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The Business of Death.

I'm pushing round the idea of writing a story in a funeral home. I'm not quite sure what it is going to be yet, but I have a basic idea, and a character, and that's usually enough to get me into it. A little bit of research covers me for the parts I don't quite know.

One of the things I've found interesting is the Institutionalisation of Death, as it's being called. Apparently, most funeral homes are family businesses, which I suppose makes sense, given the nature of the work--it would be hard, I think, to not have it seep into your personal life, waking you up at two in the morning, pulling you away from a family dinner, and the like. Dying is one of those things that's terrible for time management, really. At any rate, it's not very difficult to see how the family would get drawn into the work, and that the business would be handed down to willing (and probably unwilling) children. However, it seems that the family business funeral home is coming under threat from larger, multi-national funeral companies, who employ a number of people and handle a number of bodies. Just in poking around, nothing I read says that this is being met with approval. I can't say I'm surprised: ignoring the general negativity people have towards large companies anyhow, death has always been considered a family thing, and one that does not invite outsiders. Following that logic, it's not surprising that people would prefer family funeral homes, since though you may not know the family, it does imply that closeness and closed in nature that a death in the family often conveys.

I think Thomas Lynch, the undertaker poet turned undertaker essayist, wrote something about this in one of his collections. Reckon I'll track it down--not that I need any particular reason to go flipping through Lynch's work. The Undertaking remains one of my favourite books.

(crossposted)

Comments

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lyndarama
Oct. 19th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC)
Jessica Mitford's American Way of Death is a fantastic book, and I'd also recommend Stiff by Mary Roach. I really enjoyed Six Feet Under...hmmmn I seem to have a keen interest in the funeral business...
benpeek
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
i've read the milford, i think, but i'll check out the roach book.

you just a morbid, emo girl deep down ;)
lyndarama
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
and nobody understands me *sob* lol.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:35 am (UTC)
his book is really cool, actually. you should check it.
deborahlive
Oct. 19th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
In the town where my father's family lives there used to be one funeral home. It was where everyone was laid out. The Funeral Home. About twenty years ago, it moved to the other end of town and a flooring company bought the building.

Imagine trying to sell flooring out the building where everyone in town had gone to view the last remains of their grandparents.

The first time I drove past it, I was appalled. My mom told me the flooring business was struggling, but it's still there.

Funny thing is, the flower shop that served the funeral home is still next door. So, you know, Flooring and Flowers. Why not?

benpeek
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
maybe it's not so dramatic a difference. i mean, for gangsters, it probably works out pretty well ;)
girliejones
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
Six Feet Under
jody_macgregor
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, the institutionalisation of death is one of the themes of Six Feet Under's first two (fantastic) seasons. I recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it.
benpeek
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
yeah, i should check it, since i never have.
ashamel
Oct. 19th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
I believe they have open days at the Newtown funeral parlours during the upcoming Blue Moon (goth) festival.
benpeek
Oct. 19th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
i take it you've never been?
ashamel
Oct. 19th, 2009 12:08 pm (UTC)
No. Though I did go to the tour of the graveyard run by K's sister. Other than that, I didn't see much of last year's festival at all.

This year I may be dragged deeper into the morass. (There's K's play for a start. And threats of a ball thingie.)
cassiphone
Oct. 19th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
I know that dodgy corporate funeral homes date back to the 40's and 50's... Jessica Mitford (the communist Mitford sister) wrote a famous book in the 60's I think about the scam whereby funerals paid for by war pensions tended to mysteriously swallow EXACTLY the amount of money provided to war widows... or something like that. I think it was called "The American Way of Death."
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