relatively speaking

relatively speaking

looking at the informal ways we talk about death and dying in our everyday conversations

talking about death

When was the last time you were “scared to death”?  Please tell me below.

It’s interesting to check out the #scaredtodeath twitter stream.!/search/%23scaredtodeath


 In the relatively speaking blog series

I’ll be highlighting a deathly figure of speech  from my vast collection.

Here are some upcoming phrases:

died laughing

i’m dying to know

to die for

kiss of death

drop dead gorgeous

i just died

i’ve died and gone to heaven

it’s a matter of life and death

over my dead body

before i die

i’ll sleep when i’m dead

death and taxes

dead giveaway

do or die

deadpan look

dead of night

death watch

back from the dead

innovate or die

dead in the water


starving to death

drop dead

dying of thirst

play dead

love them to death

death warmed over

die-hard fan

dead wringer

dead end


relatively speaking

Talking about death is talking about life. 
Let’s talk about it!

Personal Thanatology

Personal Thanatology

It’s a Matter of Life and Death


Create a Personal Thanatology.  I’ll listen and encourage as you discover your unique perspective of what is important to you in Living Well & Dying Well.  I believe that when we talk more openly about death and dying, we are able to support and care for ourselves and one another more deeply.  It’s a simple message about a complex topic ~ talking about death and dying will improve the world we live in.


than · a · tol · o · gy                    [than-uh-tol-uh-jee]

n. the study of death and dying

Personal Thanatology

Reflect · Share · Live

v.   the lifelong discovery process where you (1) reflect on and explore your personal experiences, thoughts, memories, beliefs, stories and questions about death and dying; (2) share your ideas and stories with family, friends and acquaintances; then (3) live life based in what you value and brings you meaning ~ live your Philosophy of Life.

My goal in introducing this concept is to encourage people of all ages to be more comfortable with conversations about death and dying. Never to diminish the sadness and suffering of death, dying, grief, and loss, but to also be open to the love, peace, and support that are possible.

Today, remember a death experience you have had in your lifetime, anywhere from a childhood experience to a current experience of death, dying, grief, or loss.   Can you tell someone your story, can you listen to theirs?  Please remember to be gentle with yourself.  Compassion and non-judgment towards self and others is an essential ingredient in creating a

Personal Thanatology

Reflect · Share · Live







Start and end every

conversation with words of

love and care.


The words of the

conversation may be

forgotten, but

love remains.


living life dying death  |  A Guide to Healthy conversations about Death and Dying to Inspire Life and Living




Death by Chocolate

Last year I received some unsolicited marketing advice that I can’t get out of my head.   After learning about my book, my airplane seat mate, leaned over and said, “Lady, you’ve got a hell of a problem ahead,  you need to make death attractive, like a candy bar, it’s not going to be easy”.*

For me, it is fascinating to listen to stories, thoughts, beliefs, and experiences that people have with death, dying, grief, and loss and learn how these experiences impact their lives.  I find most people do want to talk about their “death and dying” experiences and ideas when asked.  But it is paradoxical.  About eight out of ten people also share that they are afraid if they talk about death, it might happen. Often they comment on how it is uncharacteristic of them to be superstitious, but yet they can’t help thinking they might be “jinxing” their lives by talking about death.

Do you think eating this dessert will be tempting fate?

Should I bring samples of Death by Chocolate to my marketing appointments?

Death by Chocolate

Yield: 12 servings



8 oz (225 g) dark semisweet chocolate (40-50% cocoa)
2/3 cup (140 g) butter
1 cup (210 g) sugar
4 eggs
4 heaped tablespoons (1 dl) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoon baking powder or 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons sour cream

Ingredients for frosting


2/3 cup (1.6 dl) heavy cream or whipping cream
9 oz (260 g) semisweet chocolate (40-50% cocoa)



  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F (Gas mark 4 or 180 deg C).
  2. Line a circular 10 inch (25 cm) cake tin (3 inches tall) with grease proof or other non-stick paper and grease the tin. (Please note that the cake will rise to 3 inches and collapse somewhat when cooled. If your cake tin is less than 10 inches wide and 3 inches tall we recommend that you use two cake tins.)
  3. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt it with butter over hot water.
  4. Beat the eggs with sugar, mix with flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and vanilla extract.
  5. Slowly fold in the melted butter and chocolate and the sour cream.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 40 to 50 minutes (if using 2 cake tins 20-30 minutes may be sufficient).
  7. Cool the cake completely. When it has obtained room temperature place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before removing the cake from the tin (the cake is sticky and difficult to cut when it is warm!) Remove the crusted surface on the top of the cake, and cut in half, horizontally.



  1. Heat 2/3 cup (1.6 dl) of heavy cream or whipping cream in a sauce pan.
  2. Remove from heat, add 9 oz (260 g) of finely chopped dark semisweet chocolate, stir until smooth, and let it cool until in thickens.
  3. Use one 1/3 of the frosting between the two layers, 1/3 on top, and the rest around the cake. Put the cake into the fridge for one hour or more to harden the frosting.
  4. This cake should have room temperature when served.


* About ten minutes later he told me about the death and funeral of his beloved Grandmother.

Healthy Conversations about Death and Dying to Inspire Life and Living

My book :::  living life dying death | A Guide to Healthy Conversations about Death and Dying to Inspire Life and Living has just been published!  I’m having a book launch party….. please contact if you would like to join us!  Thank you to all of my family and friends that have supported my work and this book concept for MANY years!

Love to each and every one of you!

You can purchase the book here!


What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?

Thanks to Susan Piver, we can gain insights to help move us towards mending that broken heart, whether it is your own heart or someone that you wish to support and care for.    Susan and I spoke last week about her newest book ::: The Wisdom of a Broken Heart ::: An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight, and Love.  Additionally, the paperback version can be pre-ordered and will be available in December and of course it is immediately available electronically!  Visit her website, I really love that she directs those that are currently living with a broken heart, directly to support, love, and care.  I so enjoyed visiting with her about her new book, (she has authored many wonderful books and articles),  her life’s work, and she also graciously answered a few personal questions regarding her views on living life and dying death.  The loss and grief suffered through heartache and the loss and grief suffered through death, gave us much to talk about.  Make sure you you listen to Jimmy Ruffin ponder broken heartedness , then allow Susan to share her practical ideas and beautiful inspirations to help answer the question, “What becomes of the broken hearted?”

Jennifer ::: Thank you so very much for sharing your heart, your mind, and your spirit through this book and all of your work.

Susan ::: Oh, that’s so nice of you to say. It’s completely my pleasure.

The title is really wonderful, “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.” And, of course, I suppose a lot of people do notice that you write “An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight and Love.”  In your opinion, what is the uncommon part of the guide? What do you think will surprise the reader?

Yeah, I appreciate that question. Most of the books that are out there about healing from heartbreak sort of say one of two things. They either say, “You need to figure out what happened in your childhood or early life that made you attract this and heal so that it will never happen again, and there can be a lot of value in that. There can be a lot of value in probing your past and bringing an analytical eye to your earlier life so that you can learn about yourself. However, I’ve discovered that no matter how much you learn about why your pain hurts, it doesn’t make it hurt less, so it sort of comes up a tiny bit short on that score.  Then the second kind of book says that you attracted this heartache to yourself by thinking the wrong thoughts, and if only you could think the right thoughts, you would never have to go through anything like this again. So when the books are encouraging sort of psychological analysis or more what I would call “magical thinking,” they both are ways of getting away from your feelings, which is understandable. When your heart is broken, it feels really bad, and you want to stop feeling so bad. What helps, and I think this is the uncommon part, is to feel what you feel instead of trying to turn away, or encapsulate, or corral what you feel, to lean into, to turn towards it, and to allow it to burn as hot as it will.  This is sort of the most expeditious way to heal.

Even though it might feel counter-intuitive to that heartbroken individual. Not that it is easy to lean into the pain, but to never to diminish the suffering or the pain.

No, never.  It’s so real, and it’s so devastating, and there’s no way to make it out that it isn’t.  It doesn’t feel good to lean into it.  There’s no way to pretend that it does.  But by the same token, when you lean into what you actually feel, you stop lying.  Not that you’re lying on purpose, but you lean into the truth.  Leaning into the truth…and I’m sure you know this, and everybody who reads your blog knows that when you finally tell someone what you really think after years, or months…whatever it is that you’re upset about hasn’t changed, you feel better because you’ve told the truth.  Opening to your own feelings is a profound and significant act of courage and kindness.

In the book, I truly appreciated your words on the importance of the dark night as well as the importance of silence.  Especially in our world, in these days, it’s easy to not seek out silence, but you pointed out what value there is in being in silence.

I’m so glad you said that. You know when your feelings are intense and painful, you want to turn up the volume on everything – and, again, it’s quite understandable – to drown out/distract yourself from what is so unthinkable.  But it doesn’t work…the only things that we know for certain – and I don’t have to tell you this – is that we’re going to die, and that we have been born.  Those are the only things that we can actually say with any certainty have happened and will happen to us. But there’s such discouragement from looking at those things and accepting them, especially the dying part, as a part of life, and noise is one way that we try to distract ourselves. And silence is so healing.

It absolutely is. So would you feel like that was part of the uncommon guidance also?

Yes, I do. To allow your feelings to be heard, you know it’s the same thing.  Silence allows you to turn towards your feelings, and instead of trying to distract them, to just be with them.  It’s such so much of a gentle way to treat yourself, and when you’re suffering with end-of-life, and the struggles of witnessing someone at the end of their life, this gentleness is so crucial.

That is beautiful. You know, both the grief of a heartache, and the grief of a loss through death is… it is kind of the price that we have to pay for love.

Oh, god, you’re so right.

I really saw that in your book.

I appreciate that.  You’re so right.  It’s like you can’t shut out the bad feelings without also shutting out the good feelings.  To love, it means opening your heart, and when you open your heart, anything can come in.  You can’t pick and choose. You can’t figure out a way to love that is safe, because to create safety around love means closing your heart in certain ways or running when things become painful.  We all have to figure out a way to stand in our own discomfort, in our own pain, as you say, as a price of love. It’s not like, oh, love is great and this pain is bad, and I’m just going to have to feel it, although that does not feel good, as you say. But there’s so much humanity, so much tenderness, and so much love in the sorrow, and when we try to cut it out, we cut out these other things as well.  We all have to learn how to not do that.  Nobody’s born knowing how to not do that. We all have to learn, and luckily there are people, such as yourself, who organize ways to support people in that learning.

It’s, once again, a paradox, because love is simple, and it’s complex, and such a crux of life. I think love comes naturally.  I think it’s a part of who we are, how we are born. That’s a part of our natural makeup.  I’m talking about romantic love, and I’m talking about the love of parenthood, the love of friendship, the love of connecting with someone across the world through a newspaper article. It’s glimpsing the love in one another, and that’s very simple.  It comes very naturally to us.  But then as the complexity comes in that we were speaking of before, the grief and the loss and the broken-heartedness, whether through a breakup,especially of a romantic love and then also through death.  It gets very complicated, because sometimes we hurt the people we care the most about.  It’s a paradox.

It absolutely is a paradox. It absolutely is. I don’t know why things are designed the way they are, but the way you described it is right.

In this book, I noticed that you educate your reader, encourage your reader, and inspire your reader, which are my personal three goals for writing.   I’d like an answer for each one of those nuanced aspects. First, what would you think would be your strongest suggestion or tip that educates your reader about the wisdom of a broken heart and how to heal from that?

What a great question. The biggest tip I would say to educate would be the number-one thing you can do — and I’m not making this up…an American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, this wonderful writer, said this, “feel the feelings and drop the story.” That is my whole book in one sentence, it is so simple. That’s my number-one tip.

So that’s your education piece: to feel the feelings, and drop the story. Great.   How would you like to encourage the reader?

What I would encourage the reader to do would be to relax, and that doesn’t mean feel happy, and it doesn’t mean space out, and it doesn’t mean feel even. It means to allow what you feel to be OK.

Am I hearing you say that we might even try so hard to feel the feelings and drop the story that we work on that almost too hard?

Yes. I never thought about it that way, but yes. That’s an excellent point. To relax around all of your “efforting” and to relax with your feelings as they are and as they change without getting freaked out.  I would encourage is to relax, but in a very nuanced way, to use your excellent word.

That’s great. And how about inspiration? What is your #1 inspirational message for the book — and I know that’s hard because the whole book is inspirational!

One thing really does pop to mind, is in the Buddhist tradition — that is my tradition, and that’s where I’m writing from.  They say that in order to be a warrior, and in this sense, warrior doesn’t mean soldier. It means someone who is fully alive and committed to work for the benefit of others and willing to risk everything to be who they are and to give what they have to give. That’s our definition of warrior.  To be a warrior, you have to have a broken heart, and without a broken heart, your warriorship is untrustworthy, meaning it’s likely to be more an act of aggression or desperation.  When your heart is broken and you have this kind of perpetual softness, because you know that you can’t control outcomes and you know that there’s no way to make love safe but you want to love anyway, then you are standing in the shoes of a warrior.  When your heart is broken, all of this is already there. You already are a warrior, because you are in touch so closely with this tenderness.  When that tenderness is what fuels your aspiration and your work and your relationships, then those things bear fruit that are a benefit to everyone . It may sound like a big statement, but I really believe that it’s true. At the end of the book there is a program to integrate all of these concepts into your life. There are some techniques, practices, and a program, a week-long program, to help you figure out how to do these things if you’re so inclined.

That is a really terrific part of the book::: The Seven-Day Rescue & Relief Program.

You wrote that when you find love, you also find the sorrow of impermanence. Do you want to talk a little more about that?

Yeah. I know, for me, I think about it the most in my marriage.  I’m in a good marriage, and the more I love my husband, the more conscious I become of the fact that one day our relationship will end, our relationship will end.  The more I love, the more painful that is; the more I love, the more clearly that truth comes home.  It’s just like when you have anything that’s precious, you start to worry about losing it.  So there’s nothing more precious obviously than love, and so the more you love, the more you become worried about losing it.

I loved the story of how you offered up the beautiful box he gave you, during your Bodhisattva commitment ceremony.  Then how you woke up the next day in a panic.  That was so real. I mean I think we can all relate to those feelings, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking?” I thought that was an interesting part of the book, in your honest sharing of that experience and your reaction, you shared your humanness.    To me I hear that box symbolizing what you just said, the preciousness of your marriage and your love.

Yeah, you know I appreciate your reading that story in exactly the spirit in which it was written.

There is a health condition called “broken heart syndrome.” We’ve heard about it through lore and cultural sayings, the euphemism that “she died of a broken heart”, and I personally believe I have seen it before. Is that something you believe can happen?

I don’t know, but I do believe that you can lose your life force from a broken heart, and I don’t know if that means you die, but on some level you do.

That you “lose your life force”, I don’t remember reading that in the book.  I like that phrase. Broken heart syndrome and losing your life force, both are emotional and traumatic stresses that your heart responds to in a physiological way. You can recover from it, and your heart can go back to normal with no permanent damage.  Through your book, people can re-find or re-nourish their life force back from the broken heartedness.

Yeah. And I think it starts with some kind of gentleness, some sort of relaxing, some kind of allowing.

On your website, navigating to your ABOUT page, you have a section called, “Memo from the TMI dept: 25 Random Things About Me” you mentioned your car accident. Do you want to tell me any my readers any more about that, your brush with mortality? The Part B of the question would be “are you afraid to die”, “what are your feelings on the dying process?”

Yeah, that’s a big question. So this was a long time ago now. This was like 20 years ago. I was in a bad car accident, and I’m lucky at the same time, because I mean there are people who are in terrible accidents that have head injuries, and neck injuries, and are paralyzed. But I did have damage to my internal organs, my liver…it’s called a liver fracture. My liver was lacerated, and so usually you know when that happens, you die… . you bleed to death.  Especially back then.  So,I was in intensive care for two weeks, and I don’t really remember, I don’t remember the accident. I don’t remember much about intensive care. I don’t even remember much about the six months or year before the accident. It kind of went hazy.  But I came out of it feeling not as afraid to die.  And you know, I didn’t really have one of those near-death experiences where you like go to the light.  I didn’t have that.  Or happy, I didn’t have that.  So as a Buddhist, I believe that there are stages of dying, you know even after you’re declared dead physically. There’s still a process of leaving your body, and it’s not like this “snap your fingers and you’re gone.”  So I don’t really don’t know that much about dying, because I don’t think I went very far into it. I think I maybe I touched the edge.  But what I remember feeling was…well, first, I was very unhappy.  I did not have a good near-death experience, I had a hellacious near-death experience.  I thought something really bad had happened, and this is the words I’m giving to it now. At the time, there were no words for it. But the best way I can explain it is to say, “Something really bad has happened, and I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know if I did it or if it was done to me.”  And I was in a tremendous amount of agitation with that thought. I was hit by a drunk driver. I was just sitting in a car, basically, at a stoplight. I was not doing anything. It was not “my fault,” but I just was in some sort of torment.  I remember when I was starting to wake up, my mother was with me, and she was holding my hand, and she said I was like gripping her hand really hard.  She saw me open my eyes, and she said, “Do you know where you are?” And she said I shook my head, “No, ” and then she said she doesn’t know why she said this, but she said, “You’re in the hospital. You were in a car accident, but it wasn’t your fault.”  And she said at that point I just relaxed.  My whole body…all this tension went out of my body, and honestly, I think that in some way she saved my life.  She gave me some kind of peace.  But what I ended up feeling like with death, is that you don’t really know you’re dead [laughs] . You are…you are in just some sort of transition.

Thanks for sharing all that with me, because it might not be easy, but part of my philosophy is if we just all share our stories a little bit more, it might help us serve and care for one another and ourselves as we go through the dying process.

I like that philosophy.

There’s a Native American saying that says “Today is a beautiful day to die, ”  I’ve heard it said that it means that my relationship with myself, and my relationship with other the people, and also the relationship with however I name my Source, if a person believes in a God or a Power, that those relationships are all healthy, so that as if I were to die today, all would be all right in the world.  And my question to you is, what would your beautiful last day on this earth look like to you?  How would you enjoy that?

Mmm… That’s an awesome question. I never thought about that. I would like to be with my loved ones, of course.  I would like to go to that day thinking people that I love, know that I love them, they know…they feel loved by me, and there’s no question in their mind, and I could look in their eyes and see that they knew that how loved they were by me.

That’s beautiful, beautiful.  I hear you say that the Love has been stated, It’s been said, and felt, and known so that even just by looking in their eyes, it is a truth.

Exactly. And I would want to, on my last day, on my dying day, I would want to deeply do my spiritual practice.  I would want to die doing my practice and feeling like I was departing one set of arms and moving into another set, basically.  That would be perfect.

So there’s so much written about love, so I’m just curious if you have a favorite love song, and then also your favorite heartbreak song.

Yeah, that’s an easy one, actually. My very favorite love song is called, “My One And Only Love, ” and the version that I love is by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, the singer Johnny Hartman. And it’s the best song ever. Then my favorite breakup song is “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, by Jimmy Ruffin, who was in the Temptations. That’s a great breakup song, what becomes of the broken hearted, who had love, that is now departed.  It’s just … the picture of the broken hearted wandering in this Bardo state, and this other realm, all by themselves, it’s just, it’s a great song, I just love it.

What is your philosophy of life? What brings you meaning and joy?

I think the entire point of being alive is to be alive, as fully as humanly possible.  Whatever that means to you.

Susan, thank you so much.  I just so enjoyed speaking to you heart to heart.  I love your book ::: The Wisdom of a Broken Heart ::: An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight, and Love.   I truly believe it will make a difference in people’s lives.

Thank you so much, Jennifer, I really enjoyed talking with you as well, and thank you so much for your good work. I look forward to our next conversation.


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Talking About Death: Essential Qualities

Talking about death and dying is talking about life and living!  I believe there are essential qualities to a healthy conversation about death and dying………..well……….really I believe they are the same essential qualities when having any conversation!

Drawn by User:Ngb
  • Non-judgment ::: Tolerance for the opinions and variety of ideas and beliefs that will be presented.
  • Compassion ::: Kindness and sensitivity not only for other’s attitudes, but also for ourselves as we explore the complexity of discussing life and death.
  • Honesty ::: Genuine expression of beliefs ::: not falling into cliches and societal norms when discussing aging, dying and death.
  • Active Listening ::: Attentive listening for new understandings and deeper meanings that may be expressed.
  • Flexibility ::: Not being rigid or defensive while dialoguing.  Allow for the possibility that definitions of words such as health, healing and hope, may change and grow as life evolves.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity and Paradox ::: Sometimes more questions than answers surface during conversations about death.  Recognize that life is strong and fragile; simple and complex; joyful and sorrowful.
  • Respect ::: Each individual has the right to their own decisions.  Be prepared to not state your opinion or agree to disagree respectfully.  Never force difficult conversations.  Respect should always be honored when an individual states they do not want to talk about death or dying.
  • Humor ::: Laughter is a very useful when talking about the human condition!

Talk about death and dying to inspire life and living.

Personal Growth Guru ~ David Romanelli

Dave shares insights into his philosophies of life and death……… the author of  Yeah Daves’ Guide to Livin’ the Moment…….Getting to Ecstasy through Wine, Chocolate and your iPod Playlist, I knew we’d have lots to talk about!  I really love his idea of experiencing   A Beautiful Moment ~ A Funny Moment ~ & A Delicious Moment ~ each day.    Read a very interesting recent article in the New York Times about Dave and his life’s work. Check out his website and blog ::::::: buy his book !  Dave is a personal growth guru worth following!

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