A discourse on death

By Kendall Tich

Growing up in the American culture, we are socialized to treat death as something that happens, but is not discussed unless it is imminent or brought up again after someone passes away.

Perhaps this is because it is so unexplainable and unknown that it scares us or maybe it is something that we don’t start thinking about until we are older. Whatever the reason, no one really talks about it at all unless they are nearing the end of their lives or watching someone who is.

Death is a frightening, foreboding presence in our society as well as in our personal lives and its inevitable existence should not be ignored nor forgotten. In fact, in many other cultures, death is not seen as such a taboo, untellable subject.

After a presentation in my sociology class about Dia de Los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” I have been questioning the way our society thinks and feels about death. For those who are unfamiliar with Day of the Dead, it is a Mexican holiday celebrated in Mexico and across other countries and cultures as well.

During the holiday, which takes place Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 each year, family members and friends gather to pray for lost loved ones and celebrate their lives. We seldom see these types of gatherings in American culture unless it is immediately following someone’s death and there is a funeral or wake.

While death isn’t something that needs to be glorified or constantly talked about, it should at least be recognized because after all, it is an inevitable part of life.

The speaker who came to my sociology class talked about the fact that during Dia de Los Muertos, people often look to better understand themselves through the death of others.

While this seems gruesome for many Americans, it’s an opportunity to connect with those who have passed in a way that helps you better understand yourself. Rather than grieving and then moving on, it allows people to continuously remember those who have passed by celebrating their lives and the way their legacies have carried on in subsequent generations.

In most cases here in the U.S. when someone passes away, although we continue to remember them, we tend to leave their passing in the past and very seldom does it come up as an in-depth conversation.

We often remember them for who they were when they were alive instead of beginning a new memory in the form of the legacy they leave behind for us.

My mom’s mother recently passed away, but with her passing came a new understanding of my mom, my family and myself. Everyone has always told me that I remind them of my mom when she was my age. I used to laugh this off knowing that even though I am similar to my mom, I am still my own person.

However, after reminiscing on the times I have had with my grandma and my family, I have gained a deeper understanding of what it means to leave something behind when you pass away.
I may not be exactly like my mom and she may not have been exactly like her mom, but the values, beliefs and traditions that my grandma has passed on to both my mom and me have become ingrained into my personality and my life.

In realizing that those who die leave something behind for their loved ones to carry on into the future, we are better able to appreciate and celebrate their lives in a way that allows us to comfortably remember them and talk about them even long after they are gone.

There are very few people who will say they do not fear death. As college students, we act as though death is too far in the future to talk about. For most people in their twenties, this is true, yet we will be exposed to death around us for long before it is our time to go. By not talking about it, we are not preparing ourselves for the passing of loved ones. We think it isn’t ever going to happen to us yet it’s something that occurs in our world every second.

By celebrating the lives of those we’ve lost and looking to confirm our own identities through the death of loved ones, it will be easier for death to be talked about in our society and for the memories of those who have died to live on even long after their passing.