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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
WARNING: This post contains photos of the embalming process. If you are sensitive to photos of deceased persons and bodily fluids, please do not continue reading.
All of these photos have been sourced from the YouTube video “Modern Embalming Practice” by Thomas Müller.
If you are interested in the tools we use in embalming, you can read this post: 10 Things We Use When Embalming.
“Hello. Is Bud there?”
My grandfather’s real name is Thaddeus, but most people call him “Bud” for good reason. Since almost every caller asks for Bud, I don’t even know why I answer the phone. I’m just a middleman.
“Yes. May I ask who’s calling?”
“This is Bob Johnson, from Brandywine Retirement Community. The doctors are giving me two days to live, and I want to see your grand pop before I die.”
I was a little taken back. “How is a man two days away from his death talking this coherently?” was might first thought. I paused as the thought sunk in and eventually spit out, “Just a minute, let me get him for you.”
I walked to the back room where I found my grandfather asleep on “his” chair. He always looks dead when he sleeps. I’m all too afraid that one day when I walk back there, I will find him unresponsive. Not this time. He woke up. I gave him a few minutes to gather himself, explained who was on the phone and why he was calling, and handed my grandfather the portable.
Mr. Johnson is just like most of the people my Pop-pop knows – a random acquaintance that my grandfather magically turned into a friend. I shouldn’t say “magically” because it’s an art really … an art that “Bud” has mastered. Wherever he goes, he makes friends. Mr. Johnson was no exception. They met at the Brandywine Retirement Community when my grandfather was visiting his widowed great aunt. She lived in the suite across the hall from Mr. Johnson about five years ago. Pop-pop’s great aunt has since moved to the intensive care building, but Mr. Johnson never forgot “Bud.”
The next day my grandfather fulfilled Mr. Johnson’s last dying wish. When he got back, I asked, “How was that?”
“He looks good. Should last at least to New Years.”
Pop-Pop was wrong. Two days later, at about 1 PM, on the eve of Christmas Eve, Mr. Johnson died.
The family called at 1 PM and they told us to wait because the hospice nurse was on her way to pronounce. We waited and waited until at 4 PM we called again to ask if they were ready for us to come pick him up. Pop-Pop was anxious.
This time they said, “Oh, one of our family members is coming an hour away from Norristown. We want to wait for him.”
But Pop-pop didn’t want to wait at the funeral home, so we loaded the removal wagon and off we drove to Brandywine Retirement. When we arrived, we found that the staff had draped black linen across the doorway of the residential suite located on the third floor. A sign scribed in shaky handwriting hung underneath the black linen: “Dad died. Come on in if you want to view him.”
Word must have spread fast around the other suites because it seemed like everybody was there. The family just decided to have an impromptu viewing (Mr. Johnson was getting cremated).
The room stunk of cancer. That humid, thick grainy stench of cancer death. Mr. Johnson’s wife was sitting in the kitchen getting her hair done (she had dementia, though we didn’t know it at the time). The woman cutting Mrs. Johnson’s hair looked at us and asked bluntly, “Who are you?”
My grandfather answered. “We’re the Wilde Boys.”
“Oh,” she replied. “I don’t know you but had some of you in my time.”
“How’s that spelled?” she asked.
I asked her if she knew of Oscar Wilde, which she did. I told her we spell our name like that.
“Well, are you related to Oscar?”
I shrugged, making a mental note that I should probably find out.
For the next two hours we watched this makeshift viewing. My grandfather kept everybody entertained, hugging those he knew and those he didn’t know, acting the way he always does in planned funerals. Even though today was an unplanned funeral, he comforted the grieving. He was unpaid, it was unplanned, and yet nobody went unloved.
Community is essential. It’s not an optional feature to the human setup. Community is ingrained in the core of who you are. And we find this nowhere more apparent than during death. My Grandfather’s own nature combined with his nearly 70 years of death exposure have made him into a special person, a person who has a knack for turning strangers into family. A person I’m privileged to call “Pop-Pop”.
Bubba dies in a fire and his body is pretty badly burned. The morgue sends for his two best friends, Daryl and Gomer, to identify the body.
Daryl arrives first, and when the mortician pulls back the sheet, Daryl says, “Yup, his face is burnt up pretty bad. You better roll him over.”
The mortician rolls him over, and Daryl says, “Nope, ain’t Bubba.”
The mortician thinks this is strange. Then he brings Gomer in to identify the body. Gomer takes a look at the face and says, “Yup, he’s pretty well burnt up. Roll him over.”
The mortician rolls him over and Gomer says, “No, it ain’t Bubba.”
The mortician asks, “How can you tell?”
Gomer said, “Well, Bubba had two a**holes.”
“What? He had two a**holes?!” exclaims the mortician.
“Yup, every time we went to town, folks would say, ‘Here comes Bubba with them two a** holes.'”
A guy sits at a bar in a skyscraper restaurant high above the city. He slams a shot of tequila, goes over to the window and jumps out.
The guy sitting next to him can’t believe what he just saw. He’s more surprised when, 10 minutes later, the same guy walks back into the bar and sits down next to him.
The astonished onlooker asks, “How did you do that? I just saw you jump out the window, and we’re hundreds of feet above the ground!”
The jumper responds by slurring, “Well, I don’t get it either. I slam a shot of tequila, and when I jump out the window, the tequila makes me slow down right before I hit the ground. Watch.” He takes a shot, goes to the window and jumps out.
The other guy runs to the window and watches as the guy falls to just above the sidewalk, slows down and lands softly on his feet. A few minutes later, the jumper walks back into the bar.
The other guy has to try it, too, so he orders a shot of tequila. He slams it and jumps out the window. As he reaches the bottom, he doesn’t slow down at all. SPLAT!
The first guy orders another shot of tequila. The bartender shakes his head. “You’re a REAL punk when you’re drunk, Superman.”
A grandson runs up to his grandfather and asks him if he can talk like a frog.
“Of course not,” says the grandfather. A few minutes later, his granddaughter asks him the same question.
“No, of course not. Why are you both asking me this?”
The granddaughter replies, “Dad said that when you croak, we can go to Disneyland.”
An old Italian woman lived alone in the country. It was nearing Mother’s Day and she wanted to dig her tomato garden, as she had done every year, but it was very hard work for the aging woman as the ground was hard. Her only son, Vincent, who used to help her, was currently in prison because of his affiliation with The Mob. The old woman wrote a letter to her son and described her predicament:
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If only you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would dig the plot for me.
A few days later she received a letter from her son:
Not for nothing, but don’t dig up that garden. That’s where I buried the BODIES.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived at the old woman’s house and dug up the entire area. However, they didn’t find any bodies, so they apologized to the old woman and left.
That same day the old woman received another letter from her son.
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.
Happy Mother’s Day,
Donna’s husband Mike died suddenly one day. Donna was taking care of the funeral arrangements with the undertaker when she was asked how she wanted Mike’s obituary to read.Donna asked the undertaker, “How much does an obituary cost?” The undertaker replied, “One dollar per word.”Donna then said, “I want the obituary to read – MIKE IS DEAD.”The under taker was an old fishing buddy of Mike’s and he was a little disturbed by such a curt obituary, so he offered,”I’ll make you a special deal since I knew Mike so well. I’ll pay for half of the obituary out of my own pocket.”
Donna’s face lit up and she replied, “Great. I want it to read – MIKE IS DEAD, BOAT FOR SALE.”
When Mozart passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard some strange noise coming from the area where Mozart was buried.
Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate.
When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, “Ah, yes, that’s Mozart’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards.”
He listened a while longer, and said, “There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling.”
So the magistrate kept listening; “There’s the Seventh… the Sixth… the Fifth…”
Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate; he stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, “My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just Mozart decomposing.”