FALSE. Talking about dying is non-toxic and perfectly safe for all ages.
I hit this wall a lot though, because deep down the majority of people believe it’s true.
In polite company, when it comes up that I’m writing a blog about…well…the “topic” (maybe if I don’t say the word, you won’t run)…I usually get a blank stare, long pause, and visible squirming, followed by an abrupt change of subject. Some people even turn around and walk away without saying a word. (Which I admit makes this topic a valuable extraction tool in a pinch. For anyone seeking to escape a chatty person, its eerie power of repulsion does have uses.)
In any case, there’s rarely an opportunity for a follow-through discussion. The conversation is dead before taking its first breath and, so far, this hurdle has stumped me. That’s why I spend so much time poking around the carcass in my mind afterwards, trying to find another angle which might induce more people to join me.
For instance this morning I was chewing on the common question; I’m not dying yet. No one I know is dying yet. So why should I think about it now?
This, of course, is the unstated question behind most blank stares and…I’m not gonna lie to you here…it’s a good one, possibly the most important question of all. In spite of my flippancy, I fully understand why people don’t want to have this discussion: Talking about dying is a courageous act. In order to do it, you have to stop running, turn around, and face the very monster that IS someday going to kill you and all your loved ones. Let’s face it, as conversations go, it just doesn’t get much braver than that.
So when I broach the topic to someone who’s half-dressed at the next locker, or trapped next to me for three hours on a plane, or suddenly choking on their turkey over Thanksgiving dinner, I understand their reluctance. I do. I realize I’m asking them to start thinking right now about a real-life horror flick that at best they can delay, but will never escape.
Which brings me back to the question, Why should they? The reasons had better be compelling.
Well they are. And actually there’s just one:
It’s so they don’t have to spend their whole lives dragging the deadweight of this secret dread behind them. Once a person learns how to talk comfortably and freely about dying, they can finally stop looking over their shoulder and relax a little. Living every hour, every day, year after year, with a yawning, existential, chronic fear…even if it’s kept pinned down in the subconscious most of the time…is draining and toxic. Denial can help for a little while, sure, but ultimately it has huge downside. Huge. Trust me on this one. As a long-time phobic I know.
Courage is a far better option and, while it’s harder to muster initially, it makes up for it by having no downside. None. In fact, courage not only eases the fear around talking about dying, it actually makes the event itself a whole lot easier to deal with when it finally arrives.
So when I grin at a 31-year old cashier and say Hey! What do you think about this whole dying thing anyway? It’s not because I’m the Grim Reaper’s administrative assistant trying to schedule an appointment for her. It’s only because I’d like to ease some of her fear about the whole thing. I’m willing to stay and hold her hand.
Facing into any fear shrinks it, and facing into this fear–as early in life as possible–can improve every day that follows in a way that most people don’t even know is possible yet. I mean, how could they know when nobody ever talks about it?!
So, what would make you more likely to stick around and have this chat? If I said:
1) I write a blog about dying.
2) I write a blog about talking about dying.
3) I write a blog that can help ease your fear about dying. (Actually, is that even true? You’ve read this. Are you less afraid of dying now? More afraid? Unchanged? Are you at least more willing to talk about it? Are you even there? Hello? Hello?)
If anyone else has ideas about how to broach the topic of dying in a way that doesn’t repel everything within a hundred yards, I’m totally up for suggestions. (And please don’t feel you have to be serious.) Comments are even more welcome than usual on this one.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011
P.S. The terrifically fun photo above is from Ambro’s Portfolio.