American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning

Kate Sweeney. Univ. of Georgia, $24.95 (234p) ISBN 978-0-8203-4600-7
As radio reporter and producer Sweeney notes in this unsettling, compassionate volume on American mourning customs, death was once a ubiquitous part of American life; the Victorians raised mourning to an art form. To capture America's relationship to death today, Sweeney offers trivia and history (the term "casket" is an American invention), taking readers from the Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Ill., to Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Ga., where she recounts the rise of the modern cemetery. She explores the new "green" funeral movement, obituary writing, the funeral urn business, and burial at sea. Readers meet mourners and those in their service: the memorial tattoo artist; the photographer who provides a last memento of newborns taken too soon; a funeral chaplain; and the mother who maintains a roadside memorial to her daughter. In addition, the author discusses larger issues, such as the American obsession with prolonging life at the expense of quality of life, or the remove at which we keep death today. Her stories originate mostly in the South, but have universal relevance. Sweeney writes with a deft touch and with empathy for mourners, whose stories she relays with clarity and care. Photos. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/23/2013
Release date: 03/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-8203-5058-5
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