These days we are exposed to death on an almost daily basis. Whether it’s in video games like “Resident Evil,” where we see blood pooling around dead zombies, or in the movies where actors have perfected the look on their face as they drop to their knees and breathe their last breath, death is everywhere. When I think of death, however, I think of a phone message in my mailbox at camp this summer that said, “Call home.”
My mother’s father died in mid-July, leaving me with two living grandparents. Even as I write these very words I don’t actually believe that they are true. This is because his death is still an abstract concept to me, something that I heard over the phone this summer while I was miles away from any member of my family. My mother’s voice was quiet and dry as she told me the news. She wasn’t flying back home to Japan because my grandfather had died at home and so his body couldn’t be preserved long enough to wait on her arrival for the cremation. My father’s words of comfort were that he had gone peacefully and that’s really all that we could have asked for.
Instead of dealing with the news in any rational way, I chose denial. Not only was I in the San Juan Islands, on a different side of the country than my parents, but also I was thousands of miles away from my relatives in Japan. I refused to believe that the man I had just seen a month before during my yearly visit, was no longer alive. Part of my reaction had to do with the fact that I have very little experience dealing with death.
My father’s mother died when I was eight, but I didn’t come to terms with her death until I was 12. This had a lot to do with the fact that I hadn’t seen my grandmother for the two years before she died and so I did not experience any immediate change in my daily life. The same was true when I heard the news about my grandfather: at that point it was just words.
Those words were more real than any scene from an action movie or even from the stories that are in the papers on a daily basis, and yet I chose to deny their very connotations. As a society, we have become overexposed to death to the point of desensitization. That my friends can sit in a room and laugh as they shoot dogs to death on the TV screen, or that moviegoers revel in the violence that they see on the big screen, is a direct testament to this reality.
This is not to say that we should censor video games and movies. What needs to change is the fundamental way in which people regard death, not the manifestations it takes in the media. Realistically speaking, the killings in most movies are not meant to draw tears from the eyes of their viewers. On the other hand, death should not be synonymous with entertainment in the way that it is in today’s world.
I wasn’t there when it happened, but I know that when my grandfather died, blood didn’t start to pool out around him, nor did he take a dramatic fall to his knees. He died in the comfort of his own bed after having eaten one of his favorite meals. He was next to the woman whom he has loved more than anything for most of his 92 years. His death was peaceful. And maybe, the next time I go to Japan I will start to believe that he is actually gone.