Sam Radford

May 6, 2022

Ducking the reality of death

I read ‘The Art of Gathering’ by Priya Parker last week. It’s a great—if somewhat too long—look at helping people gather together in better, more meaningful ways.

The segment I want to quote below though is less about gathering and more an observation on how we handle death nowadays.

I’ve been reflecting on this over the last week, shared it with various friends directly, and decided I’d share it here too: 

The Zen Center for Contemplative Care has a variety of offerings, from meditation courses to student training in contemplative care for those facing illness and grief and hospice care. But a thread that runs through its work is an effort to push back against a culture that the monks see as ducking the reality of death and endings in general. In the United States, for example, there has been an increase in the number of people wanting to treat funerals as celebrations rather than sad or mournful occasions. In a 2010 survey, 48 percent of people said they preferred a "celebration of life" compared with 11 percent who wanted a "traditional funeral." One-third of all respondents said they wanted no funeral at all. This idea of celebration may seem evolved and selfless at first, but the monks believe it deprives people of the experience of processing a death for what it is. In their center, they pursue the opposite philosophy, doing everything they can to make people confront the end for what it is. For example, when a person dies in their community, the monks encourage, when appropriate, family members to wash and shroud the body themselves, and to carry it down the stairs rather than taking the elevator. They encourage people to turn toward the fact of the death rather than away from it. And they show people that they can, in fact, handle death. (Emphasis mine.)

—Sam

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