One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.
After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.
Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.
Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.
The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.
Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?
I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..
I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office. I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?
Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”
I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.
What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.
We are all dying.
Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.
And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.
Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.