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Q&A: Breaking down the taboo of death

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Senior Market Advisor editor Daniel D. Williams spoke with Kristine Bentz, facilitator of The Friendly and Fearless Tucson Death Café in Tucson, Ariz., to get her thoughts on death and the taboo surrounding the topic.

Williams: You’ve mentioned before how messy death is, but what do you mean by that comment?

Bentz: I brought it up because from what I witness serving families as well as in my personal experience, death “churns the water” physically, emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually — it is often messy on quite a few figurative and literal levels. The more we can be open and clear about our wishes surrounding dying, death and after-death arrangements, there is a proportionate increase of ability to navigate the mess.

Williams: You mentioned that some people are scared to talk about death because they think that talking about it will make itk happen.

Bentz: One thing people are constantly noting during cafés is how much ease exists in the conversation with strangers. Talking about death with people who don’t want us to die is harder. But mortality is really a buzz kill if you think you’re going to live forever.

Williams: We talked about this earlier, but why, in America, is there this tremendous taboo attached to the subject of death?

Bentz: The most common thread I see in the U.S. is how our culture clings to an illusion of control. As the “rugged individualist” model goes, we think we’ve got to have it all under wraps, we’ve got the answers and the outcomes at all times. Death strips us of this illusion. We might have beliefs or even non-beliefs. But none of us really know what happens when we die. So I think lots of folks might feel safer or less vulnerable keeping clear of the topic.

Williams: Why is it important that people “talk about death?”

Bentz: I think people universally do want to talk about death — and the attendance numbers at Death Cafés around the world prove this. Cultural norms in the U.S. are not real supportive of openly talking about death though, partly because we are so focused on the vitality or glamour of youth. People get openly offended sometimes when I’m meeting with clients in teahouses or cafés to talk about final wishes. I remain firmly committed to the conversation though, because talking about death brings more life to our living; we get to acknowledge “out loud” how our time here is finite. Be awake and pay attention to today, open your senses and live fully because who can say if tomorrow happens.

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