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Opinion: We Should Normalize Thinking, Talking About Death

For many years before the onset of my psychiatrist father’s dementia, he would talk to me about his favorite book, one which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. That book, “The Denial of Death,” focuses on the strategies we humans create to avoid awareness of our own mortality. My dad was convinced the book explained the root cause of most human suffering.

I now work in the realm of death and dying every day. People often comment, with a heavy sigh, that it must be depressing. In fact, it’s the most inspiring, grounding, life-affirming work I’ve ever done.

Throughout the pandemic, judgement; anger; violence; and economic woes have soared. Blame abounds without awareness or discussion that fear of death may be at that core.

When young, we’re consumed with thoughts about our futures; how we’ll live when X goals are attained; proving we’re good people, parents, employees, children. We’re so busy worrying about it all that we frequently miss what’s right in front of us.

As we age, our bodily changes signify the beginning of our inevitable end. We grow tired from ambitions and the energy we expend on the wheel. We start to focus on the past and the special moments for which we may not have been fully present. We begin to pay attention to the little things.

The little things are the meaning.

The journey is the point.

The destination is the same.

Maybe thinking and talking about this universal natural connection could improve the way we live each day of our lives.

The Arizona End of Life Care Partnership (EOLCP), anchored at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, was built on the glaring need to improve end of life care systems in our community and nationwide.

The pandemic ignited a spark in our conversations about death and dying, compelling us to reflect on what matters most to us as individuals. How do we want to live each day of our lives and with whom? How do we ensure that our loved ones and caregivers know our priorities and aren’t left with the burden of wondering how or where we wanted to die?

The EOLCP provides resources to help people talk to loved ones and healthcare professionals, complete advance care plans, access support for more days at home, and receive help while grieving the losses of people they love.

Throughout the past two years of complex uncertainties, the strength of our community remained constant and bolstered the foundation for the ongoing, essential work of this model partnership.

Please join us in normalizing these conversations.


This opinion piece was published in the Arizona Daily Daily Star on June 5, 2022.