This article was updated on August 3, 2022.
In Debbie Pepin’s case (pictured) the adults got her into trouble for wanting to talk about death.
Debbie who lives in Austin, Texas, USA is a speaker, writer, entrepreneur, educator, and advocate for talking openly about and making plans for the one certainty of life—death.
“During middle school, I came home one day eager to talk about a philosophical tidbit shared by a teacher. “Every day you are living, you are dying,” she had said.”
“My parents were so horrified that they complained to the school about the teacher who espoused this line of thinking; then they forbade me to ever talk about death again. It was a taboo topic.”
The taboo remains – and all these years later adults and children can still be chastised for wanting to talk about death – especially to each other.
“Decades later, my aged loved-ones were still unwilling to discuss death, waving off my attempts to broach the topic with breezy dismissiveness: “We aren’t going to die. We have too much to do. We are too active. Don’t ask me again until I hit 100!”
Yet they leaned on Debbie, expecting her to figure out the “best thing” to do for them during the time up to and including their deaths.
Then in 2017 three loved-ones—Debbie’s mother, her mother-in-law, and her father-in-law—died within 10 months of each other. None had been comfortable talking about death but Debbie had been able to convince them to put pen to paper for advance directives and wills.
Surprisingly, those plans worked well for two of them, but not for all three.
That experience, and the confusion that accompanied her mother’s end-of-life care, became the genesis for Debbie’s book: In Case You Die, which she hopes will be published soon.
Yet death was not new to Debbie – or her mother. Debbie was only 21-years-old, working as a high school special-education teacher when her Dad, then aged 42, and his dad, then aged 62, were killed in a work-related accident. They worked as tree farmers and it’s possible Debbie’s father had a heart attack while operating a bull-dozer which toppled over, killing them both.
Thoughts about this sad double death beg the question, what burdens did Debbie’s mother carry alone, keep to herself? What was locked away and unlearned, when her husband died, so that she could shun questions about her own end-of-life, years later?
No wonder, with awareness of this, that in the aftermath of her three 2017 losses, Debbie began writing – and sharing her experiences, so that others could benefit. Debbie began writing about their deaths that year and researching the experiences of others.
“It was cathartic and enlightening: it seemed that everyone with whom I came in contact wanted to talk about the fact that they had no idea what they would do if someone they loved got gravely ill, because the subject was taboo.”
“Talking about death while we’re healthy, and planning accordingly, struck a chord.”
Debbie believes: “If we could awaken our society to discuss death and our advance toward it as we age as ordinary topics, then the grand finale of life would be better thought-out and the life leading up to it would be more meaningful.”
Today, using social media and her speaking engagements, Debbie is working to make the topic of death an expected and acceptable subject of discussion—all of which has led to her book In Case You Die, and her practical, yet entertaining website: www.death-to-do-list.com
Through this work Debbie hopes to encourage us to talk honestly about death; plan for it; live fully; and leave this life with “as little unfinished business as possible” – making her a soulmate for Good Grief!
To read one of Deb’s latest articles, go to: https://www.nowwhatamisupposedtodo.com/how-do-you-want-to-be-treated-if-you-are-dying
Or you can visit her website.
To read more on advance planning, go to: https://good-grief.com.au/four-planning-steps-sounds-complicated-but-theyre-not/
Awareness of the need to break taboos around death crosses international boundaries. To read another book on the topic, go to: