Let’s just say this right now; you are going to die. Yes, you, will one day cease to be, and there is nothing more natural than that.
Dying is a fundamental part of life, if not the defining element of being alive. However, we live in a culture of extreme death denial. Our society promotes the idea that one should endeavor to be young and beautiful forever — any crack in that anti-ageing/striving for immortality regime is seen as a personal failure. This is compounded by the professionalization and isolation of death in society. That in turn, has added another layer of fear and anxiety about death…
People can routinely live well into adulthood without seeing a dead body. Heck, when was the last time you saw a funeral procession? Almost 7,000 people die a day in the United States, but, unless that person is a close relative, most likely you will never see them.
Don’t get me wrong; I want people to live long and fulfilling lives, but denying our mortality will not help us achieve that. In fact, I think it hurts us. In a world promoting perpetual teenage-hood, it is incredibly easy to become static and apathetic.
Death denial teaches us to push away hard thoughts and conversations, until we have no choice but to talk about them. Facing your mortality, or losing a loved one, is hard enough as it is, we don’t need to make it harder. There is a pink reaper in the room and not talking about him will not make him go away.
Despite this, there is a growing Death Positivity movement. Death Positivity is about coming to terms with death as a part of life, and creating an encouraging space for dialogue and exchange about mortality. Below are five things you can do to help cultivate Death Positivity. It can help with some of the heebeejeebees about death, and might just help you live a richer life…
1. It’s okay to think about mortality
It is okay to be curious about death. It is also okay to be afraid of it. However, instead of pushing it away, give yourself permission when thoughts arise to explore how death affects you. This can manifest in many ways. Maybe you have an ill pet who isn’t getting better. Maybe you are the sole provider for your family and wonder what will happen to them if you die. It is not morbid to take a few minutes, lean into fear, and examine some very real concerns. If you like meditation, there is a tradition of Buddhist death meditation that is very helpful in dealing with the initial anxiety.
I like to frame these thoughts with what I call Death Goals. I want to live to 98 and die in my sleep. I don’t have control over all the factors of course, but now and then I check in and ask myself, am I living a life that might lead me to that end?
2. Talk with loved ones
Talk to your family and friends about your fears and concerns surrounding death. Make sure to tell them what you want regarding your end. Discuss with your partner how you will educate your kids about death, and be on the same page. It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, you know I want to be cremated when I die, right?” Having these talks long before something happens can be a comfort to both the dead (who shared their desires beforehand) and the survivors. You can’t up-sell a widower a $7,000 bronze casket if the deceased made it abundantly clear she wanted a wood coffin.
3. Get it in writing
Advanced Health Directives, also called a Living Will or Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, is of particular importance for offbeat families that may not fit comfortably into legal definitions. I urge every adult to have one. It ensures that your health wishes are followed, and your body will be the responsibility of the person you choose. You don’t need an attorney to write one; most states will have a fillable pdf online. It’s as simple as filling out a form, signing, and getting it notarized.
4. Learning releases fear
Many of the fears I hear from people have to do with a lack of education. It’s understandable; there are changing legal, social, and religious issues. The industry can seem unapproachable, and of course, the dead body. Death Positivity can’t remove the existential crisis of death, but it can help with anxiety over, for instance, going to a funeral for the first time or understanding healthy mourning versus complicated grief. There are many resources online within the Death Postive community that can answer your questions and shed light on issues in a non-scary way. Remember the monster is always more frightening in the shadows.
5. Carpe the fuck out of this diem
There is a reason Memento Mori have been a theme in art through the centuries. Reminders of death were not meant to be creepy, but to remind you to live life to the fullest. You may die tomorrow, or in 90 years, you don’t know. You have two choices, either be crippled by fear of all of the “what-ifs,” or make the most of it. When we are reminded that time is precious, it becomes a lot harder to justify wasting it. When we recall our own humanity, it becomes difficult to strip away the humanity of others. Keep something around that serves as your Memento Mori. I have a ceramic skull by my door that reminds me to make today count.
As the saying goes, when Death finds you make sure it finds you alive.
How do YOU get past the fear and mental blocks and cultivate Death Positivity?