So when I had the opportunity to meet Caleb Wilde, some perverse part of me jumped at the chance. Here was someone whose whole world was death, 24 — 7, and yet he seemed to be doing okay. He wasn’t distracting himself — just the opposite. He worked with dead people and their grieving families all day and then blogged about it. On his days off, he was getting a graduate degree in something called Death, Religion, and Culture. He even claimed that Death was his “muse.” If someone was going to tell me how to look oblivion in the eye in order to make my peace with it, or at least stop being so fucking scared of the dark, here was the guy.
Of course, we like to keep our distance in this way, which is why we pay the death fairies to take care of it. Americans don’t like to talk about the inevitable: Our screens are filled with zombies, and yet speaking frankly about death is seen as “morbid” or “unhealthy.” Surely the recent Ebola panic is a product of this repression, a way of turning our own mortality into a foreign threat, an illegal immigrant landing on our shores. Death is embarrassing to us, even a bit unpatriotic. I’ve discovered this about my own fear of extinction. When I bring it up, people tend to shift in their chairs, as if holding in a fart. A look of impatience crosses their faces. Just as often, too, they can’t understand what the hell I’m talking about.