Posted by: CeCe | January 13, 2012

A sheltered culture

During the Victorian era, there was a practice known as memento mori, in which people would often pose with deceased loved ones to be photographed.  To us now, this sort of practice may seem macabre and a little weird, but at the time, child mortality was very high, and often, a single picture of the deceased child was the only object by which a parent could remember them.  In our sheltered culture, this seems foreign.  Many people live into their teens or 20s before they ever know what it’s like to lose a loved one, and even at that, it’s usually someone older, like a grandparent or a great-grandparent.  As a result, not only can many of us not imagine what it’s like to have lived in an era in which it was common to bury half of your household before you turned 30, we can’t imagine what it would have been like for our only memento of a loved one to be in the form of a single picture taken after the breath has left their body.

Death has become a subject almost as taboo as sex once was.  We don’t talk about dying.  We don’t acknowledge that at some point, we are going to lose everyone we love, or they are going to lose us.  Then when death does come, we are devastated.  We don’t know what to do.  We see death all the time on TV and in movies, but many don’t realize that it really does happen, and not just to grandparents and great-grandparents.  Death can come for parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, at any time, at any age.  It can take the form of a car accident, suicide, cancer, or another incurable disease.  But heaven forbid we talk about it.

This culture leaves us wholly unprepared to deal with it.  In our privileged society, parents rarely lose children.  Children also rarely lose parents, or at least don’t lose them until they are no longer children but have kids of their own.  Brothers and sisters hardly ever have to bury each other until they’re older and they’ve had time to drift apart because they’re too busy with their own families to make time for a family dinner.  Grandma and Grandpa become old enough to become a burden according to their descendants, who take them for granted, and who are then devastated when they do finally pass away, and they wish for just one more day.  Just one more day, to tell them that they love them, that they appreciate them, that they’re sorry, and that they’ll never forget them.  They’ll wish for one more hug, one more kiss, and one more “I love you”.

And then they’ll know the truth, the truth that our Victorian forebears and those who preceded them knew all too well.  Memento mori.  Know what it means?  It means: Remember that you are mortal.  It also means, remember your mortality.  We’ve all got an appointment with death.  Why not give that “one more hug” right now?

Memento mori.



  1. Very interesting piece of history!

  2. Back in the 1930’s my grandmother’s baby sister died in an accident when she was two years old. Her mother didn’t have a single picture of her, which of course only added to her devastation. A few weeks later, she came across a picture in the newspaper of a little girl who looked *exactly* like her deceased daughter. She cut it out of the paper and kept it to remember her daughter by. She always considered it a gift from God.

    • That’s amazing, Amy!

  3. Some genuinely interesting points you have written! I would read your site frequently, Thanks!

    • Thank you very much!

  4. I read few content on this website. Look forward to checking out your some of your posts again. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you!

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