The blogger behind Confessions of a Funeral Director—what Time magazine called a "must read"—reflects on mortality and the powerful lessons death holds for every one of us in this compassionate and thoughtful spiritual memoir that combines the humor and insight of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes with the poignancy and brevity of When Breath Becomes Air.
We are a people who deeply fear death. While humans are biologically wired to evade death for as long as possible, we have become too adept at hiding from it, vilifying it, and—when it can be avoided no longer—letting the professionals take over.
Sixth-generation funeral director Caleb Wilde understands this reticence and fear. He had planned to get as far away from the family business as possible. He wanted to make a difference in the world, and how could he do that if all the people he worked with were . . . dead? Slowly, he discovered that caring for the deceased and their loved ones was making a difference—in other people’s lives to be sure, but it also seemed to be saving his own. A spirituality of death began to emerge as he observed:
- The family who lovingly dressed their deceased father for his burial
- The act of embalming a little girl that offered a gift back to her grieving family
- The nursing home that honored a woman’s life by standing in procession as her body was taken away
- The funeral that united a conflicted community
Through stories like these, told with equal parts humor and poignancy, Wilde offers an intimate look into the business and a new perspective on living and dying
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About the Author
Caleb Wilde is a partner at his family’s business, Wilde Funeral Home, in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. He writes the popular blog Confessions of a Funeral Director and recently completed postgraduate work at Winchester University, England, in the program, “Death, Religion and Culture.” He has been featured in top media outlets, including The Huntington Post, The Atlantic, and TIME magazine, and on NPR, NBC, and ABC’s 20/20.
Table of Contents
Author's Note vii
1 Death Negative 1
2 Playtime in the Casket Room 11
3 Broken Open 19
4 Death Sabbath 29
5 Searching for the Divine in the Dark 39
6 Sacred Dirt 45
7 The Myth of the Death-Care Amateur 55
8 Front-Door Policy 67
9 Listening to the Voice of Silence 75
10 Grief as Worship 83
11 Sara's Mosaic 97
12 Heaven on Earth 107
13 Sam McKinney's Mysticism 121
14 Active Remembering 129
15 Finding My Words 143
16 Yin and Yang 155
Ten Confessions: An Epilogue 171
Discussion Questions 181
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a thought provoking book that will touch the core of those who read it. Caleb Wilde was able to touch on the same fears and thoughts that most people have about death and what happens afterwards. His book is easy to read and hard to put down, as he describes his own struggles with death and working in the funeral industry. You will laugh at some of his humorous moments and cry as you relate to some of the more personal stories. This book taught me to look at death in a whole new light I never thought possible. We, as a society, need to take a hard look at the way we view death and make it a positive experience. Just as there is a beauty in birth, there can also be a beauty in death, not just for the dying, but for those left behind. Thank you Caleb, for sharing your journey with us. I hope it touches others as it has touched and taught me.
For honest reflections about death and grief, I often turn to Caleb Wilde. In his memoir Confessions Of A Funeral Director, Caleb’s honesty about his doubts and anxiety makes his insights that much more compelling. He suggests (and I agree) we adopt a death positive narrative and shows how society’s death negative narrative and the church’s heaven narrative actually hurt us and our ability to mourn. Through examples from his professional experience, as well as his own personal losses, Caleb illustrates the importance of grieving well, as well as a healthier perspective about death and dying. One of my favorite stories was about Sam, an LGBTQ woman who attended a church where she was not allowed to become a member. Even though her sexuality meant she could not fully be a part of her church, she expressed wishes for her funeral to be there. The way the pastor and Sam's family, many of whom were not affirming, responded to this wish was incredibly moving. Caleb muses that death is the common denominator that helps us connect, even when we don't see eye to eye. It can bring us together or it can tear us apart. But when we allow it, death helps bridge our differences and reminds us that love is the reason for all things. This chapter might be the reason to read this book. We need to have more conversations like this. We need to talk about what really matters. We need to talk not only about the kind of life we want to have but the kind of death we want to have. This book is a great step in helping us have that conversation. I appreciated how Caleb covered many different kinds of loss, including infertility and adoption. He also emphasizes the importance of proximity and presence in times of loss, which might be the best takeaway anyone could receive. It's never about having the right thing to say but simply showing up and being there for one another. I can no longer remember how I first came across Caleb's blog several years ago but I do remember thinking two things: 1) this guy needs to write a book and 2) we need to be friends. While Caleb and I have yet to meet in person, we did become internet friends and so it was especially thrilling to finally read his book. I commend it to you. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy from HarperOne.