Journalist talks grief and loss

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Apr 17, 2014 8:04 AM

(Shippensburg) -- As part of the 5 year anniversary dinner for the Drew Michael Taylor Foundation, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Michael Vitez spoke about his book telling the story of those who visit the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

But Vitez is a Pulitzer Prize winner for a very different series focused on end of life decisions.

After the dinner, I sat down with Vitez.

What characterizes the moments at the end of someone's life?


What they went through is sort of a universal thing. In death, in dying, at the end of life, there is incredible richness. Life gets very real. No time for b.s., relationships gets much deeper and richer and hatchets get buried and all kinds of problems get worked out at the end. You can see how profound a time that was for them at the end. What you see at the end, it’s a very sad period, but it inspires incredible good things that follow and incredible good works get done as a healing by families and by people.

What is different about the end of life?

You think of it as a sad time and it is a sad time because somebody’s at the end of the life, but dying is absolutely normal. People accept death and they deal with it and they come to peace with it. And that’s a beautiful thing actually to see, and the best deaths are the people that are able to accept it. What you see a lot of times is it’s not the family member comforting the dying person, but it’s the dying person comforting the family. And it makes it a lot easier for the family to continue when they see how at peace they are. One of the lessons is the country needs to talk about, and families need to talk about it a lot more.

What have you found in your reporting about how end of life decisions play out?

Here’s an even harder one for you: what a person wants in theory and what a person wants in practice changes. You may think you don’t want anything, don’t want any extraordinary measures at all, and when you’re up against it, you may realize that wow, I do want to fight. And then the exact opposite is true. You may say I don’t want this, stop. People often don’t even know their own mind, much less the mind of their son. Best to start before there is a crisis.

What should be going on now that isn't?

The most important thing is to talk. I can’t say how many stories I’ve read, they wish they had known what their mother or father or brother would’ve wanted. It’s a huge burden you’re taking off the shoulders of your family by communicating to them what you want, or what you think you want, so when the time comes, they’re not carrying this burden, they’re just carrying out your wishes. It’s much easier on them, you’re doing your family a huge favor. When the moment comes, they’ll be much more at peace knowing that they know your wishes.

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