Death and Dying in Media - Transcript

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Death and Dying in Media – Transcript

[00:00:06] Pete Waggoner: And hello again, everybody. Welcome to the Good Grief podcast from the O’Connell Family Funeral Homes. You can see them online at the I’m here with Amber Miller and we are going to take a little bit of a different look into how dying and death and funerals are portrayed in the media through movies and television.

[00:00:27] Pete Waggoner: And how they often get it wrong. This thing could probably go on for hours, but we’ll try to contain it into a nice little bow for you to keep the holiday theme here in December. But this should be a great topic. 

[00:00:38] Pete Waggoner: Amber is around the bend as we talk about death, dying, and funerals, as portrayed in movies and TV, right after this.

[00:00:57] Pete Waggoner: Have you ever tried to plan something important when you are sad or [00:01:00] stressed out? I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at some point and know that it’s not fun. We make more mistakes, are more forgetful or our energy to manage all of the details is depleted and we simply feel more overwhelmed and stressed. 

[00:01:14] Pete Waggoner: More and more people are pre planning their own funerals to save their loved ones from having to do it during an emotional time in their life. If you’re thinking of pre planning for your funeral but are unsure where to start, we have an easy tool for you. You can head to the website for a free holiday PDF resource. It will provide you with 12 questions that you and your family can have fun discussing during the holidays to not only help them learn about you, but also for you to learn something about them. And as a bonus, it comes with a handy worksheet for collecting your thoughts. You can also write down important items that your family has shared and do that simply by heading over to the website and get that now.

[00:01:52] Pete Waggoner: Now let’s head back to the podcast.

[00:01:55] Pete Waggoner: Death and dying funerals and how they’re portrayed in movies and TV [00:02:00] and how they get it wrong. Let’s talk about those. And there’s a lot of scenes that are probably memorable, right? That are just not real, right? So let’s get in there for a minute. 

[00:02:12] Pete Waggoner: What made you go there?

[00:02:14] Pete Waggoner: I mean, I know you and I talk a lot about shows and stuff. You clearly are on it. What drilled down on this one for you for this topic? 

[00:02:23] Amber Miller: Well, I’m a horror movie junkie. I love them. And just thinking about how we see death and dying and funerals in the media, it seems like they’re on two different spectrums.

[00:02:33] Amber Miller: You have the horror movies where it’s gory and violent or the war movies. And then on the other spectrum, you have where death is tranquil and peaceful and they just drift away in their sleep. But in all reality, death falls somewhere between. I mean, it’s usually closer to one spectrum or the other. And I think not that it’s violent or gory, but you hear of [00:03:00] these things and with families.

[00:03:02] Amber Miller: And I think because of the media, we’re ingrained to think one way and have these expectations because we see these death scenes in popular movies and shows, so we think that that’s how it’s going to look. And then when we experience it, likely for the first time in our lives, whether it’s mom or dad or sibling or grandpa or grandma, and we see something completely different, it’s jarring, and it’s not anything that we expect. And maybe then all of a sudden we put in our head that my loved one’s death wasn’t good. It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t peaceful and that’s farthest from the truth. 

[00:03:37] Pete Waggoner: What is jarring in your idea? Like what’s the biggest difference?

[00:03:42] Amber Miller: So, you know, maybe they don’t necessarily show the breathing or maybe the kind of the muscles or some things that we do when we’re in the dying process. Whether we, you know, lose control of our bodies or memory or our neurological functions deteriorate.

[00:03:58] Amber Miller: We end up in the hospital that if [00:04:00] you kind of Google it, the death rattle per se, where kind of that fluids accumulating in your throat or you know the difficult process of turning off the machines or ventilators, removing ventilators, all of that. And hospice is great where they really try to make their families experience some more good death, shall we say?

[00:04:19] Amber Miller: You know, with their loved ones where they can die as peacefully and in as less pain as possible. But a lot of times those deaths fall on that spectrum. 

[00:04:27] Pete Waggoner: The violent, gory ones, I mean, how accurate are those? 

[00:04:32] Amber Miller: Not. 

[00:04:33] Pete Waggoner: I mean, it’s built for screen, right? 

[00:04:34] Amber Miller: Right. Exactly. Yeah. 

[00:04:36] Pete Waggoner: Okay. I mean… 

[00:04:37] Amber Miller: The more intense they can make it, the better.

[00:04:39] Pete Waggoner: Which apparently you love with your hobby. 

[00:04:44] Pete Waggoner: Why does it matter though if they’re only showing up… Death is like prettied up and very basic.

[00:04:51] Amber Miller: Right? Well, you know, like I said, if we’re only seeing the pretty deaths online and the reality of deaths are [00:05:00] behind closed doors, you know, whether only physicians or nurses see or just the immediate family, then very few people are exposed to the realities of it.

[00:05:09] Amber Miller: So if our only experience with death is what we see on the media, then we assume that’s what it is in natural life. And then when we actually have a natural experience with death in our real life, we have this disconnect. We expect one thing, we see another thing, and it turns into something altogether different.

[00:05:29] Amber Miller: So, you know, we think that people peacefully fall asleep, you know, Terms of Endearment style. And then when those realities don’t meet those expectations, it can be difficult. 

[00:05:39] Pete Waggoner: So if you were an actor, director, executive producer, and you’re going to do a film like Terms of Endearment with this peaceful, I’m going to sleep and forever and good night.

[00:05:52] Pete Waggoner: Would you maybe observe, I don’t know if that’s the right way, but in a humane way, observe some of those types of deaths and then [00:06:00] kind of recreate it? Or would that be too harsh for people? 

[00:06:03] Amber Miller: Yeah. 

[00:06:03] Pete Waggoner: What do you think? 

[00:06:04] Amber Miller: Or pulling more resources from people who actually experience it in their professional lives.

[00:06:08] Amber Miller: So sitting down and talking with hospice nurses or aides, people who are there at deathbed to really experience those things and adding in more realistic elements so that it’s not so pretty. 

[00:06:20] Pete Waggoner: An actor’s portrayal of it is, without any knowledge, isn’t going to be close. 

[00:06:25] Amber Miller: Right. 

[00:06:25] Pete Waggoner: And that’s what we’re getting to.

[00:06:27] Amber Miller: Yeah. 

[00:06:28] Pete Waggoner: How about examples such as medical TV? Grey’s or ER or anything like that.

[00:06:34] Amber Miller: Yeah, so I think, you know, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, all of those medical dramas, everything, every moment or any patient that’s coming towards death is dramatized. 

[00:06:45] Amber Miller: So, think of the scene where someone’s rushed into the ER and all hands are on deck and there’s nurses and doctors running all over the place and the patient flatlines and what do they do?

[00:06:55] Amber Miller: They grab the AED off the wall and they, you know, shock them and then all of a [00:07:00] sudden, you know, rhythms back, person’s restored and they start talking right away. 

[00:07:04] Pete Waggoner: So if I worked in the medical field, and they portray it that way, I think I’d be a little bugged because it, they always are full panic. 

[00:07:16] Pete Waggoner: Like, anybody I’ve ever known that works in that industry is completely under control. If how they look in those emergency room shows, God bless us all, we’d be done. But that’s like a bad look, you know, then they pop you back with the AED. 

[00:07:34] Amber Miller: Right.

[00:07:34] Pete Waggoner: Right?

[00:07:35] Amber Miller: Right. Well, and even so many EMTs have said, you know, if someone is flatlined an AED is not going to do anything. We need to do some major work. I mean, typically they’re only using that if there’s abnormal sinus rhythm or something like that. Not when someone is completely flatlined and they, you know, it’s just, it takes a lot more work than that.

[00:07:54] Pete Waggoner: How about like the CSIs of the world, forensic TVs? 

[00:07:58] Amber Miller: Yep. Well, they just, you [00:08:00] know, oftentimes they just portray funeral directors in a bad light. Like I think there was one episode of CSI where the funeral director was undressing embalmed bodies and reselling the clothes and then the purchasers were putting it on and they were dying and the CSI was trying to figure out what was going on and it turned out it was the embalming chemicals that were leaching into the clothes and then leaching into the skin of the alive person.

[00:08:24] Pete Waggoner: Well, so now that’s where our myths from a couple months ago come into play from that show. 

[00:08:28] Amber Miller: Right, right. It’s like, okay, those clothes would have had to have been soaking in the fluid. They would have been dripping wet. 

[00:08:34] Pete Waggoner: Right. You have to be drinking it too. Like, let’s be honest. 

[00:08:37] Amber Miller: Right. 

[00:08:37] Pete Waggoner: Like that’s ridiculous, but those are all just like subtle little drips. You know, it’s like drip, drip, drip where they hammer away on you and that’s not great.

[00:08:47] Pete Waggoner: Six Feet Under, another one of those where there’s circumstances you can discuss. 

[00:08:51] Amber Miller: Yeah. Six Feet Under was one of my favorite shows and I started watching it when I was in mortuary school, so I was hypercritical of everything that was going on.[00:09:00] 

[00:09:00] Amber Miller: And I feel like while a lot of the types of deaths that happened and the families were dramatized like nobody’s business. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show, but a lot of the things that the funeral directors were experiencing were very true. So I really loved the show in its entirety and just the little nuances and characters on the show.

[00:09:18] Pete Waggoner: Can I ask a dumb question? 

[00:09:19] Amber Miller: Yeah. 

[00:09:20] Pete Waggoner: I should have asked a few months ago. We had Mike Miller in here. Do they really dig six feet? Does it have to be? 

[00:09:28] Amber Miller: Yeah, so usually they’re about at five, between five and six feet. 

[00:09:32] Pete Waggoner: So it is true.

[00:09:33] Amber Miller: For a cremation, for an urn, no, they go down probably about three feet and it depends too on the cemetery. 

[00:09:39] Pete Waggoner: Okay, so six feet under is fair?

[00:09:41] Amber Miller: It’s fair. Yeah, I think we’re between five or six feet. 

[00:09:42] Pete Waggoner: All right, so it’s not just a saying. 

[00:09:44] Pete Waggoner: You mentioned in the, we were going on TV shows. And the thing about TV shows is when they’re built around the topic, you get like a weekly, just, oh, here’s some more. It’s really interesting. And then when you get to the movies, these are like more impactful because they’re [00:10:00] feature films and you have the Terms of Endearment reference, but there’s others like My Girl and other things where that’s come into it. Where it’s been portrayed, not close. 

[00:10:10] Amber Miller: Yup. So you know, My Girl, it’s essentially about a family that the Dad owns a funeral home and his daughter Veda is living within the funeral home and trying to find her way within the world. And you know, there’s a scene in an embalming scene where Veda’s dad isn’t wearing very, very little gloves and personal protective equipment.

[00:10:30] Amber Miller: The fact that they’re hiring a makeup artist that’s from, which is Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, which is hilarious because us funeral directors do the makeup so we wouldn’t necessarily hire a makeup artist and it’s a funny scene she comes in thinking that it’s a job like for a person who’s alive. But at the end of the day she’s startled to know that it’s a makeup artist for the deceased. 

[00:10:53] Amber Miller: At the end, when Macaulay Culkin, Veda’s best friend, dies from bee stings and she sees him in the [00:11:00] casket and his coloring is just perfect. Like it looks like he’s just laying there. And you can see the you know, the fake bee marks. It’s just, it again gives this interpretation that when someone goes up to a casket, it should look a particular way and in a particular mood. And it’s really not the case at all. 

[00:11:16] Pete Waggoner: Well, when you think about that accuracy and stuff, don’t you think like you guys can do better than that?

[00:11:21] Amber Miller: Yes. 

[00:11:21] Pete Waggoner: You mentioned Harold and Maude, The Shining, those types of things. 

[00:11:25] Amber Miller: Yeah, so, you know, Harold and Maude, where there’s two people, one that is kind of death loving and one that’s life loving, becoming lovers and friends and Harold driving the hearse, it’s just all of these kind of interpretations of death.

[00:11:40] Amber Miller: But The Shining too, you know, the scene where Jack is running after Danny outside through the maze and all of a sudden the shot points to him and he’s frozen in the snow bank. There’s no frostbite, there’s nothing like that. It’s just all of a sudden he’s running. And then he’s dead in the snowbank.

[00:11:58] Pete Waggoner: And he’s not moving. 

[00:11:59] Amber Miller: Right. [00:12:00] Right. Right. So just funny scenes. 

[00:12:01] Pete Waggoner: Well, it’s really funny. And then like some of these, like Weekend at Bernie’s, I haven’t seen that. 

[00:12:07] Amber Miller: Oh, really? 

[00:12:07] Pete Waggoner: No, no, no. 

[00:12:08] Amber Miller: It was one of my favorite movies as a kid. But it’s essentially about these two guys who come to this guy’s house and they find him that he is deceased. But he’s having this party and he’s affiliated with you know, maybe some, like, drugs or bad people.

[00:12:23] Amber Miller: So the whole weekend impersonate that he’s alive. So they’ll move his arms around and they’ll take him in the car and on the boat. And so all weekend they’re moving his arms around, they’re moving his head. And you know, they just make it so easy to carry him around and walk around. He’s, he’s alive. There’s no rigor mortis. There’s no livor mortis. There’s nothing going on. It’s just all great. 

[00:12:44] Pete Waggoner: Well, then there’s perfect. That in the Big Lebowski, there’s some cremains going on there too.

[00:12:49] Amber Miller: Yes. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s the scene where the Dude and Walter had their friend Donnie die and they’re at the cliff, looking over the ocean and Donnie is talking about and [00:13:00] paying tribute in a hilarious way to a friend, Donnie.

[00:13:03] Amber Miller: And he decides to scatter his cremated remains and he’s scattering them and he didn’t realize there wasn’t. Aware that the wind was taking the cremated remains and blowing up right into the Dude’s face and they get into an argument afterwards. But that all goes back to probably a former podcast we had about, about scattering and what’s the proper etiquette, but it’s just, you know, it’s a, it’s a pretty witty scene. Just going over all that. 

[00:13:27] Pete Waggoner: A couple more, Psycho and Steel Magnolias. 

[00:13:29] Amber Miller: Yeah, so Psycho, the scene where Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, goes in the basement and she sees the mom and the mom turns and you can see that her face is so skeletal and she’s been dead this whole time. But yet, her face still has skin, and it still has shape, and she’s still smiling, and she still has teeth, and they’re all intact, and perfect hair.

[00:13:51] Amber Miller: So I just, I always found that scene to be rather hilarious, though very dramatic. 

[00:13:55] Pete Waggoner: Right, right. 

[00:13:56] Amber Miller: Yeah. 

[00:13:56] Pete Waggoner: Again, it can be depicted as a bit lazy. 

[00:13:58] Amber Miller: Right. 

[00:13:58] Pete Waggoner: I mean, but then again, [00:14:00] they probably don’t want people to freak out either. 

[00:14:02] Amber Miller: Right. 

[00:14:02] Pete Waggoner: It’s a fine line. But, when you cue it all together, it becomes just a different vibe of what the whole scene’s about. 

[00:14:09] Amber Miller: Right. Right. 

[00:14:10] Pete Waggoner: So you’re ain’t dying in the movie, you’re on TV. 

[00:14:13] Amber Miller: Right. 

[00:14:13] Pete Waggoner: So if you let that go and if you see it for the first time, then you understand. 

[00:14:17] Amber Miller: Yep. Or just, you know, Oh wow. You know, he was able to keep his mind, you know, like they just have this idea of like what embalming looks like and what like the whole natural decomposition process looks like. It’s just all skewed from start to finish. 

[00:14:31] Pete Waggoner: When you look at like ER or a Grey’s Anatomy, how much time do you think they spend with hospitals? Like really? As a show? And really getting to know what it’s about? 

[00:14:42] Amber Miller: I think the modern day TV shows, I feel like they do. I mean, I hear of them often of having like an onsite physician or nurse that’s kind of walking them through, especially if they’re showing surgeries, how you would hold a scalpel, how you make an incision, what bone separators look like and all of that.

[00:14:59] Amber Miller: [00:15:00] But I’m not sure if they’re really a part of the writing process. 

[00:15:03] Pete Waggoner: Right, right. So. Then that same thing carries over into the death process, and then the funeral directors, the services and the processes that occur with it is, you might want to do that too. It’s not that they have nothing but time and resources to put into it, but that would be really helpful, don’t you think?

[00:15:20] Amber Miller: For sure, and just the transparency of it all, too. I think now there’s difficulty in discussing either terminal diagnosis or how surgeries go with families, just because there’s this fear of medical malpractice and all of that, you know, that whole thing. 

[00:15:38] Amber Miller: But yeah, movies and TV are hyper transparent. You see every single little cut. You see every single little suture and not to be in that know and knowledge there’s, do you know what I’m getting at? 

[00:15:48] Pete Waggoner: There’s disconnect because at some level we’ve all kind of had it, you know, one way or the other, some sort of procedure. And we know how that goes and what it looks like. Sadly, for those [00:16:00] that haven’t, it can really skew what you think because we’d have nothing else to gauge it off. 

[00:16:04] Amber Miller: Right. Or we see on the TVs, “oh, it was an easy appendectomy, super easy, in and out, 30 minutes.” And look, they show them on the bed talking and there’s no recovery time.

[00:16:14] Amber Miller: And then all of a sudden… You have your own appendectomy, and it’s a lot longer than the show. 

[00:16:19] Pete Waggoner: “It wasn’t like that on the show. I mean, it actually hurt.”

[00:16:21] Pete Waggoner: So, well, good stuff here. And the educational process continues here at Good Grief. 

[00:16:26] Amber Miller: Yes. 

[00:16:27] Pete Waggoner: I think we’re doing a good job covering all of the bases in life and death. And what happens next. Really good stuff. Thank you. You have a great holiday season, Amber. 

[00:16:36] Amber Miller: Thank you, you too. 

[00:16:37] Pete Waggoner: Thank you and each and every one of you enjoy your holiday season from Amber Miller and Pete Waggoner. So long everybody.