Features and Occasionals

Banishing Fear with Fascination

By Christian Fox

The death-positive movement.

What do you think about when you hear the word death? Not the hundred delicate euphemisms for it—kicking the bucket, passing away—but the word itself. Death.

How does that word make you feel?

The final curtain on our lives conjures up a host of associations and emotions as diverse as the methods with which we take our final exits, but Western society has a tendency to hide any unpleasantness behind a veil of sterility that allows us to pretend it doesn’t exist. So we don’t talk about it. The topic of death and dying is confined to operating theaters and morgues, to the lingering perfumed rooms of hospice and the quiet line of a passing funeral procession.

Death Salon is seeking to change that. The brainchild of collaborators Caitlin Doughty (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), Sarah Chavez and Megan Rosenbloom, the Death Salon is an interdisciplinary conference, held annually and in a variety of locations from LA to London, that explores the intersections between art, science, culture and death. The events draw historians, pathologists, hospice staff, morticians, medical examiners, illustrators, psychologists, writers, anthropologists and funerary workers together to discuss the impact of mortality in their own fields and its influence beyond. With subjects as varied as archetypes of mortality in art to the latest processes in funeral direction to the psychology and counseling of mourning, the exchanges allow for a supportive, scholarly and stigma-free environment in which fearful live events can be discussed without the normal trappings of dread. By turning fear into fascination Death Salon is giving birth to a new movement: death positivity.

With the pace of life as it is, with the situations we find ourselves in, paranoia over disease, decay and war isn’t a sensation any of us are strangers to. It’s not a stretch to say we live in a world full of reminders that death lurks around the corner. Making matters worse, our culture’s idolatry of vitality and youth ensures that the exact opposite is reviled—death becomes a hazy idea in the back of our minds that we refuse to acknowledge but suffer from all the same, a source of anxiety almost to the point of phobia. As such, Death Salon is not about wanting to die or celebrating death itself, it’s not a ghoulish fixation on your own demise complete with the usual gothic sensibilities and sad-eyed drama, but it is about gaining a more positive outlook on death and, in the process, learning to feel better about living.

The message in it is simple. We as human beings are innately curious, and our fascination with the fact that we die is a natural part of that. Rather than demonizing and condemning it to our nursing homes and hospital beds, death can be discussed in the ways that positively impact our lives—and, in the process, help us leave behind its fearful associations. In gaining an understanding and appreciation for death in all its aspects, we can learn to appreciate the time we have.

Christian Fox became interested in the subject of death when he worked as a visual experience facilitator at the Leonardo for the Mummies of the World exhibit. His collection illustrates this story. DeathSalon.org; OrderOfTheGoodDeath.com


This article was originally published on October 2, 2017.