Book Review: Let’s Talk About Death, by Michael Hebb

In his invitation and guide to life’s most important conversation, as he puts it, author Michael Hebb seeks to address the fact that “the way we die in the modern age is broken.” Almost unique to American culture, the denial of death has ripple effects in depleting our skills to discuss death and to process the loss of a loved one.

Perhaps this is why (1) although 80% of Americans say they want to die at home, only 20% do, and (2) the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States is the cost of end-of-life care. Most people do not want extreme measures that only prolong suffering leading to death. However, so few of us have talked to our families about our wishes nor have we been asked, leading to the medicalization of end-of-life.

Given the right framework, these conversations can be liberating and even transforming — bringing people together and reminding us what really matters. While death is often tragic and terrible, there are opportunities to learn and grow — by making us more aware of life’s precious gift, making us kinder and bringing us closer to one another.

While talking about death may require planting the seed and waiting for the right time, being patient while someone slowly opens up, these conversations make people’s lives better as well as the lives of their loved ones.

Although we carefully plan all of life’s major transitions, graduations, weddings, etc., “to deny our end-of-life the same level of consideration denies a tremendous part of us, perhaps the most important part: that we are in fact mortal,” the author writes.

With death everything changes in the lives of those left behind. Death also brings birth — birth of memories, new understandings and new relationships. The author helps us get better acquainted with our “constant companion” in a way that helps move our lives forward.

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