Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

A Graceful Goodbye: A Book Review

Originally posted on July 22, 2018

We’re reading together or apart a number of books, as I browse the local library and check out those that appeal to me. One was titled, A Graceful Goodbye: a New Outlook on Death,” by Susan B. Mercer. I’ve written about weddings as rites of passage, and she wr0te enlighteningly about dying. She asks many question that it might not occur to me to ask, and gets me to thinking, what would I want for myself? Also I ask what would my wife or kids want? It’s a good consciousness-raising group of questions, and represents questions that were not asked before. One just went along with tradition.

“Tradition!” sings Tevya in the late1960’s play, Fiddler on the Roof. But we live in an era of blossoming, a multiplication of traditions, a creation of new traditions. It could be seen as the breakdown of tradition, but that only means the breakdown of the fixity, the inviolability of traditions.

New traditions break out! And variations! Some will wither and die, others will take root, and a few will multiply. Memes, large and small, new words, new ways of doing things—all are thriving! We live in an era when the slope of progress in every field is increasing, speeding up! What stress, what a privilege—I guess if you’re a conservative, it’s hell. But it’s inevitable!

I’ve lived through an acceleration of eventfulness, occasioned by the cross-fertilization of technologies. Was the Cambrian “explosion” of new forms a half-billion years ago analogous? There’s nothing I personally can do about it, for or against—it’s way bigger than myself. I can call people’s attention to it, though—a speeding up of the advance of consciousness.

Indeed, that’s one thing I can do: Announce it, re-phrase it, call attention to it, and “it” being a whole mess o’ things. First of all, I notice that I hardly notice all the ways that things are speeding up in so many arenas that I don’t know about, or hardly. Then, of the many fields that I do know about—and I’m relatively widely read—well, changes are accelerating! Watch for them!

Back to the book review. (That was a reminder of the ways my mind works). Funerals. (Here I go again!) But Mercer’s new book introduces a new inter-denominati0nal role, a “death doula.” I was a bit of a birth doula, a knowledgeable facilitator of the birth and after process. There are so very many things to know about. Well, Mercer knows about all the changes accompanying death!

It’s a great idea for our time, when a proper funeral was managed by one’s “mini-ster”  in a proper church. No more—all rituals are breaking down. I even wrote about it on my website. Now it’s sort-of official—a book got written. Is that how it works?  All bets are off for “how it’s done,” that’s the real message. It’s a layered message, though: “All bets are off” collide with, “Well, how are we going to do it? We can do it this way or that way. Your preference.”

“My preference??  Over-choice!!” That’s why it’s new. Freedom moves beyond politics and invades choices about weddings, funerals, dress, manners in general. It’s a time of accelerating change!

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