Thursday, 17 October 2013

Obsessed by death

There was recently a thought-provoking post on the Good Funeral Guide, sparked off by an empty hearse.  Your cursor on my title will take you there the moment, of course, you have finished reading these golden (if opinionated) words... 

Charles Cowling compares the common public reaction to a funeral procession many years ago, to what happens now. Nothing. Apart from impatience at the slowness of the cortege. He takes this as an indication that we have lost a more shared, communal response to an individual death; it's more of a local issue, happening to someone else. The cortege is a nuisance.

So a temporary traffic disruption instead of a shared understanding. Depressing thought.

It may be that this lack of shared feeling is part of our obsession with death. I agree with Barbara Chalmers (brilliant website "Final Fling") that death isn't a taboo subject, that's a tired cliche, and yet the ways we talk about death, the way we do funerals, suggest we are obsessed by it. How can you tell that our culture is obsessed with death? Because however much we think we are talking about it, we are often simply shying away from accepting its inevitability. Because:

  1. we hide it away in production-line funerals and brief ceremonies
  2. we try to gloss over it, talking too easily of the "celebration of a life"
  3. by relentlessly trying to "personalise" a funeral, we may inadvertantly paint over the universality of death in life
  4. many people don't talk about or refer to their mortality - although given the chance, an increasing number of people realise how liberating it can be
  5. the cult of youth doesn't help; it's natural for older people to think more frequently than young people about the end of their lives, and we are urged all the time not to grow old, just to be youthful whatever out age

If we accept our mortality, if we stop pretending we are not going to die, we value our lives, and the lives of others. If we deny our mortality, we distort and trivialise life itself.

So we ignore funeral processions, we tidy away the physicality of death, we jolly up funerals and deny our grief, at our peril. 

Well, I warned you it would be opinionated.

No comments:

Post a Comment