Life, death and everything in between: what being death positive means
“Why are there a zillion websites and references to being sex positive and nothing for being death positive?” That was the question Caitlin Doughty, founder of ‘The order of the Good Death’, found herself asking before she decided that it was time to change the way we think about death. This led her to bring the death positive movement to life over six years ago. Since then, it’s changed the way many perceive and approach death and all it encompasses. But what does being death positive really mean really? Today we will be exploring this and the concept of ‘death celebration’ which will, hopefully, change your mindset and prompt you to start a conversation around what is still quite a ‘taboo’ topic.
Am I death positive?
According to Caitlin Doughty, death positivity isn’t complicated or morbid – in fact, it does what it says on the tin. In simple terms, it’s an individual’s fascination of death, the interest in its history and how different cultures around the world celebrate it. The movement is based on eight clear principles:
- I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
- I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
- I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
- I believe that the dead body is not dangerous, and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
- I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honoured, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
- I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
- I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
- I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.
All these concepts may take a while to get your head around so today we’ll focus on two of them. Essentially, we would like you to consider that death shouldn’t be a scary thing that you don’t talk about.
The power of words
We want to start by talking about the second principle and the importance of breaking the culture of silence around death. Having said that, we are aware that accepting death can be difficult and everyone deals with it in different ways. Talking about it can be more challenging and uncomfortable for some people and as a culture, we tend to shy away from the topic and avoid exploring it. But death is an inevitable event in anyone’s life and there is nothing that we can do to change that. However, what we can change is our mindset and our idea of death, and communication is key to achieving this. In the last few years, we have witnessed the rise of so-called ‘death cafes’ which allow people to meet in a safe environment and simply talk, about their fears, their feelings and how to make the most out of their lives. Having these conversations can have far-reaching benefits and we strongly believe that it should involve people of all ages, children included. Kids, in particular, don’t understand what dying means until they have enough information to process it. If they experience death it’s important to let them know that what they are going through is normal and help them cope with the emotions associated with death. When ‘The Hub’ was launched here at Coles, our goal was to end the silence around death in our community and address this topic with everyone in clear and simple language that is easy to comprehend and feel comfortable with. For children, in particular, we have launched our education programme which includes visiting primary schools in the South Wales area, inviting them to visit our funeral home to freely discuss death and an on-site kid’s corner. Starting a conversation at an early age can help to normalise the idea of death and encourage an open, honest conversation around it. Not talking about dying can sometimes be harmful as children may feel isolated or guilty when dealing with something they don’t quite understand.
(Death) positive vibes
Accepting death and talking about it can bring up emotions and feelings and for some the desire to plan a great funeral that reflects personal wishes, making it memorable. Death is probably one of the most intimate events in anyone’s life and, as such, it’s important to take the time to think about how you would want that day to go and personalise the whole experience. Here at Coles, we support the death positive movement, especially when it comes to getting your family and friends involved in your plans, as suggested by the 7th principle. By letting them know what your end-of-life wishes are, they will be able to honour your life in a way that best suits you. Take for example Indonesia: funeral festivities there can take years, even decades in some cases to plan and include dancing, singing and an interesting ritual. As the death positive movement highlights, “Death is not an emergency, you can take the time to sit with the [dead] person, hold their hand, tell stories” and the Toraja people embody this concept beautifully. While waiting for the official ceremony to take place, they have a ritual which involves keeping the dead body in the family home until the day and every member of the family takes care of the body as if it was simply a sick person. The death positive movement puts the needs of the family and the dead body first and wants to empower families, giving them the opportunity to be involved in the death of their loved one (should they want to).
We appreciate that this approach isn’t for everyone which why it is important to give some thought into what you want personally. Whether you are facing death or want to plan in advance, we believe that you should feel empowered and be in control of your own funeral. You have the opportunity to turn it into a positive experience for all your guests by personalising it to the smallest detail, encouraging them to be involved with the process, provided they feel comfortable in doing so.
Being death positive is not morbid, on the contrary. It’s about accepting death and embracing it so that you can live in the moment and cherish every minute of your life, celebrating it at every stage, even death. There is no right or wrong way to do this – like most things, it comes down to personal preference. However you decide to approach it, we do encourage you to start an open conversation with your family and loved ones, and be honest with them about how you want your funeral to be. Because one thing is for sure- everyone faces death at some point in their life. If you would like to speak to our team about anything you have read today, or for more information, get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 029 2209 3388.