"For many bereaved Americans, the "celebration of life" involves a guest list open to everyone except the actual corpse, which is often dismissed, disappeared without rubric or witness, buried or burned, out of sight, out of mind, by paid functionaries such as me. - Thomas Lynch, funeral director and co-author p.53
Although at this juncture it is rather difficult to determine whether they are a majority or a minority of the population, a significant segment of the American people are aghast at the way many funerals are being conducted these days. To their way of thinking something is clearly amiss and we seem to have lost sight of the main purpose of a funeral. Thomas G. Long is a Presbyterian minister and educator while Thomas Lynch has spent a lifetime as a funeral director. Both are also very gifted writers who have written extensively on the subject at hand and are justifiably concerned about the direction that funerals have taken in this country over the past half century. They have joined forces and written a thought-provoking new book "The Good Funeral: Death, Grief and the Community of Care". Regardless of where you come down on the subject, the issues and ideas discussed in this book are worthy of your consideration. It is a very compelling read.
According to Long and Lynch many Americans have unwittingly bought into a sort of "new age" philosophy of death and funerals that summarily reject traditional customs, rituals and religious rites surrounding the deceased. Sadly, it would appear that the dismissal of the dead from their own "memorial service" is rapidly becoming the new normal. We discover that some of those so-called "memorial services" or "celebrations of life" can be quite bizarre really. According to the authors "The sacred was replaced by the silly: "My Way" became the most requested song at those events. Theology has been replaced by themed events heavy on hobbies and sports metaphors. Heaven becomes kind of a nineteenth hole where, if you've kept an honest score, not taken too many mulligans and raked out the sand traps of your life and times, the bar is open, all of your friends gather and your trophies are at long last presented to you." There is something wrong with this picture. In "The Good Funeral" Long and Lynch beseech those who approve of such practices to thoughtfully reconsider their position. We should not be so smug as to think that we know better than everyone else who has come before us. The fact of the matter is that human beings have been respectfully and ritualistically disposing of their dead since antiquity. It is quite simple really: by getting the dead where they needed to go the living got to where they needed to be.
Throughout the pages of "The Good Funeral" Long and Lynch explain in considerable detail the reasons why so many Americans have turned their backs on traditional funerals. Many point to Jessica Mitford's 1963 book "The American Way of Death" as a key turning point. Others have been turned off by the emergence of those giant funeral conglomerates that have swallowed up so many locally-owned funeral homes over the past few decades. Thomas Lynch freely admits that at times and for a variety of very valid reasons the funeral industry has been its own worst enemy. Many individuals and families have simply decided that they want nothing to do with any of it. Still, the authors argue, there is a price to be paid for bad funerals. Long and Lynch lobby passionately for a return to funerals with the body present, with rites and rituals, and with a community of relatives and friends present until the very end. The good funeral has two important purposes: to accompany the body of the deceased to its final resting place and to tell the story of what the life and death of this person really means.
"The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care" is not light reading to be sure. Yet this is a book well worth your time and attention. Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch have challenged us all to spend some time contemplating these extremely important issues. There is a lot of food for thought in this volume. Highly recommended!
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