Wednesday, December 12, 2018
WHEN we first started as ceremonial undertakers over 16 years ago, we had assumed that death was the final stop for the elderly and unlucky, and our first two funerals were just that, old folk at their appointed hour, lives lived to their full span. But our third funeral was a violent suicide, and so we were initiated into the reality of this work. Death is unfair and indiscriminate, and takes as many young people as it does old. Car accidents, drug misadventures, and suicide.
I can clearly remember every one of the young people who took their own lives who we have buried or cremated, see their faces, remember their reasons, some understandable, some a terrible unsolvable riddle.
Often, as children begin to experiment with their adult persona, the more unacceptable sides of human nature bubble up. Bullying is not something that just teenagers perpetrate and suffer from. Adults can be just as guilty, but it is a common effect of the hormonal neural reprogramming that is adolescence that they start to find an easy way to sidestep their own feelings of inadequacy and discomfort by dumping it onto someone else.
It’s always been like this, but something fundamental has changed because - unlike everyone over the age of 35, who, when school ended for the day could escape home -
there’s no rest for today’s children. Electronic ghosts whisper in their ears day and night, phones beep with messages, Facebook and Tumblr updates everybody on their every passing mood, each random snide thought is instantly typed, pixelated insults blaze out mindlessly from midnight laptop screens, kids from different continents jeer and poke at other kids they don’t even know.
Their only distraction is porn, or newsfeeds that are just as horrific and damaging and reinforce this sense of disconnection.
This has created what feels like a form of collective, digital schizophrenia, a culture of public shame that our children are growing up in, largely invisible to the adult world around it. The Lord of the Flies buzzes around our children’s computers, taunting them for being fat or thin or slutty or frigid or weird or not weird enough, and an epidemic of self-harming and attempted and successful suicides is the result.
It’s like advertising a job vacancy for your worst inner-critic, getting a million applications... and then hiring them all immediately.
I can offer no solutions, just compassion for everything that our brave new world throws at our children. The genie is out of the bottle, but it is not entirely wicked. The Internet offers a world of information and connection; grandparents can talk daily face-toface from Okehampton to relatives in Australia but something about the ease with which one can hide on the Internet brings out the worst in us and of course, just like those teenagers, it is easier for us to put it on them, than to feel it ourselves.
Our teenagers are not feral and feckless, they are not empty of empathy, they are scared and shutting down into survival mode.
The world they are growing up into is harsh and as uncertain as it has ever been. They need love and guidance and hope, anything to counteract the images and whispers that tell them they are bad, dirty and doomed.
This will pass.