Books on my mind

This morning I opened a new book, which began, "Nobody wants to die badly." I  continued reading for several chapters, delaying my breakfast because I was so engrossed in the book, and inspired by what I was learning. Fran Smith and Sheila Hammil, journalists, have written a wonderful book about end-of-life choices. Changing the way we die : Compassionate End-of-life Care and the Hospice Movement (Viva, 2013, or Thorndike Press Large Print, 2014). 

Recently I've been reading a variety of relevant books. Perhaps a few notes on each will lead others to read them.  

Dealing Creatively with Death, a Manual for Death Education and Simple Burial, is an old classic, published in a revised 14th edition (Upper Access, 2001).  I found it filled with practical information and wise advice. Of course some of the directory information is out-of-date by now, but you can skip that and appreciate other parts, such as the diagrams for how to cut wood to build burial boxes in Appendix 5, or sample ceremonies (a delightfully wide range!) in Appendix 7.

Sheri Booker's Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner City Funeral Home (Gotham Books, 2013) is a page-turner, written like a novel, but based on her real experiences working at a funeral home in Baltimore, starting at age 15.  "While my mother didn't mind..., my father "wasn't too enthused about the idea. He told me to make sure that I stuck to answering the door and phone, and whatever I did, I had better not go wandering around in the basement where the embalming took place. I assured him that I had no intention of ever going to the basement. That was it. That was all. Or so I thought." (page 18)

Death of a President by William Manchester (Harper & Row, 1967) caught my eye among used books for sale at our local senior center. The subtitle, November 20-25, 1963, pulled me right back to college, inside the Friday afternoon biology lab where I was when someone ran by the window shouting, "The president's been shot!"  Why would anyone shoot the college president? we wondered, as we proceeded with our lab, dismissing the crazy idea. Reality eventually intruded. That sad and rainy weekend was over 50 years ago, but still awfully clear in my mind. I paid $1 and carted home the 710-page book, not sure if I really wanted to read details. I'd never wanted to read any accounts of JFK's death, but the Forward on this one pulled me in. I'm glad I kept reading, for 3 reasons: a) the writing is remarkable, enjoyable, compelling; b) I learned   much about the American presidency (behind-the-scenes views and historic views of previous sudden transitions of power); and c) many passages are relevant to the funeral consumer movement, which, coincidently, was just gaining momentum in 1963. Thoughout the book I found evidence that the Kennedy family recoiled from various typical funeral practices. The author wrote at one point, "and the undertakers retreated..."  
     Jessica Mitford's book, The American Way of Death, was mentioned more than once. In 1963 many people were reading and reacting to her book. (I wasn't yet paying attention.)  I have read, and do recommend, Josh Slocum and Lisa Carlson's 2011 book, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.  

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed here in "Sandy's Blog
are written by one individual (volunteer Sandy Ward) and may or may not reflect 
the views, opinions or positions of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts.