Six Feet Under and the Normalcy of Death

How a family of morticians made death OK.

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A television show about a family of morticians, who would watch that? And yet, from June 2001 until August 2005 many of us turned to HBO and Six Feet Under, for our weekly date with death.

Each week we wondered what type of death would be featured? The very first episode depicts the Fisher family grappling with the death of their patriarch. Forcing his sons to consider, “Do we want to deal with the business of death?” Eventually, we all deal with the business of death, but they were in a long-term partnership with the Grim Reaper. Week after week, we saw them deftly and sometimes not so deftly, helping outsiders give their loved ones a fitting send-off.

Some of the deaths we witnessed were darkly humorous, the elderly woman who suffocates her nursing home roommate with a sausage in order to silence her complaints. Some of the deaths were cruel, like the gay teenager who was beaten to death by homophobes. Some of the deaths we recognized, the young boy who found his parents gun, the football player who died during practice, or the elderly woman who lived by herself and choked to death in silence. And some of them were sweetly touching, the elderly man who knew his exact time of death, and pulled into the driveway of the Fisher home, placed a note on his dashboard, and peacefully passed away.

All of this occurred while the Fishers attempted to lead normal lives. Or grappling with what a normal life meant to them. One of the sons was a sex addict, while the other was gay and afraid to come out. Their younger sister wanted to be a rebel, and their mother was redefining her life. Some days death was just what paid the bills, and other days death was much more personal, offering some of them, or of all of them the opportunity to consider their own mortality.

Normal lives. Normal lives include death. Six Feet Under took one of the most difficult topics there is and waved it in front of us every week. And every week we came back for more. And as we did we learned,

  • Death is inescapable.
  • Death is capricious.
  • Death is like a snowflake, no two are exactly alike.
  • Life is precious, and so is death. If we pay attention, death teaches us to stop wasting time.
  • Death is an important part of life.
  • Death is normal.
  • There is more than one way to celebrate a life.
  • Everyone grieves differently.

Six Feet Under gave death proper context. It is always part of our life story. There is no need to dwell upon it, but if we are wise we will use it to live life more fully.

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