The American Way of Death Revisited

The American Way of Death Revisited

Book - 1998 | Rev. ed.
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Here is the classic anatomy of America's funeral practices, revised, expanded, and brought up-to-date for a new generation. This revised edition contains completely new chapters on, among other things, prepayment ("Pay Now - Die Poorer") and the new multinational corporations ("A Global Village of the Dead"), as well as a jaundiced look at the failure of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the laws that the original edition of this book helped bring about. And, of course, there's a total updating of the facts and figures that tell the tale.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
Edition: Rev. ed.
ISBN: 9780679450375
Characteristics: xix, 296 pages ; 25 cm


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Lord_Vad3r Apr 16, 2020

I wonder what it would cost to have my cremated remains put into a rocket that is then launched and set on a trajectory for the sun. The American Way of Death makes it clear that there will be two costs: the real cost with a reasonable profit built in and the cost most of the funeral homes will charge.

Funeral homes are businesses, I get it. At some level, every business has a right to claim some profits for jobs well done and this includes morticians and funeral directors. At another level, industry discussions about effective coffin placement and how best to guide families through the coffin gallery for maximum sales are odious. Seriously, it's like pondering whether you want a death panel or an insurance board to decide your treatment options as opposed to your doctor. And then there are all the BS jobs that the death industry feeds: burial footwear (completely serious), burial neglige, silk casket linings, vaults (a box to put your box in as if uncle Joe were some sort of nesting doll). This is just a sampling and the activity has only become more deceptive and pronounced as giant conglomerates have started gobbling up the smaller, local funeral homes.

The death industry has invented its own traditions: embalming (only done in the US and ancient Egypt), the memory picture (how seeing your loved one "restored" and placed as if in slumber is helpful in assuaging worry), grief therapy (they will help you through with their lack of degree/licensing in psychotherapy). As Mitford notes "over the years, the funeral men have constructed their own grotesque cloud-cuckoo-land where the trappings of Gracious Living are transformed, as in a nightmare, into the trappings of Gracious Dying."

They want the world to think of them as dedicated professionals if only to more easily convince the grief-stricken that they don't really love their dearly departed unless they purchase the Batesville Royal model burping casket at a 300% markup.

The idea that we need to have some sort of grand send off is a fallacy that has been created by the industry itself. In most of the rest of the world funerals are simple affairs attended only by the closest family members. When the conglomerates have tried to push the American way in other countries they have been shut down.

Mitford takes you through the entire process and points out the misinformation spread by the industry along the way. Topics include: sales tactics, services, embalming, burial, and cremation. Her advice can be summed up as follows:
If you have to arrange a preneed funeral to qualify for government assistance do so by setting up a Totten trust through your bank. Name a friend or family member as beneficiary, not the mortuary.
Contact a funeral and memorial society or a funeral consumers alliance. A small lifetime membership fee could save you thousands at the funeral home.
Plan ahead and make sure you share your plans with the people who will need to carry things out. Don't let the mortuary dictate the terms.

Now, does anybody know someone who can make me a rocket?


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