Over the course of the last century, and perhaps most acutely within the last decade or two, we have seen a radical shift in the general attitude that people have towards death and funerals. There are a number of contributing factors at play, but a big piece of the puzzle lies with the conversations had around mental health and the way we react to death and mourning.
There has been a lot of research undertaken into the grief process thanks to advancements made in psychiatry and a greater respect for the feelings of those who suffer a bereavement from someone close to them. Thanks to research into the neurological processing that takes place in our brains we know more about what happens on the inside, and changes in cultural norms have affected what happens on the outside.
Overhauling the Victorian Attitude
The traditional view of a remembrance service, particularly in the UK, is deeply influenced by the traditions of Victorian Britain; a religious ceremony, attended by mourners in black, and solemn reflection on the deceased’s life and legacy. It has been argued that the First World War helped accelerate the change in norms as public commemorations and community memorials became increasingly popular.
As mentioned above, it could be argued that a number of different factors have helped accelerate the changing attitudes to bereavement and death in the last couple of years. Firstly, advances in medical science have allowed the general public to have a greater understanding of health and death, and this has taken away some of the ignorance of how a death in the family affects us.
A Celebration of Life
The way we pay tribute to our loved ones after death has become more relaxed in recent years as the role of religion is increasingly diminished in modern Western society. Humanist and non-religious memorial services are more commonplace than they have ever been as people are choosing to be remembered in a more personal way, out with the religious context.
We are also seeing a move away from the idea that mourners should be dressed in black, as many have opted for the idea that their service is more of a celebration of their life, rather than a somber affair. This can be put down to an influence of other cultures on our own, as well as a more relaxed attitude to the way that people are chosen to be remembered.
A Healthier Option for All
What all these changes add up to is a positive change towards the public mentality around death and a greater conversation around how we are affected by the loss of loved ones on a personal level. The British “stiff upper lip” attitude that defined how our Victorian ancestors viewed grief has given way to an altogether healthier norm.
There is support in place for those who are affected by grief and a greater recognition of the mental health problems that can flare up as a result of the loss of a relative or friend. As long as we are willing to talk about how we feel, and make it known when things are not okay from a mental health perspective, we will continue to see a more positive attitude towards death and funerals.