About Thomas Lynch
- His Interview with FRONTLINE and His Essay Tract
On this page of The Undertaking Web site you can read Lynch's interview with FRONTLINE and his essay, or view video of Lynch reading Tract in full. It is the final essay in his award-winning book, The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade and it describes his thoughts on his own funeral.
Thomas Lynch's personal site includes a bibliography of his poetry and prose, articles he's written for The New York Times and other publications, and audio of Lynch reading from his works.
- Lynch & Sons Funeral Directors
This is the Web site for the enterprise run by the Lynch family -- the brothers Patrick, Thomas and Tim, and their sons, daughters, nieces and nephews. The site offers the history of this family-owned and -operated firm, some frequently asked questions about funerals, the Lynches' philosophy on funeral preplanning, and links to resources on dying and grief.
Death, Dying, Grief and Loss
- Grief Net
This large online community offers more than 50 e-mail support groups where the grief-stricken can connect with others suffering a similar loss. [Note: Grief Net requests a $5 donation per month for each support group a person joins, "though no one is ever turned away for lack of funds." One can also get a free one-month trial membership.] The site maintains an extensive annotated bibliography on grief and dying.
- Normal Reactions to Loss
A page produced by AARP that summarizes typical reactions to death, listing physical, emotional and behavioral symptons that a bereaved person may experience.
- Growth House: Guide to Death, Dying, Grief, Bereavement and End-of-Life Resources
A major resource on both hospice care and grief, Growth House offers online excerpts from its Handbook for Mortals about end-of-life issues, an Amazon-linked bookstore, a blog network and even Internet radio channels.
- On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying
This companion site to Bill Moyers' acclaimed 2000 series on dying and end-of-life care is divided into four sections -- end-of-life tools, care options, final days, and therapy & support -- each with audio interview excerpts and practical advice for patients and families.
- With Eyes Open
A companion to the Moyers' series, this site has a section on mourning that deals with grief and loss. It offers shared stories about grief and healing and advice about discussing death with young people.
Planning A Funeral
- National Funeral Directors Association
A 20,000-member professional organization for funeral directors, the NFDA publishes a code of conduct for its members, trends and statistics about the industry, consumer resources including a preplanning "bill of rights" and basic common myths and realities about grief.
- Federal Trade Commission: Funerals
The FTC is the federal agency responsible for regulating business practices in the funeral industry. Its funeral site includes a downloadable consumer guide and fact sheet (PDF files) summarizing consumers' rights, as well as a separate page of resources.
- Funerals Consumers Alliance
This is a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that has been dedicated since 1963 to "protecting a consumer's right to choose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral." The site is updated frequently with consumer alerts about changes to funeral regulations. It also offers an extensive page of funeral planning guides and advice, including alternatives to traditional burial, and contact information for affiliated groups in most states.
- The Latest in Green Burial
A 2006 photo slideshow from Slate covers recent trends in environmentally friendly burials, and imparts some interesting factoids: "Each year in the United States, coffins and vaults result in more metal being put in the ground than was used to make the Golden Gate Bridge, and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit."
- Final Passages
Featured in the POV documentary A Family Undertaking, Final Passages is a California-based organization that teaches and helps consumers to conduct burial at home, without embalming or other services provided by funeral homes.
- Green Burial Council
A nonprofit founded in 2006 to promote green burials, the Green Burial Council has developed a certified burial package that "bans the use of formaldehyde-based embalming, vaults, and caskets that are not biodegradeable," and standards for burial grounds that double as nature conservancies.
- POV: A Family Undertaking
The companion site to a 2004 POV documentary examining home burial as an alternative to funeral homes' services features an interactive timeline of American funeral practices; frequently asked questions about the legalities and practicalities of home burials; links to other resources online; and a fascinating slideshow of postmortem photography, a practice common in 19th-century America.
A Sampling of Funeral Rites in Non-Christian Faiths
- For Judaism -- Specific customs vary among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform denominations, but Jewish funerals generally eschew embalming and elaborate caskets and vaults. Instead, the body is washed and buried in a shroud or simple casket as soon as possible after death. Family members then sit shiva for a week thereafter and pray the mourner's kaddish for a year onwards.
- For Islam -- Like Judaism, Islam mandates a simple burial soon after death, followed by a set mourning period. The Islamic Society of North America offers detailed instructions for preparing and burying a deceased Muslim, frequently asked questions about Muslim burial and an essay on Islamic perspective on death.
- For Hinduism -- Most Hindus cremate their dead on funeral pyres, although some sects expose the body to be eaten by vultures or other birds of prey. Here is a brief summary by about.com of Hindu burial practices; elsewhere on the Web, one man recounts his father's funeral and answers frequently asked questions about how that ceremony differed from standard Hindu practice.
- For Buddhism -- The practices vary widely across denomination and geographic regions, but Buddhanet.net has a page of general information, with more specific articles about death and funerals in Tibetan, Chinese and Thai Buddhism.
Books on Death, Dying and Grief
- The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, by Thomas Lynch (W.W. Norton & Co., 1997)
Lynch was nominated for the National Book Award for this, his first collection of essays. Lynch's reading of excerpts from this book were included in FRONTLINE's The Undertaking.
- The Mourner's Dance, by Katherine Ashenburg (North Point, 2003)
Toronto-based journalist Ashenburg was inspired to write about mourning after her daughter's fiancé died in a car accident. The resulting work is a concise and deft survey of grief across cultures and time periods, from the rigid practices of Victorian England to raucous home wakes in Maritime Canada to the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva.
- Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life, by Ira Byock (Riverhead, 1998)
Dr. Byock, a pioneer of end-of-life care and past president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, begins this account of lessons learned from his patients with the moving story of his own father's death. Each chapter discusses an aspect of care for the dying through the experiences of patients and their families.
- The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (Knopf, 2006)
Winner of the 2006 National Book Award, Didion's memoir of the year following her husband's unexpected death is intensely personal, but in her attempts to document her mindset in grief -- while dealing with her daughter's grave illness -- she touches on universal aspects of mourning.
- Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, by Sandra Gilbert (W.W. Norton & Co., 2006)
Like Ashenburg and Didion, Gilbert, a poet and literary critic, was moved to write about death and grief by the loss of a loved one: her husband. Her book is divided into three parts: a memoir of her loss, an examination of changes in death and mourning in the 20th century, and a literary analysis of the poetic form of the elegy.
- Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America by Gary Laderman (Oxford U.P., 2003)
Laderman, chair of the department of religion at Emory University, is generally sympathetic to the funeral industry in this academic work. Tracing American burial rites and their depiction in popular culture, he argues that present-day funeral practices emerged because Americans wanted them, not because funeral directors wanted to sell them.
- The American Way of Death, Revisited, by Jessica Mitford (Vintage, 2000)
Originally published in 1963 and updated in 2000, Mitford's expose of the "death-care" industry has become a touchstone for both critics and defenders of the funeral industry. It's also a witty and outrageous read.