*Spoiler Alert–if you haven’t seen it yet!
I don’t know how I managed to be ten years late to the game, but some how, I missed “Six Feet Under” when it was airing all those years ago. I just finished watching all five seasons on Crave earlier this week. It is still lingering with me, like the strange, hovering ghosts that apparate and vanish through the episodes.
I think “Six Feet Under” is right up there with “Breaking Bad” when I think of television that has had a jolting impact on my life.
There was content in the series that was not in line with my spiritual beliefs or my morals and convictions. Thank goodness for that, because if I do watch a series, I don’t want to waste my time being bored. The writers covered many scenarios with death, including cultural and religious attitudes and customs. In fact, every experience with death in this series was entirely unique to the people effected by it. This show has lessons to teach everyone who is alive in the world the truths about human death and the way we deal with it.
I was reading a story this morning about a little boy whose uncle was seriously ill and dying in the hospital. He asked his mother, “Does everyone die?” She told him, yes. “Then why,” he wondered, “Is everyone afraid of it?”
In our society, we are very much afraid of death. From the moment we are conceived, the end game is death. I cannot remember a time when that awareness was not with me. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t consider it, even if only briefly. I think there are people out there who never allow it to cross their minds. In a way, I envy those people. It would be a relief to have a break from the grim reminders of my mortality…but in another way, being aware that life on earth is not permanent reminds me that the days are a gift, and that my time needs to be focused on things beyond what I need to buy at the grocery store, how much laundry is piled up on the floor, and what I’m making for supper. In normal life, our patterns become so predictable and soothing; we forget that they are not patterns at all. Because they end. We end.
Death is the elephant in the room. We ignore it for as long as possible. When we can no longer ignore it, we cover it up. We dress it up. We pump it full of embalming fluid. We turn it into a piece of glossy furniture. We cover it with flowers and tarps. We do anything we can (and pay thousands in the process) to make sure that we don’t have to look it right in the face. Death is decay. Death is the absolute end to what we have in this world. It takes away everything we know, and all that is familiar. And we are frightened of death because we don’t know what it really looks like. It’s the monster hiding in the closet that we never actually see. We just know it’s there, and that it’s going to pounce…we just don’t know when.
The Fishers own a family-operated funeral home. Every episode opens with a death and an inscription with the deceased person’s name, year of birth, and year of death…some deaths are gruesome, some are gentle, some are very personal to the main characters. (The first death is the father of the family). The dead range from an infant who has died of SIDS, a child who accidentally shot himself, a stoned teenager who flies off a roof, an entire family killed in a car crash, old people who die in their sleep. These deaths always tie into a theme that is relevant to the characters in the story.
The viewer is a spectator in the basement of the funeral home–where cadavers are washed, their faces or torsos put back together if needs be, their blood drained out and embalming fluid put in. The more I watched these procedures (which were carefully researched and accurately portrayed), the more the mystery went out of what happens in those creepy recesses of the funeral home that we don’t generally like to think about. The series also showed the process of cremation and other approaches, such as “Green” funerals, where there is no embalming or coffin.
The things we can observe lose their power to terrify. This happened to me personally as I watched this series.
The finale was what ultimately hit me with the most intensity. Four shows away from the end, one of the main characters dies. I thought that was really incredible writing. Typically, the character who was doomed would meet his or her demise in the final show. But the writers gave the viewers the opportunity to see the fall-out and then, the healing. We see the family losing their minds with grief…this is personal now…and the pain is a dreadful thing, felt in different and excruciating ways by all the members of the family. As the daughter of the family heads down the highway to begin her life in the final episode, we see the timeline of the family unfolding as they heal and as life goes on…babies have birthdays, children grow up, people get married…this is expected, and brings the closure the viewer might expect and appreciate. But then, one by one, we see these characters age and then die. Each one, in his or her own time. Their names and birth years and death years flash across the screen. It is sad and it is painful to lose a loved one…and in life, we must find healing and move on after a death. Life goes on. Yes, it certainly does. But, it does not go on forever.