Thursday, February 2, 2012

Open-casket photo surprises some Etta James fans

 “pretty surprised they showed her actual BODY laid to rest in the photo. not usual (or really that cool to do)” - reaction to photo

In an article in yesterday's LA times, reactions to the photo above, by Anne Cusack, revealed just how uncomfortable many people are with even the slimmest and most respectful glimpse of a deceased person's body. 
According to the article, there were no objections within Etta James' family regarding the photo.  At issue was only the reaction of readers not accustomed to such sights.
Perhaps as an undertaker, I should not be surprised; many families choose not to view their dead.  I accept these wishes, and ensure that they are respected.  We all mourn and memorialize according to our own traditions and preferences.  Some prefer, as one commenter put it, to "remember a person as they were in life" rather that see them in death.
However, when we, as a culture, have removed ourselves so far from accepting the reality of death, that the glimpse of the profile of a respectfully laid out body sets us off, we've lost touch with one of the most fundamental realities that defines our existence.  In a world where romanticized violent death is everywhere in the media and skull imagery adorns the clothing and accessories of young and old alike, what we are disturbed by is a photograph of friends and family saying a quiet goodbye to the earthly remains of someone they loved.
Let us remember that no matter what our individual funereal preferences are, whatever our ideas may be about the immortality and purity of our spirit, that life is a difficult process that is often messy, and inevitably ends with the failure of our body to continue on.  After death, we may not wish to look upon the body of our loved ones; the arms that have hugged us, the face that has smiled and wept.  But let us never forget that whether we look upon it or not, every body dies.


GoneferalinID said...

I haven't seen the people's comments, but I'm not surprised. People are so scared of death in our culture, it is a shame and almost funny to me at times.

gloriamundi said...

Wise words, Patrick. Perhaps we will always be conflicted about such thingsuntil more of us can accept the fact of human mortality in our lives, rather than, as you say, feasting on romanticised death images.

Sister Shirley said...

I agree that there's a hypocrisy here that makes me uneasy. As a culture we're fine with looking at dead bodies as long as they've been shot, stabbed or maimed and presented under the guise of "entertainment".

But when it comes to natural death, we suddenly find ourselves needing to censor the body. Death must be the new nudity.

Patrick McNally said...

Death is the new nudity- I like that!

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