Always look on the bright side of... death?
The way we think about and approach the idea of death is deeply rooted in culture – and evident in the festivals, commemorations and rituals that take place across the world at different times of year.
This past weekend, Mexico’s Día de Muertos celebrated death, on a day when the departed are said to awake and celebrate, too. In China, the month-long Ghost Festival (also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival) is observed by Taoists and Buddhists, with offerings of food and drink left out to feed the deceased, and the burning of joss paper, which is believed to have value in the afterlife.
Japan’s 3-day long Obon festival in August sees people returning to their hometowns for a combination of family reunion and ancestor worship. In parts of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the springtime Radonitsa holiday (derived from the Slavic word for “joy”) involves taking food to graves of loved ones to feast with the deceased.
In the UK, on the other hand, rituals of death and remembrance tend to be less celebratory affairs, with a more modest, private and sombre tone. This is reflected in dominant discourses around death more generally, which frame it as a deeply sensitive or unpleasant issue. We do our best to keep the idea of death at bay with the help of age-defying treatments, products and cosmetic surgery, or to cheat it completely with the help of tech innovations like biohacking and cryogenic preservation.
However, emergent cultural framings of death are encouraging a more positive approach to end of life– framing death as something to be embraced and celebrated, rather than something to be avoided and feared.
Here are some of our favourite examples of new products and services that are encouraging consumers to consider death in a positive light:
A Celebratory Ceremony
Georgia Martin’s ‘A beautiful goodbye’ service, based in the UK, offers living funeral services, in which people can plan, attend and enjoy their own funerals.
This might sound like a strange affair, but the service promises an end of life experience that is social and meaningful, permitting celebration even at the hardest moments of life. Here, attending your own funeral is an opportunity to come to terms with death and spend meaningful time with loved ones – ‘you can celebrate them, and they can celebrate you’.
Greeting Death with a Friend
Non-profit End of Life Doula UK matches each user to a trained Doula, who acts as ‘a companion, to listen, talk, provide comfort and reassurance or just 'be'’.
People can also access End of Life Doula’s services at Death Café events, spaces where ‘people gather to eat cake and discuss death’.
The Funeral Home Away from Home
Exit Here funeral parlour in London offers an alternative kind of funeral space – one that aims to help clients come to terms with death within a comfortable, open environment.
Exit Here’s light, airy rooms filled with eclectic furniture and expansive, transparent windows demystify and destigmatize the space, encouraging an open approach to the prospect of death.
A Positive Deathwish
The Dead Happy company’s trendy communications feature a dapper skeleton and encourage a light-hearted approach to death. As well as providing life insurance, Dead Happy gives customers a chance to ‘rest in happiness’ by leaving a death wish of their choice – anything from paying off debts to sending a loved one on holiday. Here, death is aligned with positive acts, individual autonomy and a sense of fun and play.
These new services signal a change in attitudes to death in the UK, one that suggests an ability to find fun, comfort and positivity at the end of life.