The reflection behind this file began last September, during an interview with Dr Éric Gagnon, emergency physician at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, published in these pages. An interview that generated a large number of emails from readers who in turn were sorry that their contemporaries behaved towards the word “death” and all the essential questions it contains like Hogwarts students towards the word… Voldemort.

“We totally unlearned to die, regretted the doctor then. We are in a logic of life at all costs. It’s a fight that we constantly fight in an emergency: people arrive, they are old, and the end of life has not been considered. »

But is it true, as is often said, that we now live in death denial? Could the break between Quebec and the Catholic religion have left us without reference to what awaits us all at the end of the road?

“I always say that’s the great paradox of life: psychologically, we are not made to experience death, we cannot imagine our own death, even if, physically, we are all destined to die”, responds the professor emeritus at UQAM and pioneer in the anthropology of death Luce Des Aulniers, according to whom it would be simplistic to describe the transformation of our relationship to death only in terms of the decline of faith.

Death was not lived only gently before the Quiet Revolution, underlines Ms. Des Aulniers, who speaks of “retroactive romanticization of the past”, without denying that this aspect of our history colors our relationship with the great to leave. The promise of a beyond could once have consoling virtues when a loved one left or approached.

Singer and storyteller Michel Faubert, whose repertoire is filled with laments that part the curtain of shadows, hears the echo of a kind of rejection of reality in the euphemisms used to designate death.

“It’s as if the word ‘death’ was outlawed and the word ‘death’ had to be used,” he laments. I do not like the word “death”, because in the first sense, it is administrative death. In the word “death” there is the cosmos. But when it says deceased, all I see is a list of numbers. »

So would death be taboo? “Yes and no”, says Luce Des Aulniers, first pointing to the different types of death for which our fascination is undeniable: the catastrophic death of tragedies making the news, the spectacle death of cinema, as well as death romantic and embellished, “you know, those who leave drinking champagne in satin sheets, with candles and balloons”.

But between these two poles there is another death. A death that is not banal, but common. “Death is taboo as an essential reflection on the journey of our lives,” says the researcher.

Among the other manifestations of our tormented relationship with the ultimate goodbye, the anthropologist evokes overconsumption, a symptom of our fear of death, she says, as well as the fascination aroused by medical assistance in dying, which does not concern only a minority of people, but which provides a feeling of control over the date and circumstances of our farewells.

She also sees in the strong outpourings that accompany the death of every star musician or actor on social media, even at an advanced age, proof that something inhibited is trying to pour out.

“The hypothesis that I have since the death of Princess Diana, she confides, is that if these deaths occupy so much space, it is because they allow us to mop up the unsaid , but also because they are people who have contributed to the construction of our identity. Since we cannot conceive our own death, we have difficulty conceiving theirs, because it is as if a part of us went away with them. »

Stéphane Crête is amazed by this each time he celebrates a mourning ceremony: the grieving people in front of him need to be reminded that they can let their tears flow, without fear of being judged or disturbing.

“I’m often told afterwards: ‘Lucky you told us we had the right to cry, I was going to apologize.’ How come people swallow their tears like that, even at funerals? asks the actor and ritualist.

For psychologist Johanne de Montigny, who worked for thirty years in palliative care at the McGill University Health Center and who now accompanies bereaved people in private practice, the expression of the distress caused by the loss would find only too few valves.

Without idealizing the past, the psychologist is sorry that the time is over when you could hope that your neighbor, the day after the death of a loved one, would leave a soup in front of your house. One example among many others of obsolete gestures, at a time when mourning is a cross that we carry alone.

We must resocialize death, writes Stéphane Crête in his book Marking Time (Éditions Le Jour), borrowing the pretty formula of the French author Youki Vattier. Resocialize death? Allow the pain of bereavement to be expressed outside the strict sphere of intimacy, if you prefer.

“Death is a subject that makes you uncomfortable, as if talking about it would bring it to our doorstep,” laughs Stéphane Crête. But maybe you’re grieving right now, maybe I am, and we don’t know. Society no longer offers us structures to express this. »

The ritualist salutes in passing the initiative of the Coopérative funéraire du Grand Montréal which, at the very beginning of the pandemic, created a poster “Here, we are in mourning. to install at the door of his residence, in order to signal to visitors that this household is going through great sorrows.

Resocializing death could also mean creating a space for our dead. “We are the first culture that kicks the dead out,” argues Luce Des Aulniers, professor emeritus at UQAM and pioneer in the anthropology of death. “The dead no longer exist as a collective and that’s something we lost with religious practices. All religions make a place, in an elsewhere, for this whole gang, which finds itself together. »

What about cemeteries? “They can indeed be places of collective gathering that make us think about death, explains the anthropologist, but still it is necessary to visit them and not only to jog there. »

In 2018, Phoudsady Vanny founded the now defunct Death Salon with, at heart, a desire to normalize conversations around this sensitive topic. “We spend our life loving someone and at the job, we give you two, three days to get over it? “, she exclaims, completely bewildered.

At 24, when organizing the funeral of her adoptive grandmother, the Quebecer of Laotian origin let herself be obsessed by the beautiful words of a salesman. “I was like, ‘She gave me everything, she deserves them, the $5,000 urn and the $15,000 casket.’ I was completely left to myself, whereas in Laos, an elder would have said to me: “Come, my darling, we will accompany you.” »

His wish ? “Let’s go from a less solitary death to a more united death,” says the one who founded the service The Last Chapter and who, like wedding planners, accompanies the bereaved in the meanders of the funeral market.

Giving your loved ones the task of preparing our funeral for us is not a gift to offer them, insists Johanne de Montigny. “A lot of people say, ‘You can do what you want,’ but if we took responsibility for our death, like we take responsibility for our life, we would ask the other, ‘What are you doing? would help ease your grief?” »

Stéphane Crête of course believes in the soothing virtues of the ritual, but warns against the confusion that this unfortunate syncretism can create through which Quebec sometimes gives itself permission to dip into all beliefs and traditions, as in a buffet.

Luce Des Aulniers notes for her part that death is often evacuated from funeral rites, to give way to a form of homage, similar to that which you would receive for your 65th or 75th birthday. But to “tense up on personal memory” is to ignore the universal dimension of death.

Michel Faubert’s repertoire includes certain songs from the 19th and 20th centuries inspired by tragic deaths, at the construction site or at the log drive. “And those songs gave meaning to the death of the person, who needed prayers to climb the ranks,” he notes. Naming death, all together, gave it greatness. »

In 30 years of practice with people preparing to board the ultimate bus, psychologist Johanne de Montigny has been able to observe a constant. “When we are able to accept our death, it is because we are satisfied with the life we ​​have lived,” she says. If we are troubled by everything we have not done, if we have regrets, death always comes too quickly. »

A certain spiritual poverty specific to our time would explain, according to all the speakers consulted for this dossier, our reluctance to broach the subject with our loved ones. It should be noted, however, that having a spirituality does not mean belonging to a church, but at least trying to combine one’s values ​​with one’s life choices. Believing not in a deity, but in something greater than oneself.

We must re-enchant death, argues Stéphane Crête, borrowing another formula from Youki Vattier. “By taking charge of dying, medicine wanted to elucidate the mystery of death. But by speaking only of a biological process, we evacuate all the mysterious dimension of existence, where we come from, where we are going. “A mystery to which art and creation can restore its full thickness, believes the actor.

If the only meaning we give to life is to consume, it is quite obvious that the prospect of one’s death can cause us anxiety, argues Michel Faubert.

Dying, what’s the point? Knowing that we are going to leave one day allows us to take advantage of the full potential of our freedom. “The feeling of our finitude does not have to make us sad or happy, but it can guide our choices, argues Luce Des Aulniers. Knowing that we are going to die should help us make freer choices. »

Stéphane Crête has long been a subscriber to the WeCroak mobile application, which sends its subscribers five times a day notifications reminding them that the number of hours allocated to them is not infinite, in other words, that they will day lift the felts. The app’s tagline? “Find happiness by contemplating your mortality. »

Johanne de Montigny admires people who die. “It’s always impressed me, yes, even if, of course, I’m going to be told that we have no choice but to die,” she explains. But for me, that’s not an answer. All the same, we must gently inhabit this death, when it approaches. The dying can still bring us a lot, if only in their ability to surrender to what is happening to them, by showing us that they are capable of dying. She pauses. “It takes courage, to die. »