I like to talk about death. A lot. Like to the point that I regularly manage to steer my conversations toward death and death planning. I’m not sure where it comes from but I think it may have started the summer I was 17. I spent some time in New Brunswick visiting family. Every morning my cousin and I would wake up and start our day watching two back-to-back repeats of Law & Order while munching on cereal. It was then that I started thinking about all the different ways there are to die – strangled in a park, given poison that will make it look like you’ve had a heart attack, a surgery mishap performed by a drunk surgeon, the possibilities are endless! Since then, I began thinking about my own impending death as well as what I would want my funeral to look like. I thought I was a total weirdo until I discovered the death acceptance movement (while researching alternatives to traditional burial, natch).
Caitlin Doughty and her “Ask a Mortician” videos were my introduction to the death acceptance movement and discovering that I’m not the only young person who regularly contemplates death. Despite the movement’s growing popularity, there are still plenty of death deniers who decry us as little more than goth kids with an unhealthy obsession with the macabre. So for those of you who aren’t in the know, I’d like to address some common misconceptions about death acceptance and explain what this whole movement is actually about.
Misconception 1 – We all want to die. Even though I talk about planning for my death all the time, I don’t plan on dying any time soon. In fact I expect that I’ll be like most of my family and live far too long into old age. But the point is, just because I’ve accepted my mortality doesn’t mean that I’m trying to jump-start the process. Being comfortable with your impending death isn’t the same thing as wanting to die immediately.
Misconception 2 – We’re super morbid all the time. Okay, this one really depends on the individual person. Some people who are into death acceptance are really into memento moris (if you want nightmares just do a Google image search of that one), taxidermy, and all manner of morbid art and imagery. Personally that really isn’t my jam although I do love the occasional decorative glass skull. But I’ve also found that a large number of people who are into morbid art are surprisingly uncomfortable with talking about their own death. Go figure!
Misconception 3 – We want to kill off the elderly and sick. Despite Sarah Palin’s talk about death panels, those of us who advocate for death acceptance as well as dying with dignity simply want to advocate for people who are terminally ill and are seeking doctor-assisted suicide. It’s not a fun topic but it’s also important to consider the final wishes of people who don’t want to lose their ability to eat, speak, and even breathe independently. However, this doesn’t mean that just because someone is sick and/or elderly and needs assistance, that we want them to “kill them off.” Every person deserves the right to make their own medical decisions, and that includes living.
Misconception 4 – We won’t grieve when our loved ones die. This is by far the strangest misconception I’ve come across. Somehow people misconstrue death acceptance with feeling absolutely nothing toward the death of a loved one. In fact, the opposite is true. The death acceptance movement advocates for a more realistic view of grief unlike mainstream society, which frequently expects people to “get over it” and “move on” after a matter of months or even weeks. This realistic view entails understanding that there is no time limit on grief, feelings of grief can return when you least expect it, and that our community as a whole should be more understanding of people who are experiencing a loss.
Misconception 5 – We’re just a bunch of moody goths. Believe it or not I never went through a goth phase, not even in high school. And while this is one of the sillier misconceptions I still feel the need to address. Yes, a lot of my wardrobe is black (unintentionally) and I definitely wore black nail polish when it made a comeback last fall, but apart from that, I think it’s a safe bet to say that most people who are into death acceptance can’t be picked out in a crowd. They look *gasp * just like you and me.
So after all this you might be wondering what the heck death acceptance is actually about. It’s pretty simple. To me, it’s about accepting your mortality and planning for it. Look at it this way, you have no idea how your life is going to turn out. There is no guarantee that you will get married, have children, land that dream job, or travel the world. The one thing that IS a guarantee however is that someday, some way, you will die. There’s no guarantee that you will have a good death but there are plenty of things you can do to assist both yourself and your family when the time comes. This includes having advanced directives in place, writing a will, and planning for your funeral. Even though you might not want to face your impending death, taking these steps is the best thing you can do for your own peace of mind and that of your family.