My favorite books for aspiring funeral directors (or those with a morbid streak)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been in the funeral profession my entire professional career, and my family has deep roots in the profession too. My great-great-great grandfather was a cabinet maker, or “tradesman undertaker” in rural Milford, Delaware prior to the Civil War. In addition to being a funeral director and embalmer, I’m a certified post-mortem reconstructionist and cremationist, and the president of the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association. I’ve written five books on the subject of the funeral profession and am an associate editor for Southern Calls, “The Journal of the Funeral Profession.”

I wrote...

Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt

By Todd Harra, Kenneth McKenzie,

Book cover of Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt

What is my book about?

Mortuary Confidential does for the undertaker profession what Stiff did for cadavers—it manages to be as informative and heartwarming as it is irreverent and hilarious. This collection of real stories from morticians and funeral directors across America feeds mainstream readers' dark curiosity and sense of humor about "our world of death" with a behind-the-scenes glimpse into every conceivable facet of the people who touch it every day.

In this macabre and moving compilation, funeral directors across the country share their most embarrassing, jaw-dropping, irreverent, and deeply poignant stories about life at death's door. Discover what scares them and what moves them to tears. Learn about rookie mistakes and why death sometimes calls for duct tape.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

Todd Harra Why did I love this book?

Thomas Lynch does a masterful job in The Undertaking offering a behind-the-scenes look at the funeral profession. Using beautiful, lyrical prose to present a topic (i.e., death) that is often ugly and hard to stomach, and rears its head at the most inopportune times, Lynch offers an unflinching look at what he calls the dismal trade. His deep connection with death and dying translates to the reader not only feeling connected with the subject matter, but empowering the reader to connect with the next death event in their life. Take it from me, someone in the profession, this book is as authentic as they come. A must-read. 

By Thomas Lynch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Undertaking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople." So opens this singular and wise testimony. Like all poets, inspired by death, Thomas Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or to cremate them and to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director.

In the conduct of these duties he has kept his eyes open, his ear tuned to the indispensable vernaculars of love and grief. In these twelve pieces his is the voice of both witness and functionary. Here, Lynch, poet to the dying, names the…

Book cover of Confessions of a Funeral Director: How Death Saved My Life

Todd Harra Why did I love this book?

You might recognize Caleb Wilde from his prolific social media presence. And while Wilde’s funeral home is only about an hour from mine, that has nothing to do with the recommendation. What appealed to me about Confessions is Wilde’s naked honesty about the pervasiveness of death that many of us who work in the profession feel. Confessions is introspective, and at times funny, but my main takeaway is Wilde’s attempt to foster a more death-positive attitude with his text. Sure death is sad, and at times tragic, but there are life lessons to be learned and it doesn’t have to be a taboo subject in our culture.

By Caleb Wilde,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Confessions of a Funeral Director as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I tremble to say there's good in death, because I've looked in the eyes of the grieving mother and I've seen the heartbreak of the stricken widow, but I've also seen something more in death, something good. Death's hands aren't all bony and cold."-from Confessions of a Funeral Director

We are a people who deeply fear death. While humans are biologically wired to evade death for as long as possible, we have become too adept at hiding from it, vilifying it, and-when it can be avoided no longer-letting the professionals take over.

Sixth-generation funeral director Caleb Wilde understands this reticence…

Book cover of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, & Honor Our Military Fallen

Todd Harra Why did I love this book?

I love history, and stumbled across this book while researching the history of battlefield recoveries. Soldier Dead is comprehensive without being tedious and Sledge organizes the material in “sections” (i.e., combat vs. non-combat recoveries) that work much better than a timeline approach, though he doesn’t skimp on the history. If you’re interested in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the Soldier Dead offers, in my opinion, a slightly different look at the subject including the story of the eventual identification of the Vietnam unknown soldier (later identified as Michael Blassie). This book is a great mix of military history, forensics, and mortuary procedures. 

By Michael Sledge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Soldier Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What happens to members of the United States Armed Forces after they die? Why do soldiers endanger their lives to recover the remains of their comrades? Why does the military spend enormous resources and risk further fatalities to recover the bodies of the fallen, even decades after the cessation of hostilities? Soldier Dead is the first book to fully address the complicated physical, social, religious, economic, and political issues concerning the remains of men and women who die while serving their country. In doing so, Michael Sledge reveals the meanings of the war dead for families, soldiers, and the nation…

Book cover of Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development

Todd Harra Why did I love this book?

As I said before, I love history, and Puckle’s book gives the reader a great look into the why of our funeral customs. As in: why do we send funeral flowers? (To which Puckle offers the glib answer, “the half sovereign he paid for it save him from the mental exercise of composing a suitable letter of condolence” before offering a serious explanation). Sure, the book was published almost a century ago, but that has no bearing on the contents. It’s an evergreen book and a highly recommended read for serious funereal scholars or those considering a career in funeral service.

By Bertram Puckle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Funeral Customs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Puckle's "Funeral Customs" is one of the more in-depth looks at death ever penned. Created in the early 20th century, it casts a rational and skeptical glance at the superstitions of burial practices and cremation alike, and lists in some detail the customs of death over time and changes to them during the black death and then-modernity among other eras. Not just a European work, it delves into Hinduism as well as Egyptian and Zoroastrian practices from antiquity.

From the memento mori to funeral feasts, its pages are filled with interesting folklore, astonishing history, and more than a few bits…

Book cover of Good Mourning

Todd Harra Why did I love this book?

During the course of my work week, I get a lot of people telling me they currently are interested in the funeral profession, or if they are of retirement age, they were interested in their younger days. Which begs the question: how do you get started in the profession? Society-girl Meyer simply went in and asked for a job at an East-side funeral home after planning her own father’s funeral. The book details how she helped plan some amazing send-offs for the Big Apple’s rich and famous, and I think is a great how-to for “rolling your sleeves up and giving something a try.” I read somewhere that the experience motivated her to attend mortuary school. Fun read. 

By Elizabeth Meyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good Mourning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......

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The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Hunt for the Peggy C is best described as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by a brutal Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge.

During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

John Winn Miller's THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C, a semifinalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writers Competition, captures the breathless suspense of early World War II in the North Atlantic. Captain Jake Rogers, experienced in running his tramp steamer through U-boat-infested waters to transport vital supplies and contraband to the highest bidder, takes on his most dangerous cargo yet after witnessing the oppression of Jews in Amsterdam: a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution.

The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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