Most funerals today are part of a multimillion-dollar industry run by professionals. This increased reliance on mortuaries has alienated Americans from life’s only inevitability — death. A Family Undertaking explores the growing home funeral movement by following several families in their most intimate moments as they reclaim the end of life, forgoing a typical mortuary funeral to care for their loved ones at home. Far from being a radical innovation, keeping funeral rites in the family or among friends is exactly how death was handled for most of pre-20th century America.
A Family Undertaking makes clear that the heart of the home funeral movement is the desire to rescue funerals from the impersonality of a mass-market industry, and to reshape them according to personal beliefs or family and community traditions. The film introduces us to individuals like the Carr family of South Dakota, preparing for the death of 90-year-old family patriarch Bernard, and Anne Stuart and Dwight Caswell of California, preparing for the end of Anne’s struggle with terminal cancer. Through their stories we see that “hands-on” care for the dead by family members, including children, can aid in grieving, bring a sense of fulfillment, and help loved ones to grasp the reality of a death. Their home funerals are remarkable documents of death made intimate, meaningful, and even joyful.
- Elizabeth WestrateProducer/Director