where all are welcome but few will stay

11.05.2007

FRONTLINE: the undertaking | PBS

I meant to post this last week to coincide with the Day of the Dead, but life got in the way. While flipping channels around I found a Frontline which wasn't about the War on Terror, Iraq, or 9/11 and it caught my attention. It was billed as "the business of death," but really it was about the personal relationships behind those who die and the undertaker. I'm not sure if it was Frontline's intention or if it just happened, but two of the participants who sought out consultations eventually do die by the episode's conclusion. Several times the undertaker comments that Americans are so far removed from death and that in our rituals surrounding death we are actually celebrating life.

His comments trigged in me memories from when I was about eight and we went to Mexico to bury my Step-Dad's Father. Back then, and possibly in some places still, they held the wake in the family's home. The body stays in the house with you surrounded by candles in the parlor for three days until its burial. I vaguely remember passing it on the way to bed and in the morning while going outside to try and escape the scorching heat in the house. Other than the odd feeling when passing it I don't have any other connection to the event. While watching Frontline I sat through the scenes of bodies being prepared for burial and thought how odd it was that our society is so removed from death. Maybe in part its why we don't seem value life as much as we used to.

FRONTLINE: the undertaking | PBS