“A death should never be celebrated”. Why I disagree.

“A death should never be celebrated”.  Why I  disagree.

I try so hard to make sure my blogs are easy to read, not too provocative, chocolate-coated and sometimes watered down to offer the least possible offence and make them more accessible.  But death is a topic that people have strong opinions on and feelings about. Professionals in the area have very strong opinions on it, naturally, and I am certainly no exception.

This little blog has been screaming at me to write it for the last two days.  I’ve been worried it will come out all wrong, no-one would quite get its point, and that the other blogs in the playground won’t want to play with it anymore.  But you know what – it isn’t too worried as life is short, it’s little heart is breaking at what it has been seeing the last couple of days, and if not now then when?

Am I really going to talk about my blogs as if they are children?  Yes.  Yes, it would appear I am.  Bear with me. 😉

So little blog, out you come…..

Why I Disagree

Everywhere I look since the death of Osama Bin Laden I see stuff about how a death should never be celebrated no matter whose it is.  In my blog on Monday I expressed my concern about us telling each other what are appropriate and inappropriate reactions to a death….but I didn’t get too much into the reason why.

If you are wondering ‘what does the death of Osama Bin Laden and the belief that death shouldn’t be celebrated have to do with the loss of my mum or dad and the grief I’m going through?!’ then the answer is ‘a lot’.  I am writing this for you.

Now I get people’s initial reaction that partying in the street, cracking open the champagne, and high-fiving each other (if you happen to be American. No offence Americans, it’s just that we aren’t big high-fivers over here) over a death just doesn’t seem right.  But why?  I don’t ask that with attitude.  I genuinely want you to think about that. Why is it wrong?

Is it because death is a bad thing to be mourned, to be sad about.  Is it a sacred event never to be taken that lightly?  It is something that only causes pain (losing someone you love) or, in the case of someone you didn’t know or even despised, indifference?  Would relief, as a lot of people are expressing over this death, be ok?  And if so is ‘happiness’ taking that a bit too far?

What I am really getting at is summed up in this question: is it ok to see a good or a positive side to death?  Or, out of sheer respect for death if nothing else, must we always view death as a bad thing?

And there lies my concern. That for a lot of the people, though not all, who are saying it’s disgusting to celebrate a death, it comes from the belief that death is a bad thing, only a bad thing, and should not be seen in another light at all.

This is a common belief, it’s what we are taught when we are very young, and it’s what most of us believe for most of our lives.  And this belief will ensure you struggle to find meaning in parts of your own life, you will struggle to find meaning in the lives of the people you have lost, and you will have a very, very difficult time ever truly healing your grief.

I don’t say this because of what I have read or been told.  I don’t say this because I have done too much personal development, or spiritual study and think everything is about being positive (oh you’ve definitely got the wrong girl there).  I say this straight from experience – raw, gritty, excruciating years dealing with the pain, the confusion, the awful emptiness and almost sickness of my own grief over multiple deaths.  Trying to figure it out and how to come out of it, coming out of it, and now helping others to do the same.  I say this as someone who has looked at death from the top, the bottom, round every angle, nook, cranny and every perspective.  With a great big magnifying glass.

So…what am I on about? Let’s look to the wisest people we know as an example of what I mean…..

Kids dealing with grief

In some ways children deal with loss far better than us grown-ups.  Yes of course they struggle, and are sad, and have big questions, like we do.  I’m not taking away from that, but kids are a lot more honest with themselves and with us about how they feel and this makes a huge difference.  A child will say ”I’m sad Grandad has died and I really miss him. But it’s good that he doesn’t eat the black jellybeans anymore because those are my favourites”. A child sees two sides to death. The good and the bad.  And what do we say when we hear a comment like this? We tell them “That’s a terrible thing to say.  You must never say things like that.  And don’t ever let your Nana hear you say that”.  We don’t change what they see but we do teach them that some of the things they see are bad and should be hidden.  We teach them guilt.  Adults know guilt very well.  Most of us were taught what we are supposed to think and feel about death so we are very good at pushing down and never admitting to a lot of the emotions we have around grief (and, as a consequence, we are also very good at being eaten alive by it).

A small child doesn’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing for Osama Bin Laden’s death to be celebrated.  We haven’t yet taught them the appropriate things to believe around this.

Why would you want to find good in death?

I’m not talking parties on the street and bubbly.  I’m talking about why you would want to find any good at all in the death of your parent or someone you’ve lost.  It isn’t disrespectful to want to find meaning in the lives of the people you’ve lost – indeed, it’s one of the best ways to honour them.  But to find meaning you need to be able to look at the bad and the good of the situation.

It might seem easy to find meaning in the life of your mum or dad but have you considered that their death is part of their life?  And if you can’t find meaning in that then that takes away a little bit from the meaning you can find in their entire life.

Our parents do amazing things for us and make incredible sacrifices at different times, and though we don’t feel like this 24/7 we do have moments when we are so overwhelmed and so grateful to them for the life they gave us and how they have helped us.  Imagine for a second what it would be like to be able to see how everything they had ever done helped you.  Even the last act – dying.  Every terrible event has a gift in it and if you can find a gift in everything your parent ever did you will be honouring them in the best way possible. But you won’t be able to find the gift in every part if you don’t stop, just for a minute, to see if there is any good in what you previously thought was only bad.  And certainly not if you aren’t even prepared to ask that question and know it’s ok to answer.

Sooo…mourn….or celebrate?

So I say death is to be mourned and celebrated.  I’m still not talking street parties here people, but it has a good side and a bad side and it’s up to us to find them.  If that makes me a horrible person so be it.  I see good and bad in my dad’s life and death and if that makes me a horrible person then I definitely am.  I understand that there were gifts in my dad’s death and not only have these gifts given his death and his life more meaning that I could ever imagine, but I am overwhelmed when I think of the impact and difference he has made to my life, to my family, to this planet, and I love him firecely for it and am so very proud to call myself ‘daughter’ of this incredible man. And if that makes me a horrible person then hey, I am the most proud horrible person you’ll ever meet.

I don’t have a lot to write about Bin Laden.  That was never what this blog had to say.  Am I out in the street celebrating? No. But please, question what you believe. Be curious. Ask yourself what would be wrong about celebrating a death and, more importantly, what would be wrong about finding a gift in a death of someone you’re grieving over.  If you have lost someone this question goes far, far deeper for you than just what you think of the death of America’s Most Wanted.

As always I’d love your thoughts through comments here or emails to me.




About Kristie West

I'm a Grief Specialist and I help adults who have lost a parent. I am known for positively changing people's experience of the loss of a parent in less than 4 hours.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Loss of a parent, Uncategorized, World events and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “A death should never be celebrated”. Why I disagree.

  1. Mike Stephens says:

    Like your “First Christmas Without Your Mum Or Dad” blogs, this entry was very well written and really put some things in perspective. It is so obvious how much you love and miss your dad, yet your point about the importance of both mourning and celebrating the death of a loved one is right on target. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Kristie West says:

    Hi Mike, you’re very welcome. And thank you for your email too. I’ve just replied. xx

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