Romeo, Juliet, and the Death of Young Love: What Two Star-Crossed Lovers Can Teach Us About Life’s “Little Deaths”

“Romeo and Juliet had to die; do you understand that?” My friends and I, sitting in our Ninth Grade Honor’s English class, were flabbergasted when we heard Mrs. Feldhausen say this.  We drew in our breath in surprise and began to argue with her: “No, they didn’t!  It was just a series of really foolish mistakes that led them to die.” “Nothing had to happen; it’s a story.” “Shakespeare could have written the story however he wanted.” Our teacher patiently listened to each of our objections; and, when we had quieted down, she began to speak. “The love that is […]

Death in the Selfie Age

25,700 photographs to chronicle one life. Photographs of all the firsts:  teeth, steps, days of school.  Photographs of the most significant days:  weddings, graduations, birthday celebrations.  But also photographs of the most routine days, of the most common activities:  taking a walk, eating a meal, hanging out with a friend. Imagine them piled somewhere – overflowing thousands of albums or stuffed in dozens of bins, cycling on a lengthy loop projected onto a large screen. These are not 25,700 photos taken by media sources; they are not the pictures of celebrities, politicians, or anyone famous. These are photos of one […]

Dying as a Process of Healing

Arriving at the home of a hospice patient one morning, I immediately notice a change in her behavior.  Carting her oxygen tank behind her, she shuffles over to meet me and hugs me with her tiny arms.  I can barely feel her physical presence, but her essence seems stronger than I have ever experienced it.  Pulling up her shirt, she says, “Can you see that my tumors are shrinking?”  I notice that the growths, to me, appear to be larger than they were at my previous visit.  I also observe that she has lost even more weight.  She says she weighs […]

The Role of Unacknowledged Grief in the US Election

On the night of November 8, 2016, my husband and I were lying in bed, stunned and confused.  We were both trying to accept the results of our country’s presidential election that evening.  We heard the front door open, followed by footsteps slowly climbing the stairs.  And then I felt the weight of my 17-year-old son as he dropped his body onto our bed.  We listened to an intense monologue woven of fears and concerns (“What about your health care, Mama?”  “What will happen to all the civil rights that have been achieved recently?”  “Will he lead us into some […]

Mourning Strangers

Sandra Bland, Cash Askew, Jonathan Bernbaum, Donna Kellogg.  Each of these names was brand new to me in the past eighteen months, and all of them only entered into my world through their dying.  Sandra Bland’s death in her Texas jail cell under police custody caused outrage and questions of foul play.  Askew, Bernbaum, and Kellogg were three of the 36 people who died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland.  I have never met any of those people; I never will.  And yet the loss of their lives stirs something in me that feels like grief. Their deaths elicit […]

Mourning Celebrities

It was a cold January day; I was sitting at my computer working on a particularly challenging dissertation chapter, one that studied the state of death in contemporary Western culture – how we talk about death, how we support the dying, types of education we create about death, dominant approaches to death in our world today. A friend sent me a text message informing me that musician David Bowie had died. One moment, I was witnessing and commenting on that world – the collective construct of death we together have created and continue to create – and the next I […]

Death at the New Year

Today, countless people around the globe are celebrating the New Year with ritual, food, drink, music, and merriment. We will toss out the old and ring in the new. And this year, it seems that many people cannot rid themselves of the passing year fast enough. Peppered throughout my Facebook feed are messages like, “I’m so done with 2016”. And parts of me agree. 2016 has been a year of sadness and loss for so many of us — on personal, communal, and societal levels. But I also know that endings of things – even the things we find distasteful […]

Assisted Dying: Expanding the Conversation

I have been dying for the past sixteen years.  A rare and serious heart and lung condition has led to three separate experiences with death – three times “getting my affairs in order”, three times attempting to prepare my children for a life without me (my eldest was a baby when I first was diagnosed), three times struggling to navigate the vast, sometimes beautiful and sometimes treacherous landscape of death. So I think about End of Life Options a great deal.  I think about those options in terms of my own life.  I think about those options every time I […]