Death Café Orlando VIII: A Single Universal Truth

We were fortunate to have had our most recent Death Café Orlando gathering take place on a dark and stormy summer’s afternoon. The inclement weather and the homey nature of our meeting place were the key components for a hotbed of intellectual intimacy on par with the infamous year without a summer (the balmy progenitor of M. Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s Vampyre story).

I’d hesitate to identify a routine in our meetings, but typically our group tends to tour a diverse spread of ‘trending topics’ in death positivity and death awareness, from whence we might wax philosophically or share our ‘what if–?’ scenarios. Our eighth regional session broke from the mold.

This time around, our humble coalition was joined by an active death care professional (and Friend of Page Jackson) who started out sharing from an informant’s perspective. Her motivations were the same as all of ours: the relief and the joy of having ears to listen and minds to receive. Much like the rest of us, our friend had very few friends or familairs with whom she could share the mundane details of her work–let alone her philosophic and professional viewpoints.

Our friend, despite being in the field for years as a student and as a working professional, had never had the forum to speak so candidly about her role and about her ambitions to the same group of unanimously receptive people. She was thrilled to bits–moved and inspired. It was the first time she realized that she actually had a potential audience–no–a potential consumer base for her business model.

I’ve waxed here before about the clear divide between my perspective as an attendee vs. my perspective as a facilitator. That line continues to become more distinct. I’ve mostly seen and interacted people in the field who’ve become either jaded or burned out by their surroundings or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, people whose ambitious and idealistic agendas are too expensive, too outlandish or otherwise just not efficient or pragmatic enough to be implemented in the mainstream death industry. What happened in DCO VIII was an idyllic meeting of the minds: a perfect exchange of ideas, idealism and affirmations. It felt real, because it was real.

Slowly, like the creeping, leaking contents of a casket sold with the guarantee of being permanently hermetically sealed, death awareness, death care awareness and rights of the dying are becoming talking points outside of death positivity circles and goth nights… not that we should be ashamed of or deny these origins, but rather, these conversations are starting to break away from the covert “what if–?” covens and are becoming more oriented to the public opinion-steered “how can we–?”.

A case example: a humble gay-interest dating simulator took the internet by storm this past week (and you can bet that I played through every route on the first day). Dream Daddy, with its promise of Dad Puns and oddly specific archetypes (“Rival Dad,” “Cool Youth Minister Dad” and “Sports Dad” to name a few), gained notoriety for its meme appeal. But what sold the game, like, literally sold it to the top of the charts, was its human depth and earnest real-world optimism.

***Keep scrolling if you want to avoid Dream Daddy spoilers!***

One of the eligible bachelors on the block is Damien, a goth transmasculine gay single father, who has a penchant for the Victorian way of life, though he jokes that he doesn’t wish to emulate all aspects of Victorian revival, because he rather likes not dying of sudden illnesses.

(Dad) Jokes aside, Damien has a well-articulated outlook on mortality.

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“To acknowledge death and become comfortable with it, I think, gives us a certain intimate knowledge of ourselves.“

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“To sit amongst generations of those who came before us, to be truly alive in the midst of so much death, brings me great comfort.”

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“Death helps me appreciate life. To savor every second.“

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“I believe it is a waste to spend your life dreading the end of it.“

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“It’s the single universal truth for every human who has ever lived. I am going to die. You are going to die. And life carries on without us.“

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“The time we have here is brief and fleeting and occasionally cruel, but it is at all times precious. To stare death in the face and live despite that, I think, is a noble existence. Let’s save the mourning for the dead.“

***End Dream Daddy spoilers!***

Giving death affirmative dialog to character in a game designed to have options that appeal to everyman casual video game players is huge. This platform is phenomenally huge. The medium and the means are just mundane enough to reach everyone–not just us folks who already have the proclivity to speak out about death and to be receptive to death-oriented conversations.

The fact that the conversation happens in the context of relationships between gay adults in a game targeted to gay players is an added bonus. While the game doesn’t go so far as to broach the unique perils of death in the LGBT+ community (particularly those that are of import to committed couples), it does inspire young LGBT+-identifying folk (who are playing a game where they are prompted to make choices reflecting their personal reflections) to think about death from an affirmative and autonomous perspective. This is an incredible reprieve to the hopeless numbers of youth suicides, hate crime casualties and health-related complications that seem out of control.

The Mitford-coined American Way of Death (or really, the Global-Western Way of Death altogether) is deeply pervasive and committed to its young tradition of less than 150 years for something that’s so narrow and uniform. And while bio-punk fungi suits and freeze dry disposals and retro mummifications may not be for the everyman, now it seems that there is time, and that this may be the time to broaden and pave the various paths in the ways of death.

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