Someone dies. What happens next?
A family inters its matriarch’s ashes on the floor of the Atlantic. Another holds a memorial weenie roast at a green burial cemetery. An 1898 ad for embalming fluid promises, “You can make mummies with it!” while a contemporary leading burial vault is touted as impervious to the elements. 150 years ago, a grieving mother might tend a garden at her daughter’s grave. Today, she might tend the roadside memorial she erected at the spot her daughter was killed. One woman wears a locket containing her brother’s hair, the other, a necklace containing his ashes. Someone dies. What happens next depends both upon our personal stories and where those stories fall in a larger tale—that of death in America. It’s a powerful tale, yet it’s usually hidden from our everyday lives until it happens to us.American Afterlife
explores the experiences of individual Americans involved with death in a culture where even discussing such things is practically taboo. These chapters follow ordinary people making memorial choices as well as the purveyors of those choices to investigate how we memorialize our dead, where these practices came from, and what this says about us.
The details in these personal stories build upon one another to reveal a landscape that’s usually hidden in our ordinary lives—until the day it’s not. At once strange and familiar, and by turns odd, poignant, and funny, American Afterlife
brings fresh insight to the oldest of concerns.
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