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  • Writer's picturegab2long

Death and Dying for Beginners

Updated: Apr 8

We are all beginners when it comes to death and dying. None of us alive today has gone through the dying process yet (although some of you may have had near-death experiences, and some may be in the process of dying). Therefore, we are all equal in being newbies to our own death and dying process.

This is an area where there are no experts, no sages, no gurus, and no certainties. Whoever says they know has not yet died and therefore speculates based on what they’ve read, heard, or intuited.

This is comforting in many ways, as we are all in this soup together. We inhabit these spaces together: uncertainty, mystery, fear, denial, and whatever else we feel/think when our mind turns to death and dying.

In my own experience, the more I immerse myself in my work as an end of life doula, thinking about how care should look and what happens in the last phase of our lives, the easier it becomes to talk about, think about, plan for, and hopefully, accept. It is going to happen to me. And it is going to happen to you.

Can we have more conversations about the subject of death and dying? It’s a large subject with many facets. Planning for death, fears related to the unknown, grief when thinking of not being around anymore – the people and activities we will miss, and so on.

I can recall from years back that certain subjects were taboo in “polite” society. My parents taught me not to publicly mention these subjects and certainly not at social events. These were politics, money, sex, and, yes, death. People are no longer reticent to speak of politics, money, and sex, but they are still not comfortable talking about death. Notice what happens if you bring up the subject of death at a party – it most likely will not go well (unless you are partying with end of life workers, that is). As my late friend Victoria told me when she tried just that, “It was like throwing a turd in the punchbowl.”

End-of-life doulas (among other professionals) are doing what was unthinkable in previous decades—openly discussing death in public. We want to unpack the subject with as many people as possible so it can be normalized and accepted as a natural, planned-for life event shared by every human (animal, vegetable, and mineral) on the planet.

To that end, we support Death Cafes and other venues for discussion of death and dying. At a Death Cafe, people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea, and discuss death. There is no agenda, objectives, or theme. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session, led by a facilitator who is one of the group (see

Another is Death over Dinner, a concept that evolved from a University of Washington graduate course called Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death in 2013 and is now an international phenomenon ( The idea is to bring loved ones, friends, and sometimes strangers together for dinner and conversations about death and planning for death. Their website includes the scripts for these dinner conversations.

If you live in Connecticut, you can attend a happy hour called Death over Drafts ( This group started with a vision to bring people together to create meaningful connections by combining craft beer and conversations on end of life.

I say, bravo, let’s open our minds to the possibilities of being as publicly open about death and dying as we are about other difficult topics. The consequences of staying silent are high, while the upside of open conversation is vast.

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