09 April 2009


The blogging world has been rocked by a several tragedies this spring. Death is horrible, absolutely tragic, and as an on-line community, we are amazing when it comes to responding to our internet loved-ones with help, comfort, food, donations... whatever is needed.

But when we just want to talk about death? Share our feelings about it? Talk about it? There is complete and total silence. I can't figure it out.

I know we all read and write blogs for different reasons. We come to be entertained, to understand, to make sure we aren't the only frazzled ones out there, and to vent about the things that piss us off or to share the moments that fill us with joy. But we are also here to voice our fears and, from personal experience, when I blog about my absolute most scary personal fear?

I experience total quiet from my readers.

I absolutely hate death. I hate that it rips our loved ones away from us. I hate that it changes who we are, for better or worse. I hate that we have to adjust our thought processes. I hate the hole it leaves. I hate that that one person whom you've loved and depended on is no longer there. I hate that after one or two (if you're lucky) generations after your own death, you're pretty much forgotten, relegated to the odd viewing of an old family photo album.

And I hate that death, unless coming upon you softly in your sleep, can be painful.

But I also hate that we don't talk about death, that it's a taboo subject. I read an interesting book about Dahlonega, Georgia hauntings and the author of the book wondered aloud to a local Cherokee psychic/medium why people don't generally hear of Native American hauntings. And his response is that from birth, the Cherokee are taught about death, what it is, how not to fear it, that they experience it (watching a loved one die - preparing their body for burial), therefore when death comes calling, they answer and pass on. On the other hand, the white man fears death. We put it in a box and lock it away. We don't talk about it unless we're confronted with it head-on. It's a subject best left to coroners and morticians and it's an industry left to those brave enough to work in it. We don't dress our dead or prepare them, we leave it to someone else. We don't bury our dead, we give that job to others. We don't clean up the aftermath of a violent death, that's for these guys. And we don't talk about death unless it's in glowing, afterlife terms from a member of the clergy, and even that we're not sure of. And that is why we, the non-Native American inhabitants of this place, sometimes get stuck in this world when we should have moved on to the next.

And then, again, when it's all said and done, when the mourners have returned home, the food brought for the grieving has been eaten, and the clothes and momentos of our parted loved one have been given away, we again tie death up in it's own little compartmentalized box, put a black bow on it, and file it away until it's time to bring it out and mourn another loved one. We don't deal with our own mortality. Ever.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we make death a free-for-all, that we prepare for it day in and day out like the Egyptians did. Personally? I'd like my paycheck to take me to Paris, not build me a pyramid in Atlanta. But, I do think we need to talk about it more and confront it head on. It is a part of life, a part that we so desperately want to forget about, a part that we must all, inescapably face one day.

Something that we must all comment on sooner or later. Death is coming. We shouldn't avoid it.


Not Afraid to Use It said...

Thanks for the link. You know damn well how I feel about the silence. In silence breeds fear. In silence grows the pestilence of humanity. Keeping abuse silent only furthers the cycle. Keeping death silent only furthers the fear.

My coworker Harry Peronius did a photo essay of death in Sweden and how it is treated. It has been one of the few cultural chasms that Hubbie and I have yet to breach. Swedes wait MONTHS to bury their dead. Don't get me started on it. There is so much denial flat refusal to deal with the moment that it makes me ill. His photos and observations are wonderful. Take a peek some night. It isn't morbid at all.

Faiqa said...

It wasn't always this way in America, though. I took a great class called Death in America which charted the changing perceptions of Americans regarding death starting from the Puritans to present day. Much of our current perceptions regarding death are due to the professionalization of funerary practices. Let me know if you'd like the reading list, I have it around here somewhere.

RiverPoet said...

Faiqa - I'd be interested in the reading list.

Heather - As you know, I'm having my daughter's funeral today. As you also know, I'm in a graduate program in thanatology, so my entire next career will be built around this subject. It's ironic that my daughter has died during my first semester, and it has left me wondering how to go on.

The Christian part of me believes she is at rest with God, because the promise of rest is one of the greatest promises made in the Bible. I believe she no longer suffers and that when my time comes, she'll be the one to tap me on the shoulder and ease me toward my new home.

The Buddhist part of me knows that energy is neither created nor destroyed; it simply is. Attachment causes suffering, but I can't help but be attached to my girl. I don't want to let her go. One comfort I can take is in the amount of time she was able to lie still after death. In Buddhist belief, the body needs to lie still for a good long time to fully release its soul before it is embalmed. We went the further step of not embalming our daughter, instead doing a "direct cremation" meaning they kept her body cool to preserve it until the identification was done, and then they cremated her and returned the ashes to us.

In my dichotomy, I'm not sure which side wins, but I can tell you that both give me comfort in some way. I'm going to need that in the coming days.

Sorry for hijacking your post, but you know you can always talk to me about this subject. None of us have the exact answers, but I'm not afraid of talking about it. Hopefully my experience will give me that much more credibility and strength to deal with the losses of others.

(Weird word verification: urbook)

Peace - D

Annie said...

This is so true, Heather, and I'm not sure why. When I lived in Africa death was as much a part of the day as was life. Here in the US, we're so removed from everything we deem "too much." There, families celebrated a first birthday with wild abandon since so many children never reached that milestone. Unfortunately, people would avoid medical care for their loved ones, as a death meant a huge feast for whomever felt compelled to attend hosted by the family of the deceased. We often wondered why the price of a cow equalled the worth of a child. Mixed priorities that our western eyes never quite understood.

But, the spirit world was equally present there. Ancestors were a very real part of everyday life. Not that those we encountered "worshipped" them, rather they accepted them as part of an unseen but fully present reality. There's something to be gained from this, I think.

sybil law said...

It's why I tell my daughter, and always have, that death is a part of life when beloved animals die. I mean, it IS a part of life, afterall. I don't like death, but I do find comfort in it when someone is suffering.
Of course, her first major lesson was the cat *I* ran over in the driveway, and I left out THAT part. She thought it was because he "didn't look both ways before crossing the street".
(I killed two birds with one stone - so sue me.)

Molly's Mom said...

Oh, honey. I am one of the silent. Since my dad's death in December, I find myself so scared that I can't even think about it. Anxiety over my own health, over my daughter's health, over my husband's health. Horrible anxiety. I don't know how to deal with it, I don't really even talk about it with my therapist. And the circumstances surrounding my dad's death are something I don't know if I'll ever truly get over. I'm getting closer to being able to maybe blog about it, but still don't know when.
Just know that while I might be silent, I'm reading. Okay, maybe just skimming, but still visiting.

metalmom said...

I am Native American. When my grandpa died, my mom and her sister cleaned and prepared his body. Grandma and her oldest son wrapped his body. After that? I'm not privileged to know. My brother, however, is considered "inner circle" in our tribe's 'kiva'. He was part of the funeral ceremony and part of that is 'men only'. When he came home, I asked what went on and that is considered sacred knowledge and he has never spoken of it....even to my mother. I do know that he is buried in the Sangre De Cristo mountains in New Mexico.

After being beside both of my in-laws as they died, I am not afraid of what is to come.

Avitable said...

I don't think that the silence in the blog world is characteristic, though. I wasn't reading you seven years ago, but when you've written about death in other ways, like about your dad, there were a lot of people talking about it.

Jeni said...

I think a lot of the fear of death begins with parents who feel it inappropriate to take children to viewings and/or funerals. Then the child never has any exposure to the reality of life -which includes death- and later, when they are older and someone close to them dies, they are frightened and not always able to cope with the loss. As far back as I can remember, I was always taken to viewings/funerals and I did the same with my children too. When I was diagnosed six years ago with cancer, I looked at things as "what will be, will be" and did not allow myself to get bogged down with fear and worry. I also sat down with my younger daughter and wrote out instructions, plans, etc., for my own funeral so my children would know what my wishes were and not have to scramble, trying to figure out what to do, where things are that they would need, etc. My younger daughter is fine with this but my older daughter refuses to discuss any thing along these lines and my son, well he just dissolves in tears. So it will be up to the younger daughter to hold the two older kids together at some point in the future I guess.

I have posted about death/loss a couple of times but my posts dealt mainly with suicide, a topic really verboten in most circles but I did get a fair amount of comments back on my posts from my readers. But overall, I think you are right in that all too often, death is so feared that people don't want to even think about it -whether it be the prospect of their own demise or that of someone else. Touchy subject but one I thought you handled quite well.

Expat No. 3699 said...

For me, with death, there is the fear of the unknown. I don't mean not knowing if there is an after life, etc.; but not knowing how the lives of the people I leave behind turn out. Will my children be happy; will my grandchildren get married, have children? Thinking about missing part of their lives makes me sad; maybe that’s why it’s not something I talk about a lot.

Jessica said...

death is nothing to fear, we all die. people dont like thinking about losing loved ones, or the fact that one day they will die. we should talk about it more, make people understand it is NOTHING to be afraid of.

i loved this post.

Jennifer Warthan said...

In small towns in the South, death seems very much a natural part of life. The latest Last-Of-The-Great-Ladies to pass in my town was interred at home. An elderly neighbor recently asked to die at home.

But... I know people in their 30's who have never been to a funeral. I know people who have no idea you're supposed to take food to a family in mourning because they have always stayed far, far away from the grieving.

My daughters - for better or worse - will grow up knowing about death. They've lost their 23 year old uncle, a grandparent, a great-grandparent and numerous beloved pets. They are 5 and 7 years old and already they know the rituals.

Barbara said...

Okay, here's a response you might expect from an academic. Two books on death that mattered to me: Ernest Becker's THE DENIAL OF DEATH and Irving (?) Yalom's STARING AT THE SUN. Maybe we can even talk about them sometime (death at a respectable distance).

Miss Britt said...

I think, sometimes, the biggest stuff is easier to talk about than write about.

Shelley Jaffe said...

A rabbi once told me once that our life is only a mere dot, an infinitesimal snapshot, of the great continual line of what came before and what lies ahead. Knowing that, and squeezing the bejeebuz out of every waking moment, makes the 'ending' not seem so scary.

Excellent (and sadly, timely) post.

Vulgar Wizard said...

"And I hate that death, unless coming upon you softly in your sleep, can be painful."

THAT is my ONLY fear regarding death . . . that I or someone I love will die a slow, painful death. I want my death to be peaceful. I want my husband's death to be peaceful, but I want to go first. I don't know that I could "be" without him.

You may find this interesting. My husband's family comes from a line of Czechoslovakian immigrants. To this day, the able-bodied males dig the deceased person's grave in the early morning hours of the day of burial. He or someone related to him/us will dig my grave one day. I think that's interesting.

Gypsy said...

I wish I could say more about this. I wish I could be more accepting and peaceful about this. I'm dealing with the imminent passing of a beloved pet, and I'm finding it so difficult. More difficult than it should be, all things considered.

Patois42 said...

I find myself more willing to talk about death -- not sarcastically but realistically -- the older I get. I happen to be a believer in God and the promise of eternity, but I really don't think that faith makes death any more appealing of a subject.

I've been surprisingly strongly touched by Maddie's death. Talking about it ahs helped. That deathly silence definitely does not.

Great post.