Tracey's Reviews > The Farewell Chronicles: How We Really Respond to Death

The Farewell Chronicles by Anneli Rufus
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's review
Sep 05, 2007

really liked it
Recommended for: anyone interested in the topic of grief, death & dying.
Read in June, 2006

"It is a vast, worldwide society whose members share no privileges, no solidarity, no secret handshakes, no discounts at Legoland."

Rufus explores what it means to be a member of this society of survivors, those left behind after someone has died. In the introduction, she writes about the responses we were not told we might expect, and some of the chapter titles, (each representing an emotion) reflect that: Greed, Relief, Apathy. She discusses her own experiences with death - losing her father, with whom she had an ambivalent relationship at times; her landlord, whose slow decline she tried to ignore. A friend of a friend who teased her unmercifully in high school; dead of AIDS a decade later. She interviews a Quaker mortician, who moonlights as a comedian ventriloquist with a macabre dummy. Conversations with friends and family also provide material and insight. She has a short list of sources as well, which I found interesting for what is basically a personal essay-style book. While there are touching moments, there are humorous moments as well; Rufus purposefully avoids moroseness, preferring more of an analytical tone.

The basic theme of this book is that there is no standard reaction to death. Grieving for Dummies has yet to be written; Kubler-Ross's 5 Stages of Grief is only a starting point. We can never really understand what someone else is feeling during the grieving process, and attempts at comforting the survivors can be mixed at best. My volunteer work with hospice continues to remind me that our society needs to be more open about discussing death and dying, and books like this are a good start. Recommended to anyone interested in the topic of grief, death & dying.

Notes and Quotes

"In word and deed, we keep our sorrow soft."

"They never said that death does funny things to love, and that love does funny things to death."

* Spiritualism - well suited to a time when science & exploration were burgeoning & romantic sentmentality was the prevaility literary theme. Considering advances in telegraphy & telephony - was it so unusual to think that one could communicate with the dead? "Was the Other Side that much more remote than Santa Fe?"

* Grieving for another's death - but also for what their life might have been.

* Slow death vs quick death - each have their pros and cons. Which is easier depends on the person. ".. but in this we have no choice, absolutely none."

"Half-deaths are the cruelest things."

* Death of a loved one without actually seeing the body/corpse - can make it more difficult to realize that the person has really died. (I felt this with both grandmas - no funeral with viewing, just a memorial service.)

"It is as if bad memories are made of some entirely different substance than all other kinds, transmitted to the brain by different means."

"Ceremonializing death means facing up to it, and thus facing our own mortality... grief hones the survival instinct."

* Queen Victoria's 40 years in mourning = profound effect in society. "made an international fashion of public grief." Hair art, lachrymatory (bottles for catching & storing tears), cemeteries as parks, tuberculosis as a fashionable, Romantic death. "Victoria's grief set the tone for an entire era and and entire empire."

* On lighting candles & saying Kaddish - "It was not about religion so much as about doing what was done before."

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