Are You Hiding From Death? And What Is It Costing You?
I just bought this bunch of everlasting daisies from the cemetery florist. It seems more than a little ironic… For wandering between the old, sunken headstones out here, the knowledge of the temporary nature of things – of life – sinks in a little deeper.
How we like to forget this… to remain hidden from it in the everyday. Shielded. If you believed the stronger messages and myths that our (western) society spins, you’d think that youth can last forever (if only you buy the right face cream or get the right surgery or adopt the right frame of mind).
But the hundreds upon hundreds of graves out here all tell a different story.
What price might we pay, collectively, to do this to ourselves?
And what might it be costing you (and your loved ones) if you stay hidden from the thought of your own death? From the impending truth of it?
Existential therapy might even go so far as suggesting it could cost you your life. For it sees death as one of the very “givens” of life – those bits that are just part of the deal. Intrinsic. Inescapable.
Though, in our minds, it seems we often pretend we can escape death.
We ignore it.
We forget it.
We look the other way.
We get on with the ‘business of living’ (as though that doesn’t equally entail the ‘business of dying’)… as though it isn’t actually us that death will visit.
And so, along with the concept of death more generally, our own very personal mortality can remain hidden to us. Our finiteness. The very thing that brings meaning to the preciousness of our days. All of it camouflaged by that other escapist stuff.
So how might this play out in your life?
What costs might there be if death remains hidden to you?
Just take a moment and see if any answers well up to the surface as you think about these queries:
What might you be putting of until ‘later’?
(As though that later will always exist).
And how often do you think you do this?
What are you leaving unsaid or undone in your life?
(Until some mythical ‘right time’ comes along – and as though you’ll, ‘naturally’, still be around by then, too).
What are you keeping hidden?
Which dreams, ambitions, talents, desires or truths might you be hiding?
(Hiding from others. Hiding from yourself).
Which facades or masks or societal norms might you be hiding beneath?
In fact, “Hidden” is the name of the exhibition I’ve come here to the cemetery to see today – an outdoor sculpture walk planted amid the graves.
All the artworks – and their revelations – really are kind of hidden unless you truly engage with this place. Walk the rows of it. Mark the time of it.
And maybe it’s a bit like that with life and death, too? (With your life. With your death). To truly have one, perhaps we must engage with the other. And face the reality that one day, all our ‘everlasting daisies’ will eventually wilt and die away…
All this talk of death can seem a bit grim, at first.
But if the alternative is to keep looking away from death – away from the wilting – and, instead, to invite the plastic pretense of a bouquet that will never truly bloom (but will crumble inevitably anyway)…
… then give me death any day.
(And, after all, it seems that’s how it will come…).
If you’re in Sydney, you can visit the “Hidden” exhibition at Rookwood Cemetery from sunrise to sunset until 8 May 2011.
There’s also some related events and workshops, including:
30 April: Dusk Ceremony at the Elephant House – lantern making and a ceremony “celebrating uncertainty and the transformative power of laying to rest.”
7&8 May: The Groundswell Project Writers’ Workshop – using writing to “make new meaning from the raw materials of life experience, grief and loss.”
Artworks featured in this blog post (in order of appearance):
‘still, life’: Margaret England
‘Sense of Memory: Tracy Smith
‘significance’: Will Coles
Photos: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Are You Hiding From Death? And What Is It Costing You?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapist-within/2011/04/are-you-hiding-from-death-and-what-is-it-costing-you/