PARKESBURG, Pa. - A sixth-generation Pennsylvania undertaker is using humor and social media to talk about death and the preciousness of life.
Caleb Wilde has sent tweets suggesting that he ties the shoelaces of the dead together because it would be "hilarious" if there's ever a zombie apocalypse. Wilde told the Philadelphia Daily News that he doesn't actually do that.
His "Confessions of a Funeral Director" page on Facebook get 600,000 to 1 million views a week, and he has more than 17,000 Twitter followers, the newspaper reported.
Wilde says his mission is simple:
"I want to start a conversation about death," he said. "A main part of our humanity is our mortality. Death makes us realize how precious and fleeting life is and how much each day is a gift."
Wilde's grew up playing hide and seek in the casket room of his family's funeral home in Parkesburg, the only mortuary in the rural burg of 3,600. By 16, he was mowing its lawn, parking cars during services and accompanying relatives on calls to pick up bodies.
His ancestors were cabinetmakers who made their first caskets around 1850. Wilde's grandfather Thaddeus, who was born in the funeral home, was embalming bodies by age 12.
Wilde didn't want to follow into the family business. He received bachelors and master's degrees in Bible and theology at Lancaster Bible College and Biblical Seminary, and worked as a missionary in Madagascar before he returned home.
"I couldn't make it financially in the ministry. Unless you have a big church backing you, you run out of money," he said.
Wilde takes antidepressants and is open about the depression he suspects many others in the business struggle with. He said writing a blog is his therapy. Besides zombie jokes and photos of pimped-out hearses, he also aims to "shed light on an industry that for the most part is cast in shadows."
That means essays on topics like funeral director "burnout and compassion fatigue," funeral etiquette (including a post defending funeral "selfies"), consumer rights (like "Do Funeral Homes Charge Too Much for their Services?) and a "You Want to Be a Mortician? 21 Tips" post.
Wilde, who doesn't accept advertising for his social media site, also ponders his own death.
He wants a "green burial" - no embalming, caskets or vaults. He aims one day to open his own green cemetery in or around Parkesburg, and thinks it's the future of the funeral business.