There is something scary about dying. We'd rather not talk about it. Our focus is on living, not? Health trends flourish by wanting to stay young forever, and medicine must keep people alive. You can see death as the failure of medicine. In recent decades, dying has therefore become a hidden, lonely and even sterile event. It takes place more often in the clinical environment of a hospital or retirement home than in the warmth of a family circle. Dying is normal, but "dying well" is not.
The pandemic of the past year has temporarily exacerbated this reality. Not only were we scared to death, but the circumstances in which people die are also hardly to be called "good". The corona measures often make farewell impossible, and the death of a loved one can sometimes only be announced by telephone. At best, there are unrecognizable, masked caretakers in front of you. The body is also quickly disposed of (and cremated in a group). This also makes the task of healthcare providers even harder. This makes dying even scarier.
Dying is a loaded theme that seems difficult to discuss. But conversations about death are just as meaningful as conversations about life itself. Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. More than ever, there are places where you can gather to talk about death. What used to be a little sinister has now become a form of "healing". Numerous blogs, Instagram accounts, podcasts and YouTube channels offer people insights that were not easily discussed in the past. Funeral director Caitlin Doughty even has 1.5 million followers on Youtube. But also the success of a worldwide chain of "death cafes" brings people together in one of their 7,500 locations to talk about dying. Death is alive, more than ever.
Dying is still too often regarded as a medical fact. But just as birth has become a beautiful, conscious moment in recent years, dying is also becoming a human experience. Today you can graduate from the University of Vermont's College of Medicine as Death Doula, poetically translated as “midwives of death”. They deal with the welfare of the dying (and those around them) and give them a meaningful, restful death. I expect that we will see this new type of “wellness coaches” spread across our regions shortly.
The fun-eral itself is also gradually becoming something "fun". Dying people set up their own ceremony. Surfers go out to sea together. Their own house is decorated, and cheerful clothes are put on. Solemn commemorations thus become personal celebrations (increasingly held while the person is still alive). It is a celebration where creativity, intimacy and humanity live to the full. What's essential in life is also essential when life ends. For this reason, people no longer want to be buried among hardwoods that will take several hundred years to break down into the ground. Our ecological footprint is just as significant as we are dead, Recompose proves. With this patented system, human remains can be converted into the soil to nourish new life after we die.
The FUN-eral is also a lively start to a shared grieving process. Shared sorrow is half sorrow. Previous generations may have learned not to talk about grief, but that is no longer the case. Mourning is no longer taboo. Mourning lives with everyone. "Modern mourning" is such a social platform from the Netherlands where people talk together about grief and farewell. This new grief also breathes new life into the way we commemorate people. Ashes are pressed into diamonds, bodies are planted under trees, seeds grow in ashes, or vessels glow with the organic energy from the dying body's biomass. But burial places, such as the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, are also meeting places for cocktail parties, yoga sessions or art exhibitions. It makes commemoration a new part of life.
We all wish to have a healthy and happy life. But because of this, we have long forgotten that dying well is part of this. Dying may be normal, but "dying well" is not at all. We also had to discover this in the past year. But more than ever, there is a Healthusiasm to talk about death, to make dying a human experience, to be buried meaningfully, and to integrate grief into life. Because dying well is indeed living well.