I came across Thomas Lynch’s op/ed piece in Saturday’s (April 9, 2005) New York Times quite by accident.While it appears to be about death (Lynch is a funeral director–and I have promised to keep the noir off this blog), his essay is a nice bit of work on faith and our current mode of mourning the deceased:
Instead of dead Methodists or Muslims, we are now dead golfers or gardeners, bikers or bowlers. The bereaved are not so much family and friends or fellow believers as like-minded hobbyists or enthusiasts. And I have become less the funeral director and more the memorial caddy of sorts, getting the dead out of the way and the living assembled for a memorial “event” that is neither sacred nor secular but increasingly absurd – a triumph of accessories over essentials, stuff over substance, theme over theology. The genuine dead are downsized or disappeared or turned into knickknacks in a kind of funereal karaoke – bodiless obsequies where the finger food is good, the music transcendent, the talk determinedly “life affirming,” the accouterments all purposefully cheering and inclusive and where someone can be counted on to declare “closure” just before the merlot runs out. We leave these events with the increasing sense that something is missing.
The piece will eventually vanish from the New York Times’ free archives, but it’s worth a look while it is still available.