Why talk about death
- The taboo on talking about death is one of the strongest for modern society.
- Death is more frightening to those who have not become themselves.
- The realization that life is finite helps us live a fuller, deeper, richer life.
Death – another’s and especially its own – belongs to the field of the inexpressible. We ignore it, avoid it, deny it. But in order to live more meaningful and vibrant, we have to learn to think about it without fear.
“I have no idea how you will write about it. It is so hard! ”- the psychotherapist Inna Khamitova told me when we met to talk about death and how we feel about it. And I felt like something inside me was squeezing into a lump. Neither the sun nor death can be looked at point blank, said Laroshfuko in the book “Maxims”. It is not surprising that the editorial assignment aroused great alarm: I have long avoided not only talking, but even thinking about death, about incurable diseases, about disasters that led to human casualties.
This is what many do – at best, we symbolically pay off death by sending money for an operation to a seriously ill patient or to support a hospice, and on this we close the topic for ourselves. A Psychologies survey found that 57% of us rarely think about it. And even the most brave are not free from fear. “None of the living can get rid of this dark shadow,” says psychotherapist Irwin Yalom in “Looking Into the Sun. Life without fear of death. ” But if she is so scared of us, is it necessary to talk about her?
There are many paradoxes in the subject of death. The beginning of a new life is at the same time the first step towards the end. Consciousness of its inevitability should have deprived our life of meaning, and yet it does not interfere with love, dreaming, joy. The question is how we are trying to resolve for ourselves or at least comprehend these contradictions. More often than not, our thought passes.
“We always have a few suitable maxims in reserve, with which we are ready to take care of others on occasion,” Karl Gustav Jung, the founder of analytical therapy, wrote in “Problems of the Soul of Our Time,” “Anyone Ever Die,” “Human Life Eternally “. Using the appropriate stamp as a lifebuoy, we live as if we were immortal.
The origins of our relationship to death lie in childhood experiences. “At a very young age, the child has no idea of time or causation, and, of course, there is no fear of death,” Inna Khamitova explains. “But as early as four years old, he can understand that someone close has died.” Although he does not realize that this is a departure forever. “
It is very important how the parents will behave at this moment, the psychotherapist emphasizes. For example, many adults don’t take children to a funeral so as not to scare … and in vain. In fact, it’s scary just for adults, and they unwittingly transmit the fear to the child, attributing to him their attitude to death.
The fear of death recedes for a while before the basic life tasks of young adults: to master a profession, create a family
Similarly, the silence on children and the silence of this topic. The child reads the message: we are not talking about this, it is too scary. So a painful, neurotic attitude toward death may arise. Conversely, if a family observes some rituals, for example, recall the late grandmother on her birthday, this helps children cope with fear.
At first, children are afraid of the death of parents and other loved ones. The child also knows about his mortality, but he realizes it later – closer to adolescence. “Adolescents have an increased interest in death,” Inna Khamitova notes. – For them, this is a way to understand themselves, to feel their boundaries, to feel alive. And at the same time, a way to switch the alarm. It’s as if they are proving to themselves: I’m not afraid, death is my sister. ”
Over the years, this fear recedes before the basic life tasks of young adults: to learn a profession, create a family. “But three decades later … a midlife crisis breaks out and the fear of death falls upon us with renewed vigor,” recalls Irwin Yalom. – Reaching the heights of life, we look at the path in front of us and understand that now this path does not lead up, but down, to sunset and disappearance. From this moment on, concern for death no longer leaves us. ”
Death as an Art Object
In any art museum in the world, an inexperienced visitor (especially a child) is struck by the widespread presence of martyrdom, violence, and death. What is worth at least repeatedly repeated and invariably frightening head of John the Baptist on a dish. Contemporary art also explores the eternal plot, forcing in the literal sense to try on the process of dying. Two years ago in Paris, in the Louvre at the First Salon of Death, a visitor could lie in one of the coffins on display and pick up a suitable copy for the future. In 2013, in the Moscow Manege, the exhibition “Thinking of Death” was held, followed by the art project “My Most Important Suitcase”, the participants of which were asked to collect luggage for the “last trip”. Someone put toys in it, someone – an open laptop, a manifesto of their own composition …
Imaginary death becomes an occasion to think about life, about its main values. Art critics see this as a new trend: an attempt to overcome the taboo on talking about death. Although it would be more accurate to speak only about modern forms of this overcoming – after all, art, along with religion, has always offered us to look in the face of death and not to look away. It “awakens in us feelings that we could experience in a similar situation,” says Inna Khamitova. “For us, this is a way to touch the topic and live, rework it in a safe manner.”
Eyes wide shut
“Today, only in small towns or in the countryside does the tradition of burying the whole world remain. Children are present at the funeral, they hear the conversations of adults – he died, or this one will soon die, and perceive death as a natural thing, part of the eternal cycle, ”says Jungian analyst Stanislav Raevsky. – And in the big city there is no death, it is expelled from sight. Here you will no longer see the funeral in the courtyard, you will not hear the funeral orchestra, as it was 25-30 years ago.
We see death closely when someone close to us dies. That is, we can not face it for many years. Interestingly, this is offset by the abundance of deaths that we see on TV, not to mention computer games, where the hero has many lives. But this is emasculated, artificial, constructed death, which in our fantasies seems to be controlled by our power. ”
Repressed fear erupts in the way we speak. “I am dying – I want to sleep”, “you will drive me into the coffin”, “I’m tired to death” – our speech is sprinkled with references to death, although at the same time we do not mean it at all. But the “real” death in our language remains a taboo – we prefer to speak with an exalted syllable (“passed away”, “left this world”, “ended his days”, “fell asleep with an eternal sleep”) or, conversely, deliberately neglected (“ gave up ”,“ played in a box ”,“ gave an oak ”) – just not to call a spade a spade.
And yet sometimes we involuntarily realize this fear, says Inna Khamitova: “Funeral, serious illnesses, accidents, any partings again bring us back to thoughts of death and the fears connected with it”.
What are we really afraid of?
“At the very bottom of our feelings about death lies purely biological fear, at the level of instinct,” admits Irwin Yalom. – This is a primitive fear, and I also experienced it. Words cannot express it. ”
But unlike other living things, man knows that he will someday die. Hence, fears of a higher order follow, and above all, the fear of non-being (for believers – non-being), which we cannot comprehend. About this “after” – Hamlet’s monologue: “To die. Sleep forget. Fall asleep … and dream? Here is the answer. What dreams in that mortal dream do you have, When is the cover of the earthly feeling removed? ”
The path to non-existence is all the more terrible because everyone will have to do it alone. As Irwin Yalom says: “In death, man is always alone, more alone than ever in life. Death not only separates us from others, but also condemns us to a second, more frightening form of loneliness – to separation from the world itself. ”
Finally, each of us leaves our unique inner world, which exists only in our consciousness. “The death of a person is perhaps even worse than physical death,” Inna Khamitova reflects. – In fact, we are afraid of extinction. Such is the nature of the fear of weakness, serious illness, or dementia that may precede death. It’s a fear to stop being yourself, to lose your identity. ”
Eros vs Thanatos
According to psychoanalysis, the attraction to life and the drive to death coexist and oppose in each of us (by the way, the discovery of the latter belongs to Russian student Sabina Shpilrein, a student of Karl Gustav Jung). The instincts of life, called Eros, are expressed in the need for love, creation, serve to support vital processes and ensure the reproduction of the species. The most important among them are the sexual instincts (libido), Freud writes in Beyond the Principle of Pleasure.
Conversely, the death instincts, united under the name Thanatos, manifest themselves in aggressive feelings, destructive desires and actions. Freud considered them biologically determined and as important regulators of behavior as the instincts of life. “The goal of all life is death,” he wrote, bearing in mind that any living organism inevitably returns to a state of inorganic matter. And the life path of man is the arena of the struggle between Eros and Thanatos. However, Freud himself called it just a hypothesis, and still it remains one of the controversial aspects of his teachings.
How do we deal with this?
“Learning to understand the death of other people, its action in them, its action in us through the experience of someone else’s death, we will be able to face death, and ultimately – face our own death face to face – at first as an opportunity, or rather inevitability, but inevitability often as as if so far away that we don’t take it into account — and then as the very reality coming upon us, ”Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozhsky explains in Life, Disease, Death.
And yet we are, until the very end, afraid of this “face to face”. Over the millennia, humanity has come up with many ways to alleviate the suffering caused by this fear. The most powerful of these is religion, which gives hope for eternal life, for reunion with those whom we loved and lost, for retribution for righteous life.
However, this hope gives rise to yet another fear – to always pay for one’s sins. We are trying to counter this fear, symbolically ensuring our immortality through children or achievements. The formula “build a house, plant a tree, raise a son” reinforces precisely this desire to leave a mark, not to be forgotten, to continue ourselves beyond the threshold of death.
Although, it would seem, what difference does it make to us, will we leave a mark or not, since we still will not be? “The whole question is what we consider our“ I, ”says Stanislav Raevsky. “Where do we draw the line between ourselves and non-ourselves?” Is it just the boundaries of our body? My “I” – is it only in my inner space? ”
There is an exercise that helps to cope with the fear of death, the Jungian analyst continues: “You need to go, say, to the street, look around and say to yourself:“ This car is me! The flower is me! Heaven is me! ”And so, over and over again, the understanding is being trained that our“ I ”is not only inside, but also outside. Yes, the inner is dying, but the outer remains … “
Our experts agree that the fear of death is stronger, the less people managed to realize themselves. “Elderly people who are satisfied with their life and realize that they have done everything they could in it are much more comfortable with death,” Inna Khamitova notes. “And it’s completely different when a person realizes that he didn’t live his life, when he is overcome with regrets about missed opportunities.”
“What does a person think before death? – continues Stanislav Raevsky. – About your finances, about your car? About countries that I wanted but did not have time to visit? No, he is much more concerned with essential questions: did I really love other people? Have you thought about them? Did he forgive his enemies? The more we love others, the less our attachment to ourselves, the less painful for us the theme of death. And what a pity that these questions arise too late. But what if you start asking them yourself 40 years before the death hour? ”
However, in many countries there is such an opportunity. In the framework of the project “Before I Die”, everyone wants to add the phrase: “Before I die, I want …” And there are as many different desires as there are people who write: get married, cross the English Channel, have a bald cat, have sex threesome …
The feeling of the nearness of death makes us develop and live our lives more fully, interestingly, deeply
Death, if you remember about it, becomes the measure of our lives. That is why psychologists offer their clients to imagine that they have only a short time to live – say, a year. What would they change in their life? In fact, this is a reflection on one’s values, priorities, and meaning.
“We are thinking that it is time to do something real, that we always put off what our soul called for. The feeling of the nearness of death makes us develop and live our lives more fully, interestingly, deeply, ”says Stanislav Raevsky. “And vice versa, avoiding thoughts of death, we cut off most of our lives from ourselves.”
An adult man is trying to meet his fear and understand it. However, many prefer to act like children, denying their fear, running away from it. “But what we avoid will catch up with us anyway. If we avoid the topic of death, anxiety will only increase, ”warns Stanislav Raevsky. It can manifest itself in nightmares or disguise itself as another psychological problem. And someone grows into horror and poisons existence.
It seems that the only thing that makes sense is to face your fear. Does this mean that we will get rid of it? No, says Irwin Yalom: “Confrontation with death will always be accompanied by fear. This is the price of self-awareness. ” And yet, the game is worth the candle: “Having understood the conditions of human existence, we can not only fully enjoy every minute of life and appreciate the very fact of our being, but also treat ourselves and other people with genuine sympathy.”
Pass away, but stay online …
Why do we need blogs and pages of the dead, funeral videos and death announcements? Comments psychologist Veronika Nurkova. YouTube videos often include funeral videos. And not only famous people, but also those whom only relatives, friends and colleagues know. Why is there so much interest on the visual side of death on the Web, why flaunt footage of parting with the departed?
“Photos in this case are an artifact of life, evidence that life has been and lived to the end,” Veronika Nurkova believes. “Paradoxically, they take pictures of the dead in order to remember him alive.” The exact same impression – they want to remember him alive and prolong his existence – arises from viewing accounts on social networks, which one of the relatives continues to keep after the owner’s death.
“On the one hand, it is difficult to imagine a more organic memorial site: by analogy with how real commemoration is usually carried out in the house of the deceased, the virtual“ home ”becomes the place of his virtual commemoration,” the psychologist argues. – On the other hand, the account is thought of as part of the inheritance, and loved ones who know the password to it consider themselves entitled to use the legally obtained space. Finally, there are times when someone maintains the account of the deceased in order to create the illusion that the life of the deceased continues. It is appropriate to talk about psychological protection through identification with the deceased. “
However, the developers of the largest social networks have already come up with technical immortality for their users. So, Twitter created the LivesOn add-on, thanks to which the deceased’s page continues to be replenished with new messages in the style and vocabulary of the deceased. A less infernal way of preserving memory is also practiced – memorial pages where you can publish photos, memories and artifacts about the past.
The network creates a new life after death. Therefore, even in the piercing diaries of the dying (and the dead), hundreds of reposts are reconciled with the inevitability of the end. One striking example is the blog of Canadian Derek Miller, in which the top post begins with the words: “Well, that’s it. I’m dead and this is my last blog post. “I asked my family and friends to publish this pre-compiled message, which will be the first step in turning the existing website into an archive.”
Другой образец этого жанра — получившая известность в Сети «Последняя лекция» Рэнди Пауча. Наглядный, почти поминутный опыт осознания неизбежной смерти и достойного ухода из жизни сегодня востребован миллионами посетителей. Самым, пожалуй, шокирующим проектом следует признать интернет-тотализаторы вроде The DeathList. Здесь составляют списки тех, кто «должен» умереть в текущем году, а потом ведется подсчет правильно угаданных смертей.
«Это все равно что встать рано утром у окна и приказать солнцу взойти, — считает Вероника Нуркова. — Сайты такого типа — попытка почувствовать контроль над смертью. Примечательно, что в топ-листе все люди очень пожилые или больные: высокая вероятность прогноза дает его автору иллюзию могущества».
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