When Children Participate in the Death Ritual of a Parent: Funerary Photographs as Mnemonic Objects
Remembering deceased family members by means of photographs is the leading theme in the 2017 Disney Pixar movie, Coco. Traditional Mexican death rituals, especially related to Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), are presented in the movie. On this day, relatives come together and share stories about family members who have passed away. Ofrendas (homemade altars created in honor of dead family members) are decorated with valued photographs, favored foods and other objects symbolizing the life of the family members (Dakin 2017, p. 12; Disney PIXAR 2017, p. 35). The entire family, including young children, are involved in these traditional and culturally embedded rituals.Remember meThough I have to say goodbye1
2. Research Question and Method
In this case study presentation, based on the funeral photographs of the death ritual of Jan Leen Stam, in combination with the interview with both Astrid Barten and her daughter Bente, I considered the meaning of the photographs of the death ritual, in particular when children lose one of their parents at a young age. A description of the rituals and how the children participated, the places and objects which were created and used during the rituals is given. The photographs, in combination with the story told by Astrid and Bente thus present a visual essay, a “combination of spoken words and visual images” which will, according to Sarah Pink, help me imagine how the events were at the time of death and burial of Jan Leen (Pink 2008, p. 125). Also, the photographs would help me to understand the participation of the children in the death ritual of their father which I was not able to observe personally.Roland Barthes’s much discussed notion of the punctum has inspired us to look at images, objects, and memorabilia inherited from the past […] “points of memory”—points of intersection between past and present, memory and post-memory, personal remembrance and cultural recall. The term “point” is both spatial—such as a point on a map—and temporal—a moment in time—and it thus highlights the intersection of spatiality and temporality in the workings of personal and cultural memory. The sharpness of a point pierces or punctures: like Barthes’s punctum, points of memory puncture through the layer of oblivion, interpellating those who seek to know about the past.
In compliance with these arguments, I audiotaped the interview and made a full transcript of the recordings which I used for analysis.[…] we are usually actually dealing with audio-visual (for example, film) representations or texts that combine visual and written texts. Thus, the relationship between images and words is always central to our practice as academics.
3. Function and Theme of Jan Leen’s Death Ritual
According to Worden, mourning tasks apply to children, but they should be understood in terms of the cognitive, emotional and social development of the child (Worden 2009, p. 235). For example, a child who has not developed the cognitive abstractions of irreversibility and finality will have difficulty with the first task of accepting and realizing that death is final and irreversible.Researchers who apply my “tasks of mourning” concept to children have suggested various numbers of mourning tasks […] Although their conceptualizations are interesting, I do not believe we need to include additional tasks. The issues concerning bereaved children can be subsumed under the four tasks of mourning described in my earlier work, but I have modified them here to take into account the age and the developmental level of the child.
Turner elaborates on the different phases identified by Van Gennep. The first phase of separation comprises “symbolic behavior signifying the detachment”. During the dominant, second, liminal period, the characteristics of the ritual subjects, which are the “passengers through this phase’”, both the deceased and bereaved are ambiguous and in the third phase, the phase of reincorporation, the passage has been completed and the ritual subjects should be in a sort of stable state, while the deceased has made the transfer to the other world (Turner 1969, pp. 94–95).Writing just before Van Gennep published his now familiar thesis of rites of passage in 1909, Hertz speaks of funerary rites in a very similar way. These rites resemble initiation in that the dead, like the youth who is withdrawn from the society of women and children to be integrated into that of adult males, also change status. Poignantly, then, death resembles birth in transferring an individual from one domain to another.
According to Astrid, when a parent dies at a young age you should see it as a life that was accomplished, you should not live on with the thought of what could have been but instead try to be thankful for what has been. Sometimes this is difficult, particularly for her youngest son, Wytze. Wytze was only six years old when his father died. He does not have many of memories of him. Astrid tell him he should try to remember the feeling of loving him and they have photographs and movies which they watch.One benchmark of mourning moving to completion is when a person is able to think of the deceased without pain. There is always a sense of sadness when you think of someone you have loved and lost, but it is a different kind of sadness—it lacks the wrenching quality it previously had. One can think of the deceased without physical manifestations such as intense crying or feeling tightness in the chest. Also, mourning is finished when a person can reinvest his or her emotions into life and in the living.
3.3. Function and Meaning of the Photographs
The sorrowful words of six-year-old Wytze also carry a powerful statement: we will manage daddy….Dear daddy,Make a nice tiny house on your little cloud. Go to your new life. We will pull through, daddy.O daddy, daddy, we will miss you for ever and always.You are the sweetest daddy of the whole world.Wytze8
Conflicts of Interest
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https://www.disneyclips.com/lyrics/coco-remember-me.html; Lyrics from ‘Coco’, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Miguel, featuring Natalia Lafourcade.
For an impression of this glossy see: http://www.later-alsikdoodben.nl/doelgroep/ (consulted on 18 June 2018).
http://www.totzover.nl/educatie/ (accessed on 10 June 2018).
This semi-structured interview took place on 1 September 2017. The interview was recorded and transcribed for analysis. Informed consent was obtained for publication of the data.
Eldest daughter Brechtje Stam was twelve years old, Bente nine years old and Wytze six years old at the time of the death of their father.
The photographs were made by Dasha Elfring, a Dutch funeral photographer with her own company Stilbeeld Uitvaartfotografie: http://www.stilbeeld.nl/index.html. Permission was obtained to publish the photographs.
Out of respect to Jan Leen, and because, obviously, he was not able to give his consent, Astrid decided not to include any photographs of Jan Leen himself in the visual essay.
Text written by Wytze Stam to appear on the death announcement of his father.
© 2018 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Faro, L.M.C. When Children Participate in the Death Ritual of a Parent: Funerary Photographs as Mnemonic Objects. Religions 2018, 9, 215. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070215
Faro LMC. When Children Participate in the Death Ritual of a Parent: Funerary Photographs as Mnemonic Objects. Religions. 2018; 9(7):215. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070215Chicago/Turabian Style
Faro, Laurie M.C. 2018. "When Children Participate in the Death Ritual of a Parent: Funerary Photographs as Mnemonic Objects" Religions 9, no. 7: 215. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9070215