Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Morbid? Moi?

Recently, chatting with friends about the ludicrous idea that eventually each of our lives will come to an end, one of them said she didn't want to be morbid, but...and went on to explore her sense of mortality, and how she felt about her father's death and his funeral. She then said that all this stemmed from my telling them about my celebrancy work. 

This got me thinking (always painful and sometimes futile, of course.)

Concise OED gives us: "morbid: characterised by or appealing to an abnormal and unhealthy interest in unpleasant subjects, especially death and disease." (It also has a specialised medical use, of course.)

Is my preoccupation with mortality morbid, (i.e. is it an unhealthy obsession) is it purely professional, or is it in any way valuable? 

I doubt undertakers are seen as morbid - I expect most of us accept that they do an essential job that 99% of us couldn't do. But celebrancy is, I think, different. For many of us it's not a primary way of earning a living, and it's certainly not a long-established role (obviously, I'm leaving aside ministers of a faith when they are leading a funeral ceremony.) Do we celebrants obsess about the end of life? Is it "good" for us to spend so long thinking about death and bereavement?

We'll each have our own answers to these questions. 

The work is fulfilling and difficult, and it is easy to get a bit obsessive, talk about it too much. However, I tend to find that people want to talk about funerals, and mortality itself, when they find out what I do.

My friend wasn't being morbid. She was taking the opportunity to explore her thoughts and feelings, and perhaps it's not so often, in a social setting, that she meets someone who is prepared to help the discussion on. 

To the cognoscenti, the GFG commentariat, this is all pretty obvious; but for many people, I think I can tell that to talk about death is a welcome and unusual opportunity. I don't think there is, to use a yawnsome cliche, a simple taboo about death in our culture, but I do think there is a huge avoidance of the fact of mortality, and a tendency to skate over our feelings - hey, let's celebrate a life, let's not mourn. See:


Maybe I obsess about the work sometimes; but I think the really dangerously morbid symptom in our culture is our inability to bring death into our lives, to accept that life ends and to live in that knowledge. I'll return to this topic soon, be warned. See, I told you I was obsessive.....


  1. As Caitlin Doughy has it, if 'morbid' describes an unhealthy interest in death, there is currently no word for a healthy interest in death. We need one!

  2. That's neatly put. Perhaps "living fully in the present" covers it, though it's five words; isn't it pretty difficult to live life to the full without some knowledge and acceptance of death?

  3. That's something the dying teach us, GM. As someone once said, they are 'incapable of bullshit'. The trick is to lead a bullshit-free life, aware only of the important things, as long as possible before we start dying.

  4. Indeed, but many people have not been able to learn from a dying person, so an alternative route might be valuable. As for bullshit - we are surrounded by it, so I guess the trick is to seek not to add to it. Not always easy - it spreads through our culture.