Bookworm: ‘Our Dead Still Speak’ tests your tolerance of New Agey-ness.

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak: A Funeral Director on Life, Death, and the Hereafter”

  • By Caleb Wilde
  • c. 2022, Broadleaf Books
  • $26.99, 208 pages

You are never alone. There’s always someone running in and out, always traffic in your house. The neighbors are close, your friends are a phone call away, and it seems as though you’ve always got company. You're never alone, and in the new book “All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak” by Caleb Wilde, you’ll see how that might extend beyond.

“All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak: A Funeral Director on Life, Death, and the Hereafter” by Caleb Wilde.

For more than 170 years, someone in Caleb Wilde's family has served their community by facilitating funerals. Wilde himself is a sixth-generation funeral director and up until a few years ago, he says that he was skeptical about the possibility of a hereafter.

“I used to believe,” he says, “that terror management theory offered the only viable way to explain heaven ... ”

But yet, he says, he heard “so many stories” that he “began to wonder if they might hold some kind of truth.” Clients through the years had told him too many "ghost" tales for him to ignore. The idea nagged at him enough that he began to study it in earnest. His urgency increased when he suffered from burn-out and sought therapy.

His therapist helped him see that his family’s past was what kept him at his job. He began to think: what if our ancestors were with us at all times?

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Funerals, he believes, are to death what midwives are to birth, and funerals are not just “for the living.” Because boundaries are blurred, he says that the dead are able to “surround us, live in us, integrate themselves into our soil.” The love they carried in life extends to their children’s children, and “it creates the world” – and when we listen to what the dead have to tell us, it begins “to fill a void we may not have even noticed.” This helps keep our loved ones alive in us, and we don't even have to limit the conversation to speech. We bolster each other, support and provide for one another in life – why not receive the same from the dead?

The easiest way to decide whether or not you want to read “All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak” is to know your own tolerance for New Agey-ness. Author Caleb Wilde hypothesizes at great length about ancestry and the hereafter, in conjunction with their real-time influences on current lives. Can you follow it and will you embrace it?

Will you be able not to cringe at his explanations of Black funerals versus “white funerals?” He explains his well-considered intentions for the distinction, but the lengthy discourse grows quite awkward as it progresses. Can you tease out the stories that Wilde’s known for, and which are fascinating and too few, from the philosophy that creeps into the narrative sometimes?

These are questions that will separate readers into those who ponder life and death now, and those who aren't quite ready for the deep stuff. If you fall into the first category, “All the Ways Our Dead Still Speak” should be your next new companion. If not, then leave it alone.

More: “Confessions of a Funeral Director”

  • By Caleb Wilde
  • c. 2017, HarperOne
  • $25.99, $31.99 Canada; 193 pages

From September 2017.

It was not the way things were supposed to be. As a teenager, you’d mapped out your life with a timetable. You’d travel there, visit this, see things you wanted to see and experience that which you desired before resuming your schedule. It would be a meaningful life, filled with adventure. But, as in the new book “Confessions of a Funeral Director” by Caleb Wilde, had you planned for a meaningful ending?

“Confessions of a Funeral Director” by Caleb Wilde.

Caleb Wilde was born into death. His father was a fifth-generation funeral director; his mother would’ve been a fourth-generation funeral director. Both sets of grandparents lived in their respective funeral homes and as he grew up, Wilde played near caskets and enjoyed family dinners in a room that doubled as seating for funerals. Death, for him, was no big deal.

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Except that it was. He couldn’t help but think about death, as he lay awake in his bedroom above a funeral home. In his mind, he turned over issues of God and death, hellfire and eternity until he ultimately decided that his “childhood God was a God who was broken apart,” and he decided to do something about it. Eschewing the family business, Wilde went instead on a search to “create good” and to “reimagine God to be different from [a] God who had the power to stop tragedy but chose not to do it.”

If you’re willing to spend time in thought, you’ll find a serene, silent opposite to that here, and maybe some comfort for our times. Not all deaths are bad, and if you need to know it today, then “Confessions of a Funeral Director” is how a meditative book should be.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.