Wednesday, June 29th, 2016 03:11 pm
I wonder if the reason that Americans feel nowadays that we need to sustain a naturally dying old person's life for as long as possible, even pointlessly and painlessly, and even at times when the patient themselves is no longer aware -- is related to the Victorian Anglican / early American idea that a death full of suffering is virtuous. When I worked at the Merchant's House Museum, I learned that family members would keep a detailed journal of a dying person's suffering, because it was thought to mean that the person was more likely to get into heaven.

Probably that same belief in the virtue of sufferring at death contributed to the cultural mandate that Victorian women wear mourning clothing and sharply curttail their social activities for an absurdly, at times cruelly long time after the deaths of relatives -- like some sort of redemptive, transferrable family suffering. Another way women were perhaps obligated to care for the family's morality or external reputation for morality.

It's interesting to me how when a culture becomes less religious (or differently religious) over time, a lot of cultural behaviors and beliefs stick around even though their roots are no longer obvious.