Etiquette & superstition: interactions with a dying person

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According to a New York Times interview with the artist of the painting above, Jack the black monkey was owned by an 18th century British ambassador to Italy. Jack’s owner noted in correspondence that he (Jack, not the ambassador) enjoyed enemas and grabbing the genitals of young boys. Perhaps it is no surprise that there are no companions at his bedside as he joins the choir invisible.

ETIQUETTE: When you are talking or writing a letter to a dying person, it is important that you try to find out whether the person knows and accepts whether they are dying. If they do not know, insist on using euphemisms or are not willing to accept their impending departure, you need to go along with that. Now is not the time to get into a new argument.

Start working on making your peace with the dying if you need to, let them wrap up their own loose ends, accept gifts they wish to bestow on you. Err on the side of making amends rather than expressing brutal honesty, but don’t say anything or make any promises that you would regret if the person weren’t dying. Sometimes people make amazing recoveries.

If you can’t think of anything to say to a dying person, just hold their hand.

SUPERSTITION: If a dying person’s last words are your name, you’re probably the next on your way to the pearly gates. If a dying person hits or bites you, you have to hit or bite them reciprocally if you don’t want to die yourself. Go ahead and get them back real good; a dying man’s tears are a good headache cure.

Image of “Jack On His Deathbed” by Walton Ford provided by La Petite Claudine on Flickr

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