Society overly exalts death, adds to pain

Kirsten Buchanan

The first time I was told I was worth more dead, I shook it off. The second time, I rolled my eyes. By the third time, I was angry.
“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar; they’re worth so much more after I’m a goner,” sang The Band Perry in their hit song “If I Die Young.”
Having just gone through the loss of two family members and a boy from my church, I was disgusted by the way the song casually viewed death.
The worst line though was “Maybe then they’ll hear the words I’ve been singing. Funny when you’re dead how people start listening.” As I listened to the line, I grew angry at the way it encouraged death, almost making it seem like a good thing.
But it wasn’t just “If I Die Young” that makes death sound great. Our society is set up so that when someone dies we idolize that person. It doesn’t matter if you secretly disliked the person while they were alive — as soon as you find out they’re dead, they magically become someone who had been perfect. People make Facebook pages in memorial of them.
They hold special remembrance activities and dedicate things like trees or benches in honor of their name. They cry and sob and pay more attention to the dead person than they ever would’ve if the person had still been alive.
And people — the ones who are left behind — notice these things.
In themselves, each of these actions is not destructive. But we have gone too far. It is hard enough for me to find closure in the deaths of those around me without having to see their Facebook memorial pages every time I log onto the Internet. I want to grieve at my own, slower pace without seeing an overload of memorials for those who I have lost.
When a boy from my church died this summer, we all grieved together. My whole youth group attended his funeral and cried on each other’s shoulders after the service. We still struggle with our sadness, but we are moving on. We are slowly accepting that, while it is O.K. to miss him, our lives have to go on.
I don’t know how I would move on if he had a Facebook page commemorating his death. I don’t know how I would feel today if I saw people wearing T-shirts glorifying him that would constantly remind me of him. I don’t know how I would find happiness in life if I had to face his death over and over again.
This summer, I made that mistake. I forced myself to face his death every week, and it made me miserable. Because he died near my house in a place where I often take walks, every Friday morning I would take one of my dogs and go down to the place where he died.
Sitting on a bench, surrounded by nature, I wrestled with all of my questions and my guilt. Why hadn’t I been there the morning he had died? Rationally, I knew that I had nothing to feel guilty about, but it still hurt, and I made myself feel that pain every week for most of July and August. Maybe that was why I struggled to find happiness those two months. They were months of pain and sadness and grieving, and I made myself feel those things every single week.
The second day of school was exactly six weeks after he died — the first week I hadn’t taken my memorial walk. Instead of being near where he had died, I was in AP Latin class. Spacing off, I realized I wasn’t feeling my usual pain. I was surprised to find myself beginning to move on. Yes, he had died, and yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but I still had a life to live and I had to continue to live it despite my sadness.
In a way, I realized I had been over memorializing him and had played a part in glorifying his death. Like so many other people, I concentrated too much on death rather than on life.
You will never catch me singing, “I’m worth so much more after I’m a goner.” That is not the message I want to send to grieving people, nor is it the message I believe. Death is not glorious — death is merely the end of a beautiful life.
I miss the boy from my church. I miss all of my grandparents. I miss my uncle. But I can’t again make the mistake of glorifying or over-memorializing their deaths. Instead, I will focus on living my life and trying to leave my sadness behind me.
For this reason, when the radio told me I was worth more dead for the fourth time, I reached over and turned it off.
By Kirsten Buchannan