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Search tags: mortuary-practices
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review 2018-06-23 15:55
Is Death owned by Big Business?
The American Way of Death Revisited - Jessica Mitford

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford blew my freaking mind. There's no other way to say it. I took 4 pages of notes after finishing it and then bought my own copy so that I could reference back to it. As you might have guessed from the title this is another book about death culture and funeral practices in the United States. (Here are 3 more on the topic: Caitlin Doughty 1 & 2 and Bess Lovejoy.) Mitford gives a comprehensive look at the funeral industry in America up to the last update of her book in 1997. (A small portion of the book compares the US outlook on death with the UK and there is a stark difference.) She does not shy away from making her points about the injustices committed by those working in the funeral industry. She discusses the methods employed by everyone from funeral home directors to gravestone manufacturers. This book was a definite eyeopener in terms of what is actually legal when it comes to the handling of the dead. (Spoiler alert: pretty much everything.) 

Alas, poor Yorick! How surprised he would be to see how his counterpart of today is whisked off to a funeral parlor and is in short order sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trussed, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed - transformed from common corpse into a Beautiful Memory Picture. This process is known in the trade as embalming and restorative art, and is so universally employed in the United States and Canada that for years the funeral director did it routinely, without consulting corpse or kin. He regards as eccentric those few who are hardy enough to suggest that it might be dispensed with yet no law requires embalming, no religious doctrine commends it, nor is it dictated by considerations of health, sanitation, or even of personal daintiness. In no part of the world but in North America is it widely used. The purpose of embalming is to make the corpse presentable for viewing in a suitably costly container; and here too the funeral director routinely, without first consulting the family, prepares the body for public display. - pg 43

I include this lengthy quote (and another in a moment) to illustrate the importance of being educated about what your rights are both as the deceased and as the loved one making the arrangements after death. Mitford includes accounts of deliberate fraud by members of the funeral industry against the grieving. (Many funeral homes even include in their pricing grief counseling!) The frauds range from offering 'package deals' with no options for opting out, non-disclosed fees prior to invoicing, refusal to provide itemized statements for services, or inflation on pre-need arrangements (example: plots purchased well before death). I think this is a book that every single person should read because it discusses in depth a topic which is considered taboo in our country but until it is talked about openly and frankly as Mitford does the funeral industry under its many guises will continue to take advantage of the average consumer. Know your rights, people! 10/10

 

And speaking of rights I'd like to leave you with this bit of advice from the last chapter of Mitford's book:

Send a friend to two or more mortuaries to obtain their general price lists and casket prices. Ask for the cost of direct cremation, including transportation costs and crematory fees. Likewise, for the cost of immediate burial. Pay no money in advance. If death has not yet occurred and you wish to pay in installments, do so by setting up a Totten Trust, naming yourself or a relative or close friend as beneficiary. Remember, above all, that many funeral homes have a "no-walk" policy, which means simply that if and when you start to walk out, the fee will come down, down, down until a level acceptable to you is reached. - pg 274

 

 

What's Up Next: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Condoleezza Rice: A memoir of my extraordinary, ordinary family and me by Condoleezza Rice

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-04-13 16:21
Looking for death in all the right places
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death - Caitlin Doughty

Here I am talking about death again. Part of me worries that 'harping' on about this subject and these books will turn away the average reader to my blog but the larger part of me (and the one who runs things) believes that if I am going to be authentic with my reviews then I have to follow my mood with what books I voluntarily choose to read. That being said, I'm here to talk about Caitlin Doughty's second book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. As the title suggests, this is a bit more of a travelogue piece about the death industry. This book explores in depth the way that death is viewed, celebrated, and treated in different countries and cultures. [A/N: I don't know that it needs to be necessarily spelled out but just in case: This book is not for those who shy away from talk of decomposition and graphic depictions of death in general.] Caitlin visits places both far-flung and just around the riverbend all in search of what she terms the Good Death. (For more info visit her website to see if you'd like to join her group.)  She attended an open air cremation where the body is laid atop a pyre and the ceremony is experienced by all members of the community (Colorado). In Japan the families are brought in after the body has been cremated so that they can extricate the bones by chopstick to place them in an urn for safekeeping. She experienced Fiesta de las Ñatitas in La Paz and spoke to those who celebrate these saints by collecting and displaying shrunken skulls (and in some cases mummified heads). One of my favorite places that she described was the Corpse Hotel in Japan where you can visit your deceased family member in the comfort and splendor of an upscale hotel. Overall, From Here to Eternity is a fascinating look at the way that death is addressed by various cultures around the world. It serves as a sobering reminder that death is not accepted but rather feared here in America. If you are interested in the ways that others approach death and how they treat their dead (some cultures revisit the dead to clean and redress them as a sign of honor and remembrance) then I urge you to read this book. 9/10

 

P.S. I'm not done with books on this subject. Keep an eye out for at least 1 possibly 2 more in the not too distant future.

 

What's Up Next: How to Love the Empty Air by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

 

What I'm Currently Reading: The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-03-26 19:27
I've heard of misplacing car keys but losing a head is just plain careless
Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses - Bess Lovejoy

Yes, I'm somewhat fascinated by death culture. No, I don't think it's unhealthy. Yes, I do recognize it makes many people uncomfortable especially when walking around with a book somewhat shaped like a coffin with the title Rest in Pieces emblazoned across the front. (It might have been unwise to read this on an airplane but I'm a risk taker.) The subtitle of Bess Lovejoy's book is a dead (ha!) giveaway as to the substance of what lies within (on a roll here!). This book is full of fascinating histories of what became of famous people's corpses. She covers everyone from Presidents and political leaders to outlaws, radicals, and artists. No matter their designation, the dead were rarely left to rest peacefully and with all of their pieces together. There was a lot of ground to cover and I honestly felt like I learned quite a bit (I'm going to be a hit at my next dinner party if I ever get invited to another one). If you have a strong stomach, an interest in the unconventional, and some time on your hands then this is one you definitely shouldn't pass up. 10/10

 

Inside art from the illustrator Mark Stutzman

 

What's Up Next: I've Got This Round: More Tales of Debauchery by Mamrie Hart

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-03-10 01:33
I swear I'm okay
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory - Caitlin Doughty

I've been thinking about death a lot. And not in an existential way or in a 'oh man she needs professional help' kinda way. I've been thinking about the culture of death and how I'd like my own death to be handled. To that end, I chose a few titles which I'm convinced has skewed the way my co-workers view me. (lol but really) The first is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. (I'll be discussing her second book at a later date.) This is the autobiographical story of how Caitlin came to work in a crematory and the path that it led her down to discover the 'good death'. It's an exceptionally frank discussion of death but more specifically death culture (or lack thereof) in the United States. Here in America it's a taboo subject. Many people choose to remain ignorant of the reality of death because of a fear of their own (and their loved one's) mortality. Caitlin talks about the current death practices of burial, embalming, cremation, green burials (many different kinds), and donation to science. It reminded me that I should really draw up a will with the specifics of what I want and then discuss it with those who will most likely be honoring my wishes. (And you'd better do what I say or I'll haunt you! hahaha but really)

 

The truth is we are all going to die one day. Wouldn't it be better to see this as natural and be prepared for it? Having open discussions with those who will be charged with taking care of you after you have died makes the process less fraught with uncertainties and fear. Centuries ago, death was embraced because it was necessary to confront it head-on. There were no mortuaries like we know them today. The family was the one who cleaned, wrapped, and sometimes buried the bodies. The grieving process wasn't rushed but was allowed to progress naturally. (Think about the last funeral you attended and how the viewing was timed. Nowadays, you have to leave the cemetery before the casket is even lowered into the earth. Everything is orchestrated and sterile.) I don't think it's morbid to plan ahead and to try to make it as simple and straightforward as possible so that in the end it's about the life that I led and not the stress and confusion of what to do with me once I'm dead. 8/10

 

Something I made a few years ago about a similar book.

 

What's Up Next: The Portable Nineteenth-Century African American Women Writers edited by Hollis Robbins and Henry Louis Gates

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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