Sunday, October 27, 2013

Death is the new taboo?

Early last month I was hosted by a 65-year old Scottish lady for a few days at her flat in Edinburgh.  She's an interesting person, not only as someone who spent more than half of her life in various places in Indonesia, but she's also a person that could give me a local insight on this new country.  Having been back in Scotland less than a year ago she finds herself just like me -- adjusting and settling in. 

It was so heartwarming to me how she embraces our culture, loving our people like her own -- she decorates her entire flats with Indonesian wall decor, key chain from Indonesia, wall decor from Padang, and just all those massive collection of books in Indonesian language on her bookshelf. 

As I had conversations with her across politics, economics and other topics, one thing that was interesting to me is our conversation on 'death', something not talked about much in this English-speaking society today.  

From her I learned that death is not much talked about in the UK, or Scotland, to be precise. Perhaps 50 or 60 years ago it was common for the next-of-kin, families and friends to see the dead body of the deceased in the casket as they attended the funeral ceremony. But not since.  

Once a person dies, an undertaker or a funeral director will normally take over all arrangements. The dead body would stay in a closed casket before the burial or cremation takes place.  It is now common for the younger generation to have never seen a dead body in their entire life. 

As she's fond of our culture, she thinks we have a 'healthy' approach to phases of life, including death.  As our country is very much diverse with hundreds of ethnic groups having their own customs, she has witnessed how death is 'celebrated' in different traditional ceremonies.  Across customs she's seen not only that the bereaved family could freely cry in public on the death of a beloved person, but it is also much more common in our custom for family members doing the personal care to the deceased person, from bathing to removing any secretions from, to cleaning and dressing the body.  
She missed these from her own culture and as relevant as it is, the topic of death has been a challenge for her to think through on what has evolved in her society, what else has she missed by being away from it. 

Reading Not talking about death only makes it more lonely and frightening, an article written by Fraser in the Guardian a few months ago, I could concur that there's some truth in avoiding the topic on death in the western culture nowadays and wonder how it may have played a more important role in enhancing how western society behaves as it is today: e.g. self-reliant emphasis, privacy worshipping, broken family values.

Being vulnerable is one thing and showing your vulnerability to others is another.  Admitting that death is real has something to do with not only learning being interdependent, but also learning to embrace it as part of life will make us realize how vulnerable life is, how vulnerable we are. 


1 comment:

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