“The right of encoffinment is to prepare the deceased for a peaceful departure. Please come closer and watch.”–Daigo
I’ve never felt that I needed ritual to validate events in my life. In fact, I’ve always been a little suspicious that maybe the real point of most rituals is simply to reinforcea herd mentality and/or switch the focus from the intellectual and/or emotional to the psychomotor. Departures though, has me thinking that maybe I’ve been missing the point. A 2008 Japanese film directed by Yōjirō Takita, Departures tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi, an unemployed cellist forced into taking a job as a “Nokanashi,” whose task is to prepare the dead for “departure” via an elaborate and painstaking ritual involving body washing, posturing, etc. Nobody does ritual like the Japanese, but what struck me most about the process is how incredibly personal it is (and I’m not talking about the gross parts, though there’s that too). The family sits and watches from close distance as the body is prepared and then participates by washing the face of the deceased with a damp cloth as a final act of saying goodbye. It is a precise example of what Catherine Bell, who is quoted in the “ritual” Wiki entry, describes as a performance that “creates a theatrical-like frame around the activities, symbols and events that shape participant’s experience and cognitive ordering of the world, simplifying the chaos of life and imposing a more or less coherent system of categories of meaning onto it.” Yeah, “a more or less coherent system of categories of meaning,” I’ll go with that. That’s about the best those who are left behind can hope for. Oh, and it made me cry, so there’s that too.