Over the course of this class we have read and seen many examples of how different people relate to death. That being said, there has always been a sort of unspoken rule that discussing death should always be done in a respectful and mature way. What happens when that is completely turned on its head?
Casket, Museum of Funeral Customs, Springfield, Illinois, 2006 by Robert Lawton
The musical Fun Home has a lot of layers to discuss. It follows the true life story of Alison Bechdel, an American cartoonist who grew up in her father’s funeral home. The musical goes on to follow Alison discovering her sexuality, dealing with her closeted gay father’s infidelity to her mother, and ultimately her father’s apparent suicide. There is a lot to unpack there. However, one of the most striking moments for me, the moment that really turns all expectations on its head, is the song “Come to The Fun Home.” This song is the imaginary advertisement child age Alison and her siblings try to make for their family’s funeral home.
Photo by mohamed_hassan
When you witness children running across stage, singing a happy and childlike melody, but having the lyrics “You’ve got to bury your mama / But you don’t know where to go” or “Our caskets (ooo) / Are satin-lined (ooo)” you cannot help but laugh. This humor comes from the inherent disconnect between children playing around and a song about funeral home practices. The catchy little rhymes continue as they mention that the Bechdel Funeral Home has folding chairs, smelling salts, ample parking, and more. It goes so drastically against our perceptions of a funeral home and those who work there that it is hard to even frame them in the same mental image. The fact is we think of funeral homes as somber locations and playing children are practically the symbol of life.
Now why else is this so shocking? For one our western society has the tendency to try to hide or diminish death from young children, not let them play sword fight with aneurysm hooks. This openness with death with those so young immediately sets off alarm bells. Also there is a lack of reverence to death within the lyrics, the staging (the kids playing on a casket), and the melody that completely disorients our normal perception of the processes and rituals surrounding death. All of this leaves the audience hysterically stunned. What I believe the general public should take from this moment within the play Fun Home is the reminder that death is not inherently somber. Our relationship with death is entirely a societal convention and while it is not necessarily bad to be conditioned in such a way, it is important to recognize that it is there.
Watching Fun Home was one of the most powerful theatre experiences I’ve had in recent years and I highly recommend either seeing the show, reading the graphic novel it was based on, or listening to the soundtrack if anyone is interested. Keep your eye out for this particular scene and see if it challenges how you view death.
Posted in grief and mourning, ritual, the process of death
Tagged Acting, Carroll, casket, children, coffin, Colleen, Colleen Carroll, corpse, death, dying, Expectations, fear, Fun Home, funeral home, Musical, Off putting, Theatre
In my observation of society there has always been an obsession with death. Death is everywhere in pop culture from blazing articles on tabloid pages at the supermarket to brutal deaths being common place on the television screen. Yet as a culture we also seem to have this intense fear of dying.
Mount Olivet Cemetery – Nashville, TN by Don
Recently I found myself binge watching Buzzfeed’s Unsolved series, a YouTube series where two men try to prove that ghosts are real or dig into famous mysteries usually pertaining to gruesome, to unsolved deaths. I do not know why I started watching it, but clearly other people are doing the same for their most recent video, posted less than 24-hours ago, has over a million views. While the ghost and demon episodes will often get my heart racing, it is the one’s that explore real unsolved deaths or murders that stick with me. In a completely morbid sense it is compelling. One would think that because we are so open about death and exploring how someone might have died, that the process of dying should not be a taboo topic. But, as soon as death is brought up in the personal sense the discussion ends. Suddenly, it is completely unreasonable to talk about death. A guy’s head being put on a spike on Game of Thrones = fine, but talking about your own opinions surrounding your unavoidable death = over sharing.
There are exceptions to this of course. I am very lucky to still have three of my grandparents alive, and recently the topic of dying has been a discussion between my maternal grandparents and me. While at first I was uncomfortable, after taking a deep breath I realized the topic was not morbid at all. In fact, it was in some ways heartwarming. My grandfather described his desire to have his and my grandmother’s ashes mixed and my grandmother told me their plan to meet at “the pearly gates of heaven,” though they have yet to decide on which side of the gate. Here were two people I love with all my heart talking about their own deaths and it brought a smile to my face.
But, this is a discussion I know many do not have. My grandmother recounted a story of her friend that refuses to talk about his own imminent death with his grandchildren, “because it is too sad.” And I can understand that point of view. Everyone should be able to make their own decision on their level of comfort when it comes to discussing death, but from my personal experience I feel reassured after my discussions with my grandparents. While the thought of losing them breaks my heart, it is also mended by the fact that I know that they are not scared of what death may bring. I am becoming more and more curious as to why these conversations on death cannot be public discussions, as well as private ones.
Hug by Namor Trebat
Posted in grief and mourning, the process of death
Tagged Carroll, Colleen, Colleen Carroll, death, dialogue, discussion, dying, fear, inevitable death, love, loved ones, mourning, obsession, over sharing