For many years death has been a subject which has been difficult to talk about; certainly growing up in the 70s and 80s I was left with the strong impression that death was something so full of sorrow and heartbreak that I was not to speak about it, in fact silence was encouraged.
One glance at the mainstream media shows us that youth, anti-aging and staying young at all costs is big business. From plastic surgery to anti-wrinkle cream we are bombarded with the mythical ideal of staying forever young. Conveniently in this scenario, death and the process of dying has been pushed to one side in our celebrity obsessed culture. Compounding this tendency is the reality that death is hidden away from us, with around 85% of us dying in hospitals or hospices, we are at a remove from death – it happens in another room out of our sight. This disconnection also shows up in our working lives as bereavement leave is left to the employer’s discretion; typically being 3-5 days.
However it seems that the tide is turning, the beginnings of which can be seen in the pioneering work of people like Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross and Cicely Saunders in the 60s and 70s, the death awareness movement has gathered momentum particularly in the last few years with the advent of Death Cafes springing up nationwide (the first one in this country was in 2011). There are also events such as the Kicking the Bucket festival in Oxford and the Dying Matters campaigns (next one May 2017), which urge us to talk about death.
Death is an unavoidable part of life, nature shows us this very clearly. Talking about death and accepting its presence seems to be a reconnection with life that we all need to come to terms with. This reconnection with the cycle of life exhorts us to live deeply and live meaningfully while we are here for the time we have; this can be seen in Bronnie Ware’s book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, which shows clearly that expressing love, being ourselves and doing things that we love to do are the most important things in life.
In other words having the courage to live well on our own terms and making the most of every moment. Sharing our pain and loss with each other is instrumental to this process and to realise that everyone you meet is living with loss of some kind surely makes the time we have right now most precious. By sharing our grief and experience of bereavement we are also given the opportunity to acknowledge our similarities – the running threads – in our diversity.
Ultimately this can come about, if we allow it, by shining the spotlight on death; we can live well, or live better, and live fully. If we can manage this, then perhaps we will be able to once again understand the wisdom of our ancestors encapsulated in the native american phrase that says:
Today is a good day to die.