But that we all cared this much about one another.
I watched most of an excellent and touching Frontline episode last night on PBS. It was called The Undertaking. Thomas Lynch is a writer and poet in a small town in Michigan, and he’s also a funeral director. His family has been caring for the dead in his hometown for three generations. Given my background, this certainly caught my attention. I was not disappointed.
Matt Roush with TV Guide described the show this way:
Steering clear of Six Feet Under irony, this deeply moving meditation on mortality shows the Lynch family business going about its work with quiet reverence. … Far from being depressing, The Undertaking lifts the spirits by reminding us that, in Lynch’s words, ‘The dead matter to the living,’ and that the ritual of a funeral helps return the grieving ‘to life with the certain knowledge that life has changed.’
Lynch believes as do (and recently commented on), “We have in some ways become estranged from death and the dead. We’re among the first couple of generations for whom the presence of the dead at their own funerals has become optional. And I see that as probably not good news for the culture at large.”
The Lynch family believes that the rituals of a funeral are more than mere formalities. “Funerals are the way we close the gap between the death that happens and the death that matters,” Lynch contends. “A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.”
I want to read Lynch’s book now, but I would encourage everyone to try to watch on-line or order the DVD. This was a very thoughtful look at something that haunts us all.
It’s certainly possible to die while laughing — probably by choking on something. But I was unable to find any documented evidence of someone literally “laughing to death.”
In fact, recent research suggests laughing is actually very good for you. According to the Indiana University School of Medicine, laughing helps relax tense muscles, lowers blood pressure, and even burns calories. Humor and laughter is also becoming increasingly popular as a form of psychiatric therapy. Look out, Carrot Top.
Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that people with heart disease are 40% less likely to laugh in a given situation than people without heart disease. The key here seems to be stress reduction; stress impairs the production of endothelial cells, which form a protective lining in our blood vessels. A weak endothelium can lead to hardened arteries and, quite literally, a hardened heart.
What exactly is laughter? As HowStuffWorks explains, laughter is a physiological response that’s triggered by the limbic system, or the part of the brain that governs motivation and emotional behaviors. During laughter, the epiglottis constricts the larynx, restricting our ability to breathe. That’s why a really good joke can sometimes seem pretty dangerous — but thankfully the breathing instinct always wins in the end.