Art of Dying Volume One | Page 60

Feature JON UNDERWOOD Death Activism may seem a strange proposition. Why on earth would anyone want to engage activism around death? Isn’t activism challenging enough without bringing death into it? How is it even possible? It is possible– and important. It may sound like an oxymoron because death is the ultimate in passivity. A useful starting point in comprehending this dichotomy is the recognition of life and death’s interdependence. Defining death through scientific means is challenging; the exact point of death, difficult to determine. Philosophy is more direct, its definition of death being ‘what happens when life ends,’ with life defined as, ‘what happens before you die.’ Because of life and death’s interdependence, it might be argued that we’re really talking about Life Activism “ Death Activism Society sidelines death. 60 | ART OF DYING instead of Death Activism. And let’s face it: Life Activism sounds a lot more jolly to most people. Yet the beneficiaries of Death Activism are the living. Society sidelines death. Most deaths are invisible. Expertise and power around death rest within government and social institutions, medical professionals and funeral directors. Communities, families and the dying themselves are marginalized. The effects of institutionalizing death are devastating. In the UK, fifty percent of the complaints in hospitals concern dissatisfaction with the way people die. Access to palliative (hospice) care and other support services is largely inconsistent and often absent. Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement said, “The way people die lives on in the people that survive them.” Death has the potential to offer opportunities for profound healing and transformation. Death is clarifying. Being mindful of death helps us identify our highest priorities. Society’s distorted attitudes towards death prevent these