Allies In Transition

How To Prepare For A Peaceful Death: Allies In Transition
Thoughts From The Field

Allies in Transition
April 25, 2004

Alice Walker, author of ‘The Color Purple’, wrote another poignant story published in 1988 and titled ‘To Hell with Dying’. In this children’s story, Ms. Walker addresses two of the greatest fears that most people face regarding the subject of death. The first fear is that children should not witness an immanently dying person, and second is the fear many people have that they will be alone when they die.

‘To Hell with Dying’ is a wonderful title for this story of an old man with many faults, appropriately named Mr. Sweet, who made a habit of the dying process. The one thing that usually—Mr. Sweet does die in the end so I must say usually—revives him is a neighbor’s children. These children are not only allowed to come into the dying man’s room, but are encouraged to kiss, tickle and wake him up, make him smile and be revived. Mr. Sweet, although in earnest could have been left to peacefully die, was besieged by the children so that he could continue to play with them.

The two fears dispelled in Ms. Walker’s story have relevance to our society today. Not only do adults fear death, but also few adults would think of taking their children to the funeral of a family member or close friend. African American and Latin cultures have less fear of allowing children to attend a funeral than most European and Asian cultures as a whole. Have we forgotten that we are born to die? When did we lose our ability to be close to the dying person, to hug and kiss them, to tickle them back to life as often as possible with love? And when death is the last finale, it is better to be surrounded by those who love you.

This surrounding doesn’t have to be a raucous party atmosphere. Most individuals are able to transition more readily in an environment of quiet peace with their loved ones in close proximity. With young children, this is sometimes more difficult. However, children have a sense of respect when in the area of a truly dying individual. Children may ask lots of questions about the status of the dying person. The questions should be answered honestly. As the father told Mr. Sweet, “To Hell with Dying, these children need Mr. Sweet.” When death comes, I encourage all of us to act like Alice Walker’s children in the story and pour out an abundance of love.

In order for us to feel comfortable when discussing the subject of death, we have to be able to confront our own fears. We should begin to talk about death as a function of life, a process that can be practiced, as Mr. Sweet practiced, until we are ready for the final transition.