(223 comments, 604 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
Today’s guest post comes from Shari Hadley, LCSW (Licensed Masters Social Worker). Shari was raised in rural Missouri by both parents until her mother’s untimely death in a farming accident. While in college, she became Wiccan, married and had a son, but then tragedy struck again leaving her a widowed single mother at age 30. Read more about her incredible journey in her book “From the Cauldron to the Cross”.
I had always thought of Death as a person, at least, until recently. Only while participating in a Bible study of Revelations did it occur to me to even question the idea. “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8 (NIV). It was this personification of Death in scripture that brought my original beliefs about death to the forefront. You see, I normally think in very literal terms. Thankfully I’ve had a very patient Bible study teacher who enjoys my inquisitive mind (God Bless you Dr. Truelove!) and was able to help me understand that this passage is not to be taken literally, but figuratively.
So I have a better understanding of the existence of death, but I still personify him. It’s hard not to. After all, my hospice buried 211 people last year. That’s a lot of people, and I am the only grief counselor for all of their families. So it’s hard not to think of death as a fellow coworker. “Here let me introduce you to everyone. This is our chaplain, there is our volunteer coordinator, here are a couple social workers, our medical director and our nurses. Oh yeah, and over there by the coffee pot? That’s the Grim Spector of Death. That’s why the darn pot never works. Say hello to our visitors Death. (he waves a friendly hello).” You see Death and I are friends. And like a good friend, I don’t always agree with his methods or who he chooses to have a relationship with, because after all, none of his relationships end well.
I remember the first time I met Death. I was a child. We had a black Labrador retriever named Hambone. Hambone was just like every other black lab you ever met. Sweet, good tempered, patient, docile and dedicated fully to his family. Always ready with a wag of the tail, and a hug, hoping maybe, just maybe you’ll drop some of what you are eating, because kids are, by nature, messy creatures and it was his job to clean up after the household. But Hambone was getting old. He had been a puppy when I was a baby, and I wasn’t a baby anymore. He was moving slower from arthritis and had white on his muzzle. And one day Hambone didn’t show up for dinner. We looked everywhere, calling his name, but to no avail. He just seemed to disappear.
Several weeks went by and I was taking a walk in the woods near our house. As I wandered down a dry creek bed, something to the side caught my eye. It was black fur on skin, pulled tight over a loose pile of bones. It was Hambone. I ran home crying, looking for my father. Rather than move Hambone, we simply covered his body with soil and placed a marker. Dad explained to me that sometimes when animals get old and know their time is coming, that they wander off to die. And that’s what Hambone did. I know he wandered off for my benefit, but it still frightened me.
I was frightened of everything at that age, and it didn’t help that I could see Hambones grave from my bedroom window. I used to have nightmares of his bones coming to life and chasing me, or pacing outside my window. Yeah, Death and I weren’t friends back then. Soon after this incident Hambone’s best friend, our other dog Fluffy died. We buried her next to Hambone. And it became apparent that Death was on a roll. In the same woods, just a few yards away from Hambone and Fluffy’s grave, Death took my mother’s life with a chainsaw. 27 years later he would stand with me in the bedroom next to my own childhood room. With my arms around my dying father, I would look out his bedroom window and see Hambone’s grave.
But how does someone become friends with Death? It seems like such an appalling idea. As appalling as say…working at hospice? Boy, how many times have those of us in hospice been asked “So, where do you work?” and once we respond, the individual reacts with some form of shock or horror followed by the reply “Well, that must be depressing!” or if it’s a doctor the reply is “I hope I never have to use your services!” I think it’s these responses that helped me begin to feel empathy for Death. After all, no one likes him and no body is ever glad to see him. But after so many years in hospice, with nearly 800 deaths under my belt, hundreds of funerals, sympathy cards, and condolence calls, I’ve come to respect Death. How can I not, after seeing the glassy eyes of my patients who gasp for breath, feverish, slipping into unconsciousness, usually after losing so much weight that they are nearly unrecognizable to even their loved ones. Death is a welcome reprieve. That’s not to say I don’t grieve. I do, and I do hard.
We bury my father-in-law Don Conner this Saturday at 11am in the Appleton City Cemetery. I’ve known Don nearly 20 years, and Death has truly broken my heart once again. I cry so hard, that I slip to the floor, crumpled, face in my hands, weeping bitterness, begging God for a break. Just a little break…from my friend Death. Even though Don was badly injured from his fall March 9th, all of us truly thought he could be rehabilitated enough to one day come home. Maybe for Christmas. But I guess that won’t be the case.
I recently saw a phrase on a church billboard that said “Every day spent above ground is a good day.” Every time I see it, I think how a phrase could not be more untrue. Especially for a church. But I guess that’s how you feel when you’re not friends with Death. And by my way of thinking, Death owes me a steak dinner right about now….
The industrial revolution trickled down to create the funeral industry, a business run by professionals who take your loved one out of your hands and do the dirty work for you. Funerals and burials used to be in the hands of the family of the deceased, now it’s in our hands – the funeral professionals. We’ve taken one level of touch away.
Technically, we haven’t taken it away, you’ve given it to us. Death is messy. It’s scary. It makes us vulnerable. It confronts us with our own imperfection, weakness and mortality. And so, society has given death to the death professionals because … you didn’t want it. Death reminds us too much of our vulnerability and so we give it away for others to touch it.
The industrial revolution has come and gone and we are now in the middle of the Information Age (I’ll be using the term “communication revolution” throughout this article). The internet. Cell phones. Allowing us to do things that would have been viewed as magic only a hundred years ago.
And so the question becomes, “how will the communication revolution affect the funeral industry?” How will the internet, texting, Facebook, cell phones, Skype, Twitter and whatever will come next eventually affect how we do funerals in the future?
Before we can answer “how will it affect funerals?” we need to answer “how has the communication revolution affected our personal relationships?” After all, funerals are the expression of grief founded on personal relationships.
Psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle has this to say,
“When I ask people “What’s wrong with having a conversation (instead of using social media)?” People say, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with having a conversation. It takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say.” So that’s the bottom line. Texting, email, posting, all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit, and that means we get to delete, and that means we get to retouch, the face, the voice, the flesh, the body — not too little, not too much, just right.
Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”
In sum, by distancing ourselves from touch, from human conversation, from the messiness of real time communication, we have distanced ourselves from vulnerability. And by distancing ourselves from vulnerability, we have taken one more step away from being able to handle death.
With all the lack of vulnerability and the emphasis on control, the most logical end for the future of death is to edit the ending.
Why should I ask you to help me while I’m dying? I don’t want you to see me so vulnerable. And I want to control the way that I die before dying takes away my control. It’s the greatest way to edit the story. To take control of the appearance of our demise through taking our life by our own hand. Of course, I’m not talking about methods such as hanging. I’m talking about humane methods, whereby we take our lives painlessly and with “dignity”.
And the funeral will be much the same. I’m trying to imagine a funeral in a society that lives relationships through the newest technological apparatus. If we become increasingly uncomfortable with touching each other; if we become increasingly uncomfortable with vulnerability; if we become increasingly uncomfortable with unedited conversation; then just like dying and death, will we try to avoid funerals? Or will funerals become increasingly “on-line” in nature? Will we share Facebook photos of the deceased lying in state as our means to remember? Will our “like” or “comment” of said photo satisfy our need to acknowledge that person’s death? Will the funeral directors job be that of a photographer … to provide one last nicely edited photo of the deceased that acts as an in memoriam profile photo for one’s “Facebook Funeral”?
In industrialization, we moved away from the vulnerability of death by giving death to the death professionals. Is it possible that the communication revolution will usher in such an impersonal world that funerals — as we know them today — become obsolete? That the personal aspect of relationship is so removed by being “connected” that we have no use for funerals?
In the Western world, death is one of the last taboos. Death has become so sterile … so unspeakable … so frightful … so improper … that we assume we MUST protect the innocent souls from it’s darkness. In many parental minds, those “innocent souls” who need the most protection are our children. So we shield them from death, and keep them away from funerals, viewings and the dead.
Death, though, isn’t something that we CAN protect our children from. As much as we want to give our children security and answers to their questions, death, by it’s very nature, takes away security and only provides questions. The desire to protect our children from death is understandable, but it is a part of life that — if ignored — only becomes more difficult, more frightening and more harmful. It’s a part of life that may provide some of the best teaching moments for your children. Teaching moments where you can share that:
Life has an end.
Love continues on.
We have to live and love as much as we can because we don’t know how long we have.
All of us will die, so we must pursue our dreams and enjoy the life we’ve been given.
Not only should we recognize that death confrontation provides our children with incredible teaching moments, we should also realize that children do indeed grieve. They are connected. They love. They feel. And so when death comes, they grieve. Depending on their developmental stage, they will grieve differently than adults. But as long as they are apart of our family, of the community of the deceased, they have the right to grieve with us.
Here are a few helpful tips that I’ve gathered from three separate Counseling journals about how to help your children grieve:
- When death happens, have a close relative, preferable a parent, tell the child about it immediately.
- Stay close to the child, giving them physical affection. Instead of pushing them farther away from the community during death, draw them closer into it.
- Children grieve in cycles. For example, they may be more inclined to play and divert their focus from the death when the death is recent and parents are grieving intensely. More than adults, children need time to take a break from grief. It is important to know that it’s okay to take a break. Having fun or laughing is not disrespectful to the person who died; this is a vital part of grieving, too.
- Avoid euphemisms such as, “passed on,” “gone away,” “departed”. In and of itself, the concept of death is difficult enough for a child to understand; using euphemisms will only add to the difficulty.
- Advise the child to attend the funeral, but do not force him or her to go. The funeral and viewing is the community expression of grief. As a part of the community, it’s valuable for the child to take part in that expression. Questions will arise. But, those questions are necessarily. And it’s okay if you don’t have the answers. Part of the reason why many of us DON’T take children to viewings and funerals is because we’re afraid of our children seeing us grieve … we’re afraid of our children seeing us in a state of weakness.
- Let the child see you grieve; it gives them permission to grieve on their own. “It will help the child to see the remaining parent, friends and relatives grieve. Grief shared is grief diminished…if everyone acts stoically around the child, he or she will be confused by the incongruity. If children get verbal or nonverbal cues that mourning is unacceptable, they cannot address the mourning task.”
- Gently help the child grasp the concept of death. Avoid vague explanations to the child’s questions, but answer each question as honestly as possible.
- Keep other stressing situations, such as moving or changing schools to a minimum; after the ceremonies, continue child’s regular routines.
- Be honest with the child about the depth of the pain he or she will feel. “You may say, ‘this is the most awful thing could happen to you.’ Contrary to popular belief, minimizing the grief does not help.
The author of today’s guest post — who wishes to remain anonymous — has experienced the murder of two of her uncles. Typically, there’s three distinct categories of grief: normal, complicated and traumatic. For the most part, the grief experienced from murder falls into the “traumatic” category of grief experience. Today’s post highlights some of the aspects of traumatic grief.
Here goes my story. I’ll try to be as honest as possible and I know you can handle it but most people do not want to listen to my story cause they can’t handle it. I will give you some background info on my family.
We are all born and raised Catholic and will die Catholic. Lower middle class with a pretty good education. There is alot of alcoholism, drug addiction, and some mental illness within my family even before the two tragedies occurred.
In the summer of 1991 my Mom’s brother was murdered in broad daylight outside his place of business. My Mom and my sister were exceptionally close to him. He was a kind and gentle man who had his throat slit by a heroin junkie who just got out of jail for aggravated assault. We had to deal with a trial, the media and people just coming up to you and saying stupid things about my Uncle.
My Mom was the rock even though it was her brother. Me, my bro and my sister fell apart. My own father said he was jealous because my Mom was getting all the attention … he can be so incredibly ignorant sometimes. My sister really fell apart badly and has just now got clean after 22yrs of painkiller addiction. My brother and myself struggled with alcoholism. We are both now clean. My parents are still together after 51yrs.
We all love each other very much, perhaps too much. When you lose someone to murder you want to keep the ones you love close by. What do I attribute to all of us surviving? All of us has a strong relationship with God.
I was extremely bitter and angry with life and people, until a couple years ago when I decided I was tired of being angry. I pray more than ever now. All of us still have remnants of being a victim, of survivor guilt, PTSD, depression and insomnia to name a few.
Several months before my second Uncle was murdered another horrific murder had occurred in my town and as I was reading about the details when this horrible feeling overcame me and I said to God “it isn’t over is it?”(I somehow knew in my gut there was another tragedy that would befall on my family).
Several months later I was driving home from work and instead of going home I stopped at my parents. My Dad told me they hadn’t heard from his brother in several days (this wasn’t unusual because my Uncle was depressed over the loss of his wife a year earlier). An hour later we got a phone call telling us that my Uncle was found dead on his couch. My other Uncle found him.
At this time we all had thought he had a heart attack until several days later when we got the call from the coroner that he had been stabbed in the throat. Again another Uncle had been murdered by a junkie.
I had to be the bearer of bad news to the rest of my family. I remember when I turned on the radio en route to my parents the song A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harum was playing and there is a line in the song that says “they say there is no reason and the truth is plain to see” how prophetic!!
Ahhh, Forgiveness I’m sorry but you can judge me all you want but I will never forgive the assholes who murdered my Uncles. I have seen a therapist and my parish Priest over the issue of forgiveness and it has made me sick.
Forgiveness made me sick for many years until I met a kindred spirit in a coworker who told me as I wept uncontrollably, “’M’ this is too big for you to handle. Give this one to God and let him handle it.” That lifted a huge weight from my heart and to my friend “L” I will be forever grateful.
There are days I will cry for no reason and my therapist said that it’s okay to be sad when you have gone through what my family and I have. Right after my second Uncle was murdered I met the love of my life and I said to him (about 2 months after we met), “You know “J”, from the losses I have suffered I have learned that if you ever love someone, you must tell them because you never know when you might lose them.”
Tragically after three months of dating we lost his Mother and on her deathbed I promised her I would always take care of her son. Three months after that we lost his Father. “J” and I have handled the tough stuff early on in our relationship so anything else has been easier to go through.
To summarize, I truly know that without the love and support of my family and God, we wouldn’t be standing. Thank You God. If it was not for you and my belief for a better life on the other side I don’t think I would be writing this today.
Do Funeral Homes Charge Too Much for Their Services?
I asked this question on my Facebook page over the weekend. Over 330 people answered. And the discussion became pretty heated. Being that I like hot topics, I thought I’d take a stab at the question.
Let me preface this article by saying that I am not an economist, nor am I an exceptional business man. The following are ten observations that are a combination of experience in the funeral industry and my heart felt intention to meet the needs of the people I serve – needs that often include an economical funeral.
Two. Yes, there are good guys.
Funeral directors who are more concerned with helping you through the funeral process than with making money. There’s probably more good guys than bad guys. We’re out there. Find us.
Three. Shifting Cultural Attitude towards Death
The industrialization of dying has removed the dying of our loved ones from home care. The institutionalization of dying means that you will probably die in an institutional setting (hospitals, nursing homes), where “professionals” treat the body while (often) ignoring social and spiritual aspects of dying. In fact, three out of four deaths in the United States occur in a hospital or nursing home, outside of our home surrounding and outside of the comfort of our family.
The professionalization of death has removed death from home and family. The Amish hire the funeral director to embalm the body and produce the legal paper work, but they do the rest. They dress the body, they casket the body, they have the funeral at their home and they direct the funeral service. There’s something to be said about one’s caretakers in life also being one’s caretakers in death.
With the industrialization and professionalization of death and dying, we have had the responsibility taken away from the community, and without that responsibility, without that personal investment in dying and death, we no longer see the full value of funeralization.
“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty”, said Mitford. In Stephen Colbert-esque fashion, Mitford’s “The American Way of Death” wittingly embarrassed the abuses of the funeral industry in the 1960s and paved the way for the “Funeral Rule” in the early 1980s.
The “Funeral Rule” is meant “to protect consumers by requiring that they receive adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider.” And while some of the abuses in the funeral industry have been quelled by the Funeral Rule, the depiction of funeral directors as “oleaginous salesman pushing me to buy a mink-lined steel casket with an Eternal Memory Foam pillow fringed in Flemish crepe and gently scented with lilac” has – to one degree or another – remained in the public perception.
On the one hand, it’s important to recognize that Mitford’s criticisms were – and, in some cases, are — warranted; on the other hand, it’s important to recognize that Mitford viewed the funeral industry through the lens of economics and class. She seemed to believe that the funeral industry was based on a desire to assert one’s standing in society. Why else would you spend a couple grand on a funeral, unless you were attempting to distinguish yourself from others? And funeral directors capitalized on this desire to brag in death. In your moment of intense weakness, we play on your pride and reach into your wallet. So, of course we are overcharging … at least, that’s part of the public perception.
And this leads us to the value of a funeral. In a capitalist market, value is determined by the market … by you. If you value it, you’ll pay for it. And seeing value in a funeral is the real question. It’s not, “Do funeral homes charge too much?”; rather, its, “Is there real value in funerals?” Once we answer the value question, then we can answer the cost question.
If you don’t see value in what a funeral home is offering you, find one that offers you the product and services that you do value.
If you don’t see value in the products that the industry is offering you, demand different products and service.
If we do indeed charge too much, it’s because the market doesn’t see value in what we’re offering.
The funeral home that is geographically closest to us charges roughly two grand more per funeral than our funeral home. We know some of the people they bury and – because it’s generally known that our funeral home is rather inexpensive – I often wonder, “Why do they go to Such-and-such Funeral Home when we’re less expensive?” My conclusion? Trust. They have a better relationship with that funeral director than they do with us.
Because we recognize that death has altered our reasoning, when someone dies and we have to make arrangements, we want to go to somebody we trust … and, if possible, someone we already know. In our transient society, there’s situations where we have not connections to funeral directors / funeral homes.
But, when there is trust with a funeral director, when there is a relationship with a funeral director, especially during times of death, money isn’t as much of a consideration. The value of trust usually outweighs the cost.
Seven. Non-profit vs. for profit.
I think there’s an expectation for us to be a non-profit organization. To be a ministry. But, if we were a non-profit ministry, there’d simply be less consumer options. It would be governed by a board, the products would be determined by donors and the service might be even more cookie cutter than it already is.
There are options. You should be able to find a funeral home that offers a direct cremation for under $2,000. You don’t have to be embalmed. There are cemeteries that don’t require vaults. There are inexpensive caskets.
You can die at home. You can be more involved in the death process. In 1996 Jessica Mitford was buried for $533.31. With inflation rates factored in, you can purchase the equivalent of Mitford’s funeral today.
Nine. Prepaying / Insurance Policies.
It’s always much more difficult to handle the expenses of a funeral when you have to pay it all at once. Think buying a car with cash. Not all of us can do it.
If you plan ahead, or buy an insurance policy, you can pay in increments and when the time comes it’s not as much of a shock.
Ten. Pre-planning: Now is the Time to Think about Death.
We plan for weddings. We plan for births. Think about your dying and death now. Think about what you want. Think about how you want your funeral to look. Find a funeral director who can meet your needs