A Personal Reflection on a Saltwater Man and the Cumulative Effects of Loss
Why, as anthropologists, should we be concerned with the study of death, of mourning, or of grief? For many, the answer will be self-evident: death is a human universal, or as Wagner described it, ‘the ultimate dogma’ which, given its inevitability, leads to ‘the most powerful innovative constructs … which achieve their force against this kind of human limitation’ (cited in Fabian 2004 , 57). One only has to consider the widespread (and differentiated) human views on the extension of persons beyond death to get the sense of what Wagner refers to here. Death is of considerable significance to how humans conceptualize themselves (whether religiously or ontologically, if I can make that distinction), and intimations of mortality shape the ways in which humans live their lives, approach their deaths, and mourn the deaths of others. Indeed, Fabian argued that the anthropology of death has been constrained since ‘death as an event is the termination of individual behavior … there cannot be an anthropological study of death, but only of behavior toward death as it affects those who survive’ (Fabian 2004 , 51).