The End: Death as Part of the Life Story


  • Susan Bluck
  • Emily L. Mroz


This article is a tribute to James Birren (1918-2016), a pioneer in Gerontology. Among his many contributions was the development of Guided Autobiography (Birren & Deutchman, 1991). This structured reminiscence technique includes various themes, but innovatively, explores life experience with death as a key component of individuals’ lives. Inspired by his recognition of death as part of life, we provide a conceptualization for further consideration of death as part of the life story. We suggest two central ways in which this occurs: (i) while individuals are alive, others’ endings become part of their continuing life story, and (ii) part of being human is that we all die. The fact that humans know that their story will one day end may affect what they do and the stories they tell about their lives well before-hand. Empirical research from our own lab is woven with extant literature to support our conceptualization of death as part of the life story.