Today’s Friday Funeral Film is The Way, starring Martin Sheen in a film directed by his son Emilio Estevez. It looks at the journey of life and making the most of this lifetime. The film also shows cremation scattering scenes, which can open the door to discussion of what to do with the cremated remains of loved ones before there’s a death in the family.
Cremation is a growing disposition choice for Americans, now reaching about 42% of the national average (higher in the Western states, lower in the East). However, the U.S. lags way behind countries like Japan (over 99%) and Great Britain (approximately 75%).
If an American dies overseas while on travel, it can be very expensive to have the body returned to the U.S. You will spend much less money having the body cremated and bringing the cremated remains back yourself, or having a funeral home ship the remains to you. It’s worth checking into insurance that will pay for body return, especially if you travel abroad frequently.
The Way actually uses cremation to open up a father’s conversation with his son on how one lives life.
In The Way, Martin Sheen plays Tom, a typical busy American who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port, France to collect the remains of his adult son (played by Emilio Estevez). His son was killed in a storm the Pyrenees mountains while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Tom had argued with his son about his life choices while taking him to the airport for this trip.
In a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to journey on this historical path of pilgrims, to complete the journey his son did not. While walking The Camino, Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, all broken and looking for greater meaning in their lives. Along The Way, Tom discovers the meaning of one of the last things his son said (in a flashback) to his father: “There is a difference between the life we live and the life we choose.”
From the high mountains in France to the edge of the sea in Spain, Tom remembers his son and catches glimpses of him all along the Way. In special spots, he scoops out handfuls of his son’s cremated remains.
Gradually the experience of the Camino works its way into the spirits of the pilgrims. They become mirrors for each other, helping to strip away the protective layers that have preserved their pain and isolation, and with their new vulnerability, freeing them to feel and connect once more.
In the end, the message of this poignant film is that opening our hearts to others is the real miracle. Connecting with them through kindness and laughter and joy is the magic that invites the presence of God. By the time Tom and his companions reach the end of the journey with his son’s remains, he himself is a changed man. He scatters the rest of the cremated remains at the shore of the sea, and sets out to explore the world as his son had done.
The Way (2011 rated PG-13) is available on Amazon.com. It’s a great story – check it out!