Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
VIDEO ARCHIVESCHEDULETOPICSABOUT FRONTLINEBUY DVDSTEACHERS
The Undertaking

join the discussion

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,

My father died suddenly, at work, in 1974. My mother's first words at the funeral home were "It really is him". Even though his identity was never in question, until she actually saw him, there was a hope that some terrible mistake had been made. The viewing gave everyone an opportunity to begin the process of closure.

I believe the rituals of the funeral give family and friends a forum to begin to speak of the deceased in the past, rather than present, tense. The private and homelike setting provides a much more comfortable place to express our emotions than running into people individually at the grocery store or some other public place. I loved Mr. Lynch's phrase about getting the dead where they need to be and the living where they need to go. The funeral is much more about caring for the living.

Tracy Partyka
Warren, MI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I commend PBS and the producers of this show for their courage and sensitive approach to presenting this extremely difficult topic.

Although all of the stories struck a chord with me -- as we all experience a loss sooner or later -- the story of baby Anthony left me in tears. My heart broke for this angel of a child and I was uplifted by the strength of Anthony's parents. I urge everyone to watch his mother deliver his eulogy.

Kudos to PBS and Frontline.

Margaret Fedder
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a new parent, it was hard not to feel the absolute heartbreak of the Verrino family. I also cannot imagine being so strong, and so open, at such a time. As the wise Mr. Lynch suggested, I plan to hold my baby extra tight tonight and say a prayer for her and count my many blessings.

As a loyal Frontline viewer, this effort was an unforgettable film that will not soon be forgotten.

Larry Clark
Delaware, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for your gentle documentary, "The Undertaking". The Verrinos shared all - their love, courage and grief. I was trained in my teens to become an organist and when I was 20 I played at the funeral of a tiny one in a white casket with pink roses. The feelings of awe and sadness of one so young being released to death have never left me; Nevada put those feelings into words for me after all these years. I am 83 now, a church organist and choirmaster, and still playing at funerals. A friend, mostly recovered from a serious illness, asked me to play at her's. She had just purchased her casket and wanted to go over the hymns with me. Resisting at first, I can see now that it is something we can enjoy doing together while we are able.

Dorothy Angwin
Bothell, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Lynch Family,

Ive recently heard of Milford Michigan by a new friend who recently moved to Florida. She always describes your hometown as "small and quaint". After watching this documentary, I realized how important your profession is, not only in Milford, but in general. I also got a glimpse into "real life of small town USA"

Thank you for opening my eyes to the compassion and trueness of ones soul and spirit. All of the families in the show, including the Lynch family, maintained the utmost compassion and professionality in this often misundersood environment. Seeing this show made me take a step back from my high pressured career to realize and value the importance of family, love and rememberance.

Thank you for this special window into an unknown and mysterious profession.

Kasey Duffy
Fort Myers, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I grew up with lots of cousins and aunts and uncles who were undertakers. And as an ICU nurse, I've seen many, many deaths, and attended many, many funerals.

This program was extraordinary in its scope and its sensitivity. Thank you very much

barbara rose
san diego, ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a Hospice Nurse, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr Lynch when he talked about the importance of letting clients "tell their story". Our patients and their families are facing some of the most emotional moments of their lives. Hospice often opens lines of communication between family members that otherwise would never be breached. We work hard to allow families and patients explore what it means to be in the final phase of their lives and to share it together. We often meet the funeral directors in the middle of the night at patients' homes and are part of the team that assist people through the end of their lives. Treating patients and families with reverence and respect is just a part of our job and I know that, across the board, we are so thankful for the beautiful work we do and the families we have the privilege to serve. They are all courageous.Thank you for this wonderful program. We pay so much attention to all other aspects of the life cycle, it is a pleasure to see your portrayal of this phase. When we learn to embrace it and share it with our loved ones, instead of fearing it, how lovely it will be for all. Our hearts go out to Anthony's family and we thank them for their courage to speak of the death of their sweet son, Anthony. Oh, that we all could be so brave.

Dotty Jekielek
Punxsutawney, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your production of The Undertaking was exquisite. I appreciate your approach to the profession. I am sure that ultimately you have created an understanding that did not exist previously amongst Americans of many factions. I grew up in a funeral home in a small town. I can vouch for the accuracy of your work. There is one additional thought. Funeral Directors often have warm, or whimisical, or a dark sense of humor. It is necessary for their own psychological well being and is only expressed among a chosen few ( preachers, doctors ) people of confidence. My father would often talk to the shell of a human being. " Don't you look good!" he would exclaim after hours of embalming, hair dressing and make up. He had a passion for his work, and for the people of the community as well. Widows would come up to him on Main Street and tell him, " Now you are going to take good care of me when I pass, aren't you? Just like you took good care of my husband!" Grief counseling was also a part of the job for those who had hovered over a spouse for years during their illness. My dad spent hours listening in his office to those who had been traumatized. And don't forget the dentist who would come over for a stress relieving break and rock out on the organ in the empty chapel during the day. In conclusion, thank you again for your devotion and attention to detail on this subject. There are many facets to this occupation. A job well done! Birth and death are hidden in our culture. Thank you for bringing death to the forefront.

Golden Valley, Minnesota

Dear FRONTLINE,

I happened upon the "Undertaking" last night after my daughters fell asleep. It was an especially beautiful film on a topic normally avoided.

For me it cut especially close to my heart as the Lynch family handled the burial of my father a few years ago. The film images of the services in the same room where my father was laid out, filled with family and friends, were pulled directly from my memory. The town, the river, my church, with the baptismal font, where my own babies were baptized, stood behind sweet Anthony's casket. You have to grieve with them. For our family's death, I felt cradled throughout our time of grief and remembrance, from the pick up of my father's body all the way to the cold December grave where we threw roses and dirt onto the vault. Thank you and all the participating families for creating this compelling film.

Merrie Carlock
White Lake, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for this amazing program. Baby Anthony and his parents have been on my mind....and will be in my heart forever. However, I believe that Frontline/PBS' choice to air it on the 30th of October was distasteful and reduced the program to nothing more than a "Holiday Special." This was completely disrespectful to the Lynch family, and to the families, like the Verinos that shared such intimate, even painful stories. I truly hope that Frontline/PBS will air this program again, though perhaps during a more appropriate time of year.

Angelina Vigil
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Dear FRONTLINE,

All I can say is...wow!

I work in a hospital, and I am also in nursing school. Through both of these institutions, especially the hospital, I have had the opportunity to be with people during their last hours. On several occasions I've had the honor of being with them when they passed and I can tell you, it has changed me forever.

Death, dying, and the grieving process are all profound and humbling experiences, so thank you very much for sharing this touching documentary with the world.

Heather Owens
Olmsted Falls, OH

Dear FRONTLINE,

"The Undertaking" was an outstanding documentary. I was impressed with the respect and the quiet atmosphere where a body was prepared for burial. My dad died in March 07 91. He had all the funeral arrangements made - that was such a relief.

There was a comment made about the "honor of seeing your loved one in death..." (not quoted word for word). My dad died in the hospital after a massive heart attack. He looked so terrible after he died that I didn't want to see him in the casket. However, my older brother came from out of town and wanted a viewing. My dad looked so much better in the casket than he looked at the time of death. That helped to erase the awful memory of his appearance at death. My heart goes out to the parents of the baby -- they so honored him in his death. They are awesome parents to share their grief with the producers.

Norma Cleveland
Laurel, MT

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you so much for this beautiful program.

Joe C
St Paul, Minnesota

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a student of Mortuary Science, I was very surprised to read some of these negative postings. I very much enjoyed this program and felt that the funeral industry was depicted in a respectful, dignified, compassionate, and honest manner. What is seen in this documentary is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much work put into a funeral, many people dont even realize the time and effort that is put forth.

Yes, funeral homes can carry expensive caskets, urns, and other trappings.This does not mean that you are pressured into buying the most expensive ones. Once you step into a funeral home, it is our job to make you feel as comfortable as possible, not look at you with dollar sign in our eyes. The "extras" are not mandatory, they are there for the families if they so choose to use them.

As for the person who seemed very angry about burning an expensive casket, this does not have to be the case. There are funeral homes that allow casket rentals. You can rent a casket for the viewing which has a box that slips into it where the body is laid, and for the cremation said box is removed from the casket and goes into the crematorium. However, you must be embalmed in order to be viewed due to sanitary reasons, among others. Every individual has a different wish, whether it be direct cremation, a viewing, burial, a green funeral, or any other option. This choice is completely up to the family, not the funeral director. I just wish that people would just do a little research into this indusrty to see that we are not all thieves and scammer, but compassionate people providing the community with a much needed service.

Northern, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

I come from a family of educators and laborers...I somehow found my way into the administrative side of funeral care about five years ago and now manage a cemetery. My husband came from non-profit management and now helps families in pre-arranging their funerals. This program really hit me hard!

My daughter watched me cry and asked "Why are you watching this, Mom, if it makes you so emotional"? I told her that it was a wonderful reminder to me why I go in to work every day. It's not just a job, a nine to five drudgery. Each and every family I work with has a story to tell, a life to celebrate, and a future to face. I'm proud that they have allowed me the honor of assisting them at the worst time of their lives. Thank you!

Pueblo, Colorado

more

home | introduction | watch online | stories & special video | to be an undertaker | join the discussion
producer's chat | readings & links | site map | dvd & transcript | press reaction
interview with the film's producers | credits | privacy policy | journalistic guidelines
FRONTLINE series home | wgbh | pbs

posted october 30, 2007

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
main photograph © corbis, all rights reserved
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation