I don’t believe I recognized that there was such a drastic difference between the way that other cultures hold funeral services for deceased loved ones in comparison to traditional African-American services until I was about 18 years old. My grandmother passed away and my mom’s co-workers, who happen to be a very diverse bunch, came out in droves to show support and pay their respects. I remember glancing back at them several times during the service. They looked on in sheer amazement as they watched our pentecostal congregation charismatically celebrate my grandmother’s life through funny stories, up-tempo choir selections and most of all, the saints who made it their business to “shout the church down” in an effort to praise God and celebrate my granny’s “homegoing.”
“That was the liveliest funeral I’ve ever been to. What did the preacher call it? A homegoing celebration,” one of my mother’s caucasian colleagues asked after the service.
I believe that’s when it hit me just how unique these services actually are. We’ve recently learned that PBS is gearing up to shed light on these traditional services in a new documentary titled, Homegoings.
The doc will follow 62-year-old Harlem funeral home owner, Isaiah “Fix Em” Owens, who is widely known for his superb ability to makeover dead bodies. A description of the doc found on the PBS website reads:
“Through the eyes of funeral director Isaiah Owens, the beauty and grace of African-American funerals are brought to life. Filmed at Owens Funeral Home in New York City’s historic Harlem neighborhood, Homegoings takes an up-close look at the rarely seen world of undertaking in the black community, where funeral rites draw on a rich palette of tradition, history and celebration. Combining cinéma vérité with intimate interviews and archival photographs, the film paints a portrait of the dearly departed, their grieving families and a man who sends loved ones ‘home.'”
In a recent interview with the NY Daily News, the famed undertaker said that he hopes the film will expose the world to traditional African-American undertaking practices.
“We’re bringing death out of the closet. Everybody knows it’s there, but nobody wants to talk about it.”
Homegoings is scheduled to air June 24th at 10 p.m. EST. The series is a little morbid for my taste, but what do you think? Could you stomach watching a documentary on death and funerals?
Turn the page to check out Homegoings’ official trailer.