One of the greatest sources of the pervasive unrest experienced in Western culture, I believe, stems from being disconnected from ourselves, each other, and a fundamental element of our existence: how we die.
By and large, we are fearful of, unprepared for, and closed off to death and dying. One contributing factor to the fear of death arose in the 1930s when medical professionals subsumed responsibility for caring for the physical body at all stages of life. Doctors considered death a failure, antithetical to their mission to cure people from disease and degeneration, and subsequently it was deemed an enemy. Furthermore, as death was removed from the home and situated in institutions, it became less visible to the average American. Because many of us do not see, touch, smell, or know first-hand this mysterious process and ultimate termination, we are afraid of it.
Our fear is supported by the cultural myths that dying is bad, requires professional intervention, and that life should be prolonged at all costs. This is problematic because these perspectives often result in negative experiences with death and dying; as mortician, author, and death acceptance advocate Caitlin Doughty avers: “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death.”
But a death reengagement movement is surging in the West today, led by individuals who believe we can dismantle the problematic cultural stories. The movement’s mission is to catalyz…