On Death and Dying (and Writing)

My friend died three weeks ago, and it’s been like having Covid, Sleeping Sickness, Sorrow blisters on my soul.

And it has made think a lot about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s book, ON DEATH AND DYING.

Kubler-Ross infiltrated our sense of grief with words to describe the process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This of course could just describe a bad couple of days with Trump in office. But I do not mean social grief.

People take death in different ways. Lots of people have an afterlife belief that makes everything seem… okay.

I am not one of those people.

I have struggled to deal with death, since I saw a lot of it as a kid with relatives who died way too young. My family handled this with a lot of hair tearing out, and a hysteria from back in the Shtetl that one person dying was the inevitable “sign” that we are all doomed. Good to know.

Books are stories, even a non-fiction book like ON DEATH. And I’ve incorporate Kubler-Ross’ words into my stories, too. They’ve even helped me rewrite that script I learned on death in small but significant ways.

In The Road Not Taken, my first book, the protagonist is recently widowed, and her grief is her gateway out of the suburban shoebox that was her world, and into the cosmos which she tours alongside some immortal friends. Her grief was the beginning of her life.

a club termina table read

My first play after I survived breast cancer, club termina, took place in a nightclub in the clouds where women who succumbed to it were in a weigh station before reconfiguring into a new life. I learned in this play to bring people back from death by writing them a character so I could be with them. It helped me a lot. It was my friend who had just died from breast cancer, after I had been cured, who I had brought back to life on that stage—every night I heard this woman’s story in a comic monologue that had audience members feeling some of what her loss did to all of us who loved her. But Denise was in there too.

club termina is no longer in performance, but books, stories, words—and the memories of those songs—are what I have to keep life filled with some joy. Seeing friends who are gone reappearing on stage and in print is as close to Heaven, or the Bardo, or the Rainbow Bridge, as I can get.

One thought on “On Death and Dying (and Writing)

  1. As useful as Kubler-Ross is, it only helps one gradually come to terms with the past- with whatever is never again to be.
    Where it fails is learning to cope with a future absent the opportunity to reminisce with the person or persons who knew you at your best- and worst!


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