Synopses & Reviews
The author of "How They Met" now offers a heartfelt exploration of loss as unsentimental as it is moving. Sharing her own moments of mourning, she encourages readers to talk about and accept death.
About the Author
For the past decade, Nancy Cobb has interviewed artists, writers, and poets in print and on public radio. The author of How They Met, she grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and divides her time between Connecticut and New York City.
Reading Group Guide
The questions for discussion are intended to enhance your reading of Nancy Cobb's In Lieu of Flowers
. We hope that this guide provides many angles from which to explore the complex experience of loss.
With the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of an old soul, Nancy Cobb meets death in the most vital of places: in the lives of everyday people. In doing so, she has found a way to infuse this darkest of subjects with light and wit. In Lieu of Flowers proves that what makes us cry can also make us laugh, what depresses us can also enlighten us. Cobb's candor and refreshing perspective make the deaths of those she has loved--and death itself--a subject to explore rather than to avoid.
Cobb's personal experiences become a point of departure for what amounts to a longer conversation about loss. She shares moments of her own mourning and draws others into the conversation as well: among them, a bank teller who still dreams of her deceased grandmother, two small children who bury a wild bird in its final nest beneath a maple tree, and a hospice nurse who acts like an end-of- life midwife. Presented naturally, each anecdote is delivered in a true, clear voice rather than the hushed tones that too often accompany words of consolation. In telling her stories Cobb opens us up to our own, and she encourages us to accept and honor the "divine intersections" where the living meet the dying.
Candid, powerful and enlightening, this is an extraordinary treatment of one of the most ordinary and difficult experiences of life.
1. Why are we--particularly in American culture--so afraid of death?
2. What has best prepared you--a person, a book, a theologian, etc.--to speak openly about the subject of mourning (whether your own sorrow or another's), or not at all?
3. For those who have lost someone you love, what gave you comfort? Who was most helpful/empathic, and why?
4. How did you grieve? Was the end-of-life experience (with the person who died) open and honest? Did you conceal feelings to "protect" him/her, yourself? Were you able to express yourself, or do you still feel regretful over "what could have been said" or "what shouldn't have been said"?
5. If the death was accidental and unexpected--i.e., with no time to say goodbye--how did you cope? What gave you comfort? What is your deepest regret? How has your grief changed with the passage of time?
6. Based on your own experience, what would you advise others to do vis-à-vis funeral arrangements, living wills, healthcare, and the other important preparations that are often neglected until the last moment?
7. Imagine your own deathbed. How would you like it to be? Describe the setting you hope for, the people who are with you, the final things you might say to your family and friends.
8. Were you ever at a funeral that you found to be impersonal, inappropriate, or not at all true to the person who died? Why? How would you change it, in retrospect? And the "best" funeral--what was that like?
9. Are you afraid to die? Were your parents? Are your friends? Have you ever talked about these issues with the people you love?
10. How do you feel about talking to children about death? When do you tell kids that a loved one has passed away? What's the best way to discuss it?
11. What are the best films and books that deal with death?
12. After someone you loved died, did you experience any unusual happenings or events? Sightings or dreams?
13. In thinking about your own death, what do you most fear?
14. Why is there such a collective and vocal outpouring of grief around a celebrity's death (Diana, JFK Jr., etc.), and often such a subdued response to deaths "closer to home"?
15. If you found out your wife/husband/mother/ father/child/etc. were going to die tomorrow, what would you say or do?
16. If you found out you had a year to live, what would you change, if anything?