Death Denial

There’s been a few things in the last couple of days that’s gotten me thinking on the topic of death and the way we in our culture handle its reality. The most obvious one was the recent death of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin. Here’s a guy that, frankly, was probably popular because he so gleefully waded into danger that would kill most of us and came out of it unscathed. Then along comes what should have been a routine day of filming that ended with Irwin being stabbed in the heart by the tail of a manta ray – something that has an incredibly low chance of occurring.

I think that the reason that people were so morbidly fascinated with the news of his death is that, at a subconscious level, we were all saying to ourselves, “if this guy who seemed invincible was actually mortal, I bet that I might be too.” Of course, this subconscious voice has a difficult time working its way to the surface past our own cultural conditioning.

What cultural conditioning, you ask? Well, to start with, our society has systematically attempted to remove the reality of death from our day-to-day existence. I’m reminded of this as I walk past the funeral home every day as I “commute” (ie walk) between my apartment and the school. We’ve turned death into an industry reserved for the specialists. It’s neatly tucked away from general public consumption in neatly kept buildings and men in suits. To greatly assist this process, we also put our elderly and sick in hospitals and “old folks homes” so that we do not have to be around as the life slowly departs from our aged population.

Add to this neat segregation the prevalence of young, beautiful people assaulting our retinas from every media outlet possible. Every time I shop for groceries, I’m assaulted by Cosmo, People and enough tabloids to keep up on the latest celebrity “news.” The message being hammered away at us is that we want to be young, and a specific type of good-looking. Will you ever see an old person here? Nope.

So, my hope is that the world we live in stops living in the fantasy land where death doesn’t actually happen to them. I guess that our part as followers of Christ in this is to stop blindly following the youth-worshiping, death denying culture so prevalent in North America. My wife just told me today that she noticed some wrinkles by my eyes, and there’s no way I’m buying cream or any crap like that for them!

I will die someday, and I know what kind of life I want to lead between now and then. I also happen to know that death is just the doorway to the rest of my life. How do we live like this is true in a culture that denies death even exists?

8 responses to “Death Denial”

  1. One thing that comes to mind is encouraging healthy grieving. I’ve heard some horror stories of putting time-limits on others’ grieving process. As if we need more fake happiness!

    Church is a fake-happiness free zone. Amen.

  2. I’m going to die – so what? Would you rather we all dwell on it and obsess over our mortality? We call people who do that ‘morbid’, or ‘goths’ or assign them some other such suitably negative label.

    Trouble is that it’s hard to tell those who have realised and come to terms with their mortality from those who avoid it altogether. For non-believers, all they can do is believe in their own immortality; the alternative is just too frightening.

    And Cam, there does come a point where continued greiving is unhealthy. I agree that the amount of time required may vary greatly from person to person, but when grieving turns into clinging onto, it’s time to set aside our own sorrows and live how our loved would like us to.

  3. Cam: I agree. It is unhealthy to consider grief something to move through mechanically and orderly. An excellent book on the topic is Jerry Sittser’s A Grace Disguised. Not that you need any more books in your queue. ;)

    Trav: Good input. I’m not advocating an obsession with death, not by any means. But I do believe that our society has and is systematically trying to forget about and deny death’s existence. Recognizing our mortality is a necessary part of any sane life philosophy, but this is made difficult by the pervasiveness of its denial within contemporary culture.

    I agree that there does come a point when grieving should ease up and the person comes into some sort of healthier balance in life again. But I would say that the general pressure in our culture is to try to push grief away much more quickly than is healthy. Still, that isn’t license to wallow indefinitely.

  4. I think the best thing to do is hang out with those who are dying. It’s the place I have had my head twisted into perceiving life differently, in a very good way.

  5. I am thinking of India as I read this entry. I know many people personally in India and I work with a ministry that runs camps in India. The Christians in India live life very different than we do, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that death is intensely real to them. Their lives are full of simple joys and a type of care-free lifestyle that displays their desire to live every day to the fullest.

    It’s so easy to forget that God chose to put us on this earth for a reason, and that He could have just as easily stuck us up in Heaven (or Hell for that matter) and skipped the whole earth part. God wants us to do something to display that we recognize His provision. Trying to stay young and youthful simply is not how we honor God’s blessing of time and wisdom. Focusing on how to stay young prevents us from growing into what God wants us to be.

    Cheers Matt for the excellent topic!

  6. BJ: Do you still go by BJ or are you Will or Bill or William now? Thanks for your thoughts. You sure are right that this death denial vanishes once you leave the comfy confines of affluent cultures.

    Ben: Thanks man. Good to have you around.

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