Journal 13 The American Way of Death

1. “In an era when huge television audiences watch surgical operations in the comfort of their living rooms, when, thanks to the animated cartoon, the geography of the digestive system has become familiar territory even to the nursery-school set, in a land where the satisfaction of curiosity about almost all matters is a national pastime, surely the secrecy surrounding embalming cannot be attributed to the inherent gruesomeness of the subject.” (pp 44).   


The American people have become desensitized to the gruesomeness of the world. We see it on television, in newspapers, enjoy it during video games, the list goes on. Mitford included this passage to exemplify that it is not because of the physically uncomforting parts of embalming that we choose to ignore what goes on behind the scenes. No one knows what this process includes because we refuse to think of how we treat our dead, as if they are a body to be hacked, sewn, pickled, etc. I think that if


2. “Positioning of the lips is a problem that recurrently challenges the ingenuity of the embalmer. Closed too tightly, they tend to give a stern, even disapproving expression. Ideally, ambalmers feel the lips should give the impression of being ever so slightly parted, the upper lip protruding slightly for a more youthful appearance.” (pp 48)


Lips are one of the parts of our body we use to express emotion, we smile, frown, and laugh, along with many other expressions that flash across our faces to exemplify how we are feeling. The embalmer must take special care to make the expression appropriate, no one wants to see an ugly emotion on the face of their dead love ones. We want to see them as peaceful, as if in a slumber to avoid thinking that they are gone, forever out of reach from us. Resting in peace is a much nicer way of thinking of our loved ones than lifeless and gone.


3. “The use of improper terminology by anyone affiliated with a mortuary should be strictly forbidden… he suggests a rather thorough overhauling of the language; his deathless words…” (pp 52)


Funerals are for the living to say goodbye to their departed loved ones. Somehow we see referring to these people who have passed away as what they are—dead—is rude, improper, even insensitive. It’s strange to think that calling a dead person dead is the wrong thing to do. Mitford is showing us that here in America we have a perverse refusal to acknowledge our inevitable fate by pretending it doesn’t happen by covering it up with elegant words.


4. “The family is not asked whether they want an open-casket ceremony; in the absence of instruction to the contrary, this is taken for granted… [open casket ceremonies] are a custom unknown in other parts of the world.” (pp 50)


America is strangely fond of our customs. In melting pot of cultures, we’ve combined different aspects of several to form our own unique way of doing things. Having open casket ceremonies is a foreign concept to foreigners. We’ve come to expect them, as if they’re a required part of a funeral. Sadly, it appears that the last view of our loved ones is one without life. Mitford is trying to show us how strange we are in insisting on viewing our dead love ones (out of respect for them?) to help us say goodbye to them.




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