Making Death A Part Of Life

The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.” (Eccl. 3:1-2)

egyptian-sokar funerary barge from Papyrus of Ani
The Egyptian Sokar Funerary Barge from Papyrus of Ani

I’m sharing more thoughts today in my ongoing fascination and exploration of the topic of death. Our Life – including our death – can be a very awesome adventure!

Note: The mourning and grieving for a loved one who leaves us behind is part of our life, but it is NOT “awesome”. This post is not meant to be insensitive to anyone experiencing that.

Just to clarify, I’m not thinking or planning that I am going to die SOON (although, of course, I could). I’m not depressed. I’m actually VERY cheerful and content with life right now. I am excited about all kinds of new projects and adventures I’m planning. I expect to live a few more decades. I LOVE LIFE! But, I’m truly fascinated by the whole process of how a body departs, and what we do with it after death.

Making Death A Part of Life

It’s odd how obsessed we are as a culture with so many other aspects of our bodies; sex, conception, maternity, birthing, eating, digestion, fitness, disease… you name it, we talk about it! But, as soon as the topic turns to death, dying and choosing how to give our bodies back to mother earth [i.e. ‘dispose of our remains’] everyone gets squeamish, uncomfortable, sometimes even angry, and quickly change the subject. Interesting, huh? For a culture that creates reality shows where no topic seems to be ‘sacred’ anymore, why is it still such taboo to learn, speak & think about dying? Death is, after all, literally a part of life. 

The Dance Macabre -An Italian 15th Century fresco which reminds visitors that death will come for us all
“The Dance Macabre” -An Italian 15th Century fresco which reminds visitors that death will come for us all

Why not choose to embrace the reality of our death?

“[Make] 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

Egyptian-Burial-Preparation1

Creative Cremains…and More

Read the Official LDS Policies on Cremation (click to enlarge)
Read the Official LDS (Mormon) Policies on Cremation (click to enlarge)

A friend’s daughter is currently in Mortician school. I love hearing her stories. There are sooooo many fascinating details I never thought about when it comes to the end of life and what naturally happens to the body. There are also soooo many options these days for one’s send-off! I had no idea. For example, did you know cremains of a loved one can not only be placed in Grandma’s favorite cookie jar, but also regenerated as a tree (I blogged about it the other day), turned into jewelry, ground into powder for bullets (would that be considered “death imitating death”?), or even launched into outer space? Yep.

In the last 20-30 years, the world has become a global community where we do not have to live and die in the towns we were born, nor do we have to believe what our parents believed.  All of a sudden we are able to choose the rituals we perform with our dead and how we dispose of dead bodies. We can think much bigger about the future of death. How we die is, after all, how we live.

– Caitlin Doughty, The Order of the Good Death

Coral-Memorial-Reef-burial

Last night I watched a TIME LIFE documentary about cremation on YouTube. Very Fascinating! I learned a whole bunch of things I hadn’t ever known or thought about before. Today a coworker recommended her favorite book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (written by an investigative journalist). It’s apparently considered a cult classic. 5 stars. So, obviously I’m not alone in wanting to explore mortality & morbidity. (And who doesn’t love a good episode of CSI?). I’ll give you a review after I read it.

BODYWORLDS-anatomical-exhibitionAbout 5 years ago my daughter and I went to a BodyWorlds exhibit in Portland, which artfully anatomically displays donated real human bodies which have been prepared after death with a process called “plasticization”. I didn’t quite know what to expect or how we would react, but we read some positive reviews and decided it was too interesting an opportunity to pass up. I’ve learned there are several traveling exhibits in the BodyWorlds series. The one that we saw was extremely tasteful and family appropriate. Although it was a large turnout, the crowd passed through respectfully to the point of reverence. It turned out to be one of the most educational and yes, even spiritual, experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed with seeing inside the complexity, beauty and magnificence of God’s greatest creation.

Look at the amazing web of blood vessels inside a human head!
Did you ever imagine there was such an amazing web of blood vessels inside a human head?!

A Mormon View of Death

Our body is this marvelous gift that we get to use for a set amount of (usually indeterminable) time. It’s not WHO we are, it’s only what we travel in – like our own little ship we sail through life on. Some people get sleek speedboats and some are assigned a leaky fishing vessel. But, no matter what we get, they are all headed to the same destination and they all go to the same shipwrecking yard in the end. Our mortal ship is carrying us to an exciting (and I like to imagine lush & exotic) port where we will disembark from our round-the-world cruise and go off exploring.

That’s basically how this Mormon looks as life, and I’m not alone. Here’s how a Latter-day Saint apostle described it:

Russell M. Nelson
Russell M. Nelson, LDS apostle and former heart surgeon

Before embarking on any journey, we like to have some assurance of a round-trip ticket. Returning from earth to life in our heavenly home requires passage through—and not around—the doors of death. We were born to die, and we die to live. (See 2 Cor. 6:9.) As seedlings of God, we barely blossom on earth; we fully flower in heaven.

– Russell M. Nelson, Doors of Death,

However, before the end of our voyage, I think it’s very important (and even fun), to explore all the things about our current journey, including the end. We can think about how we want our trusty ship treated when we leave it behind, and plan the details ahead of time. It has been proven that talking about your death wishes, and making financial and practical preparations ahead of time with your family, is one of the greatest parting gifts you can give them. This will provide much comfort when they are navigating their grief, and it will ensure your desires are honored.

wicker-coffin

Bonus: Once you get over ‘death phobia’ it’s actually VERY enlightening and entertaining to learn about all the quirky little details and stuff involved with human remains! (science is cool)

Remember, death is not the end, it is simply a transition and a new beginning! We believe that when our spirit departs the body we continue to live (forever). We believe that because of our Savior Jesus Christ’s atonement, every human being shall be Resurrected; I don’t know the details on how that actually works, but all of our bits and pieces will be perfectly put back together again, and our spirit will be reunited with an upgraded, perfect, immortal body (yep, we all get deluxe speedboats this time)! When you think about this, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve got a pretty sweet deal worked out with death. We really have nothing to dread, and a whole lot of awesome to look forward to. – MoSop

We need not look upon death as an enemy. With full understanding and preparation, faith supplants fear. Hope displaces despair. With that assurance, LOVE LIFE! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God. - Russell M. Nelson
We need not look upon death as an enemy. With full understanding and preparation, faith supplants fear. Hope displaces despair. With that assurance, LOVE LIFE! Cherish each moment as a blessing from God. – Russell M. Nelson

6 comments

  1. Dear Holly,

    I’ll start off by saying I’m 73. As I’ve gotten older, I find my mind turning toward death more and more. Not in a morbid way, but in a curious way. I’ve read accounts in the Bible of death and life after death, and I’ve read many accounts of people who’ve had near death experiences. Like you, it fascinates me. I’ve written several poems about death, and I hope you don’t mind if I share one here. Loved your blog, very interesting facts. Here is the poem below:

    There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. – Luke 16:19-22

    Thoughts on Dying

    How does it feel to die,
    we’ll all find out one day,
    Do we just suddenly cease to exist,
    or will angels carry us away,
    I wonder if I’ll be scared,
    or if peace will wash over me,
    I hope when it happens, I have time to recall,
    that my Savior I’m going to see,
    I’ve read of so many people,
    who say that it happened to them,
    But for some reason, although they were gone,
    they came back again,
    They tell of wonderful sights,
    of colors they can’t describe,
    The beauty of Heaven is hard to explain,
    to people with earthly eyes,
    Some meet their loved ones who’ve passed,
    on to the other side,
    They say the reunion is oh so sweet,
    reading it sometimes I’ve cried,
    For I have those who are gone,
    who I am longing to see,
    I wonder if they will be standing there,
    waiting to welcome me,
    Yes, one day we’ll all get the answers,
    though how soon we cannot know,
    But we know at some point it will be here,
    and you’d better be ready to go,
    Because it could be in an instant,
    you may not have a warning,
    So be sure that your heart is right with the Lord,
    for your time could come before morning.

    Lynnella

    Like

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