Why You Don't Want to Die on a Sunday in Detroit

Submitted by Charles Frost on Wed, 02/11/2009 - 09:40.

FEBRUARY 11, 2009


By JEFFREY ZASLOWFrom now on, if you want to fill the seats at your funeral and you live in Detroit, you won't want to die on the wrong day. People may never get word that you're gone.

That's because, starting next month, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press will be offering home delivery just three days a week. So, readers who've made a daily ritual of perusing obituaries with their morning coffee -- and who won't go out to buy the paper or go online -- aren't necessarily going to learn about the deaths of their acquaintances.

"We'll have to go back to word of mouth," says David Techner, funeral director at Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield, Mich. "We'll try to condition people: 'Make sure you call all your mom's friends to say she died.' "

In so many ways lately, our daily routines are under siege. Sure, change always has been part of the human experience. But given the economic freefall and the transformations brought on by technology, countless rituals that once defined and comforted us are disappearing in a flash. Researchers say we're now living in an age of "accelerated change" -- and to cope, we should spend less time lamenting and more time adapting.

Some rituals may return when the economy rebounds; in a survey last month, 60% of Americans said they've cut back on their daily trips to "fancy coffee" outlets, which explains the 69% drop in Starbucks's latest quarterly profit. Other rituals we can feel disappearing for good. Fewer of us collect record albums or CDs to line the walls of our living rooms; now our music has been reduced to a scrolling list of song titles on our iPods or computers.

The end of daily home newspaper delivery in Detroit is instructive because it touches on many forces now upsetting our routines. Struggling to compete with the Internet, newspapers beyond battered Detroit may eventually make similar cutbacks, disappointing millions of traditional readers who want to hold an actual paper in their hands.

In Detroit, the newspapers' Web sites will be beefed up, and a print version will still be available at stores each day, though print runs on nondelivery days will be down 60%. Papers will be delivered to homes only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Expectations aren't high that casual obit readers who are young or middle-aged will immediately make a habit of going online every day to find death notices. And no one is predicting that older people who aren't computer-literate will suddenly start logging on. "I recognize that this will be disruptive to older citizens," says David Hunke, publisher of the Free Press. But, he adds, "I can't drive the paper to your home every day and maintain this business model."

Phyllis Look, a 78-year-old retired CPA, wrote to the newspaper to suggest that it change its slogan from "On Guard for 177 years" to "On Guard Some Days of the Week." She asked: "Will I need to go out on cold, icy mornings to find a newsstand that might have your paper -- or do I wait until Thursday to find out that a friend was buried two days ago?"

Until people in Michigan make a routine of checking online obits, funeral homes are asking grieving families to spread news of deaths by creating extensive lists for phone calls, email blasts and Facebook messages. At the same time, there are calls for people to be philosophically proactive.

Times of change are opportunities for reflection, says Joan Borysenko, a psychologist in Boulder, Colo. "When a ritual goes, it leaves an empty spot that needs to be filled," she says. Rather than bemoaning the death of home-delivered obits, "you may want to keep better track of the people you love, so you know what's happening in their lives. Don't wait until they die."

Building on his research into "hardiness" at the University of Chicago, psychologist Salvatore R. Maddi counsels people to tap into their own resilience to navigate change. "You need to see disruptive change as normal rather than abnormal," he says. "It's an opportunity to grow and develop, rather than to feel threatened."

Mr. Hunke, the publisher, is trying to maintain a sense of humor. Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick left jail last week after serving 99 days for perjury. "He may want a job reading our funnies over the radio," says Mr. Hunke, recalling the 1945 New York newspaper strike, when Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia read comics to the city's children. Meanwhile, Mr. Techner, the funeral director, says Detroit radio ought to sign up a celebrity obit announcer who appeals to older citizens. "It's got to be Ed McMahon," he says. Write to Jeffrey Zaslow at jeffrey [dot] zaslow [at] wsj [dot] com

From: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431793199571075.html


Building on his research into "hardiness" at the University of Chicago, psychologist Salvatore R. Maddi counsels people to tap into their own resilience to navigate change. "You need to see disruptive change as normal rather than abnormal," he says. "It's an opportunity to grow and develop, rather than to feel threatened."

Don't be afraid of chickens and bees, compost, frontyard gardens, rain barrels, native plants, no newspaper in your driveway, no driveway, public transit, public involvement, no mail on Tuesday, bananas becoming a luxury item, seasonal diets, scheduled brownouts, clothes drying on clotheslines, big box store closings, tall native grasses, snow shovels in lieu of snow blowers, leaves that fall on your lawn, wind turbines on not windy days, solar panels on cloudy days... (you can add your own stuff here _____ )

These are all just part of a change to a world made by hand. If you had to cut back what could you do without? It might be a good time for all of us to think about what we might shed in the great reducing diet our global economy has embarked upon. What do we need that fossil fuel for and what could we avoid using it for?

Detroit, Cleveland and New Orleans are perhaps just the harbingers of new cities. What will happen to the highrises when office elevators are scheduled to work only five days a week? No weekend hours at the corp. Just go home and spend time with your family or in your garden. Not so bad... bedtime stories by candle light.

No doubt a change is gonna come.