Is death a part of life?

Death as part of life: Johanna Klug is a dying companion

When she is with her, the 26-year-old meets many different people. And yet every encounter is always something special, because: “The dying are often teachers for life,” she explains. Johanna remembered one person in particular: a young woman in her early 30s who was badly marked by a facial tumor. “I saw her in music therapy, where she sang despite a tracheotomy. And she put so much joy into it, that was overwhelming, ”says Johanna. She immediately feels connected to the woman, gets to know her. Then the farewell comes. But this is not forever. The woman is allowed to go home, it looks good for her. Many chance encounters follow, all of them open, without a final farewell. “At some point she was back in the palliative care unit, which took me by surprise,” explains Johanna. Her tumor has grown and eaten away at her face. “That's when I realized what power a disease can have over us,” she says. The woman is getting worse every day. She is at the mercy of her illness. Johanna visits her one last time, sits down by her bed and tells her everything that is still on her mind. “I held her hand and cried. And then all of a sudden she pulled my hand to her heart and smiled, ”she says. Johanna confirms this moment in her work. A few days later the woman dies.

Studying death: The "Perimortal Sciences" course at the University of Regensburg

Death in art and the media, dealing with grief or life after death in the Bible - these are topics that the "Perimortal Sciences" course at the University of Regensburg deals with. Since this winter semester it is possible to do a master’s degree in this subject. Dying is viewed in an interdisciplinary manner, including philosophical and theological considerations. If you want to know more about the course, you can find information here.

Then there is Sarah, also a special meeting for Johanna. The girl suffers from the rare disease of child dementia. In doing so, she gradually loses her mental and physical abilities. She could live to be 30 or older, but her life is difficult. "Sarah is now 13, but mentally on the same level as a five-year-old," explains Johanna. She smiles when she talks about Sarah. “She always calls me Radish Head and has a very childlike view of death. I admire this lightness in her, ”she says.

With the care for the dying and the many special encounters, Johanna lets death into her life. As a result, she loses the fear of dying. She decides to live her life to the full and live in the here and now. “Because it could be over at any moment, anytime, anywhere. And we have to become aware of this finitude so that we stop wasting our lives, ”she says. This also means that we admit to being able to be a child again from time to time. “Like Sarah,” she adds.

Talking openly about dying

This is how Johanna finds her mission: She wants to remove the taboo on death. She wants people to speak openly about dying. "For example, also on Sundays with a coffee, because how else should others know how we die and want to be buried if we don't address it," she emphasizes.

That's why the Regensburg woman by choice calls her blog into life. For this, she speaks to celebrities like Jürgen Vogel about how they would like to die. She writes texts on sometimes banal topics such as eating and drinking at the end of life and reports on her experiences in the palliative care unit. With this, Johanna wants to offer a contact point for people who are confronted with death. “I want to show that dying is something everyday and not something to be afraid of,” she explains.

In December two years ago, Johanna heard about a new course on dying that was to be set up at the University of Regensburg. Johanna applies and is accepted. As a doctoral student, the 26-year-old helps build it up over a year and a half. She sees this as another way of spreading the subject of death in society.

Not a taboo subject

According to her, the corona pandemic also shows that this is necessary. “There is such a great fear of death in Germany. We could handle it much better if we weren't in such a panic about dying, ”she says. Other countries are much further along. Death is no longer a taboo subject there. On the contrary: “In Africa, for example, they celebrate a funeral much larger than a wedding,” she says. “You deal with it much more loosely and don't run away from death,” she explains. She would like that for Germany as well. She knows from her many encounters with the dying: "If we give dying a place in our life, only then do we really live."