Saturday, February 22, 2020

Diminishing Death

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We have heard it thousands of times, there are two things you can’t avoid in this life, death and taxes. But despite it’s ever present nature death is becoming an increasingly foreign topic for us, with significant consequences. How have we forced death out of our minds and alienated ourselves and our kids to its existence? Let me count the ways.

1. By ignoring where our food comes from. For most children their first introduction with death is the food on their table. They eventually figure out that the chicken running around the yard is the same one on the table. Historically, not only was this our first introduction as children but it was a constant reminder to us that death is an important part of life. But we have removed ourselves as far as possible from this. Despite our intellectual knowledge that three chickens had to die to get us that 6 pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast, we don’t think twice about it. 

Owning my own chickens and ducks has really changed my views on this. I am surprised when people hear about my animals how many say, “I could never kill animals like that. I just like them already prepared in the grocery store.” This is a little disappointing to me. Not that I am opposed to meat in grocery stores, nor do I deny that professionally slaughtered meat probably has much less waste than when I kill and eat my animals (they can put the extras in dog food and such). But not willing to slaughter an animal, but being willing to eat it, is like a crime boss who doesn’t kill anybody, but hires hitmen to do it. They may feel better about it, but it is the same as if they did it. My personal feeling is, that if you are unwilling to kill an animal, you shouldn’t eat an animal, but I digress. This has ended one of the constant reminders that death is very much part of life.

2. Not seeing the death of grandparents. With increased life spans many of us will be much older when we see our grandparents pass away. But then we will be younger when our great grandparents die. The real reason this has removed us from death is that increasingly the death of great-grandparents and grandparents do not impact us like it did in the past. If we go back 50 years the amount of grandparents in the home was significantly higher. Today they are not only not in our home, they increasingly don’t even live in the same state. Having someone die whom you haven’t seen in a year and who lives 1,000 miles away does not have the impact as the person you live with, talk to and is a part of your daily life.

3. Living longer. With wonderful modern medicine, improved engineering and better safety systems all of us are not only living longer, but untimely deaths are increasingly rare. The further back in time you go the more likely that you would have lost a friend or loved one to typhoid, scarlet fever or the flu, not to mention farm accidents, floods, and fires. In my jr. high and elementary school I can’t think of a single death. I do recall we had a student in our high school die by falling off a motorcycle but I was not very close to him. Many of us won’t have a very close friend die, or at least not very many until we are in our middle ages. And by that time many of our friends are living miles and miles away, and again, the impact is simply not there. Not only that, facing the death of a child or young adult, has much greater impact on our reflection of death and realization of our own mortality.

4. Increased segregation. Segregation is most commonly used when speaking of race or financial class but another way in which we segregate is age. With the breakdown in church attendance most of us get our circle of friends from work, and chosen activities/hobbies. This leads to a friend class that is much more segregated by age. Back when church attendance was higher most churches had members from newborns to those who were about to die in the pew. You visited the widow down the street because you knew her.

Today if your friends come from work there may be some age diversity, but most people retire so you don’t get a large group of older friends. Not only that, we don’t generally get as close to those we meet at work as you might at church. So how do we get our friends? You join a rock climbing group, we meet parents at PTA where our kids go to school or join a pickleball league. These activities are much more age stratified. So what? My friends are my age. Again, this removes the number of encounters we have with death in our youth and middle age. And once we get close to death ourselves the amount of involvement we have in these outside organizations and activities naturally slows down. Therefore, when our peers are dying we are not as connected to them as we were back when we both had the energy to rock climb, or even play pickleball.

5.Increased online friendship. And for many of us we are increasingly finding our friends and connecting online. And when we have a facebook friend die, it does impact us, but not the same way. The truth is we may not even know for a long time after they have passed that they did.

6. Increased cremations with no viewings. This gets at practices that are increasingly common in our society. While there are many reasons why this route is being chosen, financial is the most common. I believe part of the reason is similar to why we want our meat pre packaged by someone else, convenience and ability to dissociate the situation with the actual death. I have noted an increased practice in our society for loved ones to not want to see the body of the person who passed. “I want to remember them how they were.” I can appreciate this, but I think it robs us of the ability to internalize death. One of the first things I realized as I went to viewings was that no matter how good the mortician was, and even when I was there the moment they died, people are different and even look different, after death. There is much to be learned in that.

7. Ending Funerals. In addition to viewings the tradition of funerals is dying (sorry I had to.) People find it increasingly a waste. This is a microcosm of all the things listed above. The family is too spread out. All their friends are out of town, virtual friends or haven’t really contacted them in years. There is the cost and planning to consider. Again, unfortunately one of the reasons is our endless quests to put death behind the curtain, and leave it in the shadows of society and our minds. I can’t tell you how much this saddens me. Funerals are some of my favorite events. I have gotten to know more of life and it’s importance by attending funerals than almost any other meeting. And it forces us to begin to internalize death, its reality and our own mortality.

So, who cares? Why does it matter. Aren’t we better off and more happy with the ever present reality of death not constantly on our mind? While it is true that an over obsession with death would be unhealthy, coming to grips with it, and our own mortality may be one of the most important realizations this life has to offer.

I have no doubt that there is one man who is behind this desire to remove death from our thoughts, Lucifer. He works hard to cover up many realities from our mind, even his existence.

“ And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.” 2 Nephi 28:22

But there are two things he wants to mask even more than his identity: Death and Sin. The reason is clear. These are the two things that we need a savior to overcome. Jacob makes this clear when he says,

O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. 2 Nephi 9:10

If Satan can stop us from thinking about death and sin, and instead have us focus solely on bills, cars, work, hobbies and personal desires then we will see little need for Christ in our lives. The idea that there is no sin is becoming increasingly pervasive in our society. Or at least the notion that we all get to define what is right and wrong for ourselves. The reason this is such a victory for Satan is obvious, but it is equally important for him that we avoid thinking about death and our own mortality. I don’t think he can get us to assume there is no death but he can stop us from really thinking about it.

Throughout history as men have thought on death, and come to terms with their own mortality it has led them to realize that they cannot overcome it on their own. It has led them to look to and think of someone more powerful than themselves. Dealing with, understanding, and coming to terms with death as it really is often leads to a belief in and better understanding of God. This is something Satan would rather we not do.

What is to be done? I would love to see the return of some of the traditions that will lead us to having a better understanding of death. Bring grandparents back into the home, raise some of our own animals, have ourselves and our children build close relationships with those who are much older than ourselves and again celebrate the lives of those who have passed by holding viewings and funerals. As we do these things we will have very close and real encounters with death. These will be painful and lead to, at times, intense sorrow but as we let them impact us, they can, with time, help us gain understanding. They can give us the realization that we do need someone bigger and more powerful than ourselves. And if we open our hearts in those moments of pain we will find healing, and realization that there is someone who has overcome death for us all, our Savior Jesus Christ. And the healing that we find there will help in every aspect of our lives. It will make both death and our lives more meaningful.

3 comments:

  1. Nicely put. I think this is very true.

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  2. When we trust our father's plan in heaven we trust he knows our lives are not in vain,and heaven is our altiment blessing that's comfort to all those who give him the love hes given us,thank u for sharing your beautiful words,love you very much

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