At the Owens Funeral Home

beauty softens grief.

Homegoings, the beautiful documentary directed by tonight’s guest Christine Turner, honors the living and the dead through the eyes of Isaiah Owens, a funeral director serving the African-American community in Harlem. Born to sharecroppers in South Carolina, Isaiah was called to undertaking, he staged his first funeral –for a matchstick– when he was 5 years old; and he buried his family’s animals, including the mule.  At 17, the day that Robert Kennedy’s body was taken to DC for burial, Isaiah was on the bus headed to New York to pursue his dream of becoming an undertaker.

After a few months working in a factory, he began mortuary college taking a job at one of Harlem’s funeral parlors. Isaiah’s work on the dead made him much in demand, so he struck out on his own, and while other mom and pop funeral parlors have closed, pushed out by large chains, the Owens Funeral Home has survived due to Isaiah’s skill and care, and his family’s devotion to the living and the dead.

Homegoings–sensitive, profound, spiritual, reverent–is told in the words of Isaiah, his family and his clients who are moved and comforted by his care for their family members and by his pre-care for their needs. And he must also face the reality of his own death and that of his mother who runs a branch of his funeral home back in South Carolina.

A human bridge between the dead and living, Isaiah Owens offers comfort, hope, strength and grace, as Homegoings reveals the depth and beauty of African-American funeral customs, rooted in ancestral beliefs, slavery, and civil rights.  It is a beautiful film about death and its aftermath, a subject that impacts us all.