08.06.18 | Have We Forgotten How To Die?
Garrett Matthias had it all figured out. The five-year-old boy from Iowa co-authored his own obituary just before he died of a rare cancer a few weeks ago. He wanted "to be burned and made into a tree so I can live in it when I'm a gorilla." Lest you think he was some soft sentimentalist, the piece ended with his own brand of existentialist machismo, "See ya later, suckas!" You go, Garrett. You were dealt a bad hand but you checked out on your own terms.
The topic and focus article for Member Monday (8/6) is Have We Forgotten How To Die?. This synthesis of seven books triangulates on the Western Death Machine: the privatized, medicalized, and emotionally stunted world that is America's death culture. While perhaps there has never been a time when we did death particularly well, the "bundles of ego and anxiety" that mark today's world have resulted in a lost vocabulary for talking about death. It's time we reclaim that language as we skip the euphemisms and the ambiguities that treat grief, indeed death, as a matter of embarrassment and shame.
Up for discussion is the Dylan Thomas poetic conceit that "old age should burn and rave at close of day." Really? This somehow sounds like ego-talk. Generations must give way to make room for new growth. Immortality at the retail level would seem to be a rather grim prospect. Get over it: death is not so much an event as it is a process through which we are continually moving. Not so fast, others say (and pray), rather we should continue the fight to the very end such that the angel of death, when he finds us, finds us fully alive.
The topic invites a broad range of discussion topics from religion -- bringing recriminations as well as consolation -- to the communal aspect of mourning. What's often lacking in Western customs is a "holding space -- a temporal, emotional, and spatial interlude" for genuine bereavement. Distinguish that from today's elaborate codes of mourning found by many to be intrusive, mawkish and embarrassing.
May we address the fear and ignorance giving rise to the denial of death by taking a cue from those in the palliative care business. We'll start with the references in the article, supplement them with our own observations, and perhaps close with a call for outside guidance. Envision our very own club as that referenced communal holding space.
- Steve Smith.