Thomas Lynch is a man who needs no introduction. He’s well known—even famous, though he’d certainly argue that—in undertaking, poetic, and literary circles. Lynch won the American Book Award in 1998 for his breakout collection of essays, The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade, and was amongst the finalists for the National Book Award. Lynch is the author of twelve books, consisting of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His work has been the subject of two documentary films, one of which won an Emmy Award.
However, for all his accolades and awards, Lynch remains approachable and affable in the friendly sort of way most small-town undertakers are. It’s quickly evident that he likes to talk. He likes to tell stories. Though they’re not so much stories as they are word pictures. As we chat he’s mostly serious, as burying the dead tends to be serious business, moving between subjects with the ease of a traveling bard. But every once in a while he slides in his sharp wit with the deftness of an acupuncturist. It’s something best described as good ole’ fashioned American sarcasm mixed with undertaker’s gallows humor and a bit of Irish blarney, quipping about the impossibilities of playing cards virtually at an Irish wake during the pandemic and occasionally referring to the material trappings of funerals (i.e., caskets and the like) as “knick-knacks” and “doo-dads.” He unleashes upon me immediately when I call and ask him if he has a few free minutes to talk. “I’m a man who lives alone on a lake with a dog. I’ve been in quarantine since March.
I have some time.”
Lynch has just gotten off the phone with Ireland. His neighbor, Eddie Walsh, from the small village of Moveen in County Clare where his ancestral home is, has died. Eddie was a horse trainer of some repute, and Lynch informs me, “The last time I saw Eddie was in 2018 when his brother Michael died. He was sitting in the bedroom, lit by candlelight, and along with a friend J.J. we said a decade of the rosary.” Lynch has already missed two funerals in Moveen due to the pandemic, ones he says he would’ve boarded a plane for. One of them was J.J. who died Christmas Eve. “I’m now the last man living in that room.” The prospect of which he calls, “harrowing,” and, “hallowing.”
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