What does Death Positive mean?

People who are death positive believe that it is not morbid or taboo to speak openly about death. They see honest conversations about death & dying as the cornerstone of a healthy society.

Here’s a recent article that delves into the history of the movementLearn about death positivity during the pandemic, in social justice movements, and about the benefits of being death positive.

 

 





What are the tenents of the Death Positive Movement?

  1. I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
  2. I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
  3. I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
  4. I believe that the dead body is not dangerous, and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
  5. I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
  6. I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
  7. I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
  8. I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.

Tell me what the Death Positive Movement isn’t.

To be clear, death positive doesn’t mean you’re thrilled and “positive” after someone has died. Death positive means you should be given support during and after a death, including the ability to speak freely about your grief and experiences.

As with any movement, there are misunderstandings. Here is a piece dispelling some of the myths about the Death Positive Movement.

While you’re here be sure to check out our video on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Death Positive People.


What is the origin of the term death positive?

From Caitlin Doughty’s 5th Anniversary post:

I’m lucky to know a number of advocates in the sex positive community. My understanding of sex positivity was, in part: “I’m fascinated by human sexuality and my own relationship to sex and I refuse to be ashamed of that interest. I was sure if there was sex positivity, there would also be death positivity. But when I did the deep dive Google search, nothing. So several years ago I asked the Order of the Good Death’s Facebook and Twitter community about why that might be. As always, you had brilliant thoughts that helped shape what the Death Positive Movement has become.

Caitlin Doughty tweet from April 2013:

See the original tweet.


Who was Ernest Becker and what does he have to do with the Death Positive movement?

Our work at The Order is inspired by the work of anthropologist and Pulitzer Prize winning author Ernest Becker. Learn about Becker’s work and his book The Denial of Death on the Ernest Becker Foundation website.

Book cover of The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

What are some ways we can use death positivity to change culture?

Founding Order Member, Pia Interlandi’s project Garments For the Grave.

Everyone can help by thinking and talking about death in an open, factual, and compassionate manner. We can all be working to shift our cultural and national beliefs surrounding death. These beliefs are inextricable not just from our quality of life, but our ability to access a good end of life. If we can’t discuss death we also can’t “discuss how to better the lives of those affected by it.

As you can read in this article, the movement is about “more than just changing ourselves. It’s about breaking down barriers and causing an ideological shift in the world.”

We can also change the culture around what happens to the body after death, returning to a closer, family and community model of care. For an overview, here are two TED talks where Order founder Caitlin lays out the benefits of being present with the dead body (The Corpses that Changed my Life) and adopting green and natural burial practices (Recomposition and Conservation Burial).

In this interview, the director of the Order, Sarah Chavez, discusses the ways death positivity intersects with feminism, and its potential to help dismantle the roots of inequality, racism, and social marginalization.

Further Reading

Death positivity is being applied in all sorts of unexpected and thoughtful ways, read more here: