The Craft of Dying

What is the Book is About?

Like the prolonged helplessness of its young, like bisexual reproduction, the inevitable fact of death provides one of the great parameters of the human condition. It can neither be “believed” nor “magicked” nor “scienced” away.

That is basically the justification of Thanatology, the subject of this book. The writer covered a lot of her contemporary ground— briefly, but with some interesting insights.

The first of these insights, expounded well in Part I, is about the change of modes and methods of death and dying in modern, technologically advanced Western societies, and how it led us to a prolonged dying phase.

This change leads to changes regarding how a dying person (and people related) can choose (and the limitations on such choices by socio-economic conditions) to die, or live for the remaining of the days.

In Part III, she gave an overview of the then-contemporary movement to help people to die happily.

My Takeaway

The writing is very much descriptive in nature. She tried her best to cast an impartial gaze on the situation. The subject, however, is a cross-school one. This adds some complexity.

Her exploration of modern craft of dying in Part I & Part II were sharp and to the point. It's a must-read, along with The Denial of Death by Earnest Becker, to understand the modern ideas about the death.

However, her portrayal of the happy death movement in the Part III shows the dismal state of affairs on that front. No modern person in their right mind can take Kübler-Ross's “Research” seriously:

Befitting a movement largely composed of presumably secular upper-middle-class professionals, the immortality claim rests not on revelation but on “research.” That is, Kübler-Ross and others know there is an afterlife not as a consequence of any direct communication with a deity but because of “evidence,” such as the following accounts, provided by the recovered “clinically dead.”

This is a deal-breaker for me. Of course, Lofland is mostly a chronicler here, and she had her doubts too.

If I follow the advice of one such movement, I'll have a very unhappy death for sure. Instead, I would like to assume a dying role for me which is based on knowledge and emotional understanding of what it means to be dead:

I propose you die, you die with a complete psychological image of what death really is, what it means to be dead. Die in every exhalation, like you live while you breathe in. Die slowly while nature cushions your footprints with grasses and daisies. Die a thousand times when you perform eulogies with sincerity. Die while the present passes away to the past and live in the future that just came to be present. Stretch the inevitable 'full stop at the end' to a tapestry of fireflies. Die till you die completely and there is no more death, there is no 'no', and no 'more' for you.

Notes and Highlights
About The Craft of Dying, 40th Anniversary Edition by Lyn H. Lofland

The fortieth-anniversary edition of a classic and prescient work on death and dying. Much of today's literature on end-of-life issues overlooks the importance of 1970s social movements in shaping our understanding of death, dying, and the dead body. This anniversary edition of Lyn Lofland's The Craft of Dying begins to repair this omission. Lofland identifies, critiques, and theorizes 1970s death movements, including the Death Acceptance Movement, the Death with Dignity Movement, and the Natural Death movement. All these groups attempted to transform death into a “positive experience,” anticipating much of today's death and dying activism. Lofland turns a sociologist's eye on the era's increased interest in death, considering, among other things, the components of the modern “face of death” and the “craft of dying,” the construction of a dying role or identity by those who are dying, and the constraints on their freedom to do this. Lofland wrote just before the AIDS epidemic transformed the landscape of death and dying in the West; many of the trends she identified became the building blocks of AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s. The Craft of Dying will help readers understand contemporary death social movements' historical relationships to questions of race, class, gender, and sexuality and is a book that everyone interested in end-of-life politics should read.