Tag Archives: taboo

Society and Death

We have moved into a period in this culture where death is not part of life, nor the every day. Although death continues to happen to young and old, ill and hale, through accidents, disease and murder, still we talk about it in an all-encompassing way but ignore it in the intimate of the every day.

There may be somebody who will say death is not part of life and for the person who dies, life indeed is no more part of them. But for those who know someone who has died, death is very much part of their lives. It used to be that in small communities, such as mining or fishing towns, when someone died they were laid out upon the table in the family home. A table is where people break bread, eat of the earth, communicate and come together, and it is a place big enough to lay a body. Where it will be cleaned and dressed by family members. A place where a person lays in state for people to pay their last respects before being taken to the church and then buried. Funeral parlors weren’t in every small town.

Death now is the last great taboo of the Western world. When someone dies, people have no idea what to say and so say nothing at all. They’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and avoid it like the plague. Veer around the person whose loved one has died, maybe send an innocuous card. A brave soul might say, I’m sorry to hear about your mother/brother/wife.

The griever is expected, after missing a few days of work, to act normal, to show no emotion that may be seen as sad, maudlin, angry, or grief-stricken. Crying is verboten. After all, people will feel edgy and avoid the grieving. So act like it’s life as normal.

The truth is, grief takes time. There is no set limit but it often takes a year to process through a person’s emotions. People who deny their grief and don’t go through the process can actually do physical damage to themselves. The storing up of such emotions, rather than releasing them through a natural process, can also affect the person’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that you can’t put off your grieving for too long, that there is a crucial period when the grieving should take place.

And yet our society tries to make everyone a stoic, free from any emotions except those that are uplifting and bright. By doing this, we cauterize ourselves from the full range of what it means to be human, effectively castrated from all but the most superficial feelings. You cannot have joy without experiencing pain. A constant state of euphoria cannot last and becomes the norm on which a person then judges bad or good, happy or sad. What would normally be sad becomes huge trauma and depression, with no end in sight to it.

I believe it is this unhealthy avoidance attitude that society has to death and negative emotions which have caused an increase in drug use, both recreational and with anti-depressants, to handle what once our bodies could do on their own. We have fewer ways to cope naturally and must go to the drugs. Drug addicts cannot find that constant euphoria so they hunt it in the addiction, afraid to face a life that encompasses happiness and pain.

And death–we can’t avoid it. It will happen. I never knew what to say to anyone when their family member or friend died. We don’t hug our coworkers, we don’t pat them on the shoulders. We maintain distance. We don’t wail at funerals and beat our breasts. And yet we should, for in those acts we express the grief that otherwise builds up in us. We have an outlet that lets us return to a healthy mentality faster.

I regret that when my sister-in-law’s parents died (at different times) that I didn’t know what to say and said nothing at all. How callous. How ignorant. It took the death of a friend for me to experience the grieving process and to understand how people can feel, and just how long it can take to think of that person without crying and feeling as if someone has crushed your heart. I began to understand that a person grieving can feel very cut off and alone, and as if no one cares.

It is almost like being shunned, when someone has to grieve. Letting a person or a community grieve publicly, sharing memories, talking about the person who passed can help. It validates the feelings and a person will recover faster from mourning if they are allowed to express themselves. And yes it can take a year or longer. I have only lost friends and that affected me greatly. I can’t imagine the depth of the pain and loneliness that their spouses felt.

We can all change this debilitating trend by not being so scared of death and the process that we pretend doesn’t exist. The TV show Six Feet Under took a black humor look at death, from the death that opened each episode to the dysfunctional and very real lives of the mortician family that dealt with their own issues and the mourners for the dead. It was an adventuresome show because it touched on death in a very real way that we shy away from. And the show was a hit; witty, tender, irreverent, strange and examining some aspects of life we would rather avoid.

Now, when I know someone who has lost a loved one, I try to let them grieve, to make sure they know it’s all right, to help them and to express my condolences so that they don’t feel isolated. It is the best way to make life more meaningful, by acknowledging the death of friends, family and coworkers.

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Incest, Betrayal and Genetic Sexual Attraction

CBC Radio today had a program talking about Genetic Sexual Attraction and how there was a certain need with some people who shared genetic material to be more than just brother-sister, father-daughter, mother-son, and take it into sexual fulfillment. This raised my hackles, because I was victim of incest.

I have never hidden the fact that my father abused me and when my parents divorced when I was 12, that I never saw my father again. He died two years ago and it was nothing but a relief. Stating this will probably cause some grave repercussions with my family members. But my father was never made to pay for what he did. Why, is a complicated matter, which I can’t get into. To say I hated my father would be an accurate description of my emotions.

Two years ago two people betrayed me, in separate situations. I was absolutely devastated and depressed by this erosion of trust. I came to realize that part of the reason the betrayals knocked out my foundations was because the first betrayal of trust happened when I was four, with my father. I did not necessarily understand cultural moires and taboos at that time but I knew it was wrong and that I felt uncomfortable with what he did or tried to do. I’m sure that set up certain patterns in my conditioning.

One aspect of that conditioning is that I am absolutely, adamantly against incest and am disgusted by the thought of it. I read a fiction novel a year or so ago (The Blood of Angels by Stephen Gregory, winner of the Somerset Maughm award) about a man who in the course of the book becomes attracted to and consummates his relation with his sister. His life becomes more of a shipwreck to disastrous, horrific endings. It was a riveting book, well written, compelling and making no judgment but letting the tale tell itself. I was intrigued and felt both repulsion and compassion for the characters. That’s the sign of a good writer who can delicately pull in the reader’s emotions.

So I try to look at some things through other’s eyes. But there are strong taboos against such ideas as incest or sexual relations with family members. Yet, some cultures supported incest, such as the ancient Egyptians who kept their royal bloodline within the family, brother marrying sister and even the gods practiced incest. But then many gods did, such as the Greek and Roman ones, keeping divine within the group and then spreading it amongst select mortals.

The physiological problems of incest is of course inbreeding. But more, this program talked about a genetic attraction, which was stated as a normal thing. I did not hear all of the program but I question “normal.” What is normal is that most humans have a range of thoughts that can encompass taboo subjects, such as murder, suicide, indulgences, crimes, incest. What is not as normal is that most people do not act upon taboo thoughts.

There is a GSA site, http://www.geneticsexualattraction.com/ which is supposed to be a support group for people in this situation. It stringently says this is for biologically related people who are mutually attracted where there was no “power over” (my quotes, not theirs) the other. Barbara Gonyo, who started the site, states that it is support on a subject that to most is:

1. misunderstood
2. shocking
3. to some unbelievable
4. taboo to society.

And…However, GSA is:

  • NOT an incest site as we have always understood the subject of incest
  • NOT a place to fantasize
  • NOT for incest victims of childhood abuse or their abusers
  • Not a porn site

That is a good thing to know and I believe there are some very conflicted people who must hide the relationships they have embarked upon. One member of the site stated that she wished people would leave them alone because they’re not hurting anyone. And in essence, this is a fundamental belief of mine, that a person can do what they wish as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

But part of me thinks, having read a few messages on the site, that people are looking for justification for their acts, that they “are not alone” and therefore it’s okay. Maybe it is. But then I read about a mother and son who were caught kissing by her husband, or by two siblings who get together and requite their relationship from time to time even though one or the other is married to someone else and I can’t help but wonder about the aspects of right and wrong and how those boundaries have been breached. Not one of these people mentions the aspect of just plain ole cheating in what they’re doing. It seems that because they already have a special taboo relationship of  “genetic sexual attraction” that this negates all other things, relationships and constrictions of trust.

What does it matter if a sister cheats with her brother on her husband when her brother is just family? It is a love so strong, an attraction so deep that it matters most of all. Yet, people have felt these attractions throughout the ages and most not for their family members. And, throughout history, marriages have ended when a new attraction began. That, is in fact, human nature.

I’m not a psychologist so all that I’m stating here is just my opinion and obviously I’m biased. But I just feel that there is a matter of self-control and restraint that is overridden by these people. Yes, that happens to people who are not genetically related as well. But letting it come between an existing relationship is indulgent. I don’t condone cheating either. I would hazard that in some cases, where two family members have been reunited after a long separation (as in adoption), that there just might be a strong psychological need for that belonging and love of the biological parent or sibling that had been missing throughout life. It doesn’t have to be acted upon sexually but seems it sometimes is.

Is it right? Not by most cultures’ standards. Is it hurting anyone? Only if someone is in an existing relationship and cheating. Or if they have a child because it increases the risk of genetic abnormalities for that child. Do I like it? Absolutely not. I fear that if this was too openly accepted as one of the norms, that we would see people saying, why oh yes, we have always loved each other. But in fact there would be the brainwashing of say, a sibling by a parent over years, and in fact a power over that would keep the one member in line, believing this was normal and of mutual acceptance. Case in point, there are the religious groups who believe a man can have numerous wives and marry them as young as 14, when those young girls can be influenced and brainwashed that this is what they want and that they always have wanted, knowing no other life.

I caution against believing that this genetic sexual attraction is normal and should be acted on. Often there are still repercussions for relations and of course the pressure of society can be great. But maybe I’m missing some crucial aspect. I’m waiting to be convinced.

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