The Revival of Death

The Revival of Death

The Revival of Death

The Revival of Death

Synopsis

Talking about death is now fashionable, but how should we talk? Who should we listen to - priests, doctors, counsellors, or ourselves? Has psychology replaced religion in telling us how to die? This provocative book takes a sociological look at the revival of interest in death, focusing on the hospice movement and bereavement counselling. It will be required reading for anyone interested in the sociology of death and caring for the dying, the dead or the bereaved.

Excerpt

At the end of the last century, one Joseph Jacobs wrote a provocative and prophetic article titled ‘The Dying of Death’, in which he describes ‘the practical disappearance of the thought of death as an influence directly bearing upon practical life. There are no skeletons at our feasts nowadays’ (1899:264). In 1955 Geoffrey Gorer proclaimed that death had become the taboo of the twentieth century, confirming Jacobs’ prophecy. By 1979, however, Simpson wryly introduced his English language bibliography with ‘Death is a very badly kept secret; such an unmentionable topic that there are over 650 books now in print asserting that we are ignoring the subject’ (Simpson 1979:vii). His 1987 update adds another 1,700 books subsequently published on death and dying. As we approach the end of the present century, one might wonder whether we are witnessing a revival of death.

The announcements that death is taboo and that our society denies death continue, yet death is more and more talked of (Walter 1991a). In Britain, cancer research, help for children with leukaemia and for hospices are all successful fund raisers; ‘the grief process’, a phrase referring to the need to face rather than suppress grief, is now common parlance; bereaved journalists go into print to expose their feelings; do-it-yourself and humanist funerals are becoming more popular; personal and emotional stories about death, murder and disaster, along with close-up photographs of grieving men, dominate the front pages of newspapers (Littlewood et al., forthcoming); even sociologists now write about the subject (Walter 1993b). In the USA—supposedly even more repressed about death than the UK—the deluge of articles, books and television documentaries is bigger still and has been going on for longer; and college courses in death and dying, virtually unknown in Britain, numbered over a thousand by 1976.

All this sounds like a society obsessed with death, not one that denies

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