Interview with an undertaker


#1

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#2

Caleb is not your average mortician.

What is the average funeral director like? I have met a few, and they struck me as thoughtful and spiritual people. Are they supposed to be gloomy and morbid?


#3

The funeral and cemetery industrial complex is a profit machine. Too many attack the pride and shame centers at a families most vulnerable moment, or just allow those centers to go wild and sit back to tabulate the markups. Somehow a luxury padded satin casket and paying a fortune to dump grandma’s blood in the sewer have become normal traditions for Americans. Religious Jews and Muslims have a tradition to bury the dead in the ground ASAP wrapped in not much more than a shroud.
I suppose I understand the cheap cement vault to prevent settling and flood washout problems but the rest seems incredible to have to pay for, guess the funeral home smells a piece of the inheritance. Why would anyone want to do an open casket memorial, or worse waste the resources to incinerate a perfectly biodegradable body.


#4

Every business is a profit machine. But like I said, I’ve known a few funeral directors and I’ve never seen one use manipulative sales tactics or pressure. I’ve heard the business was like that in the sixties - I wouldn’t know.

My own mother died in the eighties, and her instructions were explicitly to bury her ashes in a cardboard box. The funeral director I used didn’t even question that, he just explained how to make it happen.


#5

I want to decompose, in the dirt, unadulterated. Modern American burial and preservation in a bulletproof Cadillac seems like a desperate attempt to hang on just a little bit longer.

I’ve always thought the idea of the Dakhma was beautiful. It seems like a more transcendent reintegration into the processes of nature than burial. There was a woman who had designed a Dakhma or ‘tower of silence’ that would sit in the center of the Dead Sea, and the grieving would be ferried out to it to say final farewells, after which the deceased would be consumed by birds and the elements. I couldn’t find the link, does anyone know of this and have a link? It was a beautiful design.


#6

“Why would anyone want to do an open casket memorial, or worse waste the resources to incinerate a perfectly biodegradable body.”

To answer the second part of your question, it’s because cremation is usually a cheaper alternative in metropolitan areas. Buying a small plot of real estate (a grave) in a metropolitan area is very expensive, and probably a greater waste of resources.


#7

[quote=“dobby, post:3, topic:47409”]
Why would anyone want … waste the resources to incinerate a perfectly biodegradable body.[/quote]Because after cremation you can use existing grave and just add a small vessel with ashes to it. In my country we have concrete graves and there is usually space for two coffins in such grave - one above another. There is space above coffins where you can place containers with ashes and just add a small plaque to the grave listing more occupants. This is how I want to be buried. And my family has explicit instructions to put ashes into a plastic bottle from my favourite brand of soft-drink. … And, of course, to purchase the cheapest coffin and other stuff they can. I also have very specific instructions for flower decorations. Four carnations. Whatever color is the cheapest :wink:


#8

I have met and known many morticians and funeral directors. They are some of the most joyful, funny and spiritual people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I suppose it’s the nature of their business that makes them so aware of the frailty and brevity of life.


#9

[quote=“Boundegar, post:4, topic:47409, full:true”]Every business is a profit machine. But like I said, I’ve known a few funeral directors and I’ve never seen one use manipulative sales tactics or pressure. I’ve heard the business was like that in the sixties - I wouldn’t know.

My own mother died in the eighties, and her instructions were explicitly to bury her ashes in a cardboard box. The funeral director I used didn’t even question that, he just explained how to make it happen.[/quote]

The couple of funeral directors I’ve encountered weren’t outright pushy in the stereotypical used car salesman way. But they had no qualms about encouraging a fancier coffin, extra limos to transport mourners to the cemetery, etc.

And I’ve heard firsthand stories of things like funeral directors not scheduling enough time to get to the cemetery and throwing up their hands when the cemetery demands cash overtime payments because the funeral party arrived an hour late.


#10

That was here on BB, just a few months ago:


#11

I really just don’t get people like Eric Puchner, the author of this piece. Living in terror of an inevitability, and aggressively insistent that absolutely nothing will exist for them after death. I can’t imagine how anyone gets through the day without total psychological collapse then they’ve got such a strangely attenuated mindset. Pragmatically, it seems useless to fear death, and meaningless to contemplate any sort of afterlife or lack thereof.

Despite my complete inability to empathize with the author, it was a well-written piece, and the subject was interesting.


#12

Yes that’s it. Thanks, what a wonderful interior design. Seems like it would inspire the kind of awe and wonder that maybe should accompany sending off a departed loved one to the Undying Lands.


#13

“I always tie the shoelaces together of the dead. Cause if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, it will be hilarious”

I like him already.


#14

Also, similar to Tibetan sky burials (link has some photos, of a body and some remains, FYI):


#15

It is interesting that this designer decided to choose the Dead Sea where two starkly monotheistic religions meet, both of which consider non-burial of a human body to be amongst the most severe desecration of the image of God.


#16

My dad is one. He self-identifies as Christian but belongs to no particular denomination. He’s quiet, patient to a fault, and fascinated by all religions and spiritual traditions, but is particularly fond of Egyptian myth (being also an embalmer and amateur woodworker, he collects and builds replica canopic jar sets, busts, and related funerary and religious paraphernalia).

I don’t really know how best to describe his character. When I was younger, I’d often find cards written by local families. Dozens over the years; he’s probably received hundreds. Anyway, I recall many from poor and even indigent people saying things to the effect that, though they had virtually nothing in the world—often no remaining relatives, even—he made them feel as though they mattered to somebody.

He once worked for a short time at a corporate-owned, sales-figures-driven funeral home (instead of the private ones he’d erstwhile worked for). I’ve never seen him more morose or spiritually downtrodden.

I can’t say for sure that he doesn’t pressure grieving families into unnecessary purchases. I also can’t say that he doesn’t become an unctuous, ingratiating smarm-bucket in the presence of moneyed clients. These behaviors would, however, be out of line with what I know of his private character, and out of line with the things I’ve read of and been told about him.

That’s not to say the business isn’t rife with manipulative exploitation, though. He pretty much condemned the aforementioned funeral home and its leadership structure as an “abominable predatory cesspit”.

The average funeral director (and for that matter, the average part-time embalmer, body-retriever, etc) is like any other average person, with perhaps less squeamishness about dead humans and a higher tendency to employ gallows humor. They span the gamut from ruthless ladder-climbing careerists to meek jobsworths.


#17

I wanna be stuffed with crab meat.


#18

I want my ashes thrown at a stripper who lied about her age to get a job. If that’s not convenient, send me off like Donny in “The Big Lebowski”.


#19

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