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Societal Treatment of Death is Goofy


Having been through the deaths of more than a few people close to me, and being a notorious contrarian with a tendency for refusing to accept or go along with anything unless I've had time to come to my own incoherent, spontaneous, and drunken well-researched and wisely thought-out conclusion on the subject, I have come to notice how outright silly the ways that society at large tackles the issue of death often are.

I have previously written comical rants about my disillusionment with societal beliefs and expectations on everything from social events to child-bearing, all with the laudable grace you would expect from an intoxicated walrus trying to navigate a staircase. Since those were apparently well-received in spite of everything, I've decided to up the ante and irreverently vent my aforementioned pent-up frustrations with funerals and the many unintentionally humourous platitudes and euphemisms people use when discussing the subject of death.

The fact that we have so many euphemisms and rituals designed to smooth over the concept of death is hardly surprising; we're a species that, by large, feels the need to engage in clandestine subterfuge for mundane, universal activities such as urinating and defecating. A species that refers to the paper most of us use to wipe our bums after using the loo as "bath tissue", a euphemism that makes about as much sense as referring to shampoo as "toilet cleaner". It makes sense that we're not ready to talk about an issue as impactful as death yet.

Selfish as it may be, I always loathe hearing about the death of someone close to someone I know, because I know I will be forced to once again undergo the vexing ritual of attempting to find something comforting and acceptable to say to them to express my solidarity for their grief. There really is nothing good that can be said in such situations, or at least that hasn't been said enough times to have its own dedicated assembly line at the Hallmark card factory. As such, any time a sympathy card is passed around the office, it becomes a sort of game of musical chairs where everyone tries to snap up the acceptable stock sympathy phrases before they're all taken and the losers are forced to awkwardly make something up on the spot.

One common platitude that boils my blood is "I'm keeping X in my thoughts". This is one that crops up any time a sordid event occurs, and just seems to me like an expression of Slacktivist Pride. "Yeah Eliza may have volunteered to help survivors of the crisis and Tommy may have donated money, but I daydreamed about the crisis!" Try putting your feet up on the desk at work and telling your boss that you're keeping your job in your thoughts, if you want to see how much your precious ruminations are worth.

The vagueness of the statement "I'm keeping X in my thoughts" also draws many questions in my mind. If someone tells you that they're keeping your deceased sister in your thoughts, are they reflecting on the many precious shared memories they were blessed to have shared together... or are they fantasising about plowing her (and/or you)? I don't think people in Russia nor Ukraine are being benefitted by anyone's exciting woolgathering about the Chernobyl reactor exploding again and flooding the war-torn country with mutated aberrations a la S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The twin sibling of the former phrase, "I'm keeping X in my prayers", is one that I find to be equally perplexing. If the person being offered this sentiment isn't religious, then it's at least as meaningless as the aforementioned thoughts phrase. On the other hand, if they are religious, then it raises many fascinating questions. For one, does it imply that God isn't actually omniscient and S/He (some of us worship female deities!) doesn't become aware of tragedies until enough people send Them a heads-up about it? Is God akin to an overburdened manager who doesn't reliably attend to any of their duties unless enough people harass them about it? Does God perhaps work like a crowd-funding website?

The other possible implication here is that God has favourites, and has a habit of ignoring prayers unless they come from someone S/He likes. "I know you've been feeling spiritually abandoned ever since your husband passed away, but don't worry! God will hear your plight if I sound off about it! I changed God's tire when He was stranded on a lonely Wyoming hallway back in the autumn of 1993 so He owes me." I suppose even an all-loving and all-powerful "parent" such as God is forced to neglect some of Their children when They are burdened with nearly 8 billion of them in the living world alone.

Sometimes people like to express their solidarity with the family of the newlydead by expressing how "shocked and heartbroken" they are about their death, which just seems insensitive to the point of being comical. Telling someone with decades of fond memories with the deceased that you, a person who didn't know they croaked until the subject came up at the water cooler, that you've been rocked by the death is akin to telling a cancer patient that their tumour is causing you a lot of pain as well.

Even more tiresome is the far-too-common expression "let me know if there's anything you need". As far as I'm concerned, if anyone says this to a grieving person, they'd better damn well have a business card of a wizard specialising in the resurrection of the dead, or perhaps a Dragon Radar, to offer them. It seems almost purposefully insulting to offer "anything" to a desperate person, knowing full well you have no ability to provide for them the one thing that they actually have any desire for in the moment. Well, the other thing they may need is for cretins to stop bothering them with their mindless sympathy sound bites, but idiotic social rules dictate that fulfilling this need is also out of the question.

The sentiments allowed to be expressed on the tombstones of the deceased are often no less nonsensical and befuddling than the ones people tell people grieving the dead. Some variant of "in our hearts forever" is a very common one that I never personally understood. For one, any atheist who puts an inscripture such as this on their loved one's grave is flagrantly lying through their teeth, unless they've discovered the secret of immortality and spit in the face of the laws of thermodynamics. "In our hearts for as long as our sedentary lifestyles and copious daily consumption of processed food will permit them to continue operating" just doesn't have a pleasant, sentimental ring to it, I suppose.

Either way, if we decide to discount the existence of an afterlife, then many cemetery citizens are in fact no longer in anybody's heart, regardless of what their perfidious tombstones may claim. Some may not have had the pleasure of possessing real estate in anyone's heart even when they were alive! A prestigious individual such as myself knows nothing about such a plight, of course....... ;_;

If we assume that there is an afterlife, then this headstone carving winds up losing much of its meaning, or unintentionally taking on a very morbid and cruel one. If one member of a couple that is devout and upright passes on to Aaru, Heaven, Valhalla, or any other ethereal paradise, while the other is left behind, waiting for their turn to come, then their separation is a brief interlude before an eternity of being together again. In this case, the platitude has as much meaning behind it as saying "my wife went to go fishing, but she will live on in my heart until we meet again for dinner."

The only case I can see where the inscription "in our hearts forever" has actual meaning, is when the loved ones of the deceased are devout, but the actual dead person was an unrepentant sinner. In this scenario, the phrase carries the meaning of "Uncle Joe was a rapey, sociopathic creep whose soul has been devoured for his many misdeeds, but we will still fondly remember his senility-induced antics in paradise." I suppose that's a nice way to covertly and politely sneak a "burn in hell" sentiment past strict cemetery regulations.

Speaking of regulations! In spite of how expensive tombstones are, the nonsensically strict rules enforced by cemeteries, and rules about what is socially acceptable in general, prevent any real personalisation of a person's tombstone, in spite of it being a monument dedicated to a specific, unique person's entire life. Everything from colours outside of a bland and limited range, to the shape of the tombstone, to what inscription may be written on it is limited to a stifling range of socially acceptable variants that result in a place that is supposed to house the remembrances of countless unique people looking more like a car lot.

Personally speaking, if I absolutely had to be buried and receive a tombstone after my death, it would probably be in a cute shade of pink and would have cat ears carved on the top and a morbid joke as the inscription. Since there is not a cemetery in the world that would abide these shenanigans, I will settle for being cremated and having my ashes buried next to my cat's grave.

In case that entire last paragraph sounds like a ludicrous shitpost, I should mention that humour and escapism are my primary methods of dealing with negative emotions, aside from crying it out, and I enjoy finding beauty and humour in morose and dark things. I would never be even vaguely satisfied with my grave being a melancholic and bland spectacle, and would much prefer to be remembered with something whimsical and cute. Death is depressing enough in and of itself, and I don't feel the need to thrust a stake into an already battered heart.

I personally believe that personal websites are a perfect medium for replacing tombstones. A website written from scratch can take on just about any form that its creator could possibly want it to, and can encompass and express all of a person's most treasured feelings, passions, ruminations, and so forth. With even moderate knowledge of HTML, CSS, graphic design, writing, and perhaps JavaScript and PHP if one wants to be overly extravagant, one can do wonders towards translating their soul into something accessible to potentially millions of other people.

On my end, I have had periods of very crippling depression and suicidal ideations (doing better now!) while working on this website that helped drive me to work even harder on it because I felt that it was my duty to transfer my soul into another medium in case anyone cared who I was, in case I could no longer tolerate existing and went through with doing the deed. That is not to say that making well-designed personal websites should be a hobby of those expecting to die soon, of course, just the most handy anecdote I had around.

My website is undeniably silly, girly, and capricious in most places, and most personal websites (genuine Web 1.0 ones, not vapid "personal branding" websites) are at least a touch silly. Yet these far more genuine and accurate representations of a person's existence than a templated 250 lb rock that attempts to distill a person's existence into a date of birth, a date of death, and their generic familial relations to the people who paid for the stone.

Remarkably, in the midst of writing this, I came across a new Neocities website whose creator expressed the exact same sentiment. At least if I am insane for having such contemplations, then my lunacy enjoys some excellent company.

While lamentably, many, if not most, webmasters/webmistresses hardly make an effort to utilise the full power of what a website can offer (I've seen enough insipid "HI I'M SIMON AND I LIKE HAMSTERS, OLD WEB GOOD AM I RIGHT? ANYWAY, CLICK HERE TO VISIT MY PINHEADTERST/INSTACRAP/TIKTAK/TWATTER PAGES AND ADD ME ON DISCARD!! WELL I GUESS THAT'S IT!!!" Neocities websites to know that), that does not in any way negate its power. I like to think that my own website, and many of the ones I listed in my Links section, stand as testaments to the versatility and potential of this medium for capturing and immortalising people's spirits.

I've unintentionally put the carriage before the horse here of course, since before any tombstone can be propped up, the actual funeral must first occur. Funerals can be well-described as the process of spending one's life-savings to put a needless, grossly expensive, and utterly unhelpful coat of lipstick on a natural and inevitable life process. The only thing more distressing than the profligate cost of a burial is the horrific environmental impact that it has. Yet, at some point long ago, society decided that the best way to handle death was to force the grieving survivors of the departed to invest money and emotional energy that they have scarcely little of, to put on a spectacle for everyone at all associated with them.

My personal hypothesis is that, as is too often the case in society, at some point in time, some lame-brained, manipulative donkey who couldn't find a positive way to contribute to society, decided to invent a pointless and expensive ritual and then emotionally guilt everyone else into participating into it. This is also the origin of half of our holidays here in the west, among other things. Unlike meaningless commericial holidays however, those of us with infamously bad memories can't even use that as an excuse to conveniently avoid funerals. I would try, but I assume I would summarily be put in a nursing home, or even worse, be subjected to a forced intervention for my drinking problem.

As a very serious cat person, I have often been befuddled by the negative insinuations surrounding the claim that cats will eat their human family member after they die. Cats are evil because, if left stranded in an empty house with no available source of sustenance other than their human, they will dine on said human? That is simple pragmaticism, not evil. At least they're eating a different species, and the human is already deceased. There are countless historical anecdotes showing how eagerly humans will murder and cannibalise each other if they wind up getting lost and hungry in the wilderness.

Either way, it amuses me that the same people that are horrified of the idea of being devoured by a cat, willingly fork over tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being devoured by a colony of maggots in a fancy wooden box. What is a coffin, if not an exorbitant and neatly-wrapped TV dinner for the worm population? I figure if I were to be eaten by my cat, at least the protein would stay inside the family, and I would manage to be good for something after death. Not to mention, aren't humans supposed to derive pleasure from becoming part of something greater than themselves?

Cremation undeniably has a negative environmental effect as well, although arguably not as much as burials, but it is as good as we can get unless dumping the bodies of the deceased into the middle of the forest (something I would not at all mind for myself) is somehow miraculously normalised. Not an option until we somehow manage to stop murdering each other, at the very least.

Regardless, it seems vastly more comforting to know that your loved one's body was neatly burned to ashes instead of systematically turning into an increasingly macabre maggot buffet. It goes without saying that cremation rituals, in my perfect world, would be an entirely private affair that the survivors would have no obligation to share with anyone else unless they felt the need to. Which brings me to my next point.

I suppose I would not be so feverishly averse to funerals and other societal death rituals, were it not for the mandatory participation in them. Every person has their own individual ways of dealing with grief, and I believe it to be patently absurd to declare one specific ritual as the defacto way that everyone has to respond to death in order to prove that they are caring and non-sociopathic citizens.

I harbour no shame over the fact that I firmly believe in both the existence of souls and an afterlife, and that I have a chance at seeing the animals and people that I have known once again after we all croak. As such, the popular ritual of visiting people's grave to stare solemnly at their tombstone and/or deposit flowers is akin to visiting the former home of a family member who has moved to another country, in order to gaze forlornly at their front door in their memory. "Here stands the former home of Abigail. You will never be forgotten... especially since you keep e-mailing me photographs of the walruses roaming around the Arctic laboratory you have passed on to."

That is not to say that I don't feel overwhelming grief when someone close to me passes. The emotional parts of the brain are vastly more powerful than the rational parts (and this is even more strongly the case in autistic people such as myself), for one. Furthermore, I, being a fallible mortal, am not wise enough to have any absolute guarantee that I or anyone I know will actually make it to Aaru and actually be reunited after death. I expecit to happen, but I am certainly not a perfect person in any aspect, and I can only know so much about anyone else, regardless of how close they are to me.

However, and I doubt I am the only one wired this way, I have never felt any real comfort from other people when I'm in the throes of sorrow. If anything, being around other people in such circumstances just makes me even more antisocial and upset because now I have to waste mental energy that I already do not have enough of, in order to deal with them. If I may be permitted some particular crudity, treating sorrow and depression by being around other people, is akin to treating hemorrhoids with a dildo. For the record, this is an issue with me, and not with the people in my life.

Funerals are usually not the end of the Parade of the Passed, of course. To add even more insult to injury, after the family of the deceased finally deal with watching their loved one die, arrange their funeral, spend hours in a room with the corpse of their loved one while people come in and gawk, and go through the dreaded funeral, it is often expected for them to hold a post-funeral gathering for the relatives and friends of the deceased. In other words, these weary and grieving people now have to clean their home, invite a gaggle of people in, and cook meals for them.

The sheer existence of this tradition alone seems like a war crime to those of us who generally consider invitations to social events to be in the same category as death threats, but I struggle to understand how even typical people consider this to be at all a good idea. How much do the survivors have to be jerked around and molested before they get to just enjoy some peace and quiet in order to process their loss? I can only imagine that these traditions were invented as part of a scheme to make people snap out of sheer frustration, in order to generate more additional revenue for the funeral industry.

Anyway, after the whole song and dance finally wraps up and the post-funeral tears are dried up, a new wave of rituals begins. It's customary to return to the grave at certain dates (birthdays, death days, days important to the deceased, etc) and intervals to stare solemnly at the tombstone and perhaps deposit some flowers for the deceased, or more accurately, to provide lunch for the local deer. I've quipped about this before and I'll quip about it again: I never understood how neurotypicals can accuse us autistics of being overly rigid and obsessed with rituals, when they insist on forcing things as personal as grieving the dead or expressing love for the living (i.e., holidays such as Valentine's Day and Mother's/Father's Day) onto a fixed regimen.

Now, I can vaguely understand the concept of holidays as being a day that everyone bases their schedule around in order to come together and express their appreciation of each other in order to maintain and solidify social bonds, but this idea does not seem to extend very well when there's only two parties involved, and one of them has "left the building". Do angels ferry the souls of the dead on field trips to their place of burial on specific days of the year? Do newlydeads have to deal with their long-deceased loved ones judging them for how often they saw them at their graves during these trips? Paradise is starting to seem oddly wearisome here.

Moreover, if we assume that specific days on Earth still have meaning to the deceased, does this mean that paradise actually follows the exact calendar of Earth despite the septillions of other planets in the known universe? People residing on two different planets wouldn't be able to agree on what day it is, but apparently people believe that someone residing outside of the mortal realm is patiently expecting visitors at their tombstone on specific Earth days.

Personally, if my future deceased self looked at Earth from Aaru and saw someone standing over my grave, I would be (fruitlessly) yelling at them to do something more engaging with their limited time on Earth than staring at a stone with someone's name carved into it. I'd imagine it would be infuriating for someone who will never again visit the mortal world, to see a still-living person utterly squandering their own time there. Go hug a cat.