Friday, March 26, 2010

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training by Tom Jokinen

In Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training, Tom Jokinen takes us behind the scenes of the funeral home business. He presents the options, the various traditions, the embalming, the burial, some of the history and much more. It's all there. No more wondering what goes on behind all of those curtains. Jokinen wrote this book after being an apprentice undertaker at a Winnipeg funeral home.

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. The only creepy thing about it was the fact that I enjoyed it so much. At first, my shoulders were a little scrunched up by my ears and I didn't want anyone to know I was reading a book about death and the funeral business. It made me a little uncomfortable. After awhile though, I really started to relax and readily shared my new knowledge with my squeamish and "please don't tell me anymore" husband. At one point my husband remarked that the book sounded a little morbid. I sort of agreed, but explained it this way: "It's like reading about the car dealership business, with a different product." I think that was an "aha" moment for both of us. The funeral home is a business. They just have a product no one wants to talk or think about all that much.

The book was extremely enlightening. I learned a lot about the funeral director's job, the funeral home's business in general and lots of different facts about death and dying in this country, in the USA and around the world. A few of the details may not be for the faint of heart, like Jokinen's descriptions of the embalming. His commentary about his experiences helped me accept the procedure for what it was and didn't gross me out one bit.

Jokinen presented the material with a great sense of humour ("never lick anything in a funeral home"), but remains respectful throughout. It doesn't come across as a long sales pitch in favour of any one option. There's a lot of information about one particular funeral home, but only because that's where he apprenticed. I don't think it's overwhelming or biased in any sense.

Jokinen also wrote about the various traditions including those of the Jews and Mennonites, which have tight guidelines or rules about funerals and burials. The book hints at an interesting question: Are they restrictions or freedom of having to make tough choices in a time of great sorrow? My vote is for freedom. Some of the choices are agonizing, not to mention darn near impossible when having to make those decisions with family members who insist on being obstacles to the whole process. If some of those decisions could already have been made...hmmm....I guess I digressed there for a minute. Sorry about that. Needless to say, this book brought out a few unresolved emotions I didn't know I'd buried (forgive the pun).

The author also touched on some of the way-out-there ideas, such as being made into a pencil after death (pages 221-222). Interesting, eh? He also explained some of the greener alternatives which may be the way of the future.

One of the exciting things about the book is that it was set in my home town, Winnipeg. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the various landmarks, streets and establishments that were familiar to me. I especially loved the history of the funeral homes in this area. Fascinating stuff. Having said that, I still think it would be informative for those who live outside of the area and may not be familiar with it. There's plenty of information about the industry in general.

My favourite interesting fact in the book was that according to Jokinen, as of the printing of this book, there is no law in Manitoba (Canada) prohibiting the scattering of ashes as long as it's done discretely. I won't explain further as to why I found that fascinating. My one take away from the book: Funeral homes are businesses. Businesses have to make money. If you remember that and what that entails, you are much better off.

New word alert: miasma = cloud, mist

Favourite quote:
On being a funeral director:
Funeral 101: developing a detached engagement with technical details and zero or minimal engagement with the emotional ones.(page 43)

Highly recommended. Really!

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House Canada for this review copy.

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-training by Tom Jokinen, Random House, ©2010 ISBN 9780307355683(Hardcover), 277p.

1 comment:

  1. This definitely sounds cool. I used to love watching that reality show on A&E about the family run Funeral Home. What was it called... oh, "Family Plots". It's certainly an interesting business!


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