April 01, 2008

Death Becomes Her

When thinking about a post for today, I'd planned to write about candy. I mean, why not? But then, as I do most days, I popped over to dooce to read her latest post. What I ended up reading, and the hours after, changed that. A lot.

Now, if you go over, please read what she says about the site she features before you go clicking on it, lest you be a "Mimi," too. "This somber series of portraits [was] taken of people before and after they had died..." I did read, and decided it was something that I didn't want to be looking at during work. Instead, I started reading the comments since she'd opened them, and those were moving enough. When I started reading there were about 141 comments; at the time of writing this, there are 901. By about number 44, I was already fighting tears and I hadn't even gone to see the pictures under discussion. Clearly, the subject of death, and our reactions to it, touched a nerve.

I decided I was going to wait until I got home to go view the gallery, and went to lunch not too long thereafter. I didn't have a lot of time, so I went to a nearby falafel place that I enjoy. There is a large TV in one corner that's usually tuned to Al Jazeera in English....which I don't generally watch. But when I glanced up at one point, mouth full o' falafel, I was startled to see a man in a coffin on the screen, quite dead, being made up prior to his viewing. I still have no idea what the story was about because I couldn't hear it and it didn't really matter -- the visual from it, on top of what I'd just been reading and thinking about, was enough to boggle my mind a bit and mull over how differently news is presented elsewhere in the world.

On the drive back and for a while after that I was thinking about death and its place in our society, our lexicon and my own life. Many of the commenters at dooce mentioned our fear of death and how it plays into the reactions people have to the photos. That made me think about how, on the other hand, we use the concepts of death and dying in our language so easily and perhaps carelessly. I realized that, a bit earlier in the day, I'd written an IM to someone wherein I'd said, "She is absolutely killing me today," without a second thought, the way we all do. Hmm, I'm pretty sure I'd said essentially the same thing...about the same person...just the day before. And here I am, still alive.

Think about it. "I'm dying of hunger." "This will be the death of me." "My head is killing me." "He's rolling over in his grave." "That is a dead end." Those are just the first few that come to mind, I'm certain you can think of many more. Why is it we're so comfortable referring to death in these offhand, casual manners, but the thought of death itself freaks us out?

As I've been thinking about this for so much of the day, I eventually realized something about my own reaction to the idea of death and dying: It's not the idea of my own death that bothers me, or thinking about people in my life who have died, it's contemplating the death of friends, family and loved ones in my life now that makes my own internal wig-out meter go bonkers.

So, let's see, here I am, seven paragraphs into this post and I still haven't gone to see the photos that started all this. I'm not actually procrastinating, as I don't have any true hesitation in viewing them. I just wanted to be done here because, if they're as haunting and beautiful as people said, I think I'm going to want some tissues instead of a keyboard afterwards. Now, however, as a friend of mine says, it's time to pull on my big girl panties and deal with it.