Is awareness of all things death-related a perception thing? That once you’ve lost someone, you become more aware of the buzz around you about death and grieving? Or is it that, as part of the aging process, we are all more accepting of our mortality and others’ too? Or could it be that as we age and lose loved ones, we are all just plain paying more attention to the topic – and talking about it more?
A recent spate of death-related stories in the media – all this month – leads me to wonder where this is all coming from…and where it’s going.
* A couple of weeks ago, an acquaintance in Boston lay blogging at the same time she lay dying. Once diagnosed with cancer, she posted her journal on Caring Bridge and as her demise drew near, nothing was as poignant or personal as the parting words, in print, about how sorry she was to be leaving life and the love of her life.
* An uncle by marriage died in Connecticut. He was elderly and somewhat too far removed for me to have known he was so close to death, but I was heartened by the stellar obituary I found on Legacy.com that told the gutsy story of his pioneering of the recycling movement, long before the first Earth Day.
* CBS Sunday Morning last week featured a story about how children mourn reported by Katie Couric, whose own daughters lost their dad when they were just six and two.
* A “Modern Love” column in The New York Times on Sunday was written by a woman whose husband heartbreakingly died “a happy man” and who called his service “the best funeral ever” – words that would not have been said openly and in print not so long ago.
* Not long ago, All Things Considered on National Public Radio aired a delightful story about an Atlanta man who has been collecting obituaries for over 50 years.
* A newly published book of condolence letters sent to Jackie Kennedy when the President was assassinated underscores the elegance and empathy of a simple note – whether written by statesmen or school children.
* And hip-hop superstar Jay-Z raps about death in his current hit, “Forever Young”:
Blame it on the boomers, if you must, this determination to be young forever and go out in a blaze of glory when possible. Because death, dying and grief haven’t always been an acceptable focus of conversation, much less media hype. When my mother died too young in 1968, people could barely speak the words ‘breast cancer’ much less face the truth that the end was near.
But thanks to some brave pioneers – including Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying) and Sherwin B. Nuland (How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Choices), the subject is now way out in the open – in books, TV shows and movies, songs, poetry, and all over the Internet – more than ever before.
In this blog, I hope to make preparing for death – and how you want to be remembered – a more accessible and acceptable topic, too. It doesn’t have to be gloomy and morbid; nor is it egotistical and controlling. It’s a fact of life that we’ll all be gone one day, and we might as well have a hand in how that final journey is handled.
Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.