Monday, October 17, 2011

On death and dying

There is a whole division of sociology that studies death and dying. We don't have room for that in our schedule, but it comes up as part of our discussion of American culture and Tuesdays With Morrie so I wanted to post about it.

Our culture trains us how to think about death. While we are living, it is a taboo topic and when it happens we don't know exactly what to think about it - all we have is sadness and a sense of loss. It is important to note that this is a cultural norm that varies in other cultures around the world. One book that examines this is called Dancing on the Grave, by Nigel Barley.  You can read an excerpt here, but the important point that Barley makes is that grief and mourning are different.  All cultures mourn death, that is they have rituals for dealing with death, but grieving is an emotion and is not part of all cultures.  Grief is a fairly modern concept and is tied into the development of individualism and (in my opinion) materialism.  We see each individual as separate and less connected to other individuals than our ancestors did.  So death represents the loss of an individual.  And because our modern culture is so wrapped up in material things, it is hard to get by the loss of the physical individual.  Instead we could see that person in all of us - we are all impacted by one another.  The love we share is a part of us.  Like Morrie said, "Death ends a life, not a relationship."  We have trouble with that.


  1. I think my opinions on death and dying divert from yours in the sense that not all deaths should be mourned. I believe that the purpose of a funeral is to reminisce of the life the particular person had and to be grateful for the time spent and memories made together. A funeral for one who lived a long, or at least fulfilling life should not be a gathering of people in mourning but in celebration for having been graced by that person's presence for however long or short of a time during his or her life.

  2. Thank you for your well written piece. Many of us unfortunately have read horror stories about the funeral business. Regrettably there are companies selling cremation urns online which are not much more reputable. While they spend lavish amounts of money on web sites dripping with sympathy – many of these companies are nothing more than a site that drop ships product. Beware of sellers that do not have a physical address or the names of the principals of the company on the site – what are they hiding from? I had an issue with a company called Perfect Memorials ( ) and there was no one from the company that would talk to me. While I could call to order an urn – I could not speak to an owner or manager over the phone – they insisted that we only communicate via email. An evasive tactic if I ever saw one! Perfect Memorials is really a company that invested heavily in the web – but puts very little into the human contact part of the funeral/memorial industry. I would be careful of and others like them.

  3. You have an amazing post. I read it several times. Read a similar post in mine too! Death