While feeble funeral jokes might have us believe that there is no future in death, developments in artificial intelligence and life-extending technology could mean the start of a completely different experience of grieving, and more specifically, a new experience of death for the modern widow. If loss is a spiritual experience, what are the implications of never really having to lose a partner, and how can we strike a balance between technological advancement and our many other needs as humans?
Carolyn Moor, Founder of Modern Widows Club, weighs in not only on the future of death and grieving, but also on the evolution of widowhood from years past to the present. She reflects on the potential benefits of transhumanism, while staying grounded in the real needs of today’s widows, including the financial burden of modern widowhood that is often ignored by social institutions around the world.
How is the experience of a modern widow different from that of a traditional one?
Pretty much everything has changed in the last seven years for widows because of the ability the internet has given women to find and connect with other widows. I was widowed 16 years ago, and the first 7 years were horrific. Modern Widows Club gives empowerment. We have a goal for 2020 to be serving 200,000 widows. Right now, we serve about 15,000. What’s missing in the market is something or someone addressing two questions: why me, and what now? And we are focused on the “what now?”
What is the Modern Widows Club approach to helping the widow community?
It’s definitely a spiritual journey. When your life as you know it implodes, you don’t know who you are. Widows need to recommit themselves to living – what does that look like? The average age for widows in the US is 59.6. This is younger than what our government considers as retirement age, and the amount of widows living in the world is increasing exponentially. It went up 34% last year in the US.
We’re fixated on what makes life happy and joyful. Having a career is really valuable when someone dies. We have to teach this to our girls. Re-marriage is going to be an option, but a lot of women choose not to remarry. When my husband died, I was 36 and my daughters were 2 and 4. Finances are a big reason some women need to remarry. Of the 13 million widows in the US, 700,000 live in extreme poverty. The US is number three for widows in poverty. First is China, then India, and then America. It’s becoming a human rights issue. When you lose a partner, you shouldn’t lose everything else with it – like credit or your home.
There are some technological developments that let people live digitally even after they’ve died, like ETER9. How do you feel about this technology?
It’s not sitting well with me. When someone dies and they’re gone, it’s like you have a chance to rebuild. If that person is still semi-alive, it’s almost like divorce. It can be bitter. A lot of widows I know really focus on recommitting their lives. If there was a way for someone to stay alive, I really believe it would alter the way people grieve. In our industry, we call that “staying in the waiting room.” It’s very easy to stay back, to get comfortable in this place where you’re just with that person in your mind.
We live in a generation – in this country especially – where death is not honored. If we look at other cultures, there’s a respect given to the process, to the sacredness of death. We just got so far away from that; we’re in this reality where people really think that they’re going to live forever. People really do want to hang onto life. If people can see themselves as spiritual beings in human bodies, then they will recognize that this body will die at some point, and they’ll have a more realistic view.
Some advocate for interaction with future generations using this kind of technology. Thoughts?
I think it would turn into entertainment, not connection. Sort of like time travel. But there’s a distinct difference between talking online, like you would to an avatar, and speaking to someone in person, who touches your hand. The impact touches your humanity. We’re all trying to get back to more soulful connections.
However, the more I think about it, if I was able to do that with Chad, my late husband, I would want to do that with him today. It would definitely alter whom I was dating, it would alter how I parented my kids – it would even alter my work environment, because we worked together when he was alive.
What do you think about transhumanism?
Because I’m a big believer in the evolution of the soul, I think transhumanism would give the soul more time to evolve. What if Maya Angelou had been 150? What kind of wisdom could she have given to the world in another 50 years? Look at Bernie Sanders. If we had this technology, no one would be saying, “I’m not sure, he’s too old to be president.” I want more of these people in my life, and I would want to enjoy them longer if I could. It’s such a sort lifespan.
Can you elaborate on the financial aspect of supporting widows?
We live in a culture with a lot of stay-at-home moms. We have women who have careers, but let’s be real. Even today, women do the majority of the diaper changing and getting up in the middle of the night, so women give up their careers. When a person dies, everything else stays the same. You still have to pay for the mortgage, and the insurance, and the car. Women are expected to pick that up while making less than men, and it’s a ticket to poverty. Over half the widows in this country make less than $25,000 a year. As soon as your husband dies, if you have any credit cards connected to him, those cards will be cut off. It should be illegal.
As more women become managers, will the level of empathy in organizations increase?
Yes. When you have a baby in the US, you get two to three weeks of paid leave. You know how much time you get when someone dies? Three days. These women have to use vacation days to go to their husbands’ funerals.
What do you think about the future of wills and life insurance?
I follow a website called Get Your Shit Together, which was created by another Modern Widows Clubs widow, Chanel Reynolds. Like me, she didn’t have access to information when her husband died. Life insurance for adults should be required. If you have anything you’re responsible for – a home, a person – there needs to be some way to take care of them after you die.
Life insurance is seen as something you need in old age. The perception is that you won’t need it for a long, long time down the road. But the reality is that if you have kids or a mortgage, you need it.
People avoid thinking and talking about death. How do you approach talking about it now that you’ve experienced it?
Usually the conversation comes up in a family when a grandparent dies, or a pet. I don’t know any parent who just strikes up a conversation about death just for the sake of it.
When you lose one parent in your family, the biggest fear of the children is that the other parent will die and leave them too. So death is a very common topic of conversation in our house.
Read the full feature, The Future According to Women HERE.