Letter: Death Cafe in Rappahannock

Further to Walter Nicklin’s column last week, I want to talk about death. I want to talk about death because I have learned the value of this taboo conversation topic.

After working as a hospice nurse case manager for 11 years, I have gleaned a perspective of life and death that I believe is a vital and missing piece in our current culture. While most of us want a “peaceful” death, many people are uncomfortable with discussing the simple truth of our own mortality.

Talking about death ultimately gives us a sense of control over our final days. Not talking about death leads to fear, and fear can have an immense amount of power over our life decisions. Having end of life conversations engenders support and information from those that we share with.

When two people talk about death, it unites them in an intimate way by acknowledging a sacred truth: We all must die.

Death is our constant companion. Talking about it gives us opportunities to evaluate our personal relationship with our own deaths. It is also life-affirming. It increases our gratitude of the miraculous treasure of everyday life.

Talking about death can make us nicer. If we contemplate that we may have only three days, or weeks or months to live, many of us would re-evaluate our priorities, becoming more urgent in our forgiveness of ourselves and others. It encourages us to be present with those that we love. If we are present and aware of our own mortality, it reminds us to love more fully.

Realizing the impermanence of everything helps us practice letting go — of the small things as well as the big things. Talking about death affirms that which for many is too fearful to really acknowledge.

We all plan for major events in our lives — births, birthdays, graduations, weddings. Yet most of us actually avoid planning for the inevitability of our own deaths. Talking about death leads to advanced care planning and a greater chance for a “good death.” Most of us want to die at home, yet in the U.S., 75 percent of us still die in hospitals or nursing homes. Talking about death ultimately gives us more control over our final days.

There are many other reasons to talk about death. I invite you to join in on the conversation. Death Café will resume in Rappahannock County this fall. Go to deathcafe.com to find details, or email me at mhughes1960@gmail.com.

Martha Hughes
Flint Hill

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