Can We Talk About Death?

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Death is not the subject of polite conversations. Even the word “death” seems impolite. Instead, we use euphemisms like “passed away” or “gone to a better place” to hide from the subject, avoiding any substantial acknowledgment of the reality. When dealing with children, the topic is sometimes avoided altogether, hiding the death of a pet by replacing it with a new one or just telling the child that “grandma isn’t here anymore” without explaining where grandma is or what happened to her.

This… does not set people up for a healthy relationship with the inevitable reality of life. Like it or not, people die. Our loved ones will not always be with us.

Already in my short ministerial life as a friar, I have found that death and funerals are all the more tragic because it is a reality that catches people off guard. Having suppressed feelings inside or ignored the possibility, most people are completely unprepared for what will happen to us all and our loved ones. In what seems to be the makings of a childhood fable, we don’t do any work along the way and are left with tremendous stress having to deal with it all at once.

Luckily, for such an avoided conversation topic, art and entertainment love to include death as a key dramatic feature. Killing off a beloved character—even the family pet—is commonplace (and soooo cruel!) Even in children’s entertainment, death is far from an untouchable topic: Disney and Pixar seem to kill off a parent in every movie.

And people watch these movies. They read these books. They don’t turn away from them or criticize them.

Which, to me, proves once again how art and entertainment are windows into a deeper reality. Movies, television shows, and books offer us opportunities to gradually encounter death and tragedy throughout our lives without actually experiencing them, forcing us to reflect on their significance, deal with our feelings, and hopefully prepare for the inevitable. As much as we may want to avoid the topic in conversations, movies bring our thoughts and feelings to the fore and force us to reckon with them.

To me, this can only be a good thing, and my hope is that people take advantage of this opportunity. Especially when dealing with children, we need to have serious conversations about the meaning of life, one’s primal fears of death, and ultimately, the power of Christ to conquer death. I say it all of the time in my talks, I think death is the most important topic that a Christian could ever talk about. If we are going to be true followers of Christ, the one who laid down his life for a friend and asks us to do the same, we need to get a little more comfortable talking about it. We may not have any innate skills for doing so, and our culture may actually act against this need, but art and entertainment offer us that opportunity to begin the conversation.

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One Comment on “Can We Talk About Death?

  1. Hi Brother Casey.
    Excellent topic. I have an eight year old nephew that lost his Dad last year. Although they were very close, he didn’t cry at the wake or funeral.

    Throughout the past year I would tell him stories about what a good person his Dad was and all the crazy things we did growing up. Sometime it would trigger questions, but, once answered he changes the subject. Its hard to determine if the subject shift is due to a boring story or if it reminds him of a sad time that he choses to forget.
    (I wish I could get inside that little head)

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