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  • Writer's pictureDé Bryant, Ph.D.

Part I: What's so positive about the positive death movement?

A recurring sentiment has begun to circulate through my various social media feeds. "I cannot attend another funeral. I cannot bear witness to the loss of not one more childhood friend/beloved relative/intimate partner/colleague/neighbor/acquaintance."

These laments are not confined to my network of Boomers, people of a certain age closer to the point in life that statistics call "life expectancy." Generations that followed mine and my cohort are feeling the strain of losses caused by COVID, by racial violence, by misogyny, by suicide, by intimate partner violence, by mass shootings… The list feels endless and forces us to encounter death in all its dimensions, not just among our Elders (who we expect to die).

The rising tide of grief has resulted in an uptick in public conversations about death and dying previously not common in our culture. Perhaps this silence does not describe you, nor me, nor anyone we know but it is prevalent in our culture as an eco-system of social interactions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Since COVID, websites have been launched about why death is not a terror to be avoided (The Order of the Good Death, The Order of the Good Death). Blog sites offer information about navigating end of life services and rights are being written (The Good Death Society Blog, The Good Death Society Blog). Social scientists have published empirical studies telling us that we, the culture, are still keeping death on the down low (type "positive death movement" into the search engine of your choice).

Seems although we feel the burden of death and dying, and influencers are urging us to share our experiences navigating the funeral industry (Caitlin Doughty, @AskAMortician), the culture has still not made the philosophical shift into acceptance. References to "death doulas" have begun to sprout up around the Internet; however, the content explains how the professional is a midwife for the dying while providing little instruction on how to engage the services of a death doula. Even less information is available if specific needs such as race, nationality, or gender are crucial considerations.

If it is so difficult to call a death doula in time of need, how far have we actually come in moving toward normalizing  discussions about end of life?

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