About the Film



Death and Dying

Family History



Copyright © 2000 Trish Williams


Funerals serve an important function within our culture. They provide a public ritual in which one can express grief, loss and sadness and share this with others. It is a means of social support important for processing grief. The reality of the lifeless body in accepted. The deceased person’s life is remembered and put in perspective. Funerals enable you to move through the process of mourning, to confront the death and cope with the loss. Funerals provide closure, making the finality of the loss clear through burial or cremation.

The finality of physical death is something that was greatly lacking in my father’s social death. He was dead psychosocially, but he still existed. He still needed his basic needs met — food, clothing, shelter, finances. Visiting was always a dilemma. I felt guilt about not visiting, since he was still alive.

Funerals enable you to move through the process of mourning, to confront the death and cope with the loss.
Yet it seemed pointless to visit, since he seemed unaware and it was mainly depressing to see his decline. Our visits became less frequent, from twice a year, to once a year, to even less frequently. Every time we visited, he was further gone from his old self. We experienced various levels of decline and loss over the years. Initially upon institutionalization, he was confused, but had some memories of the past and could converse with you in between his talking to himself. Then over time his memory was completely gone. He did not seem to recognize us. Next he stopped talking, except for an occasional outburst, sounding like a psychiatric patient. He aged rapidly and developed repetitive, nervous mannerisms with his hands. Eventually he lost his ability to walk. He ultimately died of an infection in his body.

I had no closure, like other people experience with the physical loss of a parent, through funeral rituals. This is one of the complications of psychosocial death as explained here

“The spouse cannot mourn decently. Although he has lost his mate as surely and permanently as if by death, since the familiar body remains, society neither recognizes the spouse’s grief nor provides support and comfort that surrounds the bereaved by death” (Doka 192)

Although we knew my father’s condition was irreversible and there was nothing left except death, we didn’t know how long he could exist in this state. His decline was gradual, but progressive. It was agonizing to watch his decline, and this complicated the grieving process. This prolonged illness lead to our prolonged grieving. I longed for physical death — for closure —just so it would end and I could put this all behind me.

Along with this complicated loss and grieving was the pre-planning of my father’s funeral that I discuss in the film. This was like the icing on the cake. Not only did I perceive him as dead, I now had to actually plan a funeral that wouldn’t take place for a decade. The pre-planning made me more aware of what I was missing by not having the funeral, and added another level of stress. Yet it brought me closer to the reality, the finality of death, although surreal at the time. I think part of the difficulty with the pre-arranged funeral was the fact that our culture does not openly discuss death, despite the fact that death is just as much a part of life as is birth.

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