Wisdom//

10 Confessions of a Funeral Director: How I Deal With Death

“I believe that both mortality and death can enliven us to become more true to ourselves, and those around us.”

white lily flower
white lily flower

Over a decade ago I reluctantly joined my family’s business. The business of death. Daily I am around grief, heartbreak, tears, snot, and other less-than-charming bodily fluids. I am often the first called to a home, the last at the funeral service or graveside, called first thing in the morning and late at night.

In some ways, I didn’t choose this, and in other ways, I’m glad I landed here because I’ve found a spirituality that I never thought possible. I’ve found a spirituality that’s not only a part of my profession, but also hits at the core of who we are as humans. We are mortal. And instead of being fearful of our mortality and our eventual death, I believe that both mortality and death can enliven us to become more true to ourselves, and those around us.

Over time working this unusual job, I’ve come to learn and believe ten things about the spirituality of death, and those are the ten things I want to leave you with. Let it guide you to embracing a more positive understanding of death, a life filled not with fear, but with reverence for what we gain when we lean into it.

1. The death negative narrative says there is nothing good in death. This narrative is our evolutionary heritage, and it’s been normalized through the news cycle and perpetuated by the way we have hidden death and dying in medical facilities and professionalized death care in funeral homes. This narrative does not tell the whole story. Death is a normal part of life, and when we come to a healthy understanding of it, beauty is found. Let death show you goodness.

2. Death cannot be tamed. Death can either break us open or it can break us apart. Those who are broken open find more room for compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and the Other. Let death break you open.

3. Death cannot be ignored or rushed past. Death opens up a unique space, giving us time to pause and reflect on our life’s meaning. Let death make you pause, take a death Sabbath, and reflect, meditate, and take inventory of your life.

4. Focusing on heaven or the afterlife can cause us to downplay and ignore the value of earth, and of death. Learning to live in the here and now helps us find the goodness of earth, even the goodness in death. Let death show you what is good about your life here and now, and appreciate that.

5. The voice of death is silence. The more we can embrace the silence, the more we can embrace death. Let us embrace silence, rather than trying to needlessly fill it.

6. The death negative narrative shames our mortality. A death positive narrative invites us to find our true selves in our mortality. Let it invite us to be more patient with others and ourselves as we learn, grow, and overcome.

7. Sometimes, our experiences during periods of death and dying are the closest we get to heaven on earth. The community that death creates holds remnants of Eden. Let us lean into this community and appreciate our relationships in these times.

8. Death is the great universal that allows us to find the humanity in others, giving us the opportunity to come together despite our differences. Let us, in death, find love for those we may otherwise dislike.

9. Active remembering acknowledges that there is no such thing as closure and invites the dead back into our lives. Let us practice active remembering, acknowledging that the dead never truly leave those they loved.

10. Embracing death is the key ingredient for a life well lived. Let us embrace death, realizing that the closer we become to our mortality, the more we confront death, the more we can embrace life.

From CONFESSIONS OF A FUNERAL DIRECTOR: How Death Saved My Life. Copyright © 2017 by Caleb Wilde. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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