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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 from Jessica Charles. This from Jessica: I am Corporal Joshua Alexander Harton’s Big Sister. I am his sister and I protected him his whole life. That is until September 18th, 2010 when a bullet from Taliban’s rifle went through his neck, cutting his carotid artery, moving through his torso and destroying organs and finally leaving his body at the left hip and shattering his Kevlar armor. I am Josh’s sister and I need you to know that my little brother is dead and my epic life will never be the same again.
What is living with PTSD like?
Uh, it is like….ummm well, you know.
And then people think Rambo:First Blood or some recent tragedy where a returning soldier kills his ex wife and her boyfriend.
It is NOT like that.
It is a lot like Finding Nemo, the kids’ movie where a father crosses an improbable ocean to save his son learning lessons on the way.
Try and remember the movie and I will outline it as I go. This explanation should be so simple that even civilians can follow.
The movie starts with Mommy fish and Daddy fish (Pearl and Marlin) admiring their new home and envisioning the future life of their many children. Then tragedy strikes. A big fish eats the babies and the mommy fish defends them, she also dies (And I thought Bambi was bad).
Marlin has PTSD. Marlin spends the next few years (or however long it takes in fish time) protecting his son from EVERYTHING, because in truth, the world is a scary place and it will kill you. And it would seem paranoid and crazy except that Marlin is often proven right.
His son dares to leave the safety zone and is kidnapped. Marlin follows and is almost devoured by sharks, blown up, eaten by a monster fish with a flashlight, lost, shocked by jellyfish and lost again only to be eaten by a whale. Life is bad, and that is the only lesson Marlin can learn because it is the lesson he already knows.
Dory his adorably absent minded buddy doesn’t have any preconceived lessons. She “just keeps swimming”. To Marlin she is an imbecile because everywhere they turn there is obvious danger. Danger is all Marlin can see. And he isn’t wrong, but as Dory teaches him, he isn’t entirely right.
If Marlin hadn’t tried to force Dory away from the sharks, well there would have been no bloody nose to insight the hungry beasts. If Marlin hadn’t been so rude to the school of fish, he would have gotten directions earlier and more completely and would have avoided the jelly fish all together. In Marlin’s haste to protect himself from the world he makes it a more dangerous place. That is what living with PTSD is like.
I have always had PTSD. I have always lived in a world that was scary and dangerous and I have never been good at seeing the world as a place of both danger and joy. Someone once said, “The war is over.” And with the intensity of someone who feels threatened, I screamed, “No sir, it is still going on”.
It is true, I am still at war, still in war and still protecting myself from the enemy. The enemy is the world and as Marlin learns not only can you not protect yourself or your beloved child from the world, you shouldn’t because as Dory says, “ Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo”.
Not much fun… yeah, fun, thriving versus surviving. Learning HOW to do that, instead of just over thinking every moment until you can plan for all foreseeable outcomes except the one where you may enjoy yourself.
So what is living with PTSD like? It is like Finding Nemo. And I hope everyone out there has a little blue buddy who can help them out, even if some days it is all you can do to just keep swimming.
One. It’s weird.
Yes, we lay a nekked person on a table and take out their blood, replacing said blood with embalming fluid. Weird? Yes.
But so is cremation, sky burial, endocannibalism, famadihana and mummification.
Two. It does not preserve the body indefinitely.
You can’t dig up an embalmed body from 1920 and expect it to be a perfect specimen of unblemished human anatomy. It’s possible that the body is in good shape, but not probable.
The official definition from the American Board of Funeral Service Education states that embalming is “the process of chemically treating the dead human body to reduce the presence and growth of microorganisms, to retard organic decomposition, and to restore an acceptable physical appearance.”
Reduce, retard and restore. Mainly the restore part.
So … about Vladimir Lenin and his dead-since-1924 body that is still viewable today? Harry Potter magic and a few other tricks is the answer.
Three. In most states, what is pushed out of the body goes down the drain and out into public sewage.
Now you know.
Four. Embalming doesn’t promote the public health.
There’s an idea (possibly perpetuated by societal laws, originating back to Mosaic Law and certified in pandemics like “The Plague”) that you can catch death by hanging around a dead body.
For the most part, it’s just not true. They’re safe. Sure, you shouldn’t want to be all buddy-buddy with a dead body, but an unembalmed body won’t kill you. Dead bodies aren’t zombies
Five. It guarantees you won’t be buried alive.
If you fear getting cremated alive or buried alive, embalming guarantees neither of those things will happen. But if you live in a “First World” country, you don’t have to worry about getting buried or cremated alive. We’re pretty good at determining death. For the most part.
Six. It helps make the symbol of death look pretty.
The dead body is the symbol and it’s a symbol that needs to be seen. It needs to be seen for reasons of grief work and for death denial confrontation. Dr. Erich Lindemann (grief management pioneer) says that a defining characteristic of persons dealing with complicated bereavement is that they never saw the dead body of their loved one.
An embalmed body helps the symbol look good. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good thing.
Certainly, embalming isn’t necessary AT ALL to see the dead body. But, it can help.
Seven. Embalming fluid is not environmentally friendly.
The most environmentally friendly form of burial is a natural burial. Plain and simple. Cremation isn’t wonderful for the atmosphere. And embalming fluid isn’t wonderful for the ground.
Eight. Embalming isn’t the “Traditional Funeral”.
We didn’t do the whole arterial embalming thing until the mid-1800s. Before that it was all natural and dirt and fire and other things. The “traditional funeral” is actually rather non-traditional when you consider the sum history of Homo sapiens.
Nine. It is rarely required.
If you’re getting cremated, it’s OBVIOUSLY not required. For viewings and burials, local laws differ on embalming requirements (some areas require a body to be embalmed if it isn’t buried after it’s been dead for 10 days). Alabama, Alaska, and New Jersey require embalming if you’re transporting a body to their state (which is a stupid law). Various types of refrigeration are an alternative form of temporary preservation while awaiting a funeral service and/or viewing.
Ten: Embalming fluid shouldn’t be smoked.
Seriously. Don’t smoke wet. Embalming fluid is meant for dead people.
Time for a Top Ten list from your local funeral professionals! Now I am by no means a “Miss Manners” of funeral etiquette, but some things should be non-negotiable when attending a funeral service:
One. Silence your phone. Seriously that means you.
Two. Silence your insatiable curiosity. If the cause of death is common knowledge, then you will already know about it. Please don’t badger the family for “gory details” at the funeral. Likewise, don’t expect the funeral home staff to let you in on the family dirt. We will not be the source for #NOTTHEBABYDADDY on your Twitter feed.
Three. If you call the funeral home and explain that you were unable to attend the visitation, the service and the committal, but would still like to know where the luncheon is being held? “I’m sorry sir; I don’t know where the family has made those accommodations but thank you for your call.”
Four. Don’t bring a date. By all means, if your longtime partner knew and loved your Aunt Matilda they should be included, but if you met someone yesterday at Subway and they seem real nice, a family funeral is not a great second date.
Five. Don’t NOT have a funeral. This sounds like funeral home marketing gobbledygook but it’s not. I’ve worked with a number of families who have abided by the “He never wanted a funeral” reasoning. It is very difficult for these families to move to the next level of their grief without the closure of a memorial service of some sort. I would never suggest that someone go expressly against the wishes of their loved one, but a brief moment of remembrance and sharing privately with your pastor or even at a family meal can go a long way toward starting the healing process.
Six. Did I mention silence your phone? Think about other sounds your phone makes also. If you plan to take a photo of Grandma’s headstone during the committal service, maybe disable the cute voice on your cell phone that squeaks “Say CHEESE!” as a photo is snapped.
Seven. Don’t overdress. I know it is black, but the dress you wore to your BFF’s bachelorette party, the one that all your friends agreed that “Oh My Gawd!” made you look “So Freakin’ Hawt!!!” may not be the right dress for the Catholic Mass part of Uncle Dick’s funeral. Bring a sweater. And some pants.
Eight. Don’t underdress. Now I don’t think I’m going very far out onto the limb when I say that most families don’t give a hoot about what you wear when. They are just touched that you took the time to come. That being said, if you are attending the funeral for a person who is part of a large inter-racial and diverse family, it might be a good day NOT to wear the T-shirt that says “I Had a Swig at Nig’s!”
Nine. Don’t think you will come up with the perfect thing to say. One of the epiphanies I had when I first started officiating at funeral and memorial services in 2001, was that there was NOTHING I could say that would make this family not be sad. I realized all I could do was to be present and non-anxious with people who were grieving. Sometimes the best that you can do for someone who has endured a loss, is to look them in the eye and let them see that you care.
- Ten. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! Recently, we had a committal service at the Southeastern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove. While I was speaking, a lovely older woman’s phone rang. I continued speaking while all in attendance gave her the “death stares of contempt” while she loudly explained to her friend that she couldn’t talk because she was at a funeral. A few minutes later, while the Marines were folding the flag in silent respect for their fallen brother, her cell phone rang again, and again she chattered loudly. There was nothing that could be done to rescue this moment for the family that day, but I make a vow personally that if your cell phone rings at a funeral, I will kick your butt from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. Semper Fi.
Today’s guest post is written by Patti Fitchett. This from Patti: I am an apprentice funeral director who started performing funeral ceremonies in 2001 when I was hired to sell pre-need burial insurance. That was a bust,( no sales chops!) but the funeral business grew on me. My first degree is in Theatre Arts and I have two adult sons.
The following is a fictitious story based on all too real trends in the funeral industry.
I sit down in Larry’s office and do a quick look around before we start. Framed pictures of his three girls, a couple grandchildren and his wife are standing scattered on his desk. Golf clubs lie in the corner. A giant professionally drawn water color of the “Wellington Funeral Home” hangs on the north wall. And directly behind Larry’s desk a certificate is prominently displayed stating, “The State of New York Board of Funeral Directors hereby Licenses LARRY WELLINGTON to Practice as a Funeral Director.”
That photo, and others, are a couple weeks away from being removed. The “Wellington Funeral Home” had been the last of the family owned funeral homes in this town; that is, until Larry sold it to a corporation. And that’s why I was here. To cover the story for our county newspaper. An economically depressed region, Larry’s business represented one of the few success stories in our area. He was well loved by our town, respected by his business peers and his thundering golf swing had become a tall tale at the local courses.
Larry sat behind his dated metal desk and I in front of it, we know each other well enough that I bypassed the bull and got straight to the point, “Why are you selling?”
“I can’t do it any longer. After 30 years of service, it’s become a business. And I’m done with it.”
“Let’s start from the beginning,” I interrupted. “Why does a 20 year old Larry Wellington decide to become a funeral director?”
“Thirty some years ago my mother died.” Larry told me how his mom – a single mother (his dad was absent all throughout his life) – had been his rock. “She was everything to me” were his exact words. Worked two jobs as long as he could remember and sacrificed everything for Larry – her only child.
“When she died suddenly on that warm July evening – God, I can remember that phone call as clear as day — I had absolutely no idea what to do. Someone suggested that I call what used to be “Thomas Funeral Home” up in Hamilton County. So I called Dale Thomas and he guided me through the whole process of arranging the funeral, settling Mom’s accounts and he would even check up on me months after the funeral was over.”
“About six months after Mom’s death, I had her life savings in my name and I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like Dale Thomas. I wanted to be a funeral director. And I used Mom’s money to go to the McAllister Institute of Funeral Service. I soon met my wife, I graduated McAllister and we moved here – Joan’s hometown – and I started a funeral home with the heart of an angel.”
At this point, Larry became reflective, his face relaxed in a pensive stare. He had been telling me his story like he was reading it out of a book … the facts of his life. And we had reached the point in his story where the facts began to blend with his current reality.
“I started this business with angel’s wings.” He waited, looking at nothing as though he was looking at a vision of himself that only he could see. “After years of being too generous, I’m tired.”
Slowing moving back to a fact teller, Larry explained how his lower prices both helped the success of the start up funeral home and laid the foundation for its demise.
“No professional service charge for children.
If they didn’t have money, I’d work with them.
If there was no insurance policy, I’d trust them.
Before I knew, I had a target on my back, “If you can’t pay, go to Wellingtons.”
At first, I didn’t mind getting beat out of a funeral. Over time — with nearly 7 percent of my customers not paying their bills — it started to wear on me. So, if I didn’t know the family, I’d ask them a litany of questions about payment and money. I then started asking people to pay all the cash advances up front. And even with the unpaid bills, I was still making a sustainable living, but my faith in humanity and my ability to tolerate deception was beginning to reach an unsustainable level.
About a year ago I buried a gentleman in his 50s who died in a car accident. Tragic. Very tragic. I didn’t know anyone in the family … they were from this side of Tioga county. The family – in their distress? – looked me in the eye, told me they had the money for the $10,000 funeral they wanted (real nice Maple casket, the best vault, etc. … they could’ve gone A LOT cheaper) and after the burial I never heard from them again.”
“I lost my wings after that” he said. “Oh, I had been beat before, but this was the one that broke me.”
Moving back to the reality that is, Larry looked at me intensely and said, “I came to a place where I’d been beat — unpaid — by so many people that I was going to have to charge them up front for their funeral. And I couldn’t do that. So I sold it to people who could.”
He continued, “I got in this line of work because I wanted to serve people, but I’ve become too jaded. Too many people are taking advantage of me. And I can’t force myself to take advantage of them.”
And with eyes that begged me for an answer, he asked, “What would you do? What would you have done?”
I didn’t have an answer. We looked at each other for a couple seconds and right before it started to feel awkward he continued, “_____ Funeral Corporation offered me enough for an early retirement and I took it.”
And the tragedy is this: It’s hard enough to run a business in this world. It’s nearly impossible to do so when you’re uncompromisingly generous. And yet, it’s the generous business people that we so desperately need.
Larry will be moving out of his funeral home and a new Funeral Corporation will be moving in. The funeral home name won’t change, but you won’t find Larry in his office. Instead, he tells me, you’ll find him on the greens, creating more tall tales on the local golf course with each long drive.
I posted this photo on my Confessions of a Funeral Director Facebook Page.
Many have asked, “Where is this gravestone located?” ”Who is the gravestone for?” And various other questions.
Here’s Matthew Stanford Robison’s “Find a Grave” page that will answer most of your questions:
|Birth:||Sep. 23, 1988|
|Death:||Feb. 21, 1999|
This unique monument shows the young boy jumping upward, out of his wheelchair. Confined to the chair most of his young life, he is now free of earthly burdens.“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” Peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 21, 1999, our cherished son, brother and friend, Matthew Stanford Robison was received into a state of happiness, and began his rest from troubles, care, and sorrow in the arms of his Savior and friend Jesus Christ.
Matthew was a joy and inspiration to all who were privileged to know him. He was a testament to the supreme divinity of the soul and an embodiment of the completeness our spirits yearn for. The godliness of his soul inspired, influenced and blessed all who knew him. He came into this world as a miracle and left this world as a miracle.
Born with severe earthly disabilities on September 23, 1988 in Salt Lake City to Johanna (Anneke) Dame Robison and Ernest Parker Robison. At birth, Matthew’s life expectancy was anticipated to be only hours long. However, fortitude, strength, and endurance, combined with the power of God allowed Matthew to live ten and one-half years enveloped in the love of his family and friends. His family was privileged to spend time with him here upon earth, to learn from his courage and marvel at his constant joy and happiness in the face of struggle. His family will be eternally changed by his presence and temporally changed by his passing. His presence inspired all those who knew him. He opened their hearts as well as their eyes.
He is survived by his parents: Ernest and Anneke; sisters and brothers, Korrin, Marc, Jared, and Emily of Murray, Utah, and Elizabeth (Czech Prague Mission) Also, grandparents and other family members. A heartfelt thanks to his special care givers, especially Shauna Langford, and others at Liberty Elementary School.
Salt Lake City Cemetery
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake County
Here is part of Matthew’s obituary: