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Cremation: A practice in need of ritual

“When I’m gone just cremate me,” Hughey MacSwiggan told his third and final wife as she stood at his bedside while the hospice nurse fiddled with the morphine drip that hadn’t kept his pain at bay. The operative word in his directive was just. He wasn’t especially fond of fire. He hadn’t picked out a …

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Irish Times Interview 2010

‘The dead don’t care and I don’t either’ Mon, Apr 05, 2010 Thomas Lynch creates intimate character studies on the big themes of life – and death – but always with wisdom and sharp humour, writes SHANE HEGARTY TO START with death is the ultimate cliche of any Thomas Lynch interview. The funeral director and writer …

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Preaching to Bishops AN UNDERTAKER’S VIEW

“Preaching to bishops,” a long-dead churchman told me years ago, “is like farting at skunks. You’ll win some battles, but lose the war.” All the more so, no doubt, the higher you go. His Holiness, Their Eminences and Excellencies—“Don’t cross ’em,” the curate cautioned; “those boyos aren’t to be tampered with.” Among the blessings of …

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Faith Matters — Making for Home

When I was a child I spoke as a child, understood as a child, reasoned as a child. I knew my parents loved me best and assumed my several siblings all agreed. I mistook abundant love for especial favor and blessings for entitlements, and I took pride in things I ought to have been simply …

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Thomas Lynch on Sex, Death, and Poetry

Utne Reader from Willow Springs It’s hard to imagine two more circuitous paths to renown than the vocations of writer and undertaker, yet Thomas Lynch has somehow staked a successful career on both routes. In fact, his workaday pursuits feed on each other. His experiences as a small-town funeral director in Michigan fuel books that …

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A Date With the Departed

The pumpkins, penny candy and neighborly hordes of goblins and ghosts shouting “Trick or treat!” remind us of the ancients and their belief that the souls of the dead must be appeased. But it’s the days that follow Halloween that most interest me. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are time set aside to …

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Father Andrews

Jake, for the record, life does go on. Tuesday gives way to Wednesday unremarkably. The stars in their firmament behave like stars. The morning traffic makes its mindless way from one preoccupation to another. Little changes. You knew as much yourself: we have our day, and others after us into their sparkling moment and out …

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Michigan’s Song of Itself

THE University of Michigan had a chance to shine at the end of February when our symphony orchestra toured by bus from Ann Arbor to Carnegie Hall. The musicians made stops at Oberlin and Cornell before getting to West 57th Street. Kenneth Kiesler, our maestro, selected Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and a new composition by a …

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Return of the Prince

“DEMOCRACY is untidy,” said Donald Rumsfeld. “It sure is,” we Michiganders nod, watching our state legislators navigate fecklessly between tax increases and budget cuts trying to keep Lansing’s ship of state afloat. The autumn has been spent under the threat of a government shutdown over the state budget imbroglio. The big solution: a “service tax” …

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The Dispirit of ’67

The men I have coffee with most mornings in town are all in what we never call the last trimester of our lives. We’re winding down, golfing more, worried that what’s ahead won’t be as good as what’s gone before. We are retiring or retirees. Our memories are more certain than our prospects. Some things, …

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In Michigan, Not Even the Dead Are Safe

HE big cemetery with the name like a golf course out on the Interstate across from the mall was seized by a state conservator this winter. Seems someone took the money — $70 million in prepaid trust funds — and ran. It’s one of those theme park enterprises with lawn crypts and cheap statuary and …

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When Latvian Eyes Are Smiling

Last year they opened a new Irish pub on Main Street here. O’Callaghan’s they call it, and it’s owned by two Palestinians who did it up in high Paddy style, with snugs and dark hardwoods, Guinness and designer lagers and a couple of imported boyos behind the bar. The décor came from Dublin in a …

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Mourning in America

Review By THOMAS LYNCH Sex and the dead, William Butler Yeats wrote to Olivia Shakespear nearly 80 years ago, are the only two topics that “can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mind.” Sandra M. Gilbert got close to the first topic more than 25 years ago in her groundbreaking study …

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Going the Distance with Katrina’s Dead

Poet and funeral director Thomas Lynch has been thinking a lot these past couple of weeks about New Orleans and how the dead are precious to those who survive them. “Wherever our spirits go or don’t, ours is a species that has learned to deal with death — the idea of the thing — by …

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Left Behind

Like President Bush, I enjoy clearing brush in August. We both like quittance of the suit and tie, freedom from duty and detail and to breathe deeply the insouciant air of summer. He makes for his ranch in Crawford, Tex., a town with no bars and five churches. I come to my holdings near Carrigaholt, …

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Our Near-Death Experience

Moveen, Ireland — IMAGES of the papal wake dominated the news this week: the dead man’s body vested, mitered, laid out among his people in St. Peter’s Square, blessed with water and incense, borne from one station to the next in a final journey. Such images – along with the idea that millions of people …

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Passed on: Vocation and the family business

The photo of  the new priest among his people is an old one. “‘First Solemn High Mass,” it reads in white handprint in the top right corner, “of Rev. Thomas P. Lynch ” and on the next line “St. John’s Church, Jackson, Mich., June 10, 1934.” It is a panoramic, 17″x 7″ black-and-white glossy. Up …

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Good grief: an undertaker’s reflections

It’s sunny and 70 at Chapel Hill. I’m speaking to Project Compassion, an advocacy group for end-of-life issues, on an unlikely trinity of oxymorons–the good death, good grief and the good funeral. “What,” most people reasonably ask, “can ever be good about death or grief or funerals?” The 150 people in this room understand. They …

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The dead and gone – Rituals of mourning

Not only did they die, they disappeared. There’s the terrible fact becoming all too clear. We will not get them back to let them go again, to wake and weep over them, to look upon their ordinary loveliness once more, to focus all uncertainties on the awful certainty of a body in a box in …

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A Serious Undertaking

Like David Fisher in the award-winning HBO series Six Feet Under, when my father died, I embalmed him. My brother Pat assisted. We dressed him, put him in a box and soon thereafter buried him. Tim did the obits and drove the hearse. Eddie called the priest and did the printing. Mary handled the florals …

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Thomas Lynch Profile

Extended Interview LUCKY SEVERSON (guest anchor): And now a profile of a man who knows a great deal about poetry and a great deal about funerals. He is Thomas Lynch, writer and mortician, and each of his vocations enriches the other. BOB ABERNETHY: A cold, early spring morning in Milford, Michigan. As he has every day …

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Witness and remember – McVeigh’s execution should be televised

After 30 years of directing funerals, I’ve come to believe in open caskets. A service to which everybody but the deceased is invited, like a wedding without the bride or a baptism without the baby, denies the essential reality of the occasion, misses the focal point. It is why we comb wreckage, drag rivers and …

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A Hero of the Celtic Renaissance

From the cottage I keep in West Clare, I sometimes look across the Shannon Estuary to the Kerry Hills. From the end of the peninsula, I can make out Ballybunion, where Bill Clinton golfed in September 1998, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio. Back in Washington, Senator Joseph Lieberman was calling Mr. Clinton’s …

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Endpaper; The Going Rate

The widow wanted the cherry coffin. All she could think of was her husband, dead. Dead at 40 in the dead of winter; dead in the front yard of a Sunday morning with the ice spud beside him and his ice-fishing gear — tip-ups and jig poles, thermos and brandy — spilled from the white …

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A Man’s Right to Choose

ilford — I have a daughter and three sons. If there is better duty than being the dad, I have never found it. But on one subject — the nature of sex and its possible outcomes — the counsel I’m required to give my sons, if given to my daughter, sounds unfashionably bombastic, politically suspect …

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As Memory Itself Runs Out of Time

In 1975, when my father was my age, he had a bronze plate engraved with his name and two dates. ”Edward Lynch,” it read, ”1924-1999.” He put it on a bronze casket in our casket showroom to demonstrate how the up-market units could be customized. It was a sales aid. He was a funeral director. …

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Grief, Real and Imagined

When planes fall from the sky, or boats sink in the seas, or trains collide — whenever the worst that can happen happens — everyone in earshot is given pause. And pause we must, over this past week’s sadness with Payne Stewart, the husband, the father and yes, the golfer. And we do. Not because …

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Why Buy More Time?

The news, lately reported, that the life span of humans might be doubled in the next century is cause for sober and deliberate contemplation. Like so much that is baffling and wondrous, the word comes from a conference in Southern California. Dr. Gregory Stock of the School of Medicine at U.C.L.A., encouraged by experimental successes …

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Misplaced Mourning

The death notices in The Daily Telegraph make it plain. Most everyone here dies peaceably, in the hospital or after a brief illness. There are, of course, the sad exceptions. One unfortunate local died ”tragically whilst walking in the Dolomites.” One ”went to sleep in her garden.” Another is said to have bravely kept her …

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The Posthumous Mitford

In the darkly comedic and endearing style that was hers and hers only, Decca (as Jessica Mitford was known from childhood) once joked that an update of her classic, “The American Way of Death,” should be called “Death Warmed Over.” But it was not to be. Her sudden death from lung cancer two years ago …

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Socko Finish

My son and I were moving caskets — an oak with Celtic crosses on the corners, a cherry with a finish like that of our dining-room table, a cardboard box with a reinforced bottom, caskets that could be buried, burned, blown into space or set adrift. (The boomers who are buying funerals now do better …

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To arrange for Thomas Lynch to visit your program
or present to your organization, contact him
through this website or call his office at 248.684.6645.

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