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Can We Talk?

Have you ever wondered why, when the subject of sex comes up, people will often smile? Why is that? Discussions about the subject can be humorous, but generally speaking, sex isn’t all that funny. What it can be however, is embarrassing. So we smile, when we would rather change the subject or even walk away.

The topic of death and dying however, doesn’t usually cause people to feel embarrassed–instead they may feel nervous, or often just sad. Who wants to be “bummed out” by talking about the death of oneself or someone we love? As much as we do not enjoy feeling embarrassed, we really avoid sadness. So we change the subject, walk away, or most of the time–refuse to discuss death and dying altogether.

End of life is as sure to happen as the beginning of life did. Our life comes with an ending that, while can be intentionally planned, can not be avoided. Most of us will have a dying experience that is out of our hands, unless we decide otherwise. If we hope to be in control of our life– even when we are dying–we better start by talking about it now.

Acclimation is not a word you see in print often and not one you might expect to see here, but we humans have historically benefitted from our ability to acclimate to life. So too can we acclimate to death, and there are ways that we can learn how.

So how do we acclimate to something we so inherently dislike? Repeated exposure to just about anything in life will cause most of us to become accustomed to the object or subject, even becoming comfortable with it over a period of time. In essence, we just need to stop avoiding and denying death.

I suggest starting with small doses of the subject. Read a book or short articles, visit death and dying related websites (see the list below). Once you’re ready to have a discussion about the subject, visit a “death cafe”. If you don’t know what a death cafe is, “google” search it and find one in your area (they’re worldwide). Next, look for a “Let’s Talk About Death (over dinner)” event near you.

Once you’ve exposed yourself to the subject enough, you should be ready to invite dialog with your family and loved ones. Expect resistance, but don’t back down. They will need to know how you feel about your end of life, because they will likely be there too. And at least one of your loved ones may need to be your voice, should you not be able to speak for yourself. Make a list of those you hope will be there with you when you are dying, and invite them over for dinner or a cocktail party, and let them know the reason for the occasion.

The last action I invite you to take is to complete your advance healthcare directive. You may include this task in your estate planning with your attorney, and many people do. I do not suggest this however, as attorneys know a great deal about the law, but very little about end of life healthcare decisions. Find an end of life doula (nedalliance.org) to guide you through the process, as this person will be a good source of knowledge about medical care choices.

Yes, we can talk.

List of death and dying websites:

  • Compassionandchoices.org
  • Theconversationproject.org
  • Yourlifetalks.com
  • Deathoverdinner.org
Can We Talk?

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