Life amongst the dead, the living, and Los Angeles
The following is a comment, and my response, left by a woman on a piece called The Future of Women, Social Justice, and Death Acceptanceby Caitlin Doughty. The Future of Women is written as an outreach to women of color who may feel that they do not have a platform to talk and share their feelings about death, by letting them know that there is a wonderful site, Death and the Maiden that is run by Sarah Chavez Troop and Lucy Talbot that is always looking for new voices from any and every walk of life. Because, duh, diversity is key to everything. And we cannot have a full discussion of how death affects us as a culture without discussing what our culture currently is.What was interesting is that such a simple offering spurned some obviously stewing discomfort about mixing politics with death. As if the two are unrelated. And not already deeply entrenched in one another to begin with. I reacted to these comments first with a string of F bombs. Then I clutched my chest. Then I thought I was going to vomit. Then I sent some angry texts. And then I got calm and wrote this. Also, I figured since it took about 40 minutes to write and proof read my response that it counted as a blog. Plus it’s been a crazy busy week at the mortuary and in between trying to keep myself together through the aftermath of the election and handling my ish’ like a boss, I have had zero focus for writing. So maybe I’m also cheating and being a little lazy. I want to write sooooo much more on this as obviously this is just a little snippet of me trying really hard to be a cool human that is not merely reacting to others’ opinions. Because also, nothing will get fixed if we just lash out at one another. But, I also feel like I’m going to barf from just being stressed 24/7 for the last seven days so this is the best I can give ya.
Shelly“I read smoke gets in your eyes & the mission statement about Order of the good death. It’s a beautiful thing..bringing back a culture of taking part of our loved ones transition into the next life..honoring the passing of a fellow human being. But..I am a nurturing, not highly educated, licensed practical nurse of 22 yrs..mother of 3..Christian, 44 yo WF
I so much admire your death movement. It’s needed! My job is death & dying. But I don’t understand why your group can’t just stick to singleness of purpose. It’s my belief you will have more success in the death movement if that’s what your topic is. Start another group for all the other gender identity folks. America desperately needs a death movement. You will lose the attention of half of the US if you use your death platform for other political issues. Death comes for all of us…it’s our common thread. You can touch so many “human beings ” by sticking with one issue. And for the record..with a very scant exception..you are definitely male or female! I can identify as a bear or fairy..but ..
You get the picture.. so please please please stick with death in this forum. I personally see the need for change with every death I’m part of. You have the power to get change started. When we are dying I don’t think gender is running through our mind at all.
Peace & love to you!
Shelly Whitehead..uneducated, woman, wife, mom, nurse, non-party planning, nature loving, Southern born & raised, lover of humanity!!!
“Shelly, I feel the same exact way. I was so disappointed when politics started being mixed in (or I may have just naively missed this). I am wholeheartedly ready to embrace this cause, however now I’m not so sure It is in my best interest to associate myself with this particular group, as a whole. My death-positive attitude is here to stay, however! For the record, I am an educated IT professional living in the South. I am 42 yo WF, and the mother of three sons. Like, I’m probably the total opposite of others in this movement, but the MOVEMENT is our common thread! I want to be ALL in but it’s taking a turn that i feel uneasy about…”
Part Three: My Response (Or,Women’s Studies Terms. My Open Letter to Shelly and Tracy)
“Shelly, (and also Tracy, but mostly Shelly)
I am but the humble daughter of a bus driver. I too feel at times the need to discredit my intelligence. For me it is because I grew up poor. I make a lot of self deprecating jokes out of insecurity that I am not as good as my friends. Out of fear that I will never be. That I am silly and flippant. I got into college by working hard, but realistically I got to go because I was so poor I qualified for a massive grant (a privilege I am very much aware of).
I start my response this way because I read your need to excuse your opinion by writing that you are “not highly educated”. As women we never need to apologize for not being “highly educated”. (*Not because we are women and get some free pass, but because there are many levels of intelligence and not all learning comes from possessing a degree from Yale. Some of the dumbest kids I’ve met were USC grads.) But, I also see that you wrote that you are a nurse. This means you clearly have shown that you have the drive and ability to follow through and persevere to better yourself (you ARE educated). Never lower your opinion of your education. It will in turn lower everything else about you. Which bleeds into my next thought.
I am also white. There’s really no smooth transition of that fact, but yes, I too identity as a “WF”. This is why your comment crushes me. Heart and soul. Crushes me Shelly. Because I feel that it is my ethical responsibility to write and reach out, not in hate or anger. Not to put you down. But as a white woman to another white woman. I want reach into the part of you that misses the point to all of this. Because what I read, is that there is an anger and fear in your comment. A “Hey, I may just be a white Christian from the south. And that may not be any good, but I’m going to let you ladies know anyways…” And Shelly, that is not what makes your opinion any less valid than ours. It is your disheartening inability to see the connection that death has to all of this. To all of us. And this is despite the fact that you very plainly write something similar in your comment.
Death is the ultimate expression of “making the personal political”. It is a theme that was talked about greatly in my college studies. And like you yourself pointed out, “death… is our common thread.” It is THE greatest “personal” in existence as it transcends gender, religion, ethnicity (and it seems like you get that). Death waits for no one. The problem is that in an increasingly tense time of political struggle. Death has become less patient. Death comes into our schools. Our churches. Our work. We should be so lucky for Death to take us in our sleep. See, it’s as if Death has waged war on us. But sadly, he comes for harder and faster for some rather than others. And this is a fact we CANNOT ignore any longer.
It would be remiss of me to not admit. That I am not on Death’s radar the way that others are. I would be selfish. Selfish not to admit that being white has allowed me to pray in peace, to be pulled over by a police officer and not feel afraid of what may happen. My being white allows me to feel less fear than, lets say, my girlfriend from Tehran. Her brown skin and Iranian features make her a target for hatred and anger. And most of that comes from, unfortunately white people.
So, while we could simply preach a blanket death acceptance. Tell everyone to buy a Pre-Need. Buy a plot. Plan your cremation and then call it a day. It would be rather pointless yes? I sort of fail to see the grandiose “YES WE CAN!” in simply handing out a pamphlet that reads, “Don’t be a dummy. You’re going to die. Plan ahead”. That would make us no different than a regular mortuary. But really, it would also be ignorant and sell short the power that women like us can have if we choose to work together to leave behind something greater than ourselves. And that is the idea. It is connecting while we are alive. That is our MOVEMENT. Death Positive, it’s just another way of saying Life Positive. It is a way of connecting with ALL human beings. But we CANNOT CANNOT turn a blind eye to the very real way it affects our brothers and sisters on different levels. You and I will never face death the way my friend from Tehran does. Nor my African American friends. And we have to understand that if we are to bring death back into the home it has to be with the understanding that all homes are different. That bringing death into my friends of different ethnicities comes with different details. And learning and growing, and experiencing the knowledge those “homes” have acquired, be it from hate, discrimination, or love, ONLY serves to make us better.
If you loved humanity you would see that you have to yearn to truly know all facets of it.
Much love and hope that you will understand and carry on with a voice, loud and strong for ALL women and men.
Educated in college and by Life. But learned more from Life. Daughter of a bus driver. I am a Mortician but I spent my life waiting tables. I don’t plan parties, I ruin them. Born and raised in the 909 (the meth capital of the Inland Empire), lover of all, even when disappointed in them. Because I believe you can change….”
*is where I have gone in to add some notes since I was able to expound on this in a more viewable platform. I invite Shelly and Tracy to write a rebuttal. (hah hah. I said butt.)