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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
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.
In another post I praised the majority of funeral directors for their professionalism and competence, and I stand by the statement that this applies to the majority of death care professionals. Today I’d like to discuss the small minority that sometimes ruin the reputation of everyone, and these individuals can be found both among funeral directors and clergy. Since they both work closely together, they also can easily observe one another’s gaffes, and yes everyone makes them.
One particular funeral director that I don’t have fond memories about is one from my days as a rookie minister. I was in my first church in Toronto, just getting used to doing funerals when this little story happened. A prominent member of the church had died. The arrangements were for the service in the church. But suddenly the family changed its mind and wanted the service in the funeral chapel. This after the obituary had already appeared in the newspaper. I later found out that the funeral director, behind my back, had talked the family into changing the plans because he wanted to accommodate another funeral, and didn’t want his cars away for so long, since our church was quite a distance from his establishment. However many people didn’t know about the change, so half the congregation, including the choir that was to sing, went to the empty church and the others were at the funeral home for the service, sans choir.
As if that weren’t enough, when we started the procession, the first thing the director said as he jumped behind the wheel of the lead car was , “would you like a smoke, Reverend?” I politely declined but he lit up anyway. He turned out to be chain smoker, so he went through a number of cigarettes in our 45 minute ride through the streets of Toronto to the cemetery. This meant that my clothes smelled like a chimney as I stood at the graveside next to the family.
As we rode back, the puffing continued, and the insensitive professional said that he would be happy to take care of any other families of our church. I was quiet and steaming. Thinking my silence meant that I didn’t understand, he spelled it out: “you know, sometimes when there is a death, the family calls the minister before the funeral home. So we’d be very happy if you could recommend us.” I answered that I would keep that in mind. And I did. In all the years of my ministry, I have never told a family which funeral home to use. But I did give several the good advice of where not to go.
The second story comes from the 2 years that I worked in a funeral home. At that particular one, the management and licenced directors were young arrogant know it alls who proudly made pointed to the distinctions between themselves and the un-licensed staff such as myself. They loved to remind us that we were “unskilled labour” whereas they were “professionals” who had a licence. One day we had the funeral of a 13 year old boy who had died in a house fire. It was a huge service with standing room only. All of the boys’ classmates were there, and most of them were emotionally upset. So what did these “professionals” do to help? Nothing. They hid in the clergy room with the door closed under the pretense of having to operate the P.A. system and did not come out until the service was over. It was left to myself and one other of the “unskilled labourers” to work on crowd control, and comfort the many classmates who were upset. At the end of the service they paraded down the aisle of the chapel and barked orders to the pall bearers, and told the family to “proceed to their cars” etc. They fought over who got to drive the hearse rather than the family limousine, “I’ve got better things to do than listen to the crying in the back seat.” I had now reached a stage of life where I no longer was afraid to open my mouth, and they got an earful from me about their “professionalism”.
But of course, clergy can also be less than professional. I recall one minister who, while reading the graveside committal service, had one eye in his book, and the other on a very pretty female funeral director. When he was finished, he snapped his book shut and said “that’s all folks” before going to his car without even speaking to the family.
At the funeral home where I worked we often had families who didn’t have a minister, but wanted us to find one to conduct a service. Sometimes they would ask me, but mostly they called “Ten Minute Harry”. He was especially favoured when the funeral home was busy because from the moment that the casket was wheeled into the chapel, until it was time to take it out again, exactly 10 minutes elapsed. During those ten minutes he had read the same service from the same manual that he would use for every service. The staff waiting in the lobby would mouth the words because they had heard it so many times. Once he even didn’t get the name of the deceased right because he forgot to change the yellow post it note in his book. For this he collected a fee in the form of a cheque from the funeral home, the amount of which was added to the family’s account. He also insisted that we send a car for him to pick him up and bring him back home afterwards. If his presence was required at the cemetery for a committal service, there was a surcharge.”
But my favourite horror story occurred in the church where I did my internship. The funeral director had mixed up two caskets, and brought the wrong one to the church. In that particular congregation the custom was for the closed casket to rest at the front of the sanctuary. At the end of the service, the lid would be opened, and the congregation would file by one last time, with the family the last ones to view the body before we went to the cemetery. The service that day was for a sweet old grandmother. When the lid was lifted the family in the front row saw the body of a man whom they had never met. Not a good scene. What did they do? The congregation was seated while they wheeled the casket out and took it back to the funeral home and brought the correct one back. Fortunately the other one of the two identical looking caskets had not yet been buried or cremated.
Some of these stories might be funny if they were not true. But each of them is, and it wasn’t funny for the people involved. Yes, we are all human, and we all make mistakes, even ministers and funeral directors. But some things just shouldn’t happen
Dieter Reda has been an ordained Minister for the past 34 years and served various churches in central and western Canada. Since 2003 he is senior pastor at Mission Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada). His blog of pastoral musings on various issues is at www.dieterreda.com and you can follow him on Twitter @Dieterreda.