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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
Today’s guest post is written by Bridget Groh:
May 23, 2012.
I will never forget that day as long as I live. I can remember how the air smelled as I walked into my childhood home for the last time believing my mom was alive, I know exactly what I was wearing, what I did with my children that morning. That is probably the most defining moment in most of my family’s’ lives. For years leading up to that day, my immediate family had been a mash of turmoil. The woman who had been our pillar for my whole life came out of brain surgery for a bleed in her right frontal lobe in 2002 as an entirely different person.
Gone was my loving and doting mother, the kind and sensitive spirited woman who my father had married in 1980, the R.N. with a Master’s Degree who opened a brand new hospital as nursing manager. This accomplished woman slowly through ten years’ time became a shell of who she was and eventually morphed into a new person.
Watching someone you love struggle with mental illness is heart-wrenching. My best description of this is like “watching a storm at sea…it whirls and whips and flies….it can see the shore, but it cannot come in…it wants to go further away into the ocean and do less damage , but its tentacles keep it in position…just beyond grasp.” My mother whirled for 10 years. Each time she attempted suicide our family would all race to the hospital just as her stomach was pumped and the respirator was placed or the priest pronounced last rites…for the 5th time. My poor Catholic God-fearing mother who advocated for the medical community, for her whole life could not be “fixed.”
That is not to say we did not try. We tried like HELL! My father spent tens of thousands of dollars on rehabs: rehabs for alcohol abuse combined with brain injury, rehabs just for alcohol abuse, rehabs just for brain injury, and rehabs for mental illness. They all worked… for a little while. However, we as people do not have the tools to combat someone who is so smart they can talk their way out of psych wards due to heightened medical knowledge.
Someone who commits suicide does not see a way out. The best analogy I have heard regarding this is similar to describing someone in a skyscraper trapped in a burning building that jumps. I believe my mom saw no way out and she “jumped.” She knew things were not getting any better. Her behavior was all encompassing of my life, my father, my husband, her sisters…. I believe in my heart she thought there was no way out for her. I don’t know ,even today, if there was. I wish she were here so we could have tried.
Her last two weeks on Earth, she had just “cycled” into a good period. My sister and I plus my husband and kids spent a fabulous mother’s day with her at brunch. I am so grateful for that day and those memories. I consciously told myself to take pictures that day, I knew the end was coming…but I couldn’t bring myself to do so, I really did not want to believe she would not beat her demons. I wanted to take pictures in July at my son’s first birthday, and Halloween and Christmas….
So May 22, no one could reach my mom after 9pm. We now believe she committed suicide sometime in the night. It was cold and dark. She hated both things. The amount of self-hatred she had still overwhelms me. I took my children to the doctor the next morning. I went to lunch and had a good time with my girlfriend and her kids. On the way home, I knew someone needed to check her. I called my dad who I picked up (he had moved out by this point), he jumped in my car and I told him to just drop me and as soon as I found her, he could come back.
The house was locked up tight. I had to get in through the basement garage.
Inside, silence awaited me. I knew something was very wrong.
I checked her bed which was empty.
The living room had her diet coke on the coffee table with the TV on.
The dogs were out of food and water, which on her worst day was unlike her.
I went out to the back deck and found her…floating upside in my childhood family pool. After screaming and calling 911, everything becomes a blur. The operator tried to coax me to get her out of the pool, I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. No one who is living even a little bit floats like that. That is one image I will never, ever un-see. Obviously, anyone in the funeral profession knows that state police came and investigated and the medical examiner was called in. Her official autopsy report ruled her death as suicide by drowning.
We went through the motions and planned a funeral. I suppose I must have been there, I don’t really remember much. I read her eulogy. We had a gathering after with an Irish band playing. She would have loved it.
Through my whole life while my mom was living, I struggled to find my place in life. I went from degree to degree changing from nursing to teaching secondary education and finally to accounting, which is the field where I worked when she died. My mom was cremated, we did not bury her for six months after her death. At her cremains burial, I was chatting with the funeral director who was looking for someone to help balance his checkbook. I offered to help. That was two and half years ago. I’ll be done my degree in mortuary science in May and sit for my board in June. I like to look at the change in careers as my mother’s final gift. I know that I can help families during their times of heartache and sorrow because I can literally relate. I know the importance of having someone guide you and be supportive.
Since my mom’s death, our family has also banned together to create a non-profit organization “Brake the Silence” which is aimed to break the stigma of mental illness and prevent suicide. I will not let my mother‘s death be in vain. In life, she helped others. She will help others in death. Through her story, awareness is brought out.
It is easy to ignore mental illness; it is not as in your face as many other illnesses. Addiction is also easily ignored. But when you hear of the staggering numbers of suicides as direct results of both of these, you have to stop and think. Are we doing enough?
My mom’s legacy lives on through her girls and her grandsons. I don’t harbor any anger towards her. I just miss her.
And, as a final note, and her favorite song by Led Zeppelin says:
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
About the author: I, Bridget, am 31, married, with four little boys (10, 8, 5, & 3). I’ve lived in Central MA my whole life. I have a Bachelors Degree in history. I really thought I was going to teach high school. I am currently employed at a funeral home. I’ve been here for a little over two years. I am also in school through distance learning at the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in Houston, Texas and I will be done in May! YAY! I love my job so far and I cannot wait to be fully licensed in June.
Today’s guest post is from Christopher White. Christopher resides in Australia with his pug “Freddy”.
I am 64 years old, have led a healthy life, don’t smoke, enjoy a drink occasionally and I tend to avoid stress. I have never married, no kids, have a great family, and life is pretty well perfect. I have many wonderful friends and no enemies.
I began to feel unwell in about June this year – just vague feelings of not being at my best. My health became progressively worse, despite monthly attendances at my local doctor, who had been taking regular blood tests. One month ago I went to see him, I lay on his couch and he tapped two fingers into my abdomen area. I couldn’t believe the pain – he said “There’s something wrong here, you better get to the hospital straight away.” I had a mate deliver me to the local town hospital. He said on the way “They are going to ask you what your allergies are. Tell them you are allergic to big women with tattoos.”
Admitted through the emergency department, rushed into the scanning and X-ray departments, transferred by ambulance to another hospital about 50kms north, where I was taken in for an emergency operation.
When I came around, several hours later, the doctor told me they had removed about 40cm of cancerous growth in the intestines – he called it a bowel resectment. I spent 16 days in the intensive care recovery until, very well tended by both medical staff and the nursing team. Some of the other patients were a different story – I am unused to spending sleeping time with others, with their snoring, loud mobile phone conversations at all times of the day and night and people just being plain rude to each other. “Hey nurse – where’s my bloody pain killer – should have been here half an hour ago?”
When a nurse asked me how I had slept, I said that the snoring from across the passage was like “listening to a rainforest being destroyed.” I suggested that, armed with a baseball bat, some of us in the ICU would have got a lot more sleep, and that business may have been a bit brisker downstairs in the emergency admissions department.” She laughed, a bit, and said “You will recover quickly – grumpy old men always do better.” I am also pleased I did not pass on anything about being allergic to large women with tattoos, as this was an accurate description of most of those taking my blood and doing other tests.
The medical team have advised me to have lots more tests later in the year, to make sure all the cancer has been removed. One man even said “You might get better, or you might die – it is hard to say at this stage.”
I had plenty of time to think about things, stuck there in my little calico cubicle. I managed to blot out the neighbouring surroundings, and just had a really good think about things in general. I have had a very easy life – never been involved in a war, feuds, arguments. I have never had to work too hard, things have come easily to me. Always enjoyed good health – hardly ever had an unhealthy day in my life. I thoroughly enjoy my job, which involves running a small B&B here in a beautiful part of the world.
In a way, my life has been like attending a pleasant party, when one of the ushers taps me on the shoulder and says “OK mate, your time is up and you have to leave.” My first reaction is to say “Well, thanks for having me, which is the easiest way out?” I have never felt anger, betrayal, denial or “Why me? I don’t deserve this.” Instead, I have a serene feeling of relief and acceptance.
I see clearly the advantages of early checkout. OK, 64 is a bit early, but when is really the right time? There will be no Alzheimers Disease, no lonely old age in some grey nursing home, being fed on paste, and having someone else attend to my bathroom needs. No eccentric old man living in a boarded up house in unhealthy conditions, smelling of cat urine. I have few regrets – one of the main ones is leaving my two year old Pug dog Freddy, even though I know he is being left in the best of care.
If the cancer has spread, or returned, I reckon I have about nine months to prepare for the end. I am very fortunate to have a great friend to look after me, cooking, cleaning, company, transport etc. I am very grateful that I do not have a thing to worry about. This is more than long enough to get my affairs in order – most of that has already been done. I am glad there are no awkward reconciliations to endure. I await my own change of cosmic address with a good deal of interest.
1. Dead bodies can APPEAR to have hair and finger/toe nail growth.
This is moreso a technicality. The hair and nails don’t actually grow, but when the body begins to shrivel away (after decomposition), the skin shrinks back, exposing more hair and more finger/toe nails.
Your muscles relax and anything that you may or may not have been holding in will come out.
3. Post-mortem caloricity.
Normally, dead bodies experience algor mortis (cooling of temperature) immediately following death. In some cases, the body temperature will actually rise for about two hours after death before it begins to cool. This phenomena is called, “post-mortem caloricity.”
4. Self cannibalization.
While there are exogenous facts that cause decomposition (perhaps worms, flies, cats), much of the body’s decomposition occurs endogenously … the bacteria, acids, etc. within our own body live on and have a glorious feast on their deceased host.
5. Postmortem priapism
Also called “angel lust” or “death erection”, some dead bodies can actually have an erection. Although rare and usually cause by swift and violent manners of death, priapisms do occur. In fact, crucifixion victims often had angel lust, which means Jesus may have died with a death erection. Per Leo Steinberg there are a number of Renaissance crucifixion paintings that depict Jesus in such a manner.
When you die, your body will turn all sorts of pretty colors. Soon after death, gravity will pool the red blood cells to the part of your body that’s closest to the ground. If you die face down, your face will get all reddish. If you die on your back, your back will turn all pretty shades of crimson. Eventually (unless the deceased is embalmed), those colors will stain skin they’re touching (embalmers call this “postmortem stain”).
7. Coffin Birth
If a women dies while still pregnant, the eventual gases from decomposition in some cases push the deceased fetus out in what’s called a “coffin birth”.
8. Muscle Movement
This is extremely rare. And usually only occurs in the smaller muscles. Out of the thousands of bodies my family has seen, only one still had muscle movement after death. The deceased’s fingers were twitching “like he was playing the piano”.
When a deceased person is moved and there’s air in his or her lungs, they can moan and groan. If the deceased says, “I’m not dead yet” well, they’re probably not dead (Monty Python reference).
10. Dead bodies fart.
Some dead bodies fart a bunch.