Digging for Hidden Bodies in Michigan

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Commentator and funeral director Thomas Lynch muses about what it means to hide the bodies of mobsters, regular folks and soldiers. Lynch lives in Milford, Mich., near the site where law enforcement officials are looking for the body of Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader who mysteriously disappeared decades ago.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Milford, Michigan were commentator and funeral director Thomas Lynch lives, the FBI is still digging, trying to find the remains of an old union boss.

THOMAS LYNCH reporting:

Here in Milford, they're looking for Hoffa. They're digging for whatever is left of whatever truth might be buried out there. Like Tony and his crew on The Sopranos, those who killed Hoffa years ago had to hide the body. It was ever thus.

The dead can be troublesome, burying as they always do the curiosities to whit. Who, what, when, where and always the corkers, how and why? The sight of one of our own kind dead however nicely laid out, however savage or natural, timely or tragic, easy or awful the death was achieved, seeing, it turns out, isn't only believing. Seeing is also wonder and doubt. Is that all there is? Can it happen to me? What comes next? Seeing the dead both shakes our faith and engages it.

Which is why clerics and generals and commanders-in-chief, no less, the media and morticians and well-meaning friends like to control the theater and scene sets and are wont to provide some little therapeutic diversions where we can look away from the god awful vexations the dead present us with, which is why we do caskets and accessories because retail is sometimes more manageable then reality.

And why some folks prefer a celebration of life where the good laugh is approved and the good cry is hushed. Where the music and eulogies are all uplifting and the dead are sometimes downsized or disappeared or uninvited, like a wedding where there is no bride and where closure is proclaimed if rarely achieved. Much the same as we proclaim mission accomplished or that we are spreading democracy or making progress or that God is on our side.

When the dead in their mum consensus keep telling up otherwise. Keep telling us that not all deaths are heroic or meaningful or peaceful or just. Death just happens, in good causes and bad ones and for no causes at all. Which is why photographs of caskets at Dover are banned and why the news serves up daily doses of sedation, because the war on Christmas or the attack on marriage or a black and white rape case with strippers and school boys or a blonde gone missing or what language to sing our anthems in or the price of gas or the latest American idol are all less troubling topics, aren't they, then the permanently dead and horrendously wounded young men and women making their way home from our first ever preemptive war of choice.

In Milford on Monday as all over the nation, we'll cheer our dear soldiers, living and dead. These are the lives and limbs we have been willing to wager. The bodies cast into the maw of the war to save a nation or defend it. To advance our causes worthy or not. History like an old dog is willing to wait for answers. Out on Hidden Dreams Farm they are digging for bones.

SIEGEL: Thomas Lynch is a funeral director from Milford, Michigan. He is the author of The Undertaking and Still Life in Milford.

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