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Talk About Death

Finding the right words.

Winding Down

There can be moments of surprising bluntness. Elinor Sheldon, Roberta's niece, told her aunt that a family member was going to buy Roberta new pajamas. Roberta's reply: "She can buy me the pajamas to be cremated in."

As death approaches, words become less important, according to hospice workers; touch and silence become more meaningful. For Roberta's family, music remained vital. Sheldon had tried to talk to Roberta about the differences they'd had and was rebuffed. Finally, she had the conversation she'd wanted by singing "Amazing Grace" to her aunt, who lay in bed, close to death. "I wasn't sure I could do it, but I did," she says. "I felt she could hear me. She squeezed my hand."

Jane Meredith Adams has written for WebMD, Health, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She lives in San Francisco.

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