So it's not like you do things for them as much as you do it with them and embolden them to do for themselves. Give me a sense of the changes in attitudes toward death in America.
I think we're among the first couple generations for whom the presence of the dead at their funerals has become optional, and I see that as probably not good news for the culture at large.
Up until a couple generations ago, humans were the species that dealt with death, the idea of the thing, by dealing with their dead, the thing itself, so that the way we processed mortality was by processing mortals from one place to the other, one station to the next in this little pilgrimage between as they were to how they are to what we hope they'll be.
And this movement, emotionally, is mirrored by a physical movement. Sometime in the mid-60s, probably having a lot to do with Jessica Mitford's book [The American Way of Death] and a lot to do with other social factors, there was sort of the triumphalist American sense that we didn't have to deal with any discomforts.
that a good funeral is very much about what we do when someone dies.
He always knew that the real traffic was between the living and the dead, and it is in managing that and emboldening the living to deal with their dead that you do them the most service.
In terms of the practical details, what are some of the things you learned from your dad?
Well, we wear black for funerals -- people have to know who the directors are, who to ask -- and white shirts and gray ties.
We saw people start organizing these commemorative events to which everyone was invited but the dead guy.
The finger food was good, the talk was uplifting, the music was life-affirming; someone, usually the reverend clergy, could be counted on to declare closure, usually just before the Merlot ran out, and everyone was there but the one who had died.