In the book Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life, the authors note, "For most of human history, dying—like being born—was generally a family, communal, and religious event, not a medical one. Because many deaths occurred at home, people were likely to care for dying relatives and, thus, to have a fairly personal and direct experience with dying and death." For the past 50+ years that has not been the case, and the result is that we don't know how to talk about death and dying.
As a society, over time we learned to avoid the dying and stay away from those who are grieving. Very few people have directly experienced a death. We shield (and confuse) children from death with euphemisms like, "we've lost Grandpa."
With a trend back toward dying at home and a growing "death positive" movement, there is hope that we will eventually find our way back to talking about death as the inevitable part of the life cycle that it is. Maybe it doesn't need to take decades, either.
My daughter was recently getting ready for a job interview and asked which mask she should wear with her outfit. I suddenly realized that in just four short months we have completely adapted to a new norm. We wear masks, we've stopped hugging and shaking hands, and we stand far away from each other—largely without even thinking about it. That's a really short amount of time in which to acclimate to a whole new way of interacting with each other.
It made me think that we CAN adapt fairly quickly when we need to and that perhaps we can learn to talk about death again more easily just by starting to do so. We can all advocate for a healthier culture around dying just by sharing our stories, using more direct language, and most especially, not being afraid to have conversations with people at the end of their life.
Thanks for reading— you're helping already!