“Death is an expected part of life, but in the past 150 years our approach to it has changed dramatically. We today live in a culture dead-set against talking about mortality. Death has become the enemy of medicine, to be fought at all costs. And our disavowal of death’s naturalness makes it harder to grieve properly – quite apart from the fact that we have few mourning rituals left anyway.
What drove us to sanitise death and make it foreign and unfamiliar? In Death’s Summer Coat, Brandy Schillace, a prominent medical-humanites scholar and member of the growing popular ‘death movement’, addresses these questions by looking at how different cultures have approached death historically. Some of the stories she tells are strikingly unfamiliar – sometimes humorous, sometimes horrific. Others are far more familiar than you might suppose. From ‘sky burial’ (feeding the dead to birds of prey) to ‘necro-cannibalism’ (eating the dead yourself), she shows how our responses to death are incredibly diverse – and sometimes just plain incredible.
But her book is more than just a popular history. It is also a call for the breaking of taboos and the reclaiming of lost ground surrounding death, tapping into a spirit of change shown by the growing number of people who are sipping tea at ‘death cafes’, attending ‘death salons’, and visiting museum exhibitions and art installations on the subject.
Drawing on science, history, literature and previously unpublished photographs of the recently dead, Death’s Summer Coat shatters the silence of our mortality and takes a closer look at our final destination.”