Death and Dying in Fiction and Real Life

These last units of Death and Dying in Fiction and Real Life have broadened my knowledge of common themes and symbols associated with death in a variety of cultures and practices. Information from class lectures led by Dr. Davis, Dr. Crane, and Ms. Michalik, evidence from Talking Through Death by Christine S. Davis and Deborah C. Breede, and also films like Grave of the Fireflies, Amour and Departures, have provided me with a new well rounded knowledge of all things death. Three topics that especially caught my attention during units 5, 6, and 7, were cultural competence, end-of-life rituals (such as funerals), and communication as ritual.

Cultural Competence

One of the major themes we’ve recently discussed in class is cultural competence and its relation to death. During the lecture, Maddy stated that cultural competence is “essentially understanding and respecting other cultures and perspectives” (M. Michalik, personal communication, November 5, 2018).

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Films that we’ve watched in class such as Amour and Grave of the Fireflies also introduce a variety of cultures and how how they deal with death. In Amour, a film that is portrayed in the French culture, it was evident that their ways of dealing with death were similar to ways we practice here in the U.S. For example, Anne, the old lady who was dying, was brought to the hospital, was accompanied by many nurses in the house, and had a daughter who wanted to place her in a nursing home (Menegoz, Arndt, Heiduschka, Katz, & Haneke, 2012).

In America, we also heavily rely on medical practices and hospital care. Rather than taking a more natural course, we attempt to keep people of old age alive as long as possible. Another film by the name of Grave of the Fireflies was an animated film about death in Japanese culture. This film told the story of two children trying to survive after World War II. Something unique seen in this movie that is different from that of the U.S. is the role family plays in death. In America, family is your main support system during traumatic times, especially when death is approaching.

However in Grave of the Fireflies, after young siblings, Setsuko and Seita lost their mother and had nowhere to go, their Aunt treats them so poorly to the point that they would be better off if they left. Fully knowing that the children will struggle and have no means to support themselves, the Aunt allows them to leave, leading to the eventual death of Setsuko (Hara & Takahata, 1988). These films and many others provided me with an entertaining way to understand how different cultures deal with death.

End of Life Rituals – The Funeral

Another major theme that has been end-of-life thoroughly explored end-of-life rituals. Because death and dying are viewed in different ways around the world, all cultures have different ways of providing closure for their loved ones. One of the most common end of life rituals that is seen in many cultures is a funeral. A funeral is a ceremony to honor a loved one who has passed away. Although funerals are commonly seen in a variety of cultures at that end-of-life res, each culture has its special traditions.

According to Talking Through Death by Christine S. Davis and Deborah C. Breede, “the funeral rituals include symbolic elements such as specific colors…; white candles…; objects meaningful to the deceased or the family such as a picture of the deceased or possessions of value; music that is significant to the deceased or family or the religious traditions; creeds or ritualistic readings; readings from religious texts; and flowers as a sign of respect” (p. 112).

At my Grandma’s funeral a few years ago, friends and family gathered in a church. We all wore black, there were picture boards, some objects (like scrabble) which represented her were displayed, and some of her children and grandchildren told stories and spoke of what an amazing person she was. All of these funeral rituals are typical of a western culture funeral. However, as Dr. Davis mentioned in the lecture, end of life rituals provide a sense of permanence, familiarity, and security in tamidthathe midst of social and relational changes (C.S. Davis, personal communication, November 13, 2018).

The traditions at my Grandma’s funeral would probably not provide the same sense of comfort to someone from India, Japan, or Germany. Death is a sad time for everyone, no matter where you are in the world. It is the unique set of rituals performed at a funeral that makes the closure of a loved one’s death so special.

Ritual View of Communication

A previous theme that was reintroduced in these last units of the lass, was communication as ritual. In the lecture, Dr. Crane described the ritual view as a type of communication thata emphasizes the creation/maintenance of a symbolic common tongue and culture over time (J. L. Crane, communication studies, September 25, 2018).

The film Departures offers a great example of communication as ritual. This 2008 film tells the story of main character, Daigo’s journey of learning encoffinment and loving his new job within the undervalued field. Throughout Departures, the audience gets to see Daigo perform many traditional Japanese encoffinment ceremonies.

In each of his services, it is clear that Daigo uses a ritual view of communication to maintain the Japanese culture’s encoffinment practice over time. Daigo had an organized timeline of when to complete each step of encoffinment. He would bow down to the corpse, wipe down the face and body, use cotton to close bodily orifices, dress the corpse in long kimonos, apply makeup, fold the hands together on top of the chest, and finally place the corpse in the casket (Nakazawa, & Takita, 2008). By following this set of practices with every end-of-life encoffinment, Daigo used a ritual view of communication to uphold the Japanese tradition of encoffinment.


As I’ve learned in units 5, 6, and 7 of Death and Dying in Fiction and Real Life, each culture utilizes different rituals to deal with death and dying. Cultural competence, end-of-life ritual ritual ritual culture rituals (such as funerals), and communication as ritualritual ritual ritualculture that a major key points that have especially stood out to me recently. Dr. Davis, Dr. Crane, and Ms. Machalik have contributed their own knowledge of these subjects, along with providing readings like Talking Through Death by Christine S. Davis and Deborah C. Breede, and films like Grave of the Fireflies, Amour and Departures. Each of these resources has contributed to my new and improved understanding of death and dying.

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Death and Dying in Fiction and Real Life. (2022, May 15). Retrieved from