny became too ill to sleep in the bedroom, Helen slept on the floor nearby so they could stay together.
Helen Felumlee died on April 12, 2014 at the age of 92. Kenny Felumlee died 15 hours later on April 13, 2014 at the age of 93.
CINCINNATI — When Helen Auer died on Wednesday, she was sitting in her chair. Her husband of 73 years came into the room and knew right away. Joe leaned over, gave her a kiss goodbye, and whispered in her ear: “Helen, call me home.”
Just 28 hours later, Helen did. Joe Auer died at the age of 100. His children figured he could manage one night without her, but not two. Wednesday they will have a funeral mass in front of the same altar where they were married in 1941. Married for 73 years, Joe and Helen Auer, of East Price Hill, died just 28 hours apart(
Said the daughter, “This marriage was a love story, but it was a real-life love story. Joe and Helen’s marriage survived because they loved each other and because they worked at their marriage and they shared a devout faith.”
To read more, click HERE.
According to WCBS, Brooklyn native Nequia Webb-Davidson was murdered by her husband last year, and a traumatic nightmare during the funeral has made her family feel like “she’s been murdered twice.”
According to a lawsuit filed against the J Foster phillips Funeral Home, Webb-Davidson’s casket did not fit in the grave, and when it was lowered into the ground it literally popped open, exposing her remains. When cemetary workers attempted to force the casket into the grave, dirt and rocks started to fall onto the body. The funeral was rescheduled for the following day.
The New York Daily News reports the family is suing the funeral home and cemetery, asking to be compensated for damages and emotional distress.
This is horrible on so many levels. Horrible that a family is burying their murdered daughter. Horrible that the casket popped open during the burial and horrible that the family now has added anger piled on complicated grief.
The funeral industry exists in such a high emotional environment that the smallest details gone wrong can create amplified damage. Real damage. Small details like accidentally forgetting to place a sister in the obituary; or getting the hair done wrong on the deceased; or overdoing the makeup, etc., etc.
Funeral directors are human. We make mistakes and our job is to minimize and rectify those mistakes as soon as we make them. Unfortunately, though, there are some mistakes that are simply too large to be minimized. And in those cases, the damage that we (often unintentionally) inflict on those like the family of Webb-Davidson is real and it deserves some type of rectification.
I hope that Webb-Davidson family can find some peace. And I hope the funeral home is gracious and humble and compliant.
Luv. Twu luv. The ever pragmatic Valentine’s Day gift. The even more pragmatic (and guaranteed to warm her heart) Valentine’s Gift. Nancy is bad. Apparently this surprise-your-loved-one-with-funeral-stuff is a theme? Nope.
This is the card I wish my son handed out to his classmates.
If Arthur and Katherine were alive today they’d probably be watching “50 Shades of Grey” this Valentine’s Day.