Please, allow me to be archaic for a minute. As much as I talk about death, dead, dying, death, death, and death, I am talking about much, much more. To talk about death is, ultimately, to talk about life. We cannot talk about death without talking about living. We cannot discuss our current problems around our mortuary practices and the profoundly problematic culture we have created around how we support our bereaved without talking about life.
So, the archaic point. I’m young. I have owned a computer, e-mail account, and cell phone for a substantial part of my life. As a society, we have systematically deconstructed our communities and our sense of connection to other people. When I recall the stories of my grandparents and parents, these stories are full of village-folk socializing, Sunday night dinners, parties, and drinks on the porch (heaven) with friends, and finding meaning and purpose through relationships. True, we could argue that Facebook virtually “connects” us to people we otherwise would have said goodbye to and moved on from, say after high school.
However, technology, our lust for success, and our collective need for materialistic goods are part of our death problem. Some might say that our increasing comfort with disconnecting from each other and tweeting and texting ourselves into a stupor is our literal death, but I think those things are our slow deaths. See, it’s this complacency and disconnect from ourselves, our true selves—selves that know who we are, what we stand for, and force us to articulate ourselves—that are the root of our grief-problems.
If we do not know what we value and how much we value our lives, how will we ever be ready for our own deaths? Perhaps more importantly, if we are not willing to be in consistent dialogue about our mortality and values, then how will we choose relationships over material goods, love over ambition?
Children today, who are grieving, experience isolation after the death of an important person in their lives, because those of us who are in their lives choose other commitments, choose to be somewhere else, and choose to keep a distance because we are afraid. That’s not archaic, that’s a problem that has a serious impact on the next generation.
I will die. You will die. We’ll all die. So, how are we going to live? It’s more complex than YOLO (you only live once) or Carpe Diem (seize the day). The question at hand is about values. If we choose love then we’ll show-up when those we love are hurting. If we choose community, then we’ll be present when our neighbors need us. If we choose life, then we’ll quickly learn how to talk about death. Death and life go hand-in-hand. The values we are creating, at this very moment, are shaping our living and our dying.
Jump in. Tell someone about how you want to live and go do it . . .
Now, the question is how we create these values. Am I being nostalgic? Did my grandparents’ ideas of community ever exist? Are we simply left to find a way forward by creating communities through nonprofits and other prescribed means? I’m not entirely sure, but I know death gives us much to talk and think about.