This I Believe: Talking About Death

In the last week, death keeps coming up at work. Not because anybody has died, or is close to dying -- because I keep casually bringing it up. 

I should mention that I'm a high school English teacher, so each situation has involved me talking to a bunch of teenagers about death. And they don't like it. When analyzing a funeral scene in a novel, I was getting a lukewarm reaction from the class, so I appealed to their personal senses of mortality: "You guys realize that you're all going to die, right?" 

This did no go over well. To try and improve the situation, I pointed out that I planned on dying before they did. They were equally dismayed by this statement. 

Same thing when I made an off-hand remark in the office about a weekend activity: "So-and-so's got it all planned, so if I die before Saturday, everything will still run smoothly." I got a few surprised looks. "Why would you say something like that?"

I don't really mean it, of course. I have no intention of dying anytime soon. But I usually meet their reaction with a shrug. Why not talk about death like any other topic? It happens every day, all around the world. It has affected each of us in some way, and is the guaranteed shared experience that accompanies life.

When I told one class about my experiences this week, a few students agreed with my viewpoint. "I fear the moment of death, but not the fact that my life will end." A few people nodded their heads in agreement. I thought about all of ways our discussion could go on this subject: what happens after we die? what makes a good death? how should we honor the dead? 

Another student reflected on the fact that she felt like she might be wasting her life sitting at home and playing video games, when she should be out making memories. "Life is short... I'm almost seventeen." 

I know many adults would laugh at that statement -- but I think most grown-ups are trudging towards death with far less awareness than the students in my class. If we can acknowledge death, even in the background, then I think we can live a better life.