Fred Phelps died. A couple days ago, we learned that the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church – infamous for its hate filled rhetoric and base propaganda tactics – was dying; a fact that produced a number of us to reflect on Phelps’ life and feel some sense of satisfaction knowing that it was coming to an end.
The 32-year-old mortician, who once considered becoming a Christian minister, is an Internet icon redefining a staid profession and opening up conversations about life’s ultimate concerns.
I grabbed my suit, put it back on, drove to the funeral home, loaded the collapsible stretcher into the hearse and off I went to Such and Such.
I pull up to the front door of the nursing home. A new nurse greets me and tells me she doesn’t want me “dragging the body through her wing.”
Funeral photography, funeral selfies and “corpsies” via mobile devices are becoming more and more normal at death beds AND funerals, despite the fact that they’re seen by many as pure sacrilege. Huffington Post stated that such images are “evidence the apocalypse can’t come soon enough.”
I myself once felt uncomfortable with the idea of deathbed / funeral selfies, but I’ve slowly become more open. Here’s why:
The funeral industry is too often known for its worst practitioners. The practitioners who take financial advantage of the bereaved in their most helpless state. Those who price gouge and exploit. Those who use the dark side of the Force.
I picked up the phone with my rehearsed, “Hello. This is the Wilde Funeral Home. Caleb speaking.” The voice on the other end says abruptly, “I have a problem … my son-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”
He tweets. He blogs. He embalms.
Caleb Wilde is a sixth-generation mortician, working for the family business in small-town Pennsylvania — a Victorian-style funeral home where the only visible concessions to modernity are two big-screen televisions used by overflow crowds to watch a service.
But when he’s not making 2 a.m. house calls and loading “customers” (the deceased) into “the pickup” (the hearse), Wilde is engaged in the most modern of pursuits: spreading his very intimate view of death on the web.
The worst thing that every happened at one of our funerals, happened a little over three years ago, during a combination snow and ice storm. We were holding a funeral at an old Catholic church.
Yes, we lay a nekked person on a table and take out their blood, replacing said blood with embalming fluid. Weird? Yes.
Larry sat behind his dated metal desk and I in front of it, we know each other well enough that I bypassed the bull and got straight to the point, “Why are you selling?” “I can’t do it any longer. After 30 years of service, it’s become a business. And I’m done with it.”