~ Death - This is ours to reclaim also. ~

By Jessica Mitford - Knopf 296pp $25

Jessica Mitford was never much in awe of death. And now, the late author of numerous muckraking books on American life has sent a message from the beyond. Her contention: Funeral directors have a long history of bamboozling the bereaved, and in the past 35 years their practices have gotten worse.

Mitford died of cancer in 1996. She spent her final years revising her classic The American Way of Death, a runaway best-seller in 1963. To that out-of-print work she added chapters on funeral prepayment, the growth of huge industry multinationals, and the failure of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce pro-consumer regulations. The end result, The American Way of Death Revisited, has lost none of the original work's power to shock, appall, and--despite the grim subject matter--jolt the funny bone.

''If the Dismal Traders...have traditionally been cast in a comic role in literature,'' Mitford argues in her opening attack, ''they have successfully turned the tables in recent years to perpetrate a huge, macabre, and expensive practical joke on the American public.'' http://www.businessweek.com/1998/38/b3596064.htm

Publishers Weekly Forecasts (June 1, 1998)
At the time of her death in 1996, Mitford had nearly completed this revision of her 1963 bestseller, a scathing critique of the U.S. funeral industry. Extensively revised, with susequent additions by her husband, lawyer Robert Treuhaft, Lisa Carlson, an activist in the funeral-reform movement, and research assistant Karen Leonard, Mitford’s mordant look at the excess of the high-pressure salesmanship and lapses of taste of the “death-care industry” still rings true, and the book will evoke reader’s ire. Mitford identifies disturbing new trends; cremation, once a low cost option, has become increasingly expensive as mortuaries pressure the bereaved to buy a “traditional” funeral with all the accoutrements. Monopolistic companies have moved into the field and now account for 20% of the nation’s funerals. Furthermore, she charges, the Federal Trade Commission’s lax enforcement of its 1984 rule banning morticians deceptive practices has contributed to an upward spiral of prices and profits. Other developments of the 1990’s preceptively analyzed here include the refusal of many funeral director’s to embalm AIDS victims and the growing popularity of low-cost funeral and memorial service organizations, which are listed in an appendix. http://www.mitford.org/pwf.htm

Caring for Your Own Dead
Those who have chosen to care for their own dead have found it therapeutic and loving. Having something physical to do takes away the sense of helplessness, and family involvement allows you to personalize the funeral experience. Check your local library for the book "Caring for Your Own Dead" (1987) or for the new book "Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love" (1998). This will help you know what permits are required, where to get them, where to file them, and when (or call the FCA office: 802-482-3437). Available through the FCA Bookstore.http://www.funerals.org/caring.htm
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