I probably wouldn’t go so far as to preserve a loved one’s head, but yes we could all do with a little more realistic, more accepting view of death even as we daily try to fight it off.
From “The Dead Have Something to Tell You” (timed for Halloween):
We tune in to television shows about serial killers, but real bodies are hidden from view, edited out of news coverage, secreted behind hospital curtains. The result, as Michael Lesy wrote in his 1987 book “The Forbidden Zone,” is that when death does occur, “it reverberates like a handclap in an empty auditorium.” It wasn’t always this way. Death once occurred at home, with friends and family gathered around. Local women were responsible for washing the body and sewing the shroud. People sometimes slept in the same room as corpses, because there was nowhere else to go.
The erasure of death also allows us to imagine that our mortal trivialities and anxieties are permanent, while a consistent awareness of death — for those who can stomach it — can help us live in the here and now, and teach us to treasure what we already have. In fact, a study by University of Missouri researchers released this spring found that contemplating mortality can encourage altruism and helpfulness, among other positive traits.
Yeah, I’d also venture it would make us a little less selfish in our intra-family dealings and — imagine this — would allow us to have a more honest conversation about national healthcare without some idiot smearing the debate with terms like “death panels.” (So much healthcare money is wasted on the final six months of life, when there’s little to do that has any effect, versus the rest of life, when some preventative care goes a long way.)
Philosophically, though no one has been outright ripped from my life in tragic and sudden circumstances, I notice my view of death settles somewhere like this: They’re not gone — the effect of their lives remains with us long after their death — but they’ve stopped adding chapters to their story.
It happens to all of us.