Telling the essential apart from the accessory

Charles Cowling

 

Perhaps what we need just now is a bout of reactionaryism and a reappraisal of where funerals seem to be going in the light of where they have come from. 

We don’t have an intellectual hard-hitter over here like undertaker-poet Thomas Lynch, but what he says about American “monogrammed, one-off, highly personalised funerals” is broadly relevant to funerary trends over here, especially the rise of direct cremation. 

“The dead aren’t incidental to a funeral; the dead are the reason we have funerals.”

“One of the things we seem to have missed is the essential qualities, and we’ve gotten overfocussed on the accessories.”

“The corpse … is the problem we are trying to deal with and should be central to whatever goes on.”.

“The cultural impulse to treat cremation not as an alternative to burial, but as an alternative to bother.” 

Lynch seems to have relaxed his strictures on cremation. I think he said, once, “We burn the trash and we bury the treasure.” For all that, the book he has written with Thomas Long is a good and an essential read. It helps you make up your mind about things. 

If anything is going to kill funerals (apart from third-rate celebrants and undertakers who don’t understand the value of a funeral) it is going to be the evasion of bother. 

Here is the great man interviewed by the great Gail Rubin

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Jonathan
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Jonathan

I haven’t read his books but, for these four minutes and eight seconds at any rate, everything the man says makes sense to me. Does anyone agree with me that the current fashion for what the trade alone calls ‘direct cremation’ is related, at least in part, to the public’s growing awareness of and dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be the expensive, unnecessary, inappropriate, unwanted, tiresome, irrelevant, fussy, foolish, pompous and (have I already said?) expensive ritual that habitually (as distinct from traditionally) accompanies the disposal of a corpse when it’s carried out by undertakers who call themselves funeral… Read more »

Ru Callender
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Jonathan, I can’t believe you haven’t read The Undertaking. One of the most beautiful pieces of writing about death.

Ru Callender
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Finding it hard to disagree with anything he says. We DO need to go to the edge of the fire and a funeral without a corpse is no funeral at all.

Ariadne
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Ariadne

Yeah – I ordered a Thomas Long book in a flash after our very first conversation, Charles, and then covered it in exasperated pencil markings and underscored outrage. You are so right about the helping to make your mind up thing. Haven’t read the book cited above. Did love Lynch’s The Undertaking. Another Thomas (Moore) might take issue with the deriding of what is soulful, (and therefore tangible, close to home and personal) as an accessory. But as I type that word I am now thinking of an accessory as something that allows us access. Connection. Gew gaws and bullshit… Read more »

Rosie
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Rosie

“Good and an essential read” I got as far as chapter three and gave up.

I will trust your judgement on this one Charles and give it another go. Better half should have bed warmed by now.

Will let you know.

Rosie