Call for Submissions: The Death Issue

Send us your leads and pitches by April 30.

We are all dying, and death is a universal certainty. Yet most Americans’ interactions with it are limited to times of crises. Often, communal rituals of grief happen beside hospital beds or for a few hours at a funeral home. We are similarly awkward and unnatural in the ways we surrender our dead to the Earth. Bodies commonly are pumped with embalming fluid and sealed in metal boxes, ignoring death’s place in the organic cycle that life depends on. The industry that has been built around this is materialistic and resource-intensive. For example, the median cost of a funeral and burial in America is $7,360, not accounting for a gravesite, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association.

Why do we struggle to accept death as a natural and inevitable process? Americans’ aversion to impermanence of any kind—from bodily loss to systemic change—has created an elaborate culture of denial, fear, and resistance. Can we change this? We suspect life can only get better when we welcome death into it in healthy ways.

In our fall issue, we will explore a “good death”—how to prepare ourselves and heal loved ones while we are still in the living world, how to die when we are ready, and how to plan for the disposition of our body in a way that underscores our place in the ecosystem and nurtures the planet.

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Do you have solutions stories of community initiatives or groups that address some of the root causes and systemic issues behind our death dysfunction?

Fear: We don’t talk about it. Why is it such a taboo subject—because of religion, culture, aging parents, guilt, our aversion to grief? What drives our inability to accept impermanence, in even everyday experiences.

Inequality: In the U.S., we have wide disparities between who gets to have a good death; race, gender, and class create vastly different dying experiences. Violence committed against bodies of color (Black Americans have the shortest life expectancy). Health disparities, who dies of what. How dying poor is different from dying with money.

Mobility and isolation: People move around so much in American life that when end-of-life illness strikes, people are often without family or community.

Capitalism and American consumerism: The American funeral industrial complex that stands to profit from our squeamishness around death. Families may be guilted into lavish spending or feel pressured by time to make a quick decision if no one talked about arrangements ahead of time. Are the options as limited as that?

Intractable cultural beliefs: Many organized religions, despite scriptures of “dirt to dirt,” separate death from nature to keep it on a supernatural plane. What cultural traditions address death in healthy ways?

Trauma and unnatural death: What about the people who live their lives surrounded by violence and unjust death? What about ambiguous loss, which affects families whose loved ones are missing? How is their experience facing end of life and grieving different? They already are forced to deal with death as a part of their political reality and don’t have the luxury of denial. In what ways does generational trauma shape attitudes toward loss?

YES! Magazine wants to know how individuals and communities are solving some of these problems.

Send us your story ideas! We seek examples of excellent journalism: character-driven and place-based storytelling. Your story will be well-researched and demonstrate conflict and resolution in the form of a reported feature, explanatory analysis, or insightful essay. Send pitches to [email protected] by April 30.

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