The dynamics of the wellness trend are influencing various lines of thought about mortality. Today, many aspire to “make death part of their life”.
In the U.K. last year, the Co-Op Funeralcare Media Report cited findings from a survey by YouGov: 93% of women respondents and 91% of the men had contemplated their own mortality, but only 27% had written a will and 81% “hadn’t saved a penny” for their funeral. While the subject is by far the last great taboo of an increasingly post-religious society, the notion of considering its cultural aspects and integrating death into one’s lifestyle is gaining ground.
Death may not be a hot topic on Twitter, but many high-brows (e.g. therapists and researchers), as well as low-brows are seeking to dedramatize it and take a more clear-sighted approach to a subject that has lost much of its human element in recent decades.
In the U.K.last year, the psychologist Julia Samuel published her bestseller “Grief Works”, a guide to grief based on stories about bereavement. The author examines how we see and treat death in a day and age marked by the decline of religion, which has left a legacy of traditional, standard rituals.
In the U.S., a number of blogs have tackled this complex subject. Founded by mental health professionals, the blog “What’s Your Grief” provides a wealth of content to help people cope with bereavement (e.g. by conceptualizing progress and understanding cultural conventions) as well as give practical advice.
Joining in this movement to popularize “death positivity” and bring on the “death-care revolution”, former mortician Caitlin Doughty founded The Order of Good Death, an organization advocating a more death-informed society. Her YouTube series “Ask A Mortician” has nearly 800,000 subscribers and uses offbeat humor in educating her audience about mortality-related issues.
The phenomenon is gaining traction, although it has yet to attract large audiences on social platforms like Facebook and Instagram. According to Juliette Cazes founder of the YouTube channel “Le Bizarreum” for French speakers, social networks prefer to marginalize this subject, which is nevertheless gaining attention in other media.
In France, specialized websites are promoting a new outlook on end-of-life issues. “Happy End Life” reports on relevant news, innovations and controversies. Launched on October 31, 2018, the podcast “Mortel” (produced by Nouvelles Ecoutes) has come as a revelation.
Books are also reflecting this trend. In France, “Le jardin des étoiles mortes” by Laure Margerand deals with issues relative to digital death and has gained quite a following. The story is about a protagonist who decides to take revenge on his ex by eliminating every trace of her online presence, becoming a sort of digital undertaker.
It would seem that people are ready to talk about death. Discussion-friendly venues are cropping up, such as the Death Café gatherings that have taken place in 65 countries or the Kid Mai Death Awareness Café in Thailand. The point of these initiatives is to help relieve anxiety, stress and fear about death.
The “positive death” market
This market, worth 20 billion dollars in the U.S., is inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs. Companies born online have set out to give a new twist to funeral services, heretofore largely confined to tradition and the culture of the final moment. By updating the visual and verbal content of services and presenting clear planning options, they aim to boost the appeal of such services.
This trend is visible at the international level. Nirvana Asia leads the market in South East Asia. In the U.K., FuneralBooker.com has taken advice from SomeOne London and rebranded itself as Beyond, using cheerful colors (mainly yellow) and more appealing language to create a new kind of relationship with funeral service customers.
While some of the advertising has drawn criticism for being deliberately provocative – they borrow from the communication codes of low-cost airlines to pitch their services for this “one-way trip” – it conveys the message that death is no longer something to be swept under the rug, but dealt with by planning ahead, instead of leaving your loved ones to improvise.
One startup, Willing, recently raised 7 million dollars. According to an article in businessinsider.fr, “Willing has one goal: making end-of-life planning easier, more affordable, and more approachable. The first step toward this is Willing’s current service, which allows users to create a legally binding will online in 10 minutes — for free.” As for Solace, started by two former Nike executives, it aims to provide “affordable direct cremation services” that are “simple and transparent, leaving no surprises or unexpected costs”.
This mindset heralds the advent of less conventional offers that dedramatize this life event and provide an alternative to existing approaches to death, which can be sadly lacking in humanity when addressing the subject of death from a strictly commercial point of view.
Cover © Plastic Rain – Andres Reisinger