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Talking about DEATH – is it morbid?

We live in a society that sees talking about death, thinking about death, writing and reading about death as morbid.

What is morbid, what is indeed unhealthy, is a society that separates and dissociates death from life as if the two can ever be separated – two sides of the same coin. We claim to embrace Life…..while attempting to pretend it’s siamese twin, Death, doesn’t exist, all the time living as if we still have one foot in the womb (as Stephen Levine put so eloquently in one of his books – which one, I can’t remember).

What is morbid and unhealthy is that we try to sit death quietly in the corner, still pretending it can’t see us and we can’t see it. We try to keep it away from children, and lie to them about it, to ‘protect’ them’ – all the while creating unnecessary fear and perpetuating the vicious cycle of denial around the only thing in life that is an absolute inevitability.  And then, when it happens, every time it happens, we are shocked.  As if, having avoided reality so very well for so very long, we had no idea it would ever come.

I recently came across the guy who runs deathcafe.com  This is apparently a Swiss concept – a cafe where people get together and talk about – you guessed it – death. Does that sound morbid to you? Does that make you uncomfortable? Is that a place you would go? And if not, why not?

One thing I have learnt for sure is that the study of death is the study of life. Time around death is time around, and a new appreciation for, life.  It is extremely difficult to live each day like it really matters without embracing the fact that it could end any day. Every day is not precious to you when you are fantasising that you have been guaranteed a life that will never end…or at least won’t end till you’re 95.  Hold on, you weren’t  guaranteed that? No, neither was I. Nor was anyone else.

As always, I’d love you to comment below if you have anything at all you’d like to share/say/ask.

Kristie

xx

{ 12 comments }

Melanie August 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

This is the fourth time I’ve posted the same comment and got it wrong every single time…Take four!

As you know, I don’t find talking about death morbid at all and I can’t wait for the first Death Cafe to pop up! I really hope I can go!

I definitely think this taboo should be lifted. Talking about death isn’t going to make it happen any faster. To ignore the only thing that we can count upon in our lives is ridiculous. I also think that talking about our own deaths and our funerals with friends and family will help us through our grief. I recently learned that my mum really wants to be buried in an American casket (or The Eternal Bed by Scott Spafford if it becomes available in the UK!). I had no idea. It’s something she feels quite strongly about and it’s something I won’t ever forget. When the time comes, and there is no denying that it will, I know I’ll take solace from carrying out her wishes.

James August 23, 2011 at 10:27 am

All of the above is so true. It is often people with near-death experiences that embrace life the most, because they realise there are no guarantees as you point out. The truth hurts; it is sad that many of us refuse to grow up and accept one of the greatest truths.

Talking about death is morbid, however, when you aren’t living – or at least extremely foolish!!

Ade Oduyemi August 23, 2011 at 11:53 am

From a practical and professional point of view – [I am by profession an inheritance planner] I find I have to turn down a lot of requests from potential clients simply because they have put off talking about death until a loved one has left this earth. Their grief is compounded by the fact that death they’ve failed to embrace has cost them far more in emotion and treasure.
As I have always believed death is an essential part of life or as my grandmother used to say ‘all good things must come to an end’, talking about death is such a liberating and fulfilling experience. I wish more folk would do it.

Nora August 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Kristi, I agree with everything you have said here. Having attended three close relatives (mother, husband, sister) in their final days, I discovered how little I knew about the whole subject of death. I learned important lessons about being human and about being alive–about what it means to die and what it means to be with someone as they confront their last moments. It’s a gift to the dying person to be with them, but I felt it was also a deeply meaningful gift to myself to look on with eyes and heart wide open, seeing death as the most natural and ordinary of moments. These experiences have also helped me deal with the artificial fear of death generated by the denial of society. I do worry that we risk overcompensating for this denial with activities like death cafes, which in some ways are just as artificial as deliberate denial. As a supplement to joining a death cafe I suggest that people consider volunteering at a hospice. This allows us share kindness while feeding our interest at the same time by sitting with people who have accepted their inevitable death and simply want companionship and comfort as the natural process proceeds. Volunteers benefit from such efforts as much as the patients they care for!

Jennifer August 24, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Thank you Kristie for this great post! I am with you 100% in your observations! I shared in my blog last Monday about one of the aspects about talking openly about death and dying that I have found in my life’s work. { Unofficially } about 8 out of 10 people that I talk to say that even though it is uncharacteristic of them to be superstitious, they say a part of them believes that if they talk about death, they are afraid it might or will happen. Whether called a jinx or a spell, they feel they don’t want to “tempt fate”. An interesting aspect of our human nature!

I provide “Gatherings” which are opportunities for people to talk about their experiences, thoughts, beliefs, ideas and questions about death and dying, in a compassionate, fun, non-judgmental atmosphere. Not group therapy, but a social gathering for individuals to begin to explore and define what is important to them in not only dying, but living life fully. A deathcafe! Thanks for the link, I’ll pop over there and join in too!

Laurel August 25, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thank you for this refreshing angle on talking about death – I couldn’t agree more! I find talking about my mother’s death more often feels like-affirming than anything, and have also realised how important it is to think about the possibility of our own death and its possible effects – not only on an emotional level, as you say, but even when it comes to simple things like having a detailed will that will makes things far easier for those dealing with things. It is interesting to reflect on the many taboo subjects in our society, which prides itself so much on freedom of speech! We have the political freedom to talk, but live with so many unspoken social pressures that shut off many topics that would allow us to see life in a more whole and balanced way.

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Hi Laurel,
Isn’t it funny?! All this freedom of speech and still so out of touch with reality with our heads buried in the ground over some of the most crucial issues. We’re getting there though. 😉

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Hi jennifer, thanks for the comment. Really interesting and so very true about people’s irrational superstitions. I love the sound of your ‘Gatherings’ – where are you based – US or UK? I’m guessing US but fingers crossed for UK…..

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Hi Nora, thank you so much for sharing with us!
What a wonderful idea about volunteering at hospices. You’ve inspired me personally to look into this. For years I’ve wanted to help the dying record their life story, as it was so beautiful when my nana was in a hospice and had someone help her turn hers into a little book. Looking into this as we speak…..
Thank you
Kristie

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hi Ade, Thanks for this. As someone who got stuck with a mess and bucketloads of paperwork to sort through in a attempt to find a will which, having failed to do, meant dealing with the ramifications of a parent dying intestate…….I could not encourage people strongly enough to sort out a will. ALL people. Young or old. With a family or not. Make a will. Just do it.

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Thanks James!

Kristie West August 26, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Thanks Mel,
Glad you got there in the end. 😉
It’s such a good reminder that we need to discuss our wishes with our loved ones if we a) have certain wishes me want carried out and b) don’t want to leave them with the added job (on top of everything else) of having to make decisions that can potentially create arguments and stress.
I will see you later in the year at the first London death cafe m’dear!
xx