Let’s face it, if you haven’t already experienced the death of someone you love, you will. Not only that, but YOU will die. Death is a fact of life and denying it will not make it go away. Life and death are intimately intertwined. Death is constantly just below the surface of our lives where it exerts a wide-ranged influence on our daily life experiences and conduct. A large number of great thinkers have pondered the relationship between life and death. They have written how a lifelong consideration of death can lead to an enriched life rather than an impoverished existence. Freud wrote, “Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of the enjoyment.” Irvin Yalom, a noted psychiatrist, has also written that “… denial of death at any level is a denial of one’s basic nature and begets an increasingly pervasive restriction of awareness and experience… (Death) acts as a catalyst to plunge us into more authentic life modes, and it enhances our pleasure in the living of life.” I could go on and on with additional quotes, but I think you get the picture. Philosophically speaking, without an acknowledgement of death, life losses its vibrancy, intensity, and meaning.
On the practical side, I believe there is a strong need in the U.S. for some basic assistance to those suffering from emotional, mental, physical, social, and spiritual pain because of the death of someone they love or because of their own impending death. Let me try to give you an appreciation for the magnitude and cost of this potential suffering. Every year in this country about 2 million die. Research has found that for each death, an average of 10 family members is directly affected. That means approximately 22 million people, including the deceased, are in some way touched by death every year. When you include friends, co-workers, former in-laws, etc. the number of grievers gets even greater! For the bereaved, if grief is not resolved or if it becomes complicated it can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, violence, reduced productivity and absenteeism at work, accidents, higher medical costs and health insurance premiums, etc. For too long we as a society have ignored the importance of dying and mourning, and the cost has been high. So, these are the reasons I think it is important to have a discussion about death, dying, bereavement, life, and living – to help enrich our lives and to help those suffering.