How We Talk About Death

For most of the big moments in life, we have rituals — proposals, weddings, births, graduations, and anniversaries. We know how to talk about them, how to celebrate them, how to honor them. But there’s one moment we all face that lots of people don’t know how to deal with: dying.

In fact, a majority of Americans avoid end-of-life planning, even though most say it’s important. Losing a loved one — not to mention facing your own mortality — is a hard reality to contemplate. So how do we go about having those tough conversations about the end of life? Is there a “right” way to talk about it? Can we really prepare for death and the grief it brings in a way that is helpful? And does it get any easier when people know it’s coming?

On this episode, we explore how we talk — or avoid talking about — death; the funny, tender, and hopeful moments that arise in those conversations; and how we can best support our loved ones in their final moments. We hear stories about two very different approaches to confronting death, how death doulas help usher their patients into the unknown, and new approaches to dealing with prolonged grief.


Psychologist Dan Gottlieb has had to confront death more often than most — in 1979, he was paralyzed from the chest down because of a car accident. He faces frequent, serious health complications, like infections and skin breakdown. He talks about how all of this has changed the way he views life.
We hear from end-of-life caregivers from around the world — ranging from a palliative care doctor in Singapore, to a Buddhist monk in Vietnam, to a Shxw’ow’hamel elder in Canada — about how the dying and their families think about and deal with death. Their voices, and others, are featured in an exhibit called in_finite. Living With Death, on display at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Germany through the end of November.
Prolonged grief disorder became an official diagnosis in 2022. It’s when debilitating symptoms of bereavement last beyond 6 to12 months, and interferes with people’s lives, relationships, and ability to enjoy activities. Reporter Alan Yu explores what kinds of treatments are available for people who are living with this.

  • October 27, 2023
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