1.4 The Death Positive Movement

Compassionate Communities Initiative

VIDEO: Imagine Aging Project: Exploring Death Friendliness

The following video explores the meaning of death friendliness and the concept of age-friendly communities.

According to the World Health Organization (2021), the world’s population is aging faster than it has in the past. This means that people are living for longer; living for longer periods with chronic illnesses and with increasingly complex needs; and dying at older ages (Rawlings et al., 2018; Richards et al., 2020). As a result, a civil society effort referred to as the Compassionate Communities (CC) initiative/model has emerged to deal with such changes. The CC model “aims to de-professionalize, de-medicalize end-of-life care, return it to the community, and build up social capital that can then be mobilized when citizens come to the end of their life” (HPCO, 2019, para. 6). In a CC, members of the community play an active role in caring for each other. CCs can therefore be viewed as circles of care or social support networks available in the community to aid people as they age, develop illnesses, approach the end of life, and experience bereavement (Rawlings et al., 2021).

Click the link to learn more about the Ontario Compassionate Communities Provincial Strategy:

Compassionate Communities

VIDEO: A New Vision for Death and Dying

The following video is based on the work of the Lancet Commission on the Value of Death. The members of the commission propose a new social vision of death and dying, one that combines greater community engagement with health care and social services for the dying and support for the bereaved.

The Death Positive Movement

CCs are part of a broader 21st century death positive movement. The movement began in 2011 with Caitlin Doughty’s founding of a funeral reform collective known as The Order of the Good Death (Caitlin Doughty, n.d.). The aim of the movement is to “promote open, honest engagement with” and discussions about death and dying (Kelly, 2017). The movement is broad in scope, reimagining everything tied to death and dying (McGroarty, 2019). For example, we find death positivity in CCs and other initiatives that emphasize dignity, respect, caring and compassion throughout our lives, including at the end of life. There are also death doulas, functioning similarly to birth doulas, who provide continuous care and support to the dying and their families (before, during and after death).

End of life rituals tied to funerals/memorials and ways to deal with dead bodies are evolving rapidly. We see this in the green funeral industry, the introduction of acquamation, and the movement back toward the use of natural burial shrouds, homemade coffins, and family completed burials (See Chapter on Dealing with Bodies). And there are the innovative death conversation initiatives including the Conversation Project, Death Cafés, and Death over Dinner, that work to get people to come together and engage in discussions about anything tied to death and dying over food and drink. Focusing on the positive, rather than the negative, can help us rethink death. Various parts of the death positivity movement aim to enhance life, a sense of community, caring and connection and ultimately to make sure that at the end of it all, we die well. The three short videos below explore the Death Café, Death over Dinner, and the Conversation Project initiatives.

VIDEO: Death Cafes: Discussing Death, and Especially Life 

The following video takes us inside of a Death Café, where we learn about what it is, what occurs there, what motivates people to go, and the experiences of people who have attended.


VIDEO: Death Over Dinner: What is Death Over Dinner?

The following video explains the Death over Dinner initiative, how it works and the rationale behind it.


VIDEO: ABC World News with Diane Sawyer: The Conversation Project

In the following video Diane Sawyer goes inside a family gathering to witness “an act of love” — that is, having “the conversation” with their father about his end of life wishes.


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On Death and Dying Copyright © 2022 by Jacqueline Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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