(220 comments, 1069 posts)
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.
Connect with my writing and book plans by "liking" me on facebook. And keep tabs with my blog via subscription or twitter.
Posts by Caleb Wilde
Le Van, a Vietnamese man, keeps his “dolled up” wife at his home, long after her death. After Le Van’s wife died and was buried in 2003, he began sleeping on top of her grave every night. When the weather got nasty, he dug a tunnel down to the casket so he wouldn’t get rained on. In November 2004 – more than a year later – he finally dug up the body and took it on home. To keep his wife’s corpse nice and fresh,Van molded her skin with plaster and clay, dressed her up, and put on a little lipstick. In 2009, he reported that she slept on the bed with him, and that his eldest of three children hugged her every night before turning in.
Kittiwat Unarrom, a talented artist from Thailand, uses his skills to create unique loafs of bread shaped like various human body parts.
Kittiwat has experimented with many art forms, from painting to sculpting, but it wasn’t until he had to return home and take over the family bakery that he discovered his true passion – making grotesque-looking bread.
His ashes made it to Florida! So one of the owners of a hotel, Judi was walking on the beach this morning cleaning up the junk that washed into shore and finds a bottle with a message in it. There is also some sand and 2 one dollar bills.
Once we get it open and read the notes we find out that it is in fact NOT sand. It is the ashes of this woman’s husband of 70 years named Gordon. She writes that He loved to travel so she sent him traveling in a bottle with a note and money for someone to call home and tell her where he landed. He started at Big Pine Key in March of 2012 and then went to Islamerada where someone found him. They added a note and sent him traveling again and he landed on our beach in Key Colony.
Judi called the wife in Tennessee who was excited to know of Gordon’s travels! Judi added her note, we put him in a rum bottle (you know added a little fun to his trip) with the three notes. We added another dollar in case Gordon travels far and a long distance call is needed. We will be having a memorial service or celebration of his life on our beach later today before sending him on his way again. Via Cochran Mortuary & Crematory
There are some really good people in the world. Some of those really good people also happen to be funeral directors. Kenneth McKenzie is one of those people.
Over the next couple days I’ll be sharing both the 2007 and the 2008 Men of Mortuaries Calendars here on my blog. I’ll also be reviewing Ken’s new book (co-authored with Todd Harra) “Over Our Dead Bodies”.
All the proceeds from the Men of Mortuaries Calendars, as well as the proceeds from the book go to charity. So, you can do the world some good by buying Ken and Todd’s book and reading their funeral tales.
Like I said, Ken’s a good guy.
There’s a number of similarities between the work of a pastor and the work of a mortician. We, like pastors, find our schedules based off the needs of others. We find ourselves continuously surrounded by mysteries and silence. We are invited into the sacred space of death; and like pastors, we’re expected to be some kind of guiding symbol through the dark valley of loss.
Like pastors, we are given great power. And we have too often abused that power by exploiting those we are meant to serve. We too – like the church – can also abuse God and religion for our own personal agendas, distorting the purity of our profession for the sake of personal gain.
In fact, too many funeral directors exploit God and religion in order to find a competitive advantage.
I remember sitting at my desk during mortuary school, probably sketching some worthless piece of pen art on the pages of my textbook. I was – like usual – having trouble paying attention to the professor as he waxed on about various means of gaining a competitive advantage in the funeral industry. And then he said something that knocked me out of my stupor.
“One of the best ways to gain customers is to go to a large church. Get as involved as you can. Meet as many people as you can. Make your donations visible. And, if you can do it, find another large church and attend there as well. Use religion to your advantage.”
At that time in my life, there was still a purity surrounding religion and God. My faith hadn’t been examined and broken down atom by atom like it is today. My trust in the goodness of humanity and the goodness of God and the love of God was as black and white as day and night. And the idea that we should use something so powerful – something with some much potential goodness (think Mother Teresa) – for a competitive advantage made my stomach turn in anger and sadness.
Today, I watch as too many of my industry colleagues (one specifically who is a competitor, who attends the two largest churches in the area, and who sat under the very same professor) take my funeral professor’s words to practice. I watch as God and church and religion become a stepping stool to a higher echelon of community endearment. And just like twelve years ago, my stomach still turns.
My faith has changed from twelve years ago. Years ago I was taught to believe a lot to believe it all with certainty; today, the opposite seems to be true. There’s parts of my faith where mystery and doubt have bred silence and where that silence has bred a form of agnosticism. But lying at the core of what’s left is still the belief that love is the meaning of things. That God is love. That our highest form of humanity is found when we love. That the universe is held together by love. And that love is how we conquer the fear of death.
A couple months ago my disobedience to my professor’s words went on full display (against my expressed wishes) in a local newspaper article. Words that were spoken in private became fodder for the public. This is what was printed:
But more than 10 years of work in the funeral industry has changed Wilde’s once traditional Christian faith, he says.
“When you see tragedy firsthand, it affects your view of God. You either change your view of God, or you lose faith. I think I’ve done a little of both.”
Though he still enjoys studying theology and religion, “I’ve become (slowly) apathetic towards God … . I know this sounds awful, but I don’t think he’s involved enough in the world.”
Still fascinated by the idea of a suffering God in the person of Jesus, Wilde says he no longer finds much meaning in the concept of a resurrection.
“I don’t see the intervening power of God in the death of a child … or in an overdose.”
For the past year, he says, he hasn’t attended church with his wife and 2-year-old son.
This article was immediately met by an onslaught of personal inquisitions. I received phone calls, emails, texts from people that I love who were concerned for my soul. Family members cried because I was now an apostate. And even though I’ve started to go back to church, I know many now see a question mark as my religious status instead of an exclamation point.
I still don’t know the long term effects of such a personal admission being printed for the public eye. I don’t know who will stop using our funeral home because “Caleb Wilde isn’t one of us.” Because “Caleb is a heretic.” I do know that my professor was right: Religion is a powerful thing. And religion and death are wonderful bedfellows. I’ve felt their power. When I doubted, I lost more than parts of my faith; as a funeral director, I probably lost parts of my business.
But, perhaps ironically, by allowing myself to doubt parts of my faith, I’ve managed to gain its purity. Because I’d rather be honest about my doubts, honest about my fears, honest about my silence. I’d rather embrace transparency and feel the ire of my community.
As a business owner in the funeral industry, it’s a great temptation to allow my identity to be molded by what I perceive to be the public’s wishes. It’s a temptation that all business owners face. But for funeral directors specifically – while recognizing the immense power and connection that religion has with death — the temptation to mold our faith for purposes of public approval may be the greatest temptation of all. It’s a temptation that I hope you don’t fall into. Because faith matters.
And the truth is that when we allow our faith to be swayed for the purposes of public approval, it is much worse than doubt and silence and disbelief.