Death is that inevitable, universal, unavoidable experience that lies at the end of every venture, every life, every relationship. Saying so is so obvious that it is considered trite. And yet death is that which somehow surprises us. It comes as a shock, no matter how much we might anticipate it or even long for it. With this surprise comes a feeling of foolishness. We feel like the kids whose classmates knew she would trip. We feel like the last person to get a joke. We feel embarrassed at our oversight of the obvious.
So, though it may sound ghoulish, I’ve been enjoying two books by Thomas Lynch, a poet and funeral director in small-town Michigan (and part of the inspiration behind the brilliant HBO show ‘Six Feet Under’). His earlier book is much better than the later collection of essays, and the Frontline documentary that features he and his family is breathtakingly beautiful. Lynch is a man who has made his peace with death through thousands of repetitions, and who combines this avocation with a deep talent with words to provide a priceless guide for the rest of us. He reminds us that we will always be overwhelmed by death, and that by facing our experiences of death with honesty and emotion and patience, we can avoid being overcome by them.