The "Funeral Selfie" and How we Deal with Death
by Nathaniel Torrey
A tumblr entitled “Selfies at Funerals” is the latest variation on the theme of spiritual entropy facing the modern world. The tumblr consists of self portraits of pretty youngsters making goofy expressions or showing off how flattering their dress or hair cut makes them look on the way to or after a funeral.
The phenomenon of “the funeral selfie” is inevitable in a culture entirely adverse to pain and terrified of dying. We would much prefer to make a silly face and strike a pose then to contemplate the fact we will inevitably die. As the Atlantic observed, what formerly inspired reflection and mourning now inspires a goofy grin or a suggestive pose. When death confronted Macbeth he pondered perhaps that life is nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” We are content to shout “YOLO! LMFAO!” and pose for a quick photo to show off how good our hair looks for the funeral. To see a loved one as a corpse and realize that we too shall be just as dead is too much for modern man’s constitution; he is too used to taking every available short cut with the aid of modern science and technology. The idea that pain, suffering and death are things we must come to grips with in order to be fully human is entirely foreign to our sensibilities.
As a result, we tend to gloss over death whenever possible when it rears its head in our lives. If we have to deal with it face-to-face, say at a funeral, any distraction will do. Fr. Alexander Schmemann in his book For the Life of the World saw this best exemplified in the funeral industry. He writes:
Inside, the “funeral director” tries to take care of things in such a way that one will not notice that one is sad; and a parlor ritual is designed to transform a funeral into a semi-pleasant experience. There is a strange conspiracy of silence concerning the blunt fact of death, and the corpse itself is “beautified” so as to disguise its deadness.
Like the funeral home, we try to dress up and disguise the fact that we will die. Yet, “YOLO” or “you only live once” is the motto of a rising generation of people. What a paradox! We are so afraid of death we’d rather photograph ourselves posing absurdly, yet we tell ourselves it is better to live as if our death was immanent; implicit in “you only live once” is “you will die someday.”
Not only do we live in a culture in denial about death, it also takes death as the guiding principle of life. Because we will die someday, it is best to act a certain way. And the way we are supposed to act is to “live in the moment.” This is usually translated as “pursue any pleasure that requires the least effort.” There is almost always a sense of urgency when a call of “YOLO” is issued. Death could come upon us any moment, so don’t hesitate!
We simultaneously acknowledge that we will die yet we do everything in our power to avoid discomfort at acknowledging it. We end up like the demon possessed man living among the tombs in the Gospels. We carry out our lives immersed in death as if this were the normal course of life. A culture so premised on the normalization of death can only be termed as diabolical. To give just one example, what is abortion but a necessary option for a culture that is guided by the “YOLO” mantra? After all, if a woman only has this life to live why wouldn’t she think it appropriate to dispose of him if she felt it would inconvenience her? If there is only one life; why waste it raising an unwanted child?
Where we need to begin is allowing ourselves to face our death and allow ourselves to feel grief. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. He understood that death is the greatest tragedy. Yet, He did not shy away from it. By not allowing ourselves to grieve, we effectively shut our eyes to the reality of death’s tragic nature. Fr. Alexander Schmemann remarked in aforementioned book that “It is when Life weeps at the grave of a friend, when it contemplates the horror of death, that the victory over death begins.” Let us be brave and grieve.