If you haven’t yet read funeral director Caleb Wilde’s book, Confessions of A Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life, look it up. It provides a thoughtful, heartfelt look into what funeral directors actually do, the grief and trauma they regularly face, and how acknowledging death can make life sweeter.
Wilde admits he’s always been more comfortable expressing his thoughts in writing than by speaking. His blog, Confessions of a Funeral Director, has a popular following online. His book has been recognized with a Gold 2017 Nautilus Book Award, “books to build a better world.”
Confessions of a Funeral Director takes readers behind the scenes at his family’s funeral home, into the homes of bereaved families, and into his heart and mind as he wrestles with life and death questions. A devout Christian as a teenager, his beliefs were challenged as he faced copious examples of grief and suffering. He wondered if going into the family business was actually the right thing for him to do.
Wilde offers a glimpse into old and new ways of doing funerals. On the traditional side, he details the embalming process and trips to pick up bodies. He writes about his childhood in the funeral home, playing hide-and-seek with his cousins in the casket room, and life in his family’s house, which was also the funeral home.
As for the new, he muses about the rise of the “nones,” those who are “spiritual but not religious,” and how funeral celebrants can better serve a grieving family than a pastor who does the same old service. He illustrates a nursing home removal through the front door, with the staff and residents bidding farewell, rather than slipping the dead out the back door.
And he writes of rituals, such as altars of remembrance and taking the time to observe a Death Sabbath. He details how these actions help people mourn the loss of a loved one and grieve in their own ways at their own pace.
In his book, Wilde explores family involvement in care of the dead and death positivity. This is a term and movement started by mortician Caitlin Doughty and her organization The Order of the Good Death.
Doughty is a pioneer of the growing alternative death care movement. She has more than half a million followers of her YouTube channel, “Ask a Mortician,” and huge social media followings. She’s the author of two New York Times bestselling books about death and funerals, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory and From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.
There are interesting differences in how Doughty and Wilde are perceived by the industry. The unconventional Doughty had a lifelong fascination with death and chose to go to mortuary school after working in a crematory. Wilde is a sixth-generation funeral director on his dad’s side, and fifth-generation on his mom’s.
While they are both in their 30s, it seems Wilde and his book have been more easily embraced by the industry. Wilde recognizes Doughty’s contributions to getting people to recognize mortality and openly discuss death. Yet many funeral directors poo-poo her use of humor and encouragement of natural burial, home funerals, and family involvement in death care.
In this notoriously slow to change industry, funeral directors should pay attention to the books and online offerings of both Wilde and Doughty. They are death conversation-starters, speaking to very large audiences online and through their books. Many of their fans are the offspring of baby boomers, and boomers themselves.
These are the people who will be making funeral arrangements in the not-too-distant future. Listen to what these millennial morticians are saying, because your future customers are. FBA
About Author Gail Rubin, CT
Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist, is the baby boomer author of three upbeat books on end-of-life issues: A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die; Kicking the Bucket List: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die; and Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies Templates and Tips. She’s a Certified Funeral Celebrant and coordinator of the Before I Die NM Festival. Download a 50-point Executor’s Checklist from www.AGoodGoodbye.com.