Written by Saher Fatteh
After listening to the podcast How Stuff Works in which Dr. Stutz discusses mortuary rituals and their importance, I thought of a specific scene in The Undertaking. The movie includes a heartbreaking story of a young family in which the only child had been diagnosed with a neurological disease that would take his life before he reached three years. The parents sought refuge in the structure of rituals involving death in our society. The young mother explained the calming effect of arranging for funeral services before her son’s death. It seemed as though having the funeral service in place allowed the parents to answer the question, “What now?” after their son’s death. As discussed in the podcast, ritual is powerful as a transformative tool. The ritual of funerals and burial allowed the parents to have a set time in which they could transition into their new life. Although they knew that their son was dying, the process of burial allowed them to cope in steps and at their own speed. Each part of the burial process served an important role in their processing of death. The mother explained that the closing of the casket was extremely symbolic and powerful. It allowed her to accept for the first time the loss of her son’s physical body. To me, this scene illuminates the vital importance of mortuary rituals. Though at times they may seem silly or unnecessary, they allow a slight measure of control in an uncontrollable situation.