You Take My Breath Away: the Sociology of Death

Psychologists explain the five stages of death, five emotional experiences that a person goes through upon being informed that the end of his or her life is near: denial, anger, negotiation, withdrawal and acceptance. Coincidentally, each morning in between the 20 minutes when my alarm clock goes off and I actually get out of bed, I go through these exact same five social stages.

But, really, death isn't that big of a deal. I mean, it's traumatic for your loved ones, of course, and for the people to whom you owe money. But when you're the one who is dying? Eh, there are worse experiences. I mean, have you ever watched The Talk on CBS?

Society fears death. We don't even like to say the word "death." Instead, we say that our grandmother "passed away" or that she's "no longer with us." To say that someone died is "insensitive." But there's nothing really insensitive about it. Death is part of life. First you're born. Then you build up Twitter followers. Then you die. Nobody described your birth by saying that you "passed forward." No, they say that you were born. Your loved ones will always be "with" you... only now you just won't see them as much. Actually, I find that most of my relationships with the living work better that way.

Society fears death. That's why, in movies, when people die, nothing really changes. The characters still look and act and dress the same, only now they can walk through walls. The concept of "ghosts" derives from our death angst. When people believe in ghosts, it's their way of telling themselves, "See? We never die. We just become see-through."

Everyone dies. Well, I might not. But you probably will. It's like that old saying -- the only things certain in life are death, taxes, and your boyfriend's probably cheating on you.

People fear death for two reasons; they're going to miss life and they're afraid of what's next.

For me, it's comforting to think of all the things that I will miss when I die. I mean, if I die tomorrow, I won't get a chance to watch another Academy Awards telecast, where rich people give other rich people awards and thank their agents. I won't be a witness to yet another failed career comeback attempt by Arsenio Hall. I won't have to read about any more murders and rapes and I will no longer read about poverty or disease or New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick doing something obnoxious. Dead people are lucky. My grandmother was a wonderful person. I can't bear to think that, if she was still alive today, there's a chance she might catch a few minutes of Dance Moms.

Another thing about "missing life" involves regrets. When you die, it's final. And you'll no longer have a chance to apologize to that jilted lover, you'll no longer have a chance to tell your friends how much they meant to you, you'll no longer have a chance to visit Paris, you'll no longer have a chance to rectify your mistakes. But that's actually the best part about dying; once you stop breathing, you no longer have any regrets. And your lover has moved on with someone else. And in France they eat snails.

(Note: I had a friend who died before I had a chance to tell him how much he meant to me. So now he'll never know that he didn't mean that much to me.)

Some people die young. And that's not right. But when you reach a certain age, you no longer get to use death as an excuse. Once you hit 90, if you still haven't expiated your past regrets, then you were never going to.

They say that holding on to regrets is a terrible way to live. I suppose that's true. But I wake up each morning at around 7:00, and I usually have about 10 or 12 regrets by lunchtime. So I've kind of gotten used to it.

They say that you should live life to the fullest, because when you're on your death bed, you'll be thinking about all the things you wish you had done. Eh, I doubt that's true. When I'm on my death bed, I'll probably be thinking, "Is this a Serta?"

The other reason that people are so afraid of death is the fear of the unknown. They're anxious about what happens next, when they're not alive anymore.

Is there a heaven and a hell? I hope not -- not because I think I'm going to hell, but because heaven seems pretty crappy, too. I don't like crowds.

There is an entire industry of con artists posing as "psychic mediums" who can communicate with the dead. There are few things in life of which I am sure. But one of them is that you can't communicate with the dead. If you go someplace after you die, then you don't want to come back here.

Probably the most famous psychic medium is John Edward, who seems like a pleasant enough man. People ask John Edward to contact their dead relatives and Edward says stuff like, "I'm sensing the letter M" or, "I'm seeing a brown door." And this leaves the people astonished, because their father had a brown door and liked monkeys. After I die, if you give John Edward money to contact with me, you'll know it's real if he senses the letter "F" and "U." That's because I'm telling him to f**k off and leave me alone.

Personally, if I could communicate with the dead, I'd say, "Oh, hi Mel Gibson's career."

In all likelihood, though, when you die, nothing happens. Your body disintegrates, your thoughts are over, and your soul goes back into Sarah Palin's giant cauldron. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. The way I explain "death" to children is that it's like being asleep, but it's even better because you don't have to wake up.

The most interesting part of death -- or at least society's construction of it -- is the funeral. Funerals are a chance for people to say all those wonderful things that they never got around to telling you when you were alive. Of course, you can't actually hear all these nice words because you're dead. But the idea is that since you've only been dead for a few days, you might still be able to make out some of the compliments. It's sort of like the five-second rule. Yeah, your food fell on the dirty floor... but it hasn't been there very long.

Funeral eulogies are a collection of flattery, sadness and funny stories... occasionally interrupted by the truth.

Of course, everyone knows that most of the words spoken at a funeral are baloney. But that's okay. When you go to a funeral, it's your way of saying, "Well, I guess he wasn't that bad."

That's why, when I die, I don't care what people say at my funeral. I only care that they show up. I'm putting my lawyer in charge, not just of my estate, but of my Facebook site. And anyone not in attendance gets de-friended.

People are very concerned with what's to be done with their body after they die. But once you're dead, I'm not sure if your body is particularly relevant.

Some people want to be cryogenically frozen, so when scientists finally discover the cure for death, their lives will go back to normal.

If I had to make a decision right now at this moment...


If I die, I suppose I want to be buried. But if I survive, I want to be cremated.