We Need To Talk About Death and Dying

I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of dying badly.

Jacqueline Dooley
9 min readOct 8, 2022


At the age of about 80, my great grandmother was admitted to a long-term care facility, the nursing home where she would spend the last year of her life. She had dementia and suffered from a seizure disorder that caused her to lose consciousness. My grandparents, suffering from their own health issues, could no longer care for her at home.

I visited my great grandmother at her nursing home at least once a month. I was 13 years old and I hated those visits. It’s been nearly 40 years since I stepped foot in that place. Thankfully, my memories of it have mostly faded. What’s left are vague, visceral impressions — the smell of urine, the cries of confused patients, the withered figures tied to their wheelchairs sitting alone in cavernous hallways.

My great grandmother’s room had seemed sad and small and inadequate, an entirely impersonal place to live out one’s last days. The hour or two I spent there each month felt endless. How could it not? I was impossibly young.

The truth of illness and aging wasn’t something I’d ever thought about. My parents, like most Boomers at the time, had started their family almost immediately after high school. They were in their mid thirties — healthy and strong. Can you blame me for thinking that youth was eternal?

The nursing home had a different story to tell. It managed, mostly, to sanitize mortality, but no amount of bleach could scrub away the truth that life inevitably ends. My great grandmother’s final home turned age into a malady and death into an unnatural process. It swallowed her up. The people there — complete strangers — dealt with the messy unraveling of her life, turning her into someone useless and faceless and forgotten.

That place scared and disgusted me. After she died, I was relieved that I didn’t have to go back there, but the bleak reality of the place haunted me. But I was 13, after all, and moving relentlessly forward into the bright sunshine of my own life.

Now, I am 51 and lately I’ve been taking stock of my mortality. I’ve become preoccupied with the possibility of a bad death. For me, this means dying in a place like my great grandmother’s nursing home — or in the…

Jacqueline Dooley

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss