Don’t try to make me stop thinking about death”

Anne Boyer has a piece in the April 8, 2019 issue of The New Yorker, What Cancer Takes Away, where she writes, in part:

Being sick makes excessive space for thinking, and excessive thinking makes room for thoughts of death. But I was always starving for experience, not its cessation, and, if the experience of thought was the only experience my body could give me beyond the one of pain, then opening myself to wild, deathly thinking had to be allowed. I warned my friends in a set of e-mailed instructions: Don’t try to make me stop thinking about death.

In the you-or-someone-in-your-family-has-cancer world there’s a social prohibition about talking about death. As though talking about death will kill you. Or as though admitting the possibility of death is somehow bursting a bubble of hope, letting the team down; “don’t talk that way.”

It took me a while to be able to say “when Catherine dies” out loud. But as soon as I did, the monsters receded just a bit, as I’d taken away some of the power they have from being unspeakable.


Oliver B's picture
Oliver B on May 30, 2019 - 08:43 Permalink

That seems like a big thing to share. I guess the point is that it’s a smaller thing to share than not to share.

Krista-Lee Christensen's picture
Krista-Lee Chri... on May 30, 2019 - 17:41 Permalink

That was exactly how my husband felt when his father was dying. He didn't feel like he should talk about his father's death in case he infringed on the optimism that everybody around him seemed to be showing. But now, after he is gone, my husband definitely wished he would have been able to have the hard conversations with his father.

Tim's picture
Tim on June 3, 2019 - 18:47 Permalink

I'm thinking about putting together some writing and calling it "Let's talk about Death". Part getting people to think about advanced care directives and part thinking about end of life experiences. I like the title even if the rest never comes together.