Death Culture in a lot of the US is so depressing and isolating. I know this doesn’t speak to every culture’s tradition and experience bc there are so many people and cultures in the country, but largely this is what I see.
People afraid of death. Not of dying, but of the concept and precense of death.
When someone dies, it’s spoken about very quietly and very privately, almost like it should be a secret.
Viewings and funerals have sanitized atmospheres, where you walk into a funeral home and very quietly tell the nearest family member that you’re sorry, and they say thank you, and you leave quickly, just as quietly.
People don’t explain death to their children, or they even hide it (replacing dead pets with identical ones, usually with fish or hamsters).
Worst of all, when the process is all over, when the body is in the ground or an urn, people stop talking about the person as if their memory is a taboo.
It has been eight years since my dad died. Eight. And people still avoid bringing him up around me. Sometimes they’ll even apologize if they mention him. If I meet someone new and mention he died, eight years ago, they say “oh I’m so sorry” and avoid saying anything ever again that may reference me having a dad.
It’s like when someone dies here, people want to pretend they never lived.
I’ve never understood this sort of culture, because on my mom’s side, we’ve always been super open about death. When a family member dies, we stand up by their body at the wake and tell lively stories about them. People laugh loudly and cry freely and share the most noble and most hilariously embarrassing moments they hold dear to them with the person we lost.
At the house we eat all day, but we can never eat enough, because more and more people bring more and cook more. We drink, and we even play instruments and sing, and we tell more stories.
And we tell the children what death means. And we don’t stop talking about the person once they’re in the ground.
If I miss them, I can message a family member and share a memory and feel better again.
So it always astounds me when someone asks me about my parents, and the way I watch them absolutely clam up when I say my dad died when I was in high school. I see in their eyes the way they silently make a note to never bring him up again.
Of course, if I ASKED them not to, that’d be one thing.
But I can’t ignore that we live largely in a society where death is a secret thing. A scary and inappropriate topic that happens behind closed doors. A dirty fact of life that we deal with as quickly as possible and can’t wait to wash our hands of.
I think it makes it harder for everyone. I hate that I feel I can’t bring up my own father, who raised me for seventeen years, without making Polite Company visibly uncomfortable.
Death is part of life. It’s going to happen to all of us, and I’m grateful to know that when it eventually happens to me, my family will laugh and cry and sing and eat my favorite food and drink my favorite drinks and tell embarrassing stories about me and my memory will stay with them because they’ll never lock it away in some secret little drawer deemed impolite and scary and dark.
There are so many cultures that process death in much healthier ways, and I’m not saying we should take heir traditions, but I think we should follow their example.
As it is, death is an isolating experience. We need to start talking about it.
Death isn’t evil, or inherently bad, or mysterious. It just happens. And it hurts. And it’s hard and sad and difficult to navigate. But all of those things are better managed when we talk and remember.