Last week a friend of mine was buried. Way too early. He was 29, an incredibly special guest. His farewell was impressive. Lots of people, beautiful music, misunderstanding, loss and beautiful personal stories, but also the collective awareness of how fragile life is.
Funerals suck. Sad, intense. The one event where you always hope that you are not on the invite list. Yet after a funeral I often come home with, in addition to a feeling of intense sadness and loss, also a feeling of decisiveness, new energy and motivation. Openly realizing and discussing with each other that life could in principle be over tomorrow – you could get sick, be hit by a truck, drown, or simply not wake up – also brings something beautiful. It connects and enriches, no matter how paradoxical that sounds.
Death is the only part of life, besides birth, that everyone will have to deal with one day. Not really something you can ignore, you might say. Yet there is a fearful stigma surrounding it in everyday life and, according to a study conducted by SIRE, more than 1 in 3 people never talk about death.
Even within my own environment I notice that death is a subject that I prefer to stay far away from, and the theme is often waved away with ‘death eaters’ such as ‘let’s keep it cozy’. We see death as something painful. Something elusive and scary. While talking about death makes life a lot more bearable and perhaps even more beautiful.
Talking about death makes it easier to enjoy today. It is not without reason that one of the oldest philosophical ideals in Western culture is ‘memento mori’ (remember to die). Or think of ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day), which urged people centuries ago to get the most out of life, not to waste time and to live in the ‘now’.
In addition, openly discussing our mortality makes it easier to reflect on great victories. “At least you have that in your pocket,” we might say to each other. You could also say out loud more often how you think about someone. A kind of early, two-sided, interactive funeral, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee. You absolutely don’t have to be terminally ill.
With the campaign ‘Death: talk about it, not over it’, SIRE hoped to make people think about the value of talking about death. I go one step further by saying that it is almost a shame not to do it.
What if, by mentioning it every now and then, we can make death live a little more? Trying to bring that collective awareness from a funeral into our everyday lives? Do things because it might be the last time (or not, but that doesn’t matter), and no longer wait until a goodbye to mention how special that one friend is? Would this help us collectively realize that life is secretly quite beautiful? In any case, I’ll start doing it today.
Noor Broeders, Amsterdam