An excellent post from Francis Berger about the cultural changes in attitudes to death and what happens afterwards. It really is valuable to 'read the whole thing' but here is a snippet:
Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire until the approximately the early stages of the Enlightenment, the spiritual orientation of the West was indivisible from Christianity. The Christian consciousness of death was a radical expansion of the pagan consciousness of death that preceded it. Though pagan religions also adhered to belief in souls and the afterlife, these beliefs were qualitatively much different from the Christian belief and faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ as exemplified by St. Paul's declaration in Philippians 1:21 that, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
This declaration emerges from the deep, inner, spiritual understanding in the non-existence of death - in the comprehension of death as the way leading to life, in which the life of sin is crucified, and the path to eternity is opened. It stems from the comprehension that we must die in order to reborn; that the essence of life is the transition from lesser being to higher being in which death serves a necessary conduit. As such, death is not simply and purely an evil, it is also a good. The orientation driving this consciousness recognizes the primacy of the spiritual over the primacy of the worldly and commits to the comprehension that the end of the worldly does not mark the end of the spiritual.
With the advent of modernity, this consciousness was slowly superseded by a purely external, material, and temporal comprehension of death that perceived no gain at all at the end of life. Within this consciousness, St. Paul's declaration faded and was replaced by something akin to, "For to me, to live is World and to die is loss."
I would add that my understanding is that this historical change in social belief systems was paralleled by - and indeed ultimately driven by - a decline in (especially) Western Man's spontaneous perception of the continuing presence of the dead in this worldly life. People perceived the dead among the living - it needed no 'proof'.
Part of returning to a belief that (as FB puts it) death is not simply and solely an evil, it is also a good is to develop an awareness (but Not a 'perception') of the continued presence of the dead, active in our living lives - but this time by our conscious choice rather than spontaneously.