In our particular field of talking about the dead (genealogy), we have very few conversations about the act of death itself. We tend to wax on about the causes of death, and how long someone lived, but straight talk about death doesn’t come easily to many of us.
And why would it? In our Western culture, for many years, death has not been something celebrated, praised or even talked about in polite company. Unlike other cultures, we Westerners tend to go by “out of sight and out of mind” mantra when dealing and discussing the idea of death.
But one group is trying to change that, and I’ve become part of that change. The Order of the Good Death was founded by L.A. Mortician and author Caitlin Doughty. Through this group, morticians, artists, writers, pathologists and other individuals involved in the positive death industry help bring these ideas, stories and unique ways of death to the forefront of our culture. On their website they say:
Since becoming a genealogist, death has always been on my mind. It is something that no matter who you are, where you live or how old you are will happen to you. It’s the only constant in life.
Death is natural.
This is something I have found out first hand after landing a job at a local funeral home a few weeks ago. Every day I come face-to-face with death. Every day I come face-to-face with the people who are the stories we tell to our families. Every body that comes through my care had a life, had a story to tell and a journey they went on.
I feel honored to be caring for these individuals in their last stages of their mortal journey by taking care of their bodies with respect.
Not everyone can do this job (as I found out very quickly) but it is one that feels very natural to me.
So join me, be part of this positive death movement:
- I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
- I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
- I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
- I believe that the dead body is not dangerous and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
- I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
- I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
- I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
- I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.