We Need to Talk About Death

English: Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Hudson Un...
Philip Seymour Hoffman at a Hudson Union Society event in September 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May seem like a morbid headline, especially with many fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman reeling from the news of his untimely passing. The truth is, in our technologically advanced “modern” society, we don’t talk about death enough. Or the facts.

We are finite beings whose lives have a beginning and an end. None of us knows when either of these are coming. We share in common, regardless of race, creed, or status, an overriding uncertainty. But the more toys we develop (or acquire) the more this singular bond fades — that is until the notice of an illness or tragedy brings our mortality back, full force, with enough weight to crush us.

We resist the decay of our bodies, in particular as women, but also men, through surgeries, creams, and lotions, eliding the very wrinkles and sags that signal our common end.

I was having dinner with a friend, almost ten years younger than me. She, and many of my single friends, look at women like me with envy. I am happily married, have two boys, enjoy my work.

“I don’t want to be alone,” she said.

“There are no guarantees,” I answered.

The truth is, we jump into the pursuit of happiness as though once found,  joy will sustain us to the end of our lives. As anyone who has ever been married (or fallen in love) can tell you, the effect wears off. Euphoria becomes mundane; you’re at the sink, brushing your teeth, deciding who gets to sleep in and who’s day it is for nursery drop off.

“He could die,” I told her. “And then what? I start the romance circuit all over again.”

I have so many friends, longing to find a partner. I remember that feeling, the worry of never finding “the one.” I also know, now that I “have” him, he’s not mine to keep. I share this perspective with them,  gently, to curb their mounting self-judgment of unworthiness at still being single.

Often I get a sidewise look in reply. But I persist. The seldom acknowledged truth is, my husband, my children, my parents, or even you dear reader, could be taken at any time.

(* 4. April 1979 in Perth, Western Australia, ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The worst is when, like with Mr. Hoffman, Heath Ledger, my young friend Claire, or high school classmate Raul, we are left behind in the wake of someone’s decision to end his/her life. Suicide is a rude interrupter of the pedantic notes of life, shaking the foundations of our perspective, of the grocery list, the tires that need changing, the dishes waiting to be washed.

Let’s abate this quiet despair by talking. To loved ones, to strangers, to students, or friends. In the sharing of our experiences, perhaps we can all be a little less lonely. And such a connection may be the first sign of true love. Not the over hyped eros that is the focus of the commercially created frenzy around Valentine’s day. But the steady, true phileo, or brotherly love.

Who can you reach out today to lend an ear? If you yourself are in need of one, you’ll find me here.


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Reader Comments

  1. Diane

    Not a morbid headline at all. Talking about death and dying is important. Not too long ago I attended the first Death Café held here in Calgary (organized by my friend Wendy @adishofkindness). The discussions were anything but morbid: it was actually very a powerful and life-affirming. Thank you for the post

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