Departures a.k.a おくりびと (2008)

Departures (2008) depicts the a journey of an unemployed cellist, to gain acceptance from himself and the society who took mortician as his career. This film won the Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards and multiple of positive reviews, took 10 years in the making upon its completion. In order to reflect the intricacies of the funeral proceedings, Motoki, the main protagonist, studied the art of ‘encoffinment’ by shadowing a mortician while the director attended funeral ceremonies to understand the feelings of bereaved family. At the end of the film, Daigo emerged as a professional mortician who gained acceptance from his wife and respected by the community.

Nevertheless, knowing death is an inevitable phase in life, death remained as astrong taboo subject not only in Japan, but around the world. For example, a study amongst the Britons found that one in five people avoid discussing about death with others (Bowden & Brewer, 2002), death is perceived as feared enemy that can and should be defeated by modern medicine and machines, and the use of euphemistic languages is used to avoid discomfort with death (Patricelli, 2007). However, according to Giblin and Hug (2006) “in a culture that denies death, a funeral canmake death a reality, normalize the grieving process, and introduce the possibilities for hope, imagination, and new life for survivors”. In the following I will discuss the psychology of funeral rituals, on how they serve to facilitate the process of grieving.

Normalize Grieving

Grief according to Giblin and Hug (2006) is a “life-long human experience because of attachment and the inevitability of loss” whereby grief is a sign of affection and commitment towards the deceased. Grief often filled with strong emotions such as sadness, anger and anxiety. The nature of ritual is that it provides a sense of structure, order and role for participants that would otherwise be chaotic for the survivors who are in the process of transitioning and adjusting their identity in the absence of the deceased. Funerals also provide the opportunity for one to express grievance that may be cathartic in nature. Additionally, the bereaved often receive social support from the community in grieving through assisting the process of acknowledging and expressing plethora of conflicting feelings that altogether normalize the sudden influx of strong emotions.

Address Unfinished Business & Duties

In the film, the morticianstried to make-up the deceased to resemble their pre-death look as much as possible. In one of his assignment, he even asked for the family to bring their mother’s favorite lipstick color to apply on the deceased and in another, he asked to weather he should dress up the homosexual as male or female; that allows such rituals to become personally meaningful. Although applying make-ups or how the deceased is dressed may not necessary be beneficial to the deceased, but they serve to address the survivors’ unfinished business through fulfilling personal duties or the deceased last wishes. By doing so, such rituals allows the survivors to move on and mediate the transition into another phase of life in the absence of the deceased.

Connecting with the Deceased

Lastly, rituals in funeral are also therapeutic whereby it allows the survivor to continue to connect with the deceased. Some cultures that believe in afterlife such as the Chinese prepare clothes and money with the deceased, while the Christians believe in resurrection.  According to Romanoff and Terenzio (1998), rituals that involves such elements can serve as an “important solace to the mourner”.

Knowing the therapeutic effect of funeral, Giblin and Hug (2006) further suggest that children and adolescent should not be excluded from attending funerals when their loved ones passed away. The adults typically assumes that funerals are highly stressful and may be beyond the capacity of the children to handle such highly emotional event. Contrary to the assumption, the child would only respond in such as way as a result of the adult’s apprehension, When children are excluded from funerals, they not only missed the immediate benefits of funerals but also opportunity to learn effective responses to cope with their future losses. In fact, children may imagine more awful scenarios that what it actually is. Therefore, funerals should be attended by everyone for it spiritual and psychological healing through normalizing grief, addressing unfinished business and duties and connecting with the deceased.

p/s: as promised, Gandhi will be up this week. 🙂

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