Death Talk - JJ Landis
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Death Talk


Here’s a scenario for you.


You are already double-booked for two evening events, but you can squeeze both in if you time it right. Both are happy celebrations. One is at a church and one is at your neighbor’s house, and you feel very comfortable in both settings. You have somewhat of an obligation to attend one and you said you would be at the other. And there is a good chance for cake at both.


You are then invited by a friend (via Facebook, not a bff sort of invite) to a third event, which is at an unknown venue (therefore uncomfortable) with a bunch of strangers (therefore uncomfortable) to listen to your friend and another person talk about death. (And as far as you know, there will be no cake.)


Yes, I said death. The D word.


What do you do?


I know you may find this extremely hard to believe right now, but I faced just that situation recently. Guess what I did… yep, I went for the death. (I was gracious and kind in dealing with my previous engagements. I promise.)


Something within me would not leave it alone – the desire, the pull to listen to two bloggers whom I read regularly discuss interpreting death in a positive light. I believe they used the phrase “death positive.” I admit, part of me wanted to swoon and rub elbows with writing superiors. But a bigger part of me was drawn to this “death positive” thing because it was so closely timed to the release of my book. My journey with experiencing death at a young age could be held up in direct contrast as to what should happen during loss and grief. I had some major “death negative” going on. (You can read about my personal walk through grief in my book Some Things You Keep.)


So, what makes these two blogger guys such experts on death positive that they could invite an audience to listen in on their NPR-meets-TED-meets-church-like discussion?


Shawn Smucker, recently published a novel for children that explores grief and eternal life.


Caleb Wilde is a funeral director.


The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn is about the journey of a little boy after he loses his mother. He does not want to let her go and will do anything to have her again. He flirts with danger and finds himself in way over his head as he searches for the magical secrets to bring her back. This graceful story raises some big questions about life and death and eternal life and makes one wonder if death is something to be feared.


Caleb writes a popular blog called Confessions of a Funeral Director. He takes readers inside the funeral business but also inside grief. He has a strong grasp of what people need in suffering and how families and individuals can be strengthened when we’re honest about death. He is not always appreciated by his peers because he is open about the role the funeral industry has played in our society’s approach to death. We no longer accept death, but deny it and fear it. I love his blog because I am fascinated with the macabre goings on within the mortuary business, but I am also absurdly interested in family dynamics and how people process life and death.


I quietly sipped my coffee while they spoke, still a bit nervous that I was out of my element. When the evening wrapped up, I fangirled over Caleb (it’s no wonder why my teenage daughter thinks I’m a nerd) and told him how much I like his writing and his way of thinking. I thanked Shawn for the invite and then realized that I was completely comfortable and overjoyed that I had made the decision to attend.


The main thing I took away from the discussion came from Caleb.


We are worshipping God when we embrace grief.


Wow. What a concept. I think most of us condemn ourselves for grieving. We see it as weakness, something we have to get over.


But what if we looked at our sufferings as a means to worship God? Doesn’t that just blow your mind? God made us with emotions – he isn’t fooled by our faking. He wants our honest heart.


North Americans may have some things wrong. (What?) We are so far removed from death – we die in hospitals, not at home. We hire others to clean and dress and bury our dead. All our advancement brings disconnect in the face of this thing we must all eventually experience.


These two writers are not depressing. They are encouraging and uplifting. I am so thankful I stepped out of my comfort zone to attend their discussion.

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