Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

End Talks

We’ve all heard people say something like this: “Don’t talk about death. It’s morbid.”  

So we don’t, and when death comes, we’re not ready. We don’t know what to do or say. Suddenly people are gone and we feel cheated. This isn’t the way that people should die, in confusion and denial. We simply are not ready to die when we die. There are three areas of concern.

The Dying

I don’t think we know what a good death is anymore.

We fight our own death, hoping that something else can be done, and we spend our last hours scrounging for alternatives, or ways out. Doctors fight death, hoping that another procedure, a different drug might work. They think their only job is keeping us alive. Little thought is given to dying with dignity. We fight the dying of our loved ones, so we don’t talk about this possibility with them. No one does. And when death comes, there is so much that we have left unsaid and undone. And now there is no going back.

We always think we’ll have more time. We don’t get our affairs in order because that would be giving up. We don’t take a last trip to the coast or to the mountains, thinking that if we stay focused on fighting death, then we will have more chances to go there afterwards. So we stay in the hospital and endure the pain of each new treatment, even though the doctors know the chances of us pulling through are almost zero. We would like to know this so that we can make our own choices.

If we knew we were dying, we could have gone home and been where we are comfortable, where our pets can love us, where we can see the sun rise in the morning and sit on the porch as it sets. We could have eaten our favorite foods and smiled at friends who dropped in for tea. We could have listened to our favorite music, and gone for slow walks through the neighborhood. We could have spent our time looking over our life and celebrating where we’ve been and who we’ve become. We could have shared our hard-learned wisdom with others, instead of preparing for the next IV.

In our efforts to not die, we stop living.

Planning Ahead

Even when no one is dying, someone will say something that’s connected to death, like making out their will, signing up to be an organ donor, trying to decide between cremation and burial, or deciding if extraordinary methods should be used to keep them alive in the case of an accident, but no one else will want to talk about it. It’s as if we think that if we mention death, it will happen. So we don’t talk about death, but a lot of people still die.

When are we allowed to talk about such things? Each of us is going to die some day. The time to talk about end of life matters is when we can make clear-headed decisions.


Talking about grief hits the same wall of denial. We have hidden from death so well that we don’t remember how to talk with those who are grieving. Few of us know what to do. Those who are grieving need people around who know.

Dying is an experience of life, not the end.

If those who are grieving don’t share what is going on inside them, the heavy tide of sorrow, the persistent knocking of doubts, the gnawing mice of despair will nibble away at their confidence and they will slip deeper into the pit. Then they will be an emotional mess, and grief will be ten times harder to talk about because now a lot of yelling will be involved.

It’s time we learn how to talk about dying and grief. It’s time we learn to celebrate the entirety of human life.

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