What are your first thoughts of death?
Most probably fear, heavy pain, unexpectedness, regrets.
Before my Mom’s death I lived in a fuss as many people. I couldn’t think of my beloved one’s dying. And when it happened untimely on June 14th 2008 my world was crashed. The first days, being in shock, it seemed I became a part of a big machine where we were told what to do and to make decision quickly. Funeral ceremonies and rituals worsened my infinite grief. The only live moments were the talks about my cheerful Mom, whom I’m happy to know for 28 years.
Death is a deeply personal issue as everything in the world, and everyone is free to choose how to feel about it. But no doubt everyone knows that it’s natural and intimately concerns every human on Earth. Nature wouldn’t create anything that hinders the value of life. At the same time the society wrapped death with the dark and fear, so that the proper attitude to death could hardly be formed.
Death in big cities
We are 7,5 bln people and half of us live in cities.
In big cities death contact became vague due to absence of relevant funeral culture and established infrastructure: all death issues are sorted out by hospitals, morgues, funeral homes.
The low awareness of death causes many regrets like having no courage to live a true life, be happier and working not so hard. All the more death comes in any age. We all know the phrase «live every day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right», but not everyone knows how to live like this. Historical legacy cultivated fear of death via the dark rituals which worked for challenges of the past. Now we live in a different time with new values, but rituals stayed the same.
Also due to burial ground shortage and rising funeral costs, planing and pre-payment, cremation and other cost-effective and green alternatives become more and more popular in many countries. New markets have appeared: have your ashes ‘planted’ with a tree; turn ashes into a diamond, ring or fireworks; create fingerprint jewelry (here is a list of inspiring references). It means that the burial location gradually disappear and there is no need to stick to a cemetery.
Living people less stick to the place too and are on the move — more than ever before. It means that many relatives’ burials are stayed forgotten or unattended.
What is left? Love and memory. It turns out the second one is not that good now because of the information and digital abundance — our memory moved to Google and smartphones. We forget some stories of our loved ones which disappear in the past and have less chance to stay in memory for the future. People want to know and remember their family tree, but have no wish or time to leave information about themselves for the next generations. I mean consciously.
As digital users we leave quite enough information about ourselves — some moments that matter to us, and some that don’t. We are fast moving into a time where everything we share for different purposes with a power of artificial intelligence (AI) can be analyzed and turned into virtual us — hopefully the ones we are happy with. Most probably in the future, the virtual reality will be a key in keeping our family tree, and new funeral ceremonies will appear not only for physical death, but for virtual one.
I think, such features of our time should not be taken as a problem. Quite the contrary: it works for the new mindset and values of the new age — self-fulfilment, celebration of life, self-development via love and creativity, rather via suffering and pain.
Why rituals need changes
The world has changed, and the rituals and ceremonies’ roles need to be rethought for the new generation.
In the culture of the previous centuries, suffering played a good role and had a noble context in literature, music, art, architecture. The cult of suffering was also clearly reflected in the ritual culture. And the fear amplified suffering.
The frightening death character via Memento Mori rituals worked for the main challenge of the past — to survive in massive external danger — wars, deceases, infections. The death character itself was depicted as something alien.
Such fears and mental conflicts caused a growth of cancer, mental and immune deceases in the end of the 20th century. So, the focus of danger moved from the external to internal. More people started to realize that the source of happiness and pain is not outside, but inside themselves.
Now we are living in a different era — the time for self-fulfilment and development via love and celebration of life. Finally diverse domains like religions, quantum physics, nature and virtual reality come to cross-points — the common understanding of the existence, living in the now moment, the key importance of awareness, love and creation.
In funeral industry we can see the beautiful trends: celebration of life ceremonies in the halls, the natural burials, ashes planted with a tree keep the human live spirit.
When funeral culture make a shift to the new values — from fear and pain to celebration of life and expression of love to those, who is not with us anymore, it will help raise awareness of death.
It could change the way that we die, but more importantly, it could transform the way that we live.
There will be less regrets, fear and pain, and physical death will be perceived as a soul maturation.
- Natalia Shipilova, Co-Founder of The Museum of Me