A few days ago I tried to talk with a friend about preparing for her death. This 65-year-old lady is as smart and practical as any I know. After beginning the conversation, she abruptly interrupted me, saying “But I love life; I’m having a good time.” She turned and walked away. I’ve pondered this comment and other conversations I’ve had with people about preparing for death, and have concluded that most people won’t think about it. How can this be, when it is the one thing we cannot avoid?
I believe there are three [possibly more] systemic reasons for this:
- When I was growing up, children’s stories often addressed the subject of danger and possible death. “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” to name two. Thornton Burgess’s “Mother West Wind” series, once popular children’s stories, was loaded with danger and threat of death. But stories told to children these days, and for the last 30 or 40 years, hardly ever confront the possibility of death. Most of today’s people are unprepared to consider death as part of living.
- Our parents and grandparents lived in a more rural, small-community world. I grew up in a small town, yet my parents raised chickens and rabbits that were butchered and eaten by us. I grew up helping to pluck feathers and skin rabbits. Few today, including myself, are subjected to the killing and butchering of the meat we eat. Death is exempted from our lives unless we work for some megalithic meat packing company.
- Our youth-driven cultural outlook has helped to warp our sense of reality. Science has been so successful at improving health and keeping us alive that we now view death as a failure of medical science. There are two sides to this coin. Improving health is wonderful, but keeping us alive toward an inevitable end when no quality of life is left, seems cruel to me. What happened to letting people simply go to their final rest?
Even the process of disposing of our dead has become impractical and out of touch with reality. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” has been replaced with “ashes to methanol and dust to formaldehyde.” Concrete vaults and waterproof coffins are purchased to stave off decomposition of the remains.
These are expensive items that in reality do not work as advertised; environmentally- damaging items that are costly go into the ground never to be seen again. Wouldn’t it be better if we were to let the dead contribute their remains to the good earth that gave them their life?
Shouldn’t we older persons, who have grown up more aware of death and are ourselves closer to death, discuss death with our loved ones? Only then can they be prepared when the inevitable happens, and indeed the inevitable will happen to every one of us.
This post provided by John Brobst. John is treasurer and a board member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that helps its members plan affordable funerals for themselves and their families.
For more on this topic, check out these websites: