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Voice: Those closest to us don't want to discuss our impending death

February 05, 2001

Death is the common denominator of all mankind. It is a destiny no one can escape. It is also the most avoided subject in any conversation. So it is a bit surprising that Studs Terkel would choose to write a book about a state of being which is a taboo topic.

Not to be able to talk about one's coming demise to family or friends is extremely frustrating to the dying person. We are allowed to vent other emotions, but no one wants us to release pent-up feelings about death.

Any logical person wants to plan for death as he or she does for life. But those nearest and dearest to the dying one will oppose any mention of living wills, organ donations or burial services.

The opposers will say it's foolish to prepare for death — all of one's energy should be spent in planning to live. If one has a burial fund, someone is sure to advocate that it be spent on better living.


I'm sure Studs Terkel has been confronted by these attitudes as he compiles material for his book. I'm sure he will find many who are not afraid of death but are terrified of the suffering that may be involved in the act of dying. (I am one of these.)

He will find those who believe in heaven and hell and are certain that there is an afterlife. He may find a few who believe in reincarnation. He will not find a multitude who are willing to "go gently into that good night." Only those worn down by long years of illness and pain will welcome death. The rest will "rage against the dying of the light." (This does not apply to those with a death wish — the self-destructors who for psychological reasons most of us cannot understand, court oblivion — usually through this use of drugs or alcohol.)

In youth we suffer the delusion that we are not vulnerable to death. But as we enter our twilight years, we become increasingly aware of our mortality.

Terkel is 88 now. He recently lost his wife of 60 years. So his awareness is fully focused on life's last great adventure. He has outlived many of his friends; he has seen them journey one by one into the mists of the Great Unknown.

It is a journey which, sooner or later, we all must make; there is no alternative. The best preparation, I think, is to live each day as richly and as fully as we can; to express our love to others; and in all things be true to our higher selves and to God.

We need a local support group for the terminally ill. Those of us who are coming to the end time of our earthly existence need guidance in how to "go gently into that good night" fearlessly and with grace and dignity.


El Centro

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