Figuring out how to cope with a terminal illness and deal with death has been the most present theme for me over the past week. My students and I spent a couple of days discussing these topics in our Medical and Healthcare Ethics class. After a colleague mentioned in passing that his health was “not that great,” we spoke for nearly two hours over coffee about finding purpose in doing graduate work when you are faced with an unexpected and drastically shortened timeline. And, although this is a frequent occurrence, one of my closest friends and I talked even more than usual about what it means to live after a loved one has died. All of these conversations were punctuated by seemingly serendipitous finds of related videos and songs over a number of days. It was one of those times when one’s attention is primed to pick up on such things more frequently and with greater ease. It seemed natural, then, to assume that I would write my reflections this week on such a weighty, important, and pressing question: How do we live when we really know that we are going to die?
But I’m not going to. At least not right now.
Maybe it was because I really do want to write about this question and these experiences, and perhaps also because I appreciate the gravity that can surround their consideration, that I found myself feeling quite adverse to the idea of doing so. From my own experience, I know that it is inappropriate (if not downright offensive) to talk to people about what they might be going through and how they should handle their feelings. In those situations, the most important thing one can do is just be present, sit with the experience, and listen. So I had a weird little moment when I thought, “Ugh. I don’t want to come off as that person.” And I totally blame Twitter and Facebook for my hesitation to write. Continue reading