Embracing the conversation about death
Fear is a powerful emotion that can grip us in various ways. Some of the things that have a hold on me will sound familiar: clowns, the dentist's chair, misspeaking in conversations, never rekindling my relationships and being in pain.
Yet, one that might be considered a fear is also a comforting presence in my life: death — an enigma that has both intrigued and soothed me.
It's important to note I hadn't encountered much personal experience with death until a pivotal moment in my life, when I witnessed my grandmother's passing. In Palestine, people often die in their homes. So my family journeyed from all points, motivated by the need to say our farewells.
That particular summer, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother — with “teta.” It became a transformative chapter in my life. At 10 years old, I found myself in a four-story house owned by my grandfather, three floors of which were given to his sons. I was surrounded by vast farmland. It was a summer brimming with childhood joy.
Every evening, our tradition was to gather in my teta’s room. In that space, something remarkable happened. The men in my family, who typically exuded an air of intimidation, appeared innocent as they sat cross-legged on the floor alongside my mother, my aunts and the children. We formed a circle and shared stories, some recounting the day and others that revolved around teta. Most stories concluded with hearty laughter and unspoken tears, but a few carried traces of anger. Some felt incomplete.
At that point, her cancer had taken over, and it was clear she was sick. But I lacked a true understanding of what death meant. That summer, everything changed. I changed.
I’m revisiting that journey because we’re about to embark on another one. We’re taking the month of October to pull back the veil on death and shine light on what most of us consider to be a dark subject. To learn how we can talk about death. To understand why our society tends to shy away from such discussions. To seek wisdom from the experiences of death, the process of dying and the profound depths of grief.
Every journey needs a guide, so we sought out someone who teaches this very subject: Milwaukee School of Engineering Associate Professor Lauren Beverung. In this episode, she shares insights, dispels myths and provides some gentle redirection away from the unhelpful — and occasionally harmful — ways we react to death. Most importantly, she shows us that it’s not only okay to talk about death; it’s necessary.
Listen to the full episode using the player at the top of the page, then keep the conversation going by listening to the rest of this month-long series:
- Episode 1 — Embracing the conversation about death
- Episode 2 — When death is part of what you do
- Episode 3 — The uncharted journey of life after loss
- Episode 4 — Death on our screens and in our cultures
- Episode 5 — Celebrating life and the lessons we can learn from death