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What is the death positive movement?

'Rest in Peace' written on a gravestone

In the modern Western world, we have a problem with death – or so says the death positive movement, which is trying to change that.

Many people fear death, and perhaps that’s understandable, but a fear of death and the taboo around talking about it can have a negative impact. Whether you feel too awkward to console a grieving friend, or you haven’t got round to planning for the future, the silence around death, dying and bereavement can stop you from making the most of life.

What is death positivity?

Being ‘death positive’ is a philosophy that means accepting that death is a part of life. People within the death positive movement are working to break down taboos that prevent people from discussing important end of life issues. Those who support the death positive movement want to make society more open about death and what happens to our bodies when we die.

The Order of the Good Death is a leading organization of death professionals, academics, and artists in the death positive movement. It says that “the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.”

Being death positive doesn’t mean thinking that death is a good thing. The death positive movement does not trivialize the suffering of those affected by the death of a loved one. In fact, those who strive to be death positive are more likely to want to acknowledge and understand both their own feelings of loss and the grief of others.

Because of this, in recent years the death positive movement has been embraced by charities, palliative care organizations and funeral homes. The reasoning is that the more open people are about death, the better prepared they will be, and the more they will embrace the present moment.

For those who believe in the death positive movement, it is only by accepting that death happens, and it happens to everyone, that you can be empowered to make important decisions about your life.

Why be death positive?

For many people, the death positive movement is about having a meaningful, positive impact on society and individuals’ lives. While many people find thinking about death difficult, there are benefits to becoming more aware of the inevitable.

  • The taboo around death doesn’t help anyone. The Order of the Good Death believes that “by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good” to our society. It says death-phobia prevents people from making important decisions about end of life care, their funeral and their estate. Furthermore, the silence around death leads to a culture where death, and those who are dying, are treated with fear. It would be better, the Order reasons, to be open about death and the important issues surrounding it.

  • Talking and thinking about death can help your emotional well-being. Psychologists are continually reaffirming the link between thinking about death and valuing life. When you understand that your time is limited and precious, you’re more likely to savor every moment and strive for whatever you want to achieve. By thinking about death, you could learn to better appreciate life.

  • Being open to conversations about death lets you plan for your future. Whether it’s ticking things off your bucket list or getting your estate in order, being death positive will encourage you to plan ahead. Besides achieving what you want from life, things like making a will or writing down your funeral wishes will ensure there’s less stress for loved ones once you’re gone.

  • You can make sure loved ones get the care they deserve at the end of life. The awkwardness of discussing death could have real implications for the kind of end of life care you and your loved ones receive. Do you know where they’d want to be in their final days? Would they want to donate their tissue and organs? What kind of treatment would they want to receive? These are all vital questions that you need answered before it is too late – and they can only be answered by talking more frankly about death.

How do you become death positive?

Being death positive is an attitude, or a state of mind. It’s about accepting that you are going to die and understanding how that affects your day-to-day life.

If you want to be more death positive, here are just a few questions to ask yourself or your loved ones.

Hopefully they will help you think more clearly about what you want to happen at the end of your life and beyond.

  • Have you written a will? Why have you done this – or why not?
  • What would be the ideal way to spend your last days? Who would you want beside you?
  • What kind of funeral would you want? Are there any funeral options (such as embalming, cremation, natural burial) that you would absolutely love or hate to happen to you?
  • How would your family or loved ones pay for your funeral?
  • What do you think happens after we die?
  • How do you want to be remembered? If you could pick three words that you’d like to know were in your eulogy, what would they be?

If you want to explore the death positive movement more, attending a death cafe is a great way of meeting people who want to talk about death. They are casual, friendly spaces where you can discuss life’s big questions over coffee and cake.