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The Undertaking

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photos of a casket, a hearse, and a funeral ceremony
We invite you to share your reactions and thoughts here about this documentary, 'The Undertaking.'

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for a very reverant program on the path we take after living. I have terminal brain cancer and have discussed my death with my family. Such a program of dignaty and understanding makes me even more comfortable with my own impending death.

To talk about the end of life on this plane of existence and the next step we take alone in such simple yet understanding terms I hope helps others also. My choice is cremation or donating my body for research (since my cancer is very rare) for my belief is the soul moves on and the remaining body is only a shell. I too believe the funeral process is for the living, to help with their grief and pain at the passing of a loved one. Much appreciation to the familys that chose to share such an intimate moment of their lives that we may understand better.

Thank you

Linda Akin
Burns, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

Watching the Verrino's story, I am totally inspired by their strength and conviction, and there incredible love for little Anthony. There story reminds me of just how grateful I am for every day with my son, Jimmy. Jimmy was born with multiple birth defects, and had his first surgery by day one of life. His first few years were extremely touch and go, with multiple surgeries and hospitalizations. On two occasions, Jimmy surprised the doctors by recovering when they felt that they would not be able to save him. Jimmy is now 10 years old, and it is hard to believe that his bubbly personality and infectious smile have taken the place of his lifeless stare and inability to do the most basic of daily functions. I am forever grateful to the Verrino's for reminding me of the gift that I have been given every day, and for giving me the strength to go forward if and when his body meets it's limit. God bless you both.

Jim Diamond
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am the mother of three and one of them is an Anthony. I was so moved by the Verrinos' story and by little Anthony. While I would normally change the channel on such a depressing topic as undertaking, I was captivated by this really beautiful baby and the quiet dignity he showed at such a tender age. He clearly was (and still is) loved and cherished by his brave, young parents. My heart goes out to them for their loss, and I thank them for sharing their story and allowing us to honor Anthony's life too.

Liliana Coletti da Costa
Pleasantville, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wish I could reach out and hug the Varrino's. We just went through the same thing. Our son Ian was born with the cord wrapped around his neck twice and lost oxygen. He almost died that first night but he pulled through. We thought we were going to have the baby that beat the odds! He did well for a couple of months and then WHAM, he was hit with terrible seizures, pnemonia, aspiration and even more. It was all due to his hypoxia. We brought him home with hospice and died in our arms two days later. It was and still is the hardest thing in the world to deal with.

Part of me is at peace because I know he is not suffering anymore but I miss him terribly. Ian was just over 6 months old. There were so many similarities. My husband and I carried his casket, we have a pinwheel at his grave, Ian's bed was on an angle and more. My heart went out to you and I thought about myself too. When my husband and I were picking out Ian's grave, we were amazed when we looked up into a perfectly clear sky and saw a vivid rainbow upside down in the sky. We know that was Ian and God smiling down upon us. We decided to bury him right where we were standing. That brought me more peace than I had in over 6 months. Ian brought me much joy mixed with a ton of worry. A new mother is supposed to worry about ear infections and colic -not, is my son ever going to walk or talk or use the bathroom on his own. Halloween was tough. We thought Ian would still be here. We had a lion outfit for him. Luckily, I tried the hat on him. He looked so adorable. I will always remember my little Simba. We called him that because he always roared at us. : ) With all this sadness, we have joy. We are expecting again. We're due in May. My heart goes out to all the families on this show. I also lost my dad 4 years ago. I envision Dad and Ian playing together. God Bless.

Erin Kelch
Clarkston, MI

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear "Frontline" and the Lynch family,

I am a stonecarver in Michigan and was made aware of the program through work. This program is, I believe, the most important program I have watched all year.

Dealing with death everyday with my job has always weighed heavy on my heart. It forces me to think of loved ones past and my own mortality. Reading names and dates makes it difficult to put a human element with the work. Watching the program allowed me to feel the reverence, and true humanity the funeral home places with the grieving. I am very proud of the work I do, and my pride now spills further knowing I play a part in supporting such a fantastic funeral home and family.

Robb Weersing
Grand Rapids , MI

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you PBS's Frontline, and Lynch and Sons. I am a funeral director and a funeral home and cemetery owner. I could not ask for anyone or any entity to portray our profession with such dignity, reverence, and grace.

Mr. Thomas Lynch you are to be commended on your "Tract" prose.... How befitting a program of this nature to hear one of "us" speak of our own funeral. I have always been one of the folks you spoke of, go toss me in the ground and have a party, and let not the clergy even hum. Let them hum, and as you said have their last shot, have your friends and family have that last look at the cold open ground without the tent, chairs, blankets, and artificial grass. You have made me as a funeral professional look at these statements in a new and different light. Perhaps your thoughts will make me a better Undertaker, even at the age of 57.

From one Undertaker to another, Thank you Lynch and Sons, Mr. Thomas Lynch and family for the personal reality check.

Terry Brigman
Black Mountain, NC

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The video of Thomas Lynch's reading of his essay is available on this Web site, in the section "To Be an Undertaker," where you may also read the text of the essay.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was deeply moved by this program. The soundtrack was incredibly beautiful mixed with the coldness of the pictures of a Michigan winter. Thank you for this wonderful, yet saddening program. It is important to deal with our own issues about death, and not ignore the very reality of our own mortality. Thank you very much. And I always look forward to Frontline reports. Especially the personal stories like The Farmer's Wife, or Country Boys.

Kyle Anderson
Mission Viejo, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

If the measure of great television is the amount of discussion it engenders, then "The Undertaking" is documentary greatness.

My husband and I paused the program half a dozen times to talk about death, our opinions of the funeral industry, the dignity of the Verrino family and more. After the show ended, we continued discussing it for an hour until we fell asleep. What a profound, unflinching look at death. Thank you for it.

Liz S.
Mount Wolf, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you to the families who had the generosity and courage to let Frontline tell their stories. To the Verrinos, meeting you and your son through this film was a privilege. These are interesting times to be mulling the many choices we have for honoring our dead and planning for ourselves. Thank you, Lynch family, for showing the importance of a caring family funeral home among those choices. Thank you, Thomas Lynch, for your beautiful writing. Thank you, Frontline and filmmakers, for giving us this fine hour of television.

Ann Curran
Burlington, VT

Dear FRONTLINE,

Perhaps growing old is defined by knowing more people who have died than are alive. If that is so I have been older longer than I have been young.

Those remembered live constantly within my heart and mind. They are intertwined with my who. I can not take a step without a memory bubbling up from deep within the recesses of my mind bearing an image that recalls one no longer there. So rarely do I walk alone. In step are legions of old friends and loved ones. Their shadows define me.

There is never fear associated with the memories. They are like any old friend or family member whose presence exudes love and provides comfort. I am pleased to speak with them and find the compass of my life from the responses I hear clearly spoken. Though the conversations help ease the sense of loss their physical absence always breaks my heart.

I need not engage in the debate of whether there is a heaven or hell. Knowing that daily I have contact with loved ones who touched my soul the question warrants no consideration. I accept one day that I will be walking alongside those I miss so deeply. Accepting this as a fact does not make me wish to hasten joining them but removes trepidation about the journey.

My life is full. I have been blessed by people who loved me. They gave with their hearts. No price tags were attached nor expected. My constant fear was that when I die the memories of those who continue to live within me would perish.

I have come to realize though that I will one day be a memory who speaks to those I leave behind. Within my voice that will speak long after I have passed on are all those who have made my life special.

Ed Horn
Queens, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

What a beautifully powerful and touching documentary..death is a part of life, and yet,in our culture, death has been shoved aside and hidden for too long. The Lynch family and the families that used their services could not have done a finer job of showing all of us what death, life and love are all about, and in only an hour's time.

Sandy Kurczewski
Chesterfield Township, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was deeply touched by "The Undertaking." It's rare to see the intimate details of death and grief handled on television with such dignity and respect. As a TV producer myself, I know that one of the most difficult parts of a project is to find people who will trust you enough to share their most personal stories with you. Karen O'Connor and Miri Navasky are to be commended for their gentle treatment of some very special families in a difficult time of sadness and loss.

The documentary touched me on many levels. Having lost my 81-year old father five years ago, I could relate to the death of Dennis King and how his son, David, was affected by his loss. I was holding my 83-year old mother's hand when she took her last breath a year ago after almost a month in the hospital, and Anne Beardsley's account of her aunt Mary Leonard's last days struck a similar chord. But I don't think anything could approach the raw emotional power of what Nevada and Anthony Verrino went through with their son, Anthony. To see them love and care for an infant with such devastating health problems was hard enough, but to experience what they went through as they planned for the imminent end of his life was an emotional milestone in the documentary. Their story was heartbreaking but I was tremendously impressed with the love and devotion of two incredibly strong parents. It was a wonderful testament to the resilience of love. I was also struck by the transition of little Anthony's funeral that depicted the coldness of death in a snowy cemetery that dissolved to the next scene of the same cemetery resplendent in a springtime green. Life does indeed go on.

It is rare to see video of a body being gingerly lifted off a deathbed, the intricate details of the elbalming process at a mortuary, or to see a coffin slide into a fiery crematorium. It is also rare to hear the sound of a gravedigger's shovel turning aside freshly dug earth, or hear mortuary employees arrange chairs for a public viewing, or for that matter glimpse the inner workings of a mortuary itself. All of those who were involved in this wonderful documentary are to be admired for their work, their candor and their love.

Mark Mohr
Spokane, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you Frontline for a beautiful and meaningful program. The grace, courage and love of the Verrino family moved my heart like nothing else in a long long time. Thank you and God bless you.

Charlotte S
Boston, Mass.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I saw how Mr. Lynch met with an elderly woman at Angela Hospice here in Livonia to discuss her final wish of cremation.

In addition to the funeral industry, I'd like to make a comment about the true caring nature of this local institution and its people that I've personally known to have made a difference in the final days of patients' lives for many years.

Patrick Willis
Livonia, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you Nevada and Anthony Verrino for sharing your family's story. I watched Frontline last night before I went to sleep and as I woke up this morning it was the first thing on my mind.What a wonderful child. We take so many things for granted in this world.

When I was younger growing up in New Jersey I woke up one Sunday morning to find my father lying dead on the living room couch. I do not think we ever get over these things but we learn to live on and gradually all the beauty in the world begins to replace our pain.Thank you to everyone involved with this story.

Shelby McMahan
Farmington Hills, MI

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posted october 30, 2007

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