By John Ostapkovich

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes. This story has nothing to do with taxes, but with a look at the difficult business of saying goodbye.

Kate Sweeney says she got started on her book American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by noticing the touching and unusual ways people today remember their loved ones. That turned her attention to the past, when death was both more personal, funerals were usually held in the home, and rigid with a checklist of do’s and don’ts for mourning.

We today, she found, often feel like we’re making it up as we go.

“I’m not going to have 12 children and then lose nine of them before they reach the age of 10, or 11, or 12 and I’m not expected to die in childbirth, and I think that one reason that folks back in previous generations had a more comfortable relationship with death and were less completely freaked out by it is that they experienced so much of it.”

Yet to deal with death through ritual is one of the most ancient expressions of being human.

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