Karen O'Connor

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The Undertaking

Navasky, Miri; O'Connor, Karen

Last Updated: Jun-26-2008
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video


"Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople. Another two or three dozen I take to the crematory to be burned.... I sell caskets, burial vaults, and urns for the ashes.... I am the only undertaker in this town." The speaker is Thomas Lynch, a poet, writer and funeral director in Milford, a small town in central Michigan, where he and his family have cared for the dead and the living for three generations. The words are the introduction to a documentary film which was written, produced and directed by Miri Navansky and Karen O'Connor for PBS Frontline and which is a visual, aural and dramatic companion to Lynch's award-winning collection of essays, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).

Although Lynch's poetic sentiments and philosophical observations about our own cultural estrangement from death ("We're among the first generations for whom the presence of the dead at their own funeral has become optional....") and about the crucial importance of our accompanying the dead ("In getting them where they need to be, we get where we need to be....") are a significant feature of the film, he himself is not the focus of the film. Rather, he serves as both guide and chorus through the stories of four individuals and families: Robert Kelly, eighty-five, who is planning his own funeral in meticulous detail; Anne Beardsley whose beloved Aunt Mary, eighty-four, is now facing death as boldly as she lived life; David King who is skeptical about the meaningfulness of bearing witness at his father's cremation; Nevada and Anthony Verrino who are the parents of a two-year old son born with and dying from a rare genetic condition.

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