Memento Mori… Or, The Importance Of Thinking On Death

Does this offend your sensibilities?

Lately I read an article in my local paper about how a butcher’s display window had started to garner protest, as the villagers found the hanging carcasses and skinned animals in it distasteful. I didn’t know if I had to be amused or worried.

Another incident was on Facebook, where a girl offered a coffin for sale, in “mint condition with only slight wear from repeated use”. Apparently she had gotten it from her parents, who were performance artists. The reactions on it were incredible; people called this girl without empathy and morals, they literally cursed her to hell, said she had no respect for anyone’s feelings… Only because she was using a public forum to sell a theatrical decor piece (it was a real coffin, but still) related to death.

Or this?

We are humans. We live. We die. We rot and decay. That is simply the way of things. It seems however, that our society becomes less and less capable of dealing with this reality as time passes. We eat beasts, but we would rather not be reminded of the fact that our frozen pork chops and cutlets were parts of living animals once. We want to ban all reference to death from our life, and consider all who don’t do so deviant and disrespectful. Death has become a matter of “dark” subcultures and medical personnel; it has no place in most people’s daily life anymore.

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This wasn’t always the case. Memento Mori pieces (“reminders of death”; artwork and objects meant to point out the transience of human life) used to be omnipresent in people’s lives, and death was a most normal thing to, if not outright discuss, at least spend some thought on. I’m not a historian so I can’t say for certain when and why death became less prominent in our western society, but I think it has something to do with the vast advancement of medical science that started around the 17th century. With cures and treatments being found for a variety of illnesses that used to be deadly, and life expectancy steadily going up, it’s not so strange that people began to focus on the lengthening of life rather than the acceptance of death.

Why is this bad? Or better, why do I think this is bad?

Apart from the ridiculous situations it brings forth (if you eat meat, you should be able to stand carcasses; otherwise you could just as well be a vegetarian), thinking on death is necessary to be able to deal with it when it inevitably comes. I think the estrangement from our mortality isn’t doing our society any good. Dying has become a matter of debate; people are making a fuss over whether “psychologically suffering” minors and senile elderly should be allowed euthanasia, whether it is right or wrong to “choose” death, if some people wouldn’t be better off dead… It worries me, because the way we look at death says a lot about how we look at suffering.

We want people’s passing to be clean, quick, painless, and most importantly, unnoticed. We’d hide suffering in little white rooms and try not to think about it, and also, we’d put an end to it as soon as possible. There is already so little room for pain and natural decay in our society, so little acceptance of the basic strains of life… We have to be young and active as long as possible, and when we can’t (anymore), we are expected to quietly remove ourselves from the sight of others, thank you very much. How long until we aren’t even allowed to die when death comes anymore?

A society that can’t accept death has no room for aging, for suffering, for decay. For all their perceived unpleasantness these things are normal, but we make them taboo. I find this a worrying thought, and I wonder what our world is coming to…

About quantumphysica

My name is QuantumPhysica The Insane, but you can call me QP. I am insane, admitted to a mental hospital in Belgium, and waiting for a decent diagnosis at the moment. Once I was a physics student with goals in life and what more; now I'm simply the patient of Room 93. Ever wondered what life is like in the psychiatric ward? I'll tell you everything you ever wanted to know... I am... particularly twitchy of personality. But I also am genuinely interested in everything. There is nothing that doesn't interest me, really. Everything, from quantum computers to fashion and cars to traveling... I also give advice. On anything. No taboos whatsoever. And I make lists of things...
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7 Responses to Memento Mori… Or, The Importance Of Thinking On Death

  1. YAPCaB says:

    A most thought provoking read. I have terminal cancer and have been told the process of dying, the end game, will likely be very painful. The docs claim there are meds that can handle it, but my blog readings suggest otherwise.

    I’m not a big fan of pain. I realize it has an important function in life, but when it serves no purpose, but to produce agony, I think euthanasia is a reasonable choice.

    That all said, I agree with you that our society tries to ignore and hide from death. I wish I had thought about my death a lot more when I was younger. A class or two on mortality would have been good. I’d really like some help with how to think about death. My shrink helps, but it’s a subject that’s so large that it takes time and considerable effort to even try to get my arms around it.

    Thanks again for such a great post.

    • I’m so sorry to read this, and I hope you will not have to suffer more than you can handle. If I were religious I would pray for you, but as I’m not I can only offer to keep you in my thoughts.
      I’m not against euthanasia, and certainly not an advocate of letting people suffer in agony until they naturally draw their last breath. I simply think the debate around death and dying in our society has taken on unnatural proportions, because we have become so estranged from it.
      You are certainly right in that we should teach people to think about and live with mortality. As you say, it is quite the large subject to come to terms with, especially when it’s already looming over you when you start considering it.
      I wish you all the best, and I hope you will manage to fill your remaining days with good things and good people.
      Love, QP

  2. Reblogged this on Art Therapy and Related Topics and commented:
    Another great post from a blog I follow. As I often post on here about this topic, especially our society’s ungealthy attitude towards death and dying….

  3. Pingback: Memento Mori Monday: Skullis Crystal Skulls | We're All Mad Inhere

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