I heard this recently on a YouTube video recommended to me- “We fear death because we are born only knowing life”. That was said by the human wonder that is Neil de Grasse Tyson. If you have no idea who that is please, please, please go Google him and watch some videos of him talking. After you’ve read the rest of this of course!
A few people have had one simple reaction when I have told them I am going to work in a mortuary. Reactions have largely been positive by those closest because they know me and they know what interests me. However, in general, any kind of negative response by others has been for my welfare around the things I will see and the lesser pleasant aspects of the job. This is something that made me think a lot because my mind was trying to figure out why working with things like this made me a happier person when they clearly disgust others. Why I have craved working with the deceased for most of my life either through archaeology, forensics or now via the work in the mortuary. Does this make me, for want of a better term, weird? Is there something wrong with me for, well, (hesitatingly!) admitting that I enjoy this kind of work and being surrounded by it?
In response I did the only thing I could do and what I do best, which is researching things and falling into the deep abyss of the internet. This led to me discovering Death Positivity. I would like to talk about this a lot more in the future because it covers such a wide range of aspects of death, however, for this post I will focus on the thought that by knowing more about death it has a positive impact on our life and therefore we enjoy our lives a lot more.
I think I can summarise that this happens in two ways; firstly, that by through not fearing dying we reduce the taboo around it and, secondly, by being able to talk about it with other people more freely, we are able to understand a lot more about it and satisfy our curiosity.
I remember that when I was younger I would lie in bed before I fell asleep and have quite morbid thoughts. I was a bit obsessed with my own demise, in probably a bit of a Wednesday Addams way and possibly not entirely healthily. I don’t remember how old I was, or if I ever tried to speak to my parents about this, but I kept these thoughts largely to myself until I was much older. I mainly thought about how and when, there was quite an egotistical side where I pondered if I would be remembered or just disappear into insignificance, and later came a strange fascination with slightly more philosophical ideas. Looking back I can see that these were odd thoughts for a child to have but they certainly formed the adult I am now. This drove a need to understand more about death, to answer the curious thoughts rumbling around in my head.
This is why learning about what happens when we die keeps me happy. It reduces the fears of my inner child about the unknown. Not only do I find the whole thing fascinating but it drives me to be inquisitive, and through being both fascinated and inquisitive I am learning all the time which makes me ridiculously content.
After I was told I had been successful in my role at the mortuary I was quite apprehensive about telling people. In the end I did what every good millennial does and wrote a Facebook post announcing it, of course. Since then, I’ve spoken to many people and it has made me realise one thing. If someone thinks me odd for what I am doing it does not show anything abnormal about me. It is, in fact, much more a reflection on them of their own constraints around what is normal and what is not. In addition, I question why something that happens to every single person in the world at some point is not normal? Why is it not interesting to people Why do people shy away from talking about it and why has modern society placed a huge taboo around death? It’s not always been that way, so why do we now shy away from it?
I don’t know how to answer any of those questions but I’d like to think more about that as I go along. Interestingly, a friend said something to me that struck a chord. I was showing him my logo when I designed it and he said that he hated skulls. He hates anything like that. Why?
He would rather celebrate life.
I think the saddest part of that concept, and I tried to explain, is that he is entirely missing the point. That by examining death we are celebrating life, and it’s the most profound way of doing so.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this please go watch this video which gave me the quotation for the start (Huge thanks to Ben for showing me this!). It’s hugely thought provoking and I’d happily discuss with anyone if they would like to.
If you have any ideas or feedback on this please feel free to write a comment and thank you so much for reading!
I wonder about the correlation between advances in medicine i.e. keeping people alive for longer/through illnesses, and the growing unacceptance of death as a topic of discussion?
I remember watching a heart breaking programme about infant mortality rates in third world countries. Whilst the deaths of these babies was no less felt it was also a huge part of normal life. I’m not suggesting it should be accepted as such, but the fact is, it just was. As I say, heartbreaking, but death was part of life and was dealt with very differently certainly to any experience I’ve had.
In the West so much emphasis is put on keeping people alive, that very occasionally this isn’t the best for that person & their life/death is then ‘medically managed’, often leaving them with little dignity or choice.
I’m not sure exactly how to summarise my point but I think it’s an interesting one. Our huge advancement in medicine seems to have made all
death unacceptable because it defeats the goal of life.
Something I found in our G’s little journal, “Life itself is a contradiction because birth is the direct cause in every single case of death”.
Love C xx
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Thank you for reading!! That’s a really interesting side of things I’d not considered, it’s incredible that there are probably so many factors contributing to the mindset. We’ve pretty much enabled ourselves to be so far removed from death in any form (think of how we source meat products for food too) that we don’t know how to cope with it when we are confronted by it. I love that quotation at the end! X
Am I classed as one of those friends?
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You know which one you are! Thank you for reading and for your input!
Am I really the only Adam you know?
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Weirdly, yes you are. The one and only.
Are you Weird? No. Flip that coin, the others are weird. You mention Facebook. I hate FB. I believe it is a major player in feeding mental health problems. Not just fake news, but everything is wrong with it. But that aside, what am I missing that you have put on fb, and how do I read it, please?
I used to be like you and had anxiety etc about going out and about and meeting people. I look back on that time of my life now and realise what a waste of time and energy that was.