Several years ago, my sister-in-law's father, Thomas, died suddenly of diabetes-related illness. He was a Catholic, so this was the first Catholic funeral I had ever attended, and as an atheist, I was quite shocked by what I heard. At a time of such traumatic loss, I was taken aback as the priest proceeded to tell those in attendance the exact opposite of what was actually happening. Thomas wasn't gone -- he was everywhere. He wasn't dead -- he would live forever. We shouldn't be sad -- we should be happy that Thomas had gone on to a better place. As I looked at the crying people around me, I wondered how telling people that what they were feeling and experiencing was, in essence, wrong, was supposed to make anyone feel better.
When I was in high school, I visited my grandparents several times a week as they required more and more care and my grandma's Alzheimer's began to take hold. I would take them for walks, take them to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and would help clean up their condo and, later, their room at an assisted living home, something that had to be done frequently as my grandma's condition increasingly turned her into a packrat. My parents' friends were always praising me for taking such good care of them, which always struck me as odd. After all, what was the alternative? Leave my grandparents to rot in boredom and misery?
These two experiences, as well as America's youth-obsessed culture and the efforts we take to fight the aging process, strike me as evidence that America has a hard time dealing with the idea of death. As we know, the US is the world's most religious developed nation, and religion largely functions to deny the reality of death with the promise of an afterlife. America lacks the reverence for the elderly found in many cultures (including my Korean and Chinese roots), and it also lacks a tradition of caring for its elderly, preferring to put them in homes and only visiting on certain holidays.
That's why I'm glad to see Clint Eastwood, perhaps considered today's most quintessential American director, attempt to address the topic of death in his latest film, Hereafter. While Hereafter hinges on the comforting notion that there is, indeed, a hereafter, the way the film's three main characters grapple with the concept of death is something rarely seen in American films, and Eastwood's approach is appropriately thoughtful and personal.
Listen to my ReThink Review of Hereafter on Pacifica Radio's Uprising show by clicking on the image below.
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