[an analysis by Krystal Davidowitz]
An Undertaker attempts to desensitize death.
Thomas Lynch opens a door into his world in “The Undertaking.” For years, he has been burying, cremating, selling caskets and urns, and renting out hearses to people who live in his town. As the only undertaker in that town, business is good, and he goes on explaining this by depicting the death rate, coming to the conclusion that in the end, there will always be a one hundred percent death expectancy. Everyone will die eventually. Lynch then explains that when people are alive, they care. They care about virtues, necessities, material things, money, and of course, they care about how they want to be taken care of when they die. That leads Lynch into the main theme of his story: the dead don’t care. Once someone dies, they are dead. Possessions, feelings, and thoughts don’t matter anymore because they are dead, and the dead don’t care, only the living do.
Lynch introduces us to Milo Hornsby who died last Monday in the early hours of the morning. Lynch is woken up by the new widow at 2 a.m. He starts his job at 2 a.m., not for Milo, but for Milo’s widow because she feels so much pain over her husband’s departure. Lynch gets into how his job is done. He goes to the hospital to check out the body. Then he brings Milo to the funeral home to set his features: close Milo’s eyes, mouth, and overlap his hands on his stomach. While doing this, Lynch recalls his only memory of Milo: When Lynch’s wife left him and his two children, Milo did Lynch’s laundry for two months at the laundry mat that he owned and only charged him sixty dollars. Lynch asked Milo what the total bill really was, and Milo had responded, “Never mind that, one hand washes the other.”
“Once you are dead, put your feet up, call it a day, and let the husband or the missus or the kids or a sibling decide whether you are to be buried or burned or blown out of a cannon or left to dry out in a ditch somewhere. It’s not your day to watch it, because the dead don’t care.”
The emotion Lynch uses in his writing is detached and slightly sarcastic. In order for him to really get his point across (that the dead don’t care), he chooses not to write sympathetically or empathetically towards the people who have died or have known loss. Instead, he chooses to write in a manner void of all emotion. In a way, Lynch writes as if he doesn’t even care. His apathetic voice that is consistent through the piece helps the reader grasp the fact that once someone is dead, they’re dead, and the dead don’t care.