"They may have different values about how direct to be (when talking about death and dying)," Witt said. "Many people grow up and are taught that death isn't talked about. Children are told (the family member) 'took a trip' or 'went to a better place.' That itself sometimes reflects a difficulty with dealing with the reality of death."
Witt said it's important to let the grieving or dying person know that you are ready to talk whenever they are -- an expression that allows the person to feel they have control over that aspect of their lives.
"It's OK to say you are having a hard time and don't know what to say but you want to talk about it," he said. "Sometimes people who are dying are waiting (for you to say something) and need permission to talk about it."
At times a family member and friend will regret that they didn't say goodbye, express their love or ask for forgiveness before the death of a loved one. Witt said this was an important consideration of those personally affected by the terroristic attacks on the East Coast less than a week ago.
"Sometimes we have control over the ability to be with someone and would choose the opportunity to be there, but many times people are not allowed to do this. " The crisis brings up how little control we have. So to expect you should have done it differently is a useless burden. " (Seek) forgiveness and learning from the opportunity rather than feeling bad about things you didn't do."
So what is the bottom line: How do you get the conversation started?
"Thoughtfully," Witt offered.
-- Features-arts editor Jan Biles can be reached at 832-7146.