As far back as I can remember, I have been aware of my mortality and the significance of that awareness in how I live my life. This, in part, is what drew me to study philosophy as an undergraduate. I have also survived what to me feels like a pile of unprecedented deaths: my healthy first-born baby due to medical mal-practice; my seemingly healthy husband from pancreatic cancer; and most recently, my mother, who committed suicide. Much of my published writing has been about these losses: in poetry and prose. The publication of my first book, Lost Lullaby, and my undergraduate degree brought me the opportunity to teach my
Ms. Alecson examines the contemporary and socially relevant discourse "Can We Ever Be Prepared to Die".
Recorded in Palo Alto, CA on May 27, 2015. Click to watch.
first course in biomedical ethics. I continue to teach ethics of health care and courses in thanatology (the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it, including the study of the needs of the terminally ill and their families).
Everywhere I go, when people learn that I am a thanatologist, they become enthusiastic and want to talk. People want to talk about death, dying, bereavement, illness, health care, care-giving, on and on. Not too long ago, I was at the wedding of a dear friend and when his guests asked me what I did for a living and I told them, all they wanted to talk about was their own experiences of loss. These conversations invariably led to the meaning of life and how best to prepare for death. This was at a wedding!
It is a privilege to be in this field and to explore the feelings and thoughts of others about how we navigate through life knowing that it will end. Far from morbid - but exhilarating. The two major areas of interest for me are how can we make more compassionate treatment decisions at the end of life and how can we better tolerate grief manifested in ourselves and in others.
Deborah Golden Alecson with Williams College students.
Winter Study 2016 • Knocking on Heaven's Door