How do we mark death and celebrate lost lives around the globe? In this hour, we hear stories from inside the funeral industry, wonder why dead bodies can compel or repel us, and learn about the new Ghanaian tradition of "fantasy" coffins inspired by people's work and dreams.
Rebecca Dopart was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Poland, in the mid-90s. While there, she fell in love and got married. Just three weeks after her wedding, her father-in-law died. In this story, Dopart recalls how her husband tended to his father’s body.
When a loved one dies, most of us turn to a professional, someone like Caitlin Doughty. She's a licensed mortician, death activist, and creator of the popular webseries "Ask A Mortician". In this interview, she talks about what happens when a body is prepared for burial.
Seth Kane Kwei launched a revolution in Ghanaian funeral practices in the early 1950s, when he redesigned a chief's traditional palaquin into a coffin. His grandson, Eric Adjetey Anang, is now carrying on his grandfather's work, making coffins that reflect the trades, accomplishments and dreams of the deceased.
According to historian Thomas Laqueur, neither sanitation nor the soul fully explain the rang of rituals we've developed for caring for dead bodies. For him, there is a deeper anthropological truth at work: caring for the dead marks the human transition from nature into culture.
Sheri Booker was terrified when she first started working at the Wylie Funeral Home at the age of 15. She was still grieving the death of a beloved aunt, and took the job in the hope of finding a sense of closure. After preparing her first client — a suicide victim with a gunshot wound to the head — something changed. As morbid as it may sound, she was hooked.
In the fourth episode of the story of Dan Pierotti's death, friends and family stay with Dan's body in the days before the funeral. Dan's wife Judy talks about her experience of the funeral and burial.
"Then it's final," Judy says. "There's no coming back from any of it. But just the first shovel full of dirt that hits that coffin... that's very hard to hear, very hard to experience."
In 2011, as Hurricane Irene made landfall in New York City, poet Edward Hirsch learned that his 22-year old son Gabriel had died from a bad drug reaction and subsequent seizure. Later, Hirsch composed “Gabriel,” a book-length elegy poem about his relationship with his son, and his loss.