The Grim Reaper in the Room

Why don’t people talk about death? Seriously.

people don't talk about dyingPeople’s aversion to talking about death is one of the reasons our feelings of isolation after a loss are so often reinforced. In American culture especially, where youth, beauty, convenience, cleanliness, ambition, productivity, and health are so revered, thoughts or talk about the realities of decline and death are avoided at all costs.

We are so hard wired to value our own self—our unique existence—that the reality of our one day no longer existing (as we are now) is a hard concept for our brains to hold on to. We all have a deep-seated desire to deny mortality, so we naturally avoid talking about it. Death is not considered polite conversation.

Now the problem with fitting back into “normal” social activity is that you, someone near to and affected by death, force others to confront the in-real-life consequences of mortality. They can normally forget about death and loss in their day-to-day life, but you run directly in the face of that. Forget the elephant, you become the Grim Reaper in the room. You’re a walking talking social faux pas.

crowd not listeningIt’s not your fault, it’s not their fault, it’s how our society has evolved. Though it may not feel like it, intimate experience with death is not nearly as common in our modern, industrialized lives as it has been in the past.

If you look at the Centers for Disease Control statistics, a baby born in the U.S. in 1910 could expect to live just 49.2 years compared to 78.9 years for one born in 2014. Further, the 0-1 year old infant mortality rate at the turn of the century was 12 percent today it’s down to 0.5 percent.

These figures reinforce that today, like never before in history, people in industrialized societies live longer and lose loved-ones less frequently. We can now spend longer periods of time putting death and loss out of our minds, which can lead from a blissful denial to a pathological inability to handle a significant death when it occurs. social awarenessBut usually we land somewhere in the middle where open talk of death, or trying to support someone experiencing a significant loss is just really awkward. When something is no longer part of everyday life, we get out of practice, and that’s where we are, we’re out of practice dealing with death.

So rather than this being a “here’s a tip” kind of article this is much more of a heads-up letting you know that most people won’t mean any harm or offense, but they just won’t quite know how to interact with you. You’ll now have a kind of hard-won wisdom that no one wants and fewer people than ever in history are able to understand, but over time and with some effort, you will feel less like a pariah and once again be able find a conversational comfort zone.

Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.

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