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The Handbook of Lifespan Communication

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Edited By Jon F. Nussbaum

The Handbook of Lifespan Communication is the foundational scholarly text that offers readers a state of the art view of the varied and rich areas of lifespan communication research. The fundamental assumptions of lifespan communication are that the very nature of human communication is developmental, and, to truly understand communication, change across time must be incorporated into existing theory and research. Beginning with chapters on lifespan communication theory and methodologies, chapters are then organized into the various phases of life: early childhood, adolescence, emerging adulthood, middle adulthood, and older adulthood. Top scholars across several disciplines have contributed to chapters within their domains of expertise, highlighting significant horizons that will guide researchers for years to come.
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Chapter Twenty-One: End-of-Life Interactions

← 404 | 405 → CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

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HOWARD GILES, CHAN THAI, AND ABBY PRESTIN

Death is an inevitable reality that marks the end of a lifespan, and hence the topic of this chapter appropriately concludes this Handbook. Whether it is the death of a loved one or one’s own death, many complex issues are associated with the end of life. Unfortunately, there is a general “lack of willingness to talk about the issue [that] reflects discomfort with the subject and attempts to deny the reality of death…. This communication avoidance then defines death as even more taboo” (Bosticco & Thompson, 2008, p. 1171). In fact, even in families that are reputedly open to discussing sensitive topics, there often appears a discursive reluctance, if not aversion, to talk about information and emotions associated with an impending death (Caughlin, Mikucki-Enyart, Middleton, Stone, & Brown, 2011).

Relatedly, we found, surprisingly and until recently, a fairly limited amount of systematic research by communication scholars on end-of-life issues (see, however, Miller & Knapp, 1986; Nussbaum, Thompson, & Robinson, 1988; Thompson, 1996). Even the Handbooks of Communication and Aging Research (Nussbaum & Coupland, 1995, 2001) did not devote a chapter to this theme, although it did feature in the more recent Handbook of Health Communication (Goldsmith, Wittenberg-Lyles, Ragan, & Nussbaum, 2011) and in a recent treatise on communication and successful aging (Giles, Davis, Gasiorek, & Giles, 2013). On the other side of the coin and, despite a valued array of disciplines involved from history to mortuary science to psychology,...

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