Memento Mori in the 21st Century
Sharing the Final Moments
“Memento Mori” is a Latin phrase meaning “Remember that you will die.” Its origins trace back to ancient times, reaching the days of ancient Rome. Back then, it was used in the sense of “Enjoy the present moment,” with the advice to “Eat, drink, and be merry, for we die tomorrow.”
In 2018, in a video titled ‘Dying is not as bad as you think’ by BBC Ideas, Kathryn Mannix, a pioneer in palliative care, discusses the significance of confronting death.
Death is inherently a very gentle process in life, not as fearful as one might think. Mannix explains that as people age, they gradually grow tired, sleep more, and eventually enter a state of perpetual unconsciousness.
The video highlights the problem that, due to various emotions like anxiety, fear, and discomfort, conversations about death have been avoided. As a result, even in scenes of end-of-life moments in hospitals, there is often a lack of understanding between families and patients, leading to a passage of time filled only with anxiety, sadness, and despair.
So, how can we initiate these conversations? Mannix contributes 10 approaches to starting a conversation in ‘THE IRISH TIMES’, covering ways to initiate and ask questions. Throughout all these approaches, the common thread is an attitude of “compassionate” conversation rather than a “difficult” one. In order to share the existence of death, we need to initiate conversations that bridge our understanding.
Writing an End-of-Life Note
In the midst of the pandemic years, many of us might be pondering thoughts about our own deaths and those of our loved ones, leading to heightened awareness of life and death. Death, which was once a taboo topic, is now being openly discussed, and startups in the United States are venturing into this field.
One of them is Cake, a service that offers end-of-life planning. It provides a web-based platform to create an end-of-life note. Users can articulate their medical, legal, financial wishes, funeral plans, and how they want their data, such as social media and emails, to be utilized after death. They can also consult experts online for detailed concerns.
Similarly, Lantern offers end-of-life planning. It assists individuals in communicating their wishes clearly to family members, respecting those wishes, and creating a roadmap for their final days, reducing the burden on their loved ones. Sharing the event of death and finding ways to keep memories alive is the most important narrative in life.
Research suggests that talking about our own deaths can alleviate future anxieties and lead to improved relationships by clarifying a roadmap. Much like a coin with two sides, contemplating death is intertwined with how to live the present.
Living On in Memory
We experience three deaths. The first when we draw our last breath. The second when our body is laid to rest (cremated). And the third and most terrifying death is the day we are forgotten. These are the words of Ofelia Esparza, who creates altars adorned with photos and flowers for Day of the Dead celebrations. She was also one of the cultural advisors for Pixar’s film ‘Coco’, centered around the theme of Day of the Dead.
Day of the Dead is an indigenous Mexican festival dedicated to honoring the deceased, held annually from October to November. According to Ofelia, the core essence of this tradition is to “never forget the departed.”
However, this tradition has crossed borders and become a mainstream event, raising concerns that its essence might be lost. Similarly, our views on life and death in Japan have changed over time, and new cultures might emerge in the future. With technological advancements, new ways of connecting with the deceased might emerge. Nevertheless, regardless of the form, the important thing is to hold feelings like “not forgetting the departed” and “living on in memory.” As long as we don’t forget, the ultimate death doesn’t arrive. Personally, as I write this, I find myself recalling my father after a long time.
Dialogue and Legal Framework with the Deceased
Technologies that “resurrect” the deceased sound like something out of science fiction, yet they might not be as far-off as one might think.
Recently departed Paul Walker and Carrie Fisher have returned to screens, and AI imitating Misora Hibari performed new songs at the Red and White Song Contest. Instances like these are countless in the entertainment world.
However, such attempts often face criticism from fans. For instance, the hologram tour of Amy Winehouse, known for songs like “Back to Black”, was indefinitely postponed due to claims of exploitation.
Beyond legal and rights-related barriers, the ethical acceptance of these technologies poses another challenge.
The subjects of “resurrection” through digital technology aren’t limited to celebrities. Microsoft’s patented technology from December 2021 can create interactive chatbots using images, voice data, and social media posts of specific individuals.
While Microsoft’s manager denies plans for productization, the possibility of conversing with a “resurrected” AI (representing a deceased person) has garnered significant attention.
By the end of this century, Facebook could potentially have 4.9 billion deceased users. The theme of handling data that continues after death will become increasingly relevant.
Platforms like D.E.A.D. (Digital Employment After Death) have emerged to express intentions about posthumous data. However, legal frameworks are still catching up.
Neither U.S. federal law nor GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU clearly define data privacy after death.
Beyond considering how we handle data based on our ethical values, we’ll also need to seek legal reforms.