Death: Is It Just Bad PR?

LF railway-to-heaven

Famous writer/director Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  

It is rather odd that death, an event that will be happen to every person who lives, should be so shunned as a topic of conversation.  Death is, as one Buddhist monk put it, the “great equalizer.” (1) We will all share in it.

This irony is part of why there is a groundswell of disruption around death in the US.  There is the nonprofit Death over Dinner that invites people to eat together and reflect on death.  “Death Cafes” are popping up worldwide, informal groups that meet in cafes and libraries to sit in a circle and talk about death, in the abstract and in reality, for those who are facing end-of-life themselves or with a loved one.

On the surface, these gatherings may sound “goth” or morbid.  They aren’t either of those. They are celebrations of life and a way to compare how others are feeling about this utterly natural part of being.

The founder of Death over Dinner, Michael Hebb, points out that our Western society in particular has “sterilized death” and made it into a medical event only.  He goes so far as to say that attendees “Don’t focus on the darkness of the topic.” Instead, “They do focus on vulnerability and human connection. Through looking at death, they’re falling in love with each other.”  He explains that many of the same chemicals, like dopamine and oxytocin, that cascade through our bodies when we form strong relationships are released when we connect deeply about death. (2)

Some posit that it is our culture’s distance from “everyday death” that has caused this reluctance to talk about it.  Most of us don’t live close enough to nature as our ancestors did to witness the death of food (animals) on a daily basis.  And of course, people are living longer and not dying in childbirth and as children at the rates they were in our history. Unless we work in a field that has death all around — palliative care, the funeral business, war — death is removed from most of our lives.

It may be that this distance has fueled the fear and now the curiosity to gently, and in a safe setting, discuss the great mystery that waits for everyone.  Intrigued? Finding a nearby group to take the plunge with you into this disruptive topic is just a few clicks away on Meetup.


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