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Carol Smaldino Headshot

Surrounded by Death and Wondering: Can Talking About Death Lead Us to Become Less Violent?

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Three's a charm, right? Even about death, the least easy subject, at least for me so far. Well, perhaps as I ponder the brilliance of the Jewish Shiva, where talking and talking and talking and being heard and leaning on shoulders and shifting between laughter and tears and eating!, -- leads to some degree of metabolizing some of the most difficult feelings ever.

Since I'm still in Italy, here comes Saturday, the Day of the Dead which is -- it being November 2nd -- the day to remember the dead, to visit them in the cemeteries, to honor them, to talk about them. The day before, the first, is the Day of Saints, All Saints Day in the States, here a national holiday. A friend from up north is coming to Puglia because the "dead" (used as a plural and a noun) this year is a "bridge," or in American terms a long weekend. Halloween, celebrated more and more in Italy is Thursday, the day before, and so it goes.

There is for me the having seen three of the shows in Showtime's new series, which premieres -- aptly and on purpose it would seem --on November 1st -- and living the nostalgia of the memories of JFK, whose assassination on November 22nd has its 50th anniversary this year.

Carl Jung has this idea about our having a collective unconscious, so as the series digs deep into the intestinal and emotional tracts of those who view it with openness, there are also questions posed not only about those who die but about those who will live after. And I would like to suggest that the more we get in touch with our real, not a more surface and slick level of things, mixed feelings and apprehensions -- even our fascination -- we might cease and desist from our need to project end of earth violence on our screens and constant violence in our seeming lust for power and violence as well.

For all the talk of being interconnected, and the ecological cycles being positioned for us as so interconnected that what happens in a rain forest in the Amazon can affect us anywhere else, we remain much too cold to take in the facts that would otherwise make us invent and follow up in policies that would protect our planet's resources for the present and even for the future. Ecology, here too, suggests itself in the realm of death and dying, even of grieving and how we the living treat our dying and dead. We will leave a legacy of loving and sharing, and caring about those who carry on, who would become those who need to distribute our wealth, our property, our material goods, and at times our debts. We will try to heal important relationships -- as is so movingly done in Time of Death (sorry, no spoilers).

A propos of Jung, I'm hoping this becomes a time to get to know one of his singular and brilliant contributions: that of the shadow. He said that the feelings we cannot cope with, we put into compartments that become hidden, and as such less and less available to us consciously. As such, we demonize, we explode, we project, we hate evil as we refuse to find the evil in ourselves. So that tribes or members with a slight difference in blood line or even in religious practice, along with larger differences, become killed and raped and tortured. We Westerners are of course not the only ones who pillage and destroy but as Jung pointed out in in the 1950s, it is the West that for now has the weapons that could destroy the entire planet. And even though for now he is still right, there are other droughts and climate disasters that can join in the drowning or starving of a globe.

Jung in essence posed the issue of maturing, maturing to face the most scary issues we might have, the tender for the warrior and the aggressive for those scared to death of their own aggression. How to do that, often seems neglected and perhaps most of us even feel it's impossible. And yet -- there are those of us who feel the opposites within stirring.

In times of death and dying for one, there are those who yearn for release, for an end to suffering, as there are those who feel ready. There are children who yearn (see Time of Death, but no specifics, sorry) for their parents' deaths, as in a release for themselves -- as when worrying almost every minute of every day makes for stress that destroys the possibility to thrive.

For me, I admit -- even though I don't find it easy either -- that we can cope with almost anything, as long as it is grieved in company that will hold us and try to understand us, find also the parts in themselves that echo or awaken or just resonate with our pain. I have found with my own parenting, that envying my own children their opportunities, their youth, their schooling -- something I'm convinced is normal and healthy if not acted out -- has helped me get in touch with my humanity. I have never wanted to be as self-sacrificing as my own mother, because as much as she was dedicated to loving, she didn't have the stamina to give as much as she would have liked -- because negating ourselves, only prevents generosity and the real capacity to identify and empathize. I found, instead, that owning the feelings, helped me get beyond them. That it freed me to embrace the part of life left to me and for me and within me.

If we get in touch with our fantasies of destroying a planet so we won't be destroyed ourselves --or die -- perhaps we can help those who will conceivably be here to carry on, to do so with more dignity than is now in their picture. This is ecology too, right?