"You know, people think dying is some big bad thing. I disagree."
It's not likely most people can approach their death as positively as did a woman named Vetris when she made that comment to Fran Moreland Johns while the author was a Hospice volunteer. But Vetris was one who first showed Ms. Johns that death is something one can embrace.
The examples of Vetris and others the veteran writer witnessed led her to the interviews and collection of these stories of individuals -- not just those nearing the end of their antic- ipated lifespan but also of children and adults in what they had expected to be midlife -- who faced death without fear, inspiring those about them.
Fran Johns is not a medical, religious or social-work professional working in the field of death and dying. She is a skilled interviewer and compassionate storyteller with whom the reader will immediately identify. The stories here speak clearly to the reader: "She's writing for me."
The stories of Dying Unafraid came from people who did just that. The first such stories are of people who were friends of Fran Johns. Then came the stories of people she says she would have treasured as friends.
They are not the stories of "celebrities" familiar from TV and periodicals. They are stories of "ordinary people" in the best sense of that phrase. A few -- the writer/activist Jessica Mitford, the naturalist/writer Sigurd Olson, the artists Isabel Bishop, Moses Soyer and Leo Calapai among them -- have names that may be familiar. All are individuals who could have been a relative, a neighbor or a friend of the reader.
Tough questions of the day such as the issues of self-deliverance and physician-hastened death, as well as what rights individuals have in retaining control over their own lives when those lives are ending, are addressed through the stories of individuals who have confronted these issues.
"This isn't a chicken soup of inspiration tales, it's a thick stew of subtle and lasting flavors. There are lessons here...", Helen Beum wrote in the Compassion in Dying newsletter. "The people in Dying Unafraid understand a great deal, and you will too after you read their stories. You will be intrigued and comforted, and you might even be changed."
Dying Unafraid is a timely, touching book, an inspiring read for those confronting death -- whether their own or that of a loved one -- and by all who are caught up in the complex surrounding issues.
Fran Moreland Johns, born in Brazil to American educational-missionary parents, grew up in Virginia and spent her adult life in the Southeast until 1992, when she switched coasts and moved to San Francisco. She wrote for magazines and newspapers in Richmond, Atlanta and Florida while doing extensive volunteer work with the elderly and chronically ill. In California Ms. Johns has worked with a number of AIDS-related causes while her writing has focused on Dying Unafraid and an awakened interested in short fiction. Among places where her work has appeared have been Parenting and Literal Latte, where her short story "Eddie Rakeleaves" was a 1997 fiction award winner.
Maureen Redl, Director, Voices of Healing, Mill Valley, California: "Fran Johns has a gift for portraying this important subject in a way that lets us see it in a new light. Her writing is intriguing. These stories of laughter and tears, choices and forgiveness make for wonderful reading."
$17.95 Hardcover, 180 pages