DEAR ABBY: Your correspondent, "Unfinished Business," attended a friend's funeral and was "dismayed to learn that the family had decided to have a closed-coffin burial," thereby denying a visual farewell and the opportunity to better cope with reality. As you rightly pointed out, the next-of-kin have the final say in such matters.
A word of amplification: The open-casket funeral is unique to the United States and Canada. In no other country is the bizarre ritual of "viewing" the deceased a part of any funeral service.In the 1920s, a public relations spokesman for the funeral industry coined the phrase "Beautiful Memory Picture" to describe the embalmed and prettified cadaver in a suitably costly casket.
The funeral industry has long tried to convince the public that "viewing" is essential to what they are pleased to call "grief therapy," swallowed whole by the likes of "Unfinished Business." If that is so, how come it isn't practiced in England, France, Germany, etc.?
To the contrary, an English jurist wrote that a public exhibition of an embalmed body, as that of Lenin in Moscow, would in England be considered a revolting spectacle and therefore a public nuisance.
Readers looking for a simple and inexpensive funeral should write to the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies, an educational non-profit organization with affiliates in most major cities. The organization can provide information on dignified low-cost funerals. The address: 7910 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20814. - JESSICA MITFORD (AUTHOR OF "THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH")
DEAR JESSICA MITFORD: How well I remember the bombshell your book created in 1963. "The American Way of Death" rode the best-seller list for a year. And in its wake (no pun intended) was spawned a new generation of Americans who would bury their loved ones with dignified low-cost funerals, without feelings of guilt or embarrassment.
Previously, too many poor people went into debt for lavish, expensive funerals because they were emotionally stressed at the time, and felt that the amount of money they spent on their final farewell was an indication of how much they valued the deceased. Utter balderdash!
People are eating them up! For Abby's favorite recipes, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada), to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054. (Postage is included.)