Lynch, Thomas: The Undertaking
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The Undertaking is a series of essays by Thomas Lynch, a man whose twin trades, unusual enough in themselves, and more so in combination, make him particularly suited to write on the themes of the book: he is both a poet and an undertaker. In the book Lynch writes about his day job--not the gory bits of the business, but about what it's like to care for the dead in the small town of Milford, Michigan, where very often he's burying someone with whom he's had a history in life:
"After my housekeeper was installed, I went to thank Milo and pay the bill. The invoices detailed the number of loads, the washers and the dryers, detergent, bleaches, fabric softeners. I think the total came to sixty dollars. When I asked Milo what the charges were for pick-up and delivery, for stacking and folding and sorting by size, for saving my life and the lives of my children, for keeping us in clean clothes and towels and bed linen, 'Never mind that' is what Milo said. 'One hand washes the other.'
"I place Milo's right hand over his left hand, then try the other way. Then back again. Then I decide that it doesn't matter. One hand washes the other either way."
"And as my children grew, so too the bodies of dead boys and girls I was called upon to bury--infants becoming toddlers, toddlers becoming school children, children becoming adolescents, then teens, then young adults, whose parents I would know from the Little League or Brownies or PTA or Rotary or Chamber of Commerce. Because I would not keep in stock an inventory of children's caskets, I'd order them, as the need arose, in sizes and half sizes from two foot to five foot six, often estimating the size of a dead child, not yet released from the county morgue, by the sizes of my own children, safe and thriving and alive. And the caskets I ordered were invariably 'purity and gold' with angels on the corners and shirred crepe interiors or powdery pink or baby blue. And I would never charge more than the wholesale cost of the casket and throw in our services free of charge with the hope in my heart that God would, in turn, spare me the hollowing grief of these parents."
The book is beautifully written throughout, and thoughtful, and despite all that I've said above the author comes across as a man fully alive, who appreciates life but understands death, as a man worth knowing. At any rate, his book is very much worth reading.