Do we live in a death-denying culture?
July 15th, 2020
We as a culture have a horribly dysfunctional relationship with dying. In one sense, we can't get enough of it. For example, the most popular podcasts are murder podcasts, the most popular video games are typically shoot 'em up, kill 'em up games. I just went to see John Wick 3 and loved it, and there's a death every .5 seconds. One of the ways that we deal with death is this overt fascination with it through entertainment, so we deal with it honestly and rationally.
In another sense, our culture denies it to the extreme. There are many causes for this, such as, but not limited to, our lack of multi-generational communities. An output of that is general unpreparedness when a loved one dies. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So, yeah, we have a dysfunctional relationship with death.
July 23rd, 2020
Yes, of course we do. To a certain extent, every human culture is death denying. Some more than others. In the United States today, I think there are multiple cultural currents. There is clearly an increased awareness of death and dying and end of life experience and all sorts of wonderful things. There's this thing called Death over dinner that's just phenomenal. My friend Tembi Locke has The Kitchen Widow. There are books like Michael Hebb's Death Over Dinner, Sunita Puri's That Good Night, BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger's A Beginner's Guide to the End. It goes on and on.
But people don't want to die, right? They don't by and large. They don't want their family members to be dead. And so, people naturally and understandably cling to life. Sometimes death denial may shift, but it often takes the form of questing after a fourth line drug for your heart failure or chemotherapy for your end stage Parkinson's disease. And that's not wrong. I like to say life is short and we're all going to be dead a long time. There's no reason to rush it. However, in facing death, we begin to live fully. That's why I write and speak. I'm trying to reintegrate illness and dying and caregiving and grieving into full and even healthy living. That's the best and fullest response to the fact of death that I know.
August 19th, 2020
I think we live in a culture where we have largely handed over the management of dying and death to a death-defying system. It is death-defying in that it values the prolonging of life, at times at the expense of quality of life. Our medical systems can still be said to see death for the most part as a failure and this has a few implications. First it sends what I consider to be the wrong overall message – that death is bad, something to be afraid of and avoided at any cost. Second, it discounts the opportunities for people to die well in an unmedicalized setting because the mindset is so heavily geared towards heroic life saving measures. This is no one’s fault, it is a product of the professionalized world in which we now live. Now I understand this is largely a generalization and there are some incredible medical champions working to re-educate their colleagues as to the benefit of approaching dying differently, but there is still a long way to go until doctors can start to see death as something other than a failure.
In Australia approximately 80% of people want to die at home and approximately 15% of people manage that, and as that 15% grows so will the push for home death and hence the move towards a death-accepting culture. I like to consider this as a reclaiming of community knowledge on how to care for our dying and dead.