Each night, I turn on the local news for half an hour and watch what has become of my community. I sit on the couch and observe my parents as they nervously watch the news anchors rattle off death tolls like election results and see footage of the white, mobile morgues parked outside the hospital. For me, these images have become just another part of my routine, and that might worry some. Why am I not horrified by these reminders of the constant death that plagues my community and the world? I believe the reason these images scare us is because we’re scared of death — and if we can become less scared of death, these images, though a reminder of the condition of our community, will affect us less.
Death positivity is a philosophy I chose to adopt a few years ago. It may sound like an oxymoron, but I find it brings my mind comfort. Essentially, death positivity is about freeing oneself from the fear of death through open conversation about it. Death positive communities encourage people to chat casually about everything from planning their own funerals to getting their thanatophobic parents to open up about what they want done after they pass. If I talk about death often, it trains my brain to accept it as normal — and it is normal.
Our society largely discourages talking about dying, writing it off as morbid. In reality, most people don’t want to talk about death because they don’t want to think about their own passings or the day their loved ones will meet their inevitable fates. I understand that. Death is hard, especially when it makes its upcoming presence known. When a grandparent is pushing 90 or a friend is hospitalized with a deadly virus, death stares them and their loved ones in the face.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us all think and talk about death a bit more. Unfortunately, even after ten months, some approach this topic with deaf ears. To those people, death is still taboo and macabre. When they see body coolers the size of semitrucks, they’re shocked and disgusted because they aren’t used to thinking about death; their minds aren’t prepared to be struck with the onslaught of the pandemic.
Admittedly, this is a problem that would’ve been best solved a year ago by recognizing death as inevitable and natural, but not all bad. This gives us time to prepare our minds for the massive amounts of death we would encounter in 2020. But it’s never too late to improve one’s outlook on death. I suggest starting with the YouTube channel “Ask a Mortician.” The host, Caitlin Doughty, is the founder of the Order of the Good Death — a death positive community centered around bringing death talk into the public — as well as an author and co-owner of a California funeral home. Her videos are fun, educational and all about how the death industry works, how to be more death positive and strange stories about death and dead bodies.
I would also recommend attempting to talk to more people about death, especially your loved ones whose ends you may encounter one day. I know death can be a touchy subject, and some people may not take it well, but a lot of people have thoughts about death that they’ve been too afraid to share because it’s often seen as a taboo and inappropriate topic of conversation. By making oneself open to discussing death, it encourages others to join the conversation and see they aren’t alone in their thoughts and opinions.
COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways. Some have lost multiple friends or family members to the virus, while others have barely encountered it. Similarly, each person is at different stages of coming to terms with death. If talking about it really negatively affects a friend, hold off. Just as it’s rude to force a religion on someone, it’s impolite to force friends to change their personal philosophy. I do believe that a path toward death positivity is best for all, but some people aren’t ready.
Death positive or not, this is a hard time. It’s likely that the pandemic has caused people to think more on death. If these thoughts are worrying, or if you need someone to listen to you, call the 24/7 CAPS line at 402-472-7450. If you want further counseling, the university has plenty of mental health professionals to help you through your thoughts about death, in which you are not alone.