Book Review: Confessions of a Funeral Director

As a hospice chaplain, I have met many funeral directors. Sometimes I am present in my capacity as a chaplain and Christian clergy. Other times, I visit during calling hours to extend my condolences to the family of the deceased. (In COVID-land, not so much.) Funeral directors have a “face” that they put on to do their work. (If I am honest, chaplains, can do the same thing.) It’s that “face” of kindness, comfort, and genuine concern. They genuinely want to help people.

Caleb Wilde’s book introduces one to the “other side” of the funeral home business. It honors the personal connections with family, community, religion (or none), and all of the unresolved questions and issues of a human life. Wilde ended up in his family’s funeral business reluctantly, and then discovered he liked being a part of the final acts of serving his neighbors.

Wilde works in a small community, so many of his customers were friends and neighbors. He learned his work needed to be handled honestly and with emotional integrity. It is difficult to sit with the bereaved day after day. To remain genuine in compassionate care, he learned one has to let the grief be felt, but not overwhelm. He notes, “Will we be broken open, or will death break us apart?” (p. 27) If we are broken open, then we have room for other’s pain. If broken apart, then we become fragile instead of resilient.

The book contains vignettes of experiences of his work life. He writes stories which he states are “Frankensteined,” where fragments of events and personalities are pieced together. Like chaplains, he honors their journeys and holds their privacy. Some stories he shares are funny, others touching, and many will remind the reader of a friend or relative and cause a bit of a heart-twinge. For this reason, I would not recommend the recently bereaved read this book. It may be more than a tender heart can bear.

I have some ethical issues with funeral homes in general, particularly those that “up-sell” a padded casket and expensive floral arrangements. It’s a necessity to have someone handle a deceased body safely and respectfully. But a family does not have to bankrupt themselves to have a meaningful burial.

The author does have significant moments of personal reflection and self-awareness. His own faith is deepened and strengthened as he learned to find something redeeming in death. While I may quibble with the industry itself, I do agree with his sentiments about facing the realities of death and being better for understanding it.

Death is like mud: it’s dirty, messy, and incredibly tough to walk through, but, surprisingly, it holds vital ingredients to life, and when seeds are planted, it can help sprout new life. (p. 8)

Confessions of a Funeral Director, Caleb Wilde. (c) 2017. Harper Collines Publishers, New York. e-book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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