My husband always teases me about my fascination with the macabre and morbid. Both of us are history buffs, but while my beloved can regale you with details from each battle of World War II, I am more likely to be able to tell you about Our Lady of the Angels schoolfire, the Hammond circus trainwreck or the Edmund Fitzgerald. Since I was a child, I have been both fearful of and interested in death–from conversations about how individuals and cultures handle the end of life to spiritual and scientific beliefs about the existence (or not) of an afterlife.
It’s not just the dying of sentient beings that fascinates me. I am also compelled by “dying” buildings. If I wasn’t a) an inveterate chicken, and b) an aggressively law-abiding citizen, I would totally join one of those groups of “urban spelunkers” who explore abandoned, inner-city structures. As a kid, I used to love when my parents drove through decaying parts of my city. I would stare-up at once-grand buildings on Gary, Indiana’s Broadway and consider how they “died” and what they must have looked like at their best.
I realize that not a lot of people share my interest in life transition. In our American culture, including the black community, death is something we look away from and avoid discussing. It makes us uncomfortable, even as we count ourselves smarter and less superstitious than our ancestors who felt more comfortable with things like post-mortem photography and putting the dead on view at home. Ya’’ll remember how Apollo gave Phaedra the stink eye about entering the death business on “Real Housewives of Atlanta”?
Mortician Caitlin Doughty hopes to make our society more comfortable with death and dying. Her website, The Order of the Good Death, is devoted to “making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears- whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.”
The Order of the Good Death has exploded in popularity as media, including popular site Jezebel, have fallen in love with Doughty’s ongoing “Ask a Mortician” video series, where she humorously discussed everything from cremation to rigor mortis.
Are you comfortable with death and dying? Would you consider a career that brought you in close contact with the dead?
Image: Post-mortem photograph of African American twin brothers.