Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal.

We talk so little of death. It's awkward, messy, uncomfortable, unsettling. So much easier to channel all of our living into celebrity fashion and NFL playoffs and bad reality TV. Distraction, baby!

But death remains; it's there, it's so there, everyday, everywhere, in spite of our best efforts to ignore it. So check out Meghan O'Rourke's thoughtful (and clearly personal) nod to death in the latest New Yorker. It's a thorough round-up of everyone big: from the original face of death studies - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she the famed author of On Death and Dying - to Freud, Hemingway, Dickinson, et al.

O'Rourke explores the complicated cultural legacies of mourning and grief, arguing that as ground-breaking as Kubler-Ross's famous 5-stage theory might have been, it provided a perhaps too-structured vision of the chaotic and unpredictable process of dealing with loss:
Perhaps the stage theory of grief caught on so quickly because it made loss sound controllable. The trouble is that it turns out largely to be a fiction, based more on anecdotal observation than empirical evidence. Though K├╝bler-Ross captured the range of emotions that mourners experience, new research suggests that grief and mourning don’t follow a checklist; they’re complicated and untidy processes, less like a progression of stages and more like an ongoing process—sometimes one that never fully ends.
Anyone who's ever lost anyone will be nodding his head as he reads that paragraph. Grief can be ugly and messy and frustrating and crippling and wretched. But it can also lend a certain grotesque beauty to the goings-on of day-to-day life, its usually-overlooked trivialities suddenly cast in a bittersweet sepia-toned light.

I've always said, and I'll say it again, that one of the things I appreciate most about Buddhism is its assertion that "all beginnings end in separation." How very normal and expected that truth makes death seem - and not just bodily death, but also the natural turnover of relationships, of careers, of homes, of friendships. Yogic theory echoes Buddhism's awareness of death with its emphasis on flux, transience and change. How much easier, then, knowing this, it becomes to rest in a place of grief, given the assurance of its sheer normalcy.

Read the article. Even if you've not lost someone recently, you'll glean something from O'Rourke's paragraph about the embarrassingly awkward character of social interactions after the death of someone near to you. Resolve to be more present and less afraid the next time someone you love is grieving. There's so very little to fear.


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