Caleb Wilde

Caleb Wilde

(218 comments, 978 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

Do you talk to your dead?


Do you talk to your dead?

Soon after my maternal grandfather died in 2006, I was sitting with my grandmother — his widow— and she told me something that I thought was weird, maybe even a little dangerous.  She told me that she constantly talks to Pop-pop.  Everyday, even every hour.

At that time, I was just in the beginning of my “death positivity” journey, and I had this idea in my head that “death acceptance” meant we acknowledged death as final, and stop trying to deny it’s reality through various coping mechanisms, like talking to the dead.

I was wrong.  It turns out that talking to our dead isn’t a product of death denial, it’s a product of love and relationships.

My maternal grandparents had a wonderful relationship, the kind of fairy tales and romance novels.  There wasn’t one without the other.  When you were in the room with both of them, there was this sense that they were one and yet different . . . almost like they were one person divided into two individuals.

So that when Pop-pop died, for my grandmother, it was as though he left and he didn’t.  It was though he was dead and alive, absent and present, there and not there because even though he wasn’t there, he was still apart of her because their love remained.

I used to think it was weird when people talked to the dead, and I used to think it was even weirder when people claimed their dead talked to them, but not anymore.  Love is mysterious, it’s sacred, and it breaks through hard and fast boundaries that we’ve set in place between death and life.  Death denial is a real thing, and it’s problematic, but love allows for both death acceptance AND continuing bonds.

Do you speak to your dead?  Do they speak to you?  It’s okay if you answer “no” to both, and it’s okay if you answer “yes.” As long as love mediates your grief experiences, I’m not so sure you can go wrong.

Funeral directors are human too

When I work with younger people, I’ll usually give them my cell number so they can text me whenever they want.  Texting is just so much less stressful and easier for those of us who grew up with cell phones, and it seems to be a comfort for the families when they know they can reach me via text anytime of the day.

This is a text exchange I had with a young mother who birthed stillborn twins.  And I don’t share this to brag about my supposed sainthood in providing a free funeral to a bereaved mother.  It’s the opposite really.  Saintliness implies something extra good, or extra human, or god-like.  This act was very much just basic, normal humanity.  This is nothing exceptional.

Most funeral directors enter and stay in death care because we’ve experienced death and want to use our experience to help others who are experiencing the same.  The best of us are grieving people helping grieving people.

Every funeral director I know heavily discounts, charges cost, or gives both services and goods for free when their “customer” is a child.  It’s not a rule we were taught in funeral school. It’s not unspoken code.  It’s just human.

And I guess I want you to know that death care workers are not saints, and unlike the many stereotypes, most of us aren’t sinners out to exploit the grieving public.  We carry the same grief you do, and we know how far a little goodness and grace can go.  So next time you see us in real life, or portrayed as a charlatan on TV, know that we’re neither saint or sinner.  We’re very much like you . . . and just like you, when we see a grieving mother, we do what anyone would do by giving the best we can give.


Finding the magic in life

A few years ago, Pop Pop stepped away from making funeral arrangements for a few reasons, namely that at 87 he’s outlived and buried most of his contemporaries, an accomplishment that would make some feel lonely, but for him it feels like completion.  He was here for his friends and family when they needed him, and now that most of them are gone, he focuses on other things at the funeral home.

Even now, every once in a while, someone Pop Pop grew up with will die, so he puts on suit and tie and takes charge of the funeral arrangements.  Today was one of those days.  A 91 year old friend of our family passed, and Pop Pop met with her family.

I came down in the middle of the arrangements to grab some information (and snapped this photo in the process) so I could type an obituary draft for the family to read before they left.  Pop Pop’s proud of me being in the business, as any family patriarch would be.  When I entered the arrangement room to get the info, he started doing what grandfathers do when they’re proud of their grandson.

After talking about my book (he’s read it four times, or so he says), he started talking about passing off the business.  He said, “I’d give it up, but I can’t.  I’ve always loved my job, there’s nothing else I’d rather do, so why stop doing what I love just because I’m 87?”

There’s a number of things that make for a good life, and one of them is finding what you love, and somehow or another making it your profession.  It’s rare that we do what we love, but when we do, it not only benefits us, it benefits everyone our work touches.

Pop Pop’s love for the business and the people he serves has benefited those people just as much as it’s benefited my Pop Pop.  He might be 87 years old, but when he’s working with his people, it’s like his 87 year old body momentarily drinks from the fountain of youth.  That’s the magic you find when you do what you love.  And that magic spills over to the people you love.


Death is like mud

There’s a reason our kids don’t ask Santa for a toy casket.  And why Disney doesn’t offer a destination funeral experience.

When one of our loved ones die, it’s never fun.

It’s not pretty.

Death is impossibly hard.

It’s so, so very messy, circular, cloudy, vulnerable, and tiring.

It can hurt, it can be lonely, and the tragic kinds of death can literally ruin our lives.

It doesn’t “make us stronger.” It does, however, make us weaker . . . or maybe it’s best to say it helps us see just how fragile we really are.

Death is important.

It’s important because it tells the truth. 

It tells the truth about who we are.  And there’s so many things in our biology, in culture, in religion, and in ourselves that keeps us from talking about it.

Death positivity is the simple idea that death talk is okay.  It’s good to talk about because even though death is like mud, it holds the vital ingredients to life.


We are living cemeteries

We’re living cemeteries.  We’re full of dead people, and their stories live on in our bodies.

The cemetery that I’m walking in holds my Quaker ancestors, who came over in the early 1700s to escape persecution and find some respite in William Penn’s “Holy Experiment.”

I’m the result of a myriad of my ancestor’s choices that all came together to make me.  As long as I’m alive, they’ll never die.  And as long as my kids and relatives are alive, my choices — good and bad — will be carried in their bodies.

The dead surround us, live in us, integrate themselves into our soil.  We are who we are, we live where we live, we speak the way we speak, our character is a reflection of theirs because we are them.  We are their hopes, their dreams and desires. —

We’re an individualistic society.  Everything is about individual awards, accomplishments, salaries, etc. “It’s mine and I earned it” or “this is who I am” type mantras fill our heads.  BUT WE ARE LIVING CEMETERIES.

We are not entirely our own.  We’ve been carried here — at this moment — by the love, hard work, and heritage of our ancestors.  Their love lives in us.  Their work carries us.  We are theirs, and just like them, one day we’ll become a part of someone else’s future.  Our love will continue, and we will be the ones carrying our loved ones.

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