Bringing death out of the shadow

2 min read

“We spend a lot of time in denial that we are going to die. With all the choices that we make, how many would we revise and do differently if we were aware that we are mortal?”

That question was posed earlier this fall at the Waking Up to Dying Project’s traveling exhibition, held in Somerville, by Greg Epstein, Harvard University Humanist chaplain and executive director of the Humanist Hub. Epstein, MTS ’07, is part of a growing movement to bring discussions about dying to the forefront of our attention.

As the population ages and life spans increase, dying has become more medicalized and depersonalized than ever before. But secular and religious communities alike are seeking to address and overcome the fear involved in peering behind the white curtain in the hopes of bridging the divide between living and dying.

Joining Epstein on the panel “Spiritual Perspectives on Death, Dying, and Life” were HDS student Rod Owens and the Rev. Jeff Mansfield.

“There is a tendency for people to hide when they are dying. The body and what it does in death can be embarrassing to us,” said Mansfield, who is pastor of First Church Somerville. Mansfield stated that his congregation makes a point of talking about death early and often. Although the average age at First Church is 35, death is no stranger in their midst.

“We make dying a community event. We don’t hide it,” Mansfied explained. “We will face down death together, so you’re not going to be alone.”