Edited By Jon F. Nussbaum
Chapter Twenty-One: End-of-Life Interactions
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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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