Confessions of A Funeral Director: ‘This Funeral Isn’t About You’

February 20, 2013
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Article by: Caleb Wilde, CalebWilde.com

That’s what I wanted to say.

If you know me, you know that I tend to be blunt.  Awkwardly so.

Being that blunt objects aren’t allowed at funerals, I’ve had to learn the art of professional speak.  Professional speak in the funeral business is the art of saying what you want to say without really saying it.

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Situation Number 1:

Blunt Caleb:  “When we picked your dad up from the nursing home, he was looking all purple and reddish, but after we embalmed him, we were able to flush the discoloration out of his face.”

Professional speak, “Your dad looks great.”

Situation Number 2:

Blunt Caleb: “Do you want that beard shaved off your mom’s face?”

Professional speak Caleb ignores asking that question all together and just shaves mom’s face.

Americans — maybe even Westerns as a whole — are impatient.  We rarely have quiet.  The TV’s constantly on.  Our smart phones are ever at our side.   Ear buds in our ears.  Meditation is a foreign concept.  Prayer is avoidable at all costs.  And the patience learned in the silence is never attained.  And then comes death and the silence that comes with it.  The meditation.  The prayer.  The lack of words.  And when the results of grief work don’t come immediately, we become impatient and think, “Something is dreadfully wrong with me!”  And we’re right.  We usually conclude that we’re deeply depressed; the reality may simply be that we’re deeply and intrinsically impatient, unable to find the peace in the silence that comes from death.  Maybe we’re just as afraid of the silence as we are of death.

Death brings its own pace of life … its own schedule.  It’s never convenient.  But we want it to be.  We want to control it.  We want to put it on an itinerary that fits our fast paced, purpose driven lifestyles.

Perhaps that battle for control is nowhere more apparent than at a viewing, especially when the viewing line mimics the slow moving, long lines we see at a popular amusement park ride.

This past Saturday night, I stood there behind the register book, striking up conversation with people as they enter the sanctuary.  The viewing line snakes around the church, down the hall and into the basement as we try to extend it through the corridors of the church so as to keep the line from going out into the cold elements of a Pennsylvania winter.  The family of the deceased is taking their time, talking to each and every person who has come out on this chilly night.

“Other funeral directors stand by the family’s receiving line and tell them to keep their conversations short and simply”, one person stated.

“We don’t do that”, I said politely.

Another couple comes through the line and complains that they’ve been standing in line for half-an-hour AND by the look of things, they’ll probably be in line for another half-an-hour.  “Can’t you do anything?”  they beg.

I try to make a joke … I tell them that, like Disney World, we are going to create an express line, where you can bypass the crowd for a fee.  “That’s a great idea”, they say.  “We’d pay $50 to skip this line.”

After having this conversation about 10 times over the next hour, I’m getting tired of my joke and I’m getting tired of people complaining.

I want to grab their dress shirts, pull them nose to nose with my face and whisper, “This isn’t about you.”  But that would be blunt Caleb speaking and that Caleb isn’t allowed around death.

Perhaps the greatest loss that comes with the drone of our busy lives is that in losing silence, we’ve lost patience, and in losing patience we’ve become so inherently selfish that when we go to a funeral we forget that it’s not about us.

Caleb Wilde

I'm a sixth generation funeral director. I have a grad degree in Missional Theology. 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.
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