Death. Just Death: A Blog I’ve Been Just Dying To Write

 Do I have to blog about it?
In the spirit of openness and synchronicity with the universe (more about this later), it seems I must deal with the issue so many of us go to such great lengths to avoid—death and dying. To begin our discussion on all things grim reaper, some necessary backstory is in order.
I was recently contacted by an acquaintance, Lisa, to assist her in a TEDx event in which she was going to be participating.  For those unaware, TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues, even death — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. This TEDx was at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita.
I describe Lisa as an acquaintance (yet ironically Facebook “friends”) even though we attended John Burroughs High School together and, as she puts it, have been “orbiting” in the same atmospheric social circles for well over 30 years, yet never really connecting at any qualitative level.
This all changed when I received an email from her requesting my assistance in her TEDx presentation, as she was aware I was a Speech Professor and was recommended by a mutual friend. Her topic? Death.
Lisa is one of those people who possess an aura of positivity and friendliness accompanied by a strong and undeniable, though carefully veiled, strength.  One cannot allow her overwhelmingly warm, bubbly and charismatic demeanor to conceal that she has the heart of prizefighter who will ultimately not take no for an answer. She is the warm and fuzzy teddy bear with the tenacious heart of a lion.
It is little wonder as to why.
Lisa lost her son Justin, who was a young teen at the time, to cancer about 12 years ago. If this were not enough, some years later her youngest son, Jacob, was diagnosed with the same cancer at the same age his older brother was diagnosed. Today, her youngest son is cancer free yet still needs to be checked every 6 months. Perhaps these horrific events explain her tenacious heart, but how the teddy bear demeanor? She is remarkable.
As a result, Lisa is now an advocate for people learning how to deal with death.  She has started “Death Cafés” in which all people are invited to come and discuss all things death; be it coping with the death of a loved one, dealing with your own mortality, or just curious and in need of discussion. In addition, she has started a non-profit, “Justin Time” in which children can attend and express their thoughts and emotions concerning the death of a loved one through artistic expression.
Simply, if it’s about death, it’s all good with Lisa. If she were a radio station her motto would read, “All Death, All The Time.”
The basic philosophical underpinning behind Lisa’s relationship with death is that people do not like to discuss it and do not know or even realize the basics of the grieving process for themselves or others.  To exemplify her message as simply as I can, if you attempt to console one who is grieving with saying, “He is in a better place,” they will want to slug you; rather asking, “What happened? Tell me more,” is music to a grieving person’s ear.
The process of death is not about wonderfully motivated, yet painfully insulting, platitudes; rather it is about expression and discussion.
I, perhaps like most Americans, am guilty of being a “death denying” person who is not interested in the discussion. I hate death so much because I love life so much.  As I think about it, I suppose it is not the fear of death that haunts me as much as the fear of no life does; this in spite of the fact I have spoken with enough people who have had near death experiences and speak of a complete warmness and joy in the process. Yes I fear, yet concurrently believe it is a beautiful transition into what awaits us, whatever that might be.
And speaking of synchronicity (paragraph 4, look), as I was assisting Lisa I had a unexpected conversation with an old friend who, unbeknownst to me, nearly died from Lyme Disease several years ago, recovered, and now loves life more than ever—yet has absolutely no fear of death in the least; in fact, she is very excited for it.
I’m also aware, through first hand personal experience, that some people on death’s doorstep converse, out loud in a semi-conscious state, with long dead friends and family. And speaking of synchronicity yet again, the day of Lisa’s talk, my partner Rene’ told me her 94 year old grandmother, who is very close to passing in a retirement home, is now having conversations and making plans with her deceased family.
Am I pimpin an afterlife philosophy? Hell no. I have no idea. Am I pimpin an afterlife period? Hell Hell no. Jimmy’s preaching days are long over. I just believe there is something— and if it’s nothing? Not a damn thing I can do about it. Still, it’s my blog so hear me out.
In all, human beings hate change. We resist change. Most of us would rather live a half-assed lifestyle and avoid change over living a full and complete life that requires risk and change. Perhaps this is the same with death. Death demands change.
Far from a Hindu expert on anything, I am reminded of the Hindu God Shiva who is understood to be the “destroyer,” or God of death, as it were. However, though Shiva is associated with destruction, this is not considered a negative in the Hindu religion as Shiva is also considered to be the “transformer” –as destruction opens the path for a new creation of the universe, a new opportunity for the beauty and drama of universal illusion to unfold.
So, no longer just an acquaintance and now a new friend, Lisa, has guided me into an honest and thoughtful reflection concerning death. Is it a beautiful transition? Yes. And what do I still think about death?
You might say Jimmy’s in death tension. I love change…and death may be the ultimate form of it.

 Lisa and jim





  1. I really enjoyed this, Professor. It’s been on my mind the last few years, and how our culture (our generation?) is genuinely terrified of our own mortality. We relegate death as a medical treatment failure, and resign ourselves to hospital beds and pharmaceutical pipe dreams…all of us just so damn afraid.

    • Thank you Kym. Death is justifiably terrifying for all generations – I cannot speak for all cultures. If I have the blessing of dying in old age, I fully intend to drop DMT in my waning months to help usher me into the change. I then want my family to feed me to grizzly bears in Alaska to give something back to the planet. But I’m weird that way.

  2. Still following the blog despite the face that it was only extra credit for one class last semester. Awesome entry, as always! Definitely an eye opener.

  3. We’ve been thinking about death here in our home this week a lot lately. My 11 yr. old son was just informed on Sunday that a friend he knew and played with a lot in Nebraska died in a car accident. He was 9. It’s his first time dealing with death with someone he actually knew. It was hard as a mom to feel his pain, be with him while he was crying, and not be able to do anything about it. I loved him, held him, listened to him, talked with him and all that Mom stuff but it broke my heart. I hate death. I am a soak life up to the full kind of person. I look forward to doing that in what is perhaps waiting for me after this life. I like living with hope. I like how death is built into the cycle of life….you know, like the four seasons and plants and all that. Thinking of death when it’s someone you know though…pain and suffering!!!! That reminds me. When my grandfather died in 2000 (the first person close to me to die), I can’t forget how you comforted me, Jim. I was so down and just aching inside. I cried at the drop of a hat (what does that saying mean, by the way?) and when I told you, I remember crying and you immediately just hugged me and expressed your concern. I thought that was a big deal because you had a no hugging kind of way of living back then (with people other than family of course). Any way…. I agree…death YUCK! I accept it as part of life but no fun.

  4. Thank you for your comment Felisha! Yes, I had a lot of “rules” back then…but then rules are made to be broken and eventually completely dismissed. Actually writing this blog was therapy for me and really allowed me to process. My “Yuck” has been softened quite a bit. I think Lisa might really be on to something…

  5. Hey Jim (sorry, I’m old school you,
    can’t get used to calling you Jimmy but I’ll keep trying) Jimmy,
    How about we do a pod cast on the Hindu God Shiva and transformation. What do you think?

    • Think Fallon, Kimmel, Hendrix…you’ll get used to it 🙂 Do you want to do this podcast with me? I can arrange that quite easily.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *