Remember Me: The New American Way of Death

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on October 20, 2008

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen has done some extensive research and traveling to compile this in depth look at the new way of death in America. No longer do we just hold a wake, pick out a casket/urn or hold to those centuries old traditions brought over on the Mayflower. These days you can choose to have your ashes pressurized into a gemstone, be part of an artificial reef, be buried au natural or frozen.

Though, there are some cultures that hold fast to the old ways. For example, in Taiwan, it’s not unheard of for a live person to marry a dead one, as in the case of Frank Huang in 1960, who married his high school sweetheart (loose definition) per her parent’s request after her passing. Since they felt her spirit was still present, they didn’t want her to be alone. And the Hmong a tribe originating from China and Laos many of who immigrated to the US following the Vietnam War, who have incredibly different traditions in funeral preparation than Westerners. Starting with the custom that nothing artificial must touch the body to the length of the funeral which can go for 76 hours straight (depending on the age of the deceased) and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Beyond the new options comes the new rituals, parties, decorations and a move more towards the celebration of a life, rather than the passing of one. Of course with that comes the costs of not just a casket or preparation of the body but the price tag of an event as involved as a wedding. You can have a funeral event planner that will go as far as releasing butterflies or doves, Humvee processionals or polka dots.

If affording such an event is beyond your budget, there’s such a thing as a death midwife who can prepare the body for burial, but if you’re in the market for a casket, there’s an industry and a half to be had. Even Costco sells caskets online these days. Though statistically the trend is heading more and more towards cremation, which if you decide to go the gemstone route will run anywhere from $2,500 to $14,000.

In some cases, old becomes new with improvements in the mummification process and modern undertaking processes like embalming and training new people interested in breaking into the business, which is a heavily family owned industry with fathers passing their businesses down to their sons.

Lisa does an excellent job keeping a sense of humor, respect and a curious outlook as she tours all the strange and familiar exercises that the living go through to bury their dead. If you’re at all curious about what’s new and don’t want to be creeped out by too many details, than this is a great read. I would say there are just enough details to satisfy curiosity, but not enough to make you lose your lunch.

On the Bookalicious Scale: 4- Satiated. A most tasty read, yet not overfilling!

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