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The Mourner's Dance

What We Do When People Die

Katherine Ashenburg

North Point Press

When her daughter's fiancé died suddenly, Katherine Ashenburg was surprised to see how her daughter intuitively re-created the traditional rituals of mourning, even those of which she was ignorant. Intrigued, Ashenburg began to explore the rich and endlessly inventive choreographies different cultures and times have devised to mark a universal and deeply felt plight.

Contemporary North American culture favors a mourning that is private and virtually invisible. But, as Ashenburg reveals, the grieving customs of the past were so integrated into daily life that ultimately they gave rise to public parks and ready-to-wear clothing. Our keepsakes, prescribed bereavement garb, resting places, mourning etiquette; and ways of commiserating from wakes to Internet support groups remain clues to our most elemental beliefs, and our most effective means of restoring selves, and communities, unraveled by loss.
When her daughter's fiancé died suddenly, Katherine Ashenburg was surprised to see how her daughter intuitively re-created the traditional rituals of mourning, even those of which she was ignorant. Intrigued, Ashenburg began to explore the rich and endlessly inventive choreographies different cultures and times have devised to mark a universal and deeply felt plight.

Contemporary North American culture favors a mourning that is private and virtually invisible. But, as Ashenburg reveals, the grieving customs of the past were so integrated into daily life that ultimately they gave rise to public parks and ready-to-wear clothing. Our keepsakes, prescribed bereavement garb, resting places, mourning etiquette; and ways of commiserating from wakes to Internet support groups remain clues to our most elemental beliefs, and our most effective means of restoring selves, and communities, unraveled by loss.

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1 THE BUSTLE IN A HOUSE

The Bustle in a House

The Morning after Death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon Earth—

—Emily Dickinson

A person dies, let us say a man. Those watching at his deathbed try to control their grief until they are sure that he is dead. They know it is wrong to distract him while he is at the serious business of "giving up the ghost." Then the watchers begin to weep and lament. A close relative shuts his eyes and mouth and arranges his limbs.

Those entrusted with the task of preparing the body, usually the same sex

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REVIEWS

Praise for The Mourner's Dance

"Such an elegant, deeply informative text. The Mourner's Dance weaves rich scholarship through the homespun of family history, folk tradition, and manifest humanity. In a way that Jessica Mitford never could, Ashenburg understands the verities of good grief and good funerals and why, to deal with Death, we must deal with our dead. Free of the warm-fuzzies, full of uncommon wisdom--here is a gift outright to anyone who reads and breathes." --Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking

"A fascinating, intelligent, moving, and witty account of one of our most basic and least understood needs: to come to terms with the end of a life that we loved." --Alberto Manguel
"Such an elegant, deeply informative text. The Mourner's Dance weaves rich scholarship through the homespun of family history, folk tradition, and manifest humanity. In a way that Jessica Mitford never could, Ashenburg understands the verities of good grief and good funerals and why, to deal with Death, we must deal with our dead. Free of the warm-fuzzies, full of uncommon wisdom--here is a gift outright to anyone who reads and breathes." --Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking

"A fascinating, intelligent, moving, and witty account of one of our most basic and least understood needs: to come to terms with the end of a life that we loved." --Alberto Manguel

Reviews from Goodreads

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Available Formats and Book Details

The Mourner's Dance

What We Do When People Die

Katherine Ashenburg

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FROM THE PUBLISHER

North Point Press

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