The Day I Visited Death

Jan. 15, 2019, 8:40 p.m.

Have you ever wondered what happens when you die? I’m not talking about afterlife but the literal, physical ‘where do you go’? Who decides what sort of coffin you get or how your body will be ‘laid to rest’?

Discussing death can sometimes feel like a taboo subject. Although it’s one of the inevitable parts of our lives, if you try to have an open conversation about your ‘impending demise’ many people will turn away in fear, discomfort, or ignorance. It was this dismissal which caused me to ask myself; where can I go to have an open conversation?

My intention wasn’t to push people’s boundaries or test their patience, but to learn about my options. I wanted to find out how I could have an impact on how I go, and a view on what happens to my body. It’s mine to do what I please with throughout my life, so why should I not get a say in death as well?

I decided to visit my local funeral parlour, with the thought that it may be one of the few places I could have an open conversation about death. After being welcomed through the locked door I was ushered into a small room and asked, “How can I help?” I answered with, “I’d like to know more about what happens when you die.” This shocked the funeral director to her core. She repeatedly asked if I was there for a relative, a friend…anyone? I continually responded with, “No I’m just curious”, but this didn’t satisfy her.

As I asked her for some literature to help me gain some knowledge on the subject, she paused before asking, “You’re not here for you, are you? I mean, you’re far too young to be thinking about such things. If something’s wrong there are people that can help...” I smiled, shocked by her question and said “No, no…no! I simply wanted to learn more.” She eventually handed me a small pile of leaflets, on top the rules and regulations of the local crematorium (a thrilling read), and a prepaid planning package, complete with the now over-asked question, “Are you sure you’re not here for somebody?”

It was in that moment that I realised that unless I could give a valid or, more importantly, a socially accepted and understandable reason for wanting to find out more about death (something like “I’m training to be a mortician” or “It’s research for my novel.), the consensus seemed to be that I shouldn’t be talking about it. Even in a place where death was a daily occurrence.

When I went to leave, I asked the woman why she thought people were uncomfortable opening up around the subject. Her response was, “Everyone is, I mean it’s not very nice is it? I know I should be making a plan, I’ve had one sitting on my desk for months, but it just feels like I’m jinxing myself.”

So there you have it, a woman who has devoted her career to the funeral industry who is scared to speak about her own life ending.

My question is, why are we so afraid to speak about death? Why should we not treat the end of our lives with the same planning and preparation as the rest of the big events that happen during our lives? We all want to be remembered but nobody seems to want to help make it happen. Would you rather have a say in your final send off? Or let somebody else control your goodbye?

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