As Dying Matters week draws to a close, Project leader Prof Margaret Holloway considers the changing role of memorialization.
At the heart of the Dying Matters campaign is the belief that if we open up death on a societal level we will improve the dying and bereavement experiences of individuals and their families. Underlying this belief is the implicit assumption that somewhere in late modernity we became ill at ease with death and made it a taboo subject, hidden from everyday life.
The Remember Me Project is finding in fact that the symbols, rituals and acknowledgements of death, put there by the living, are everywhere. We are finding surprising similarities in attitudes to death across time and cultures. For example, some deaths have always been treated as deviant, or outside of the norm, and problematic for the living. There is plentiful evidence that traumatic deaths have always been treated differently, and questions of identity – contested, renegotiated and sometimes ambiguous – frequently arise. People have from the earliest times left written memorials and 19th century gravestone inscriptions express remarkably similar sentiments to the entries in contemporary memorial books and bench plaques.
While the contexts change, the challenging questions remain constant. So in Dying Matters week particularly we still find ourselves asking, what needs to change? ‘Remember Me’ is also asking what can we learn from the past about how people today might better negotiate ‘death in the midst of life’? Likewise, do our modern ways of communicating offer news ways of remembering and memorializing, which might contribute to the wellbeing of all? There are multiple ways in which we today can engage in the Big Conversation and these are not necessarily verbal, nor are they limited to the period approaching and in the immediate aftermath of the death. Nor are contemporary memorials limited to those expensive edifices which characterise periods when some lives were celebrated ostentatiously while the passing of others caused only a brief pause in the daily grind. Yet as online memorials and the tweeting of personal photos from mobile phones proliferate, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing and why, and how do (or perhaps not?) such practices contribute to individual and social wellbeing?
Join the conversation: how do you feel memorialization is changing?