Friend's graceful death inspires book on dying

Author combines compassion, advice about our certain fate Book on death mixes compassion, advice


January 11, 2001|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Pat Cochran is not afraid of death.

Cochran, a Columbia resident, is the author of the recently published "Last Rights: Taking Care with Your Final Journey" (Capital Books Inc., $22.95). The book uses inspiring stories, quotes, poems and biblical passages to tackle the weighty subject of death and dying.

Cochran knows it's a topic that most people don't like to think about.

"I said, `I am going to write a book that's going to be tender, inspirational and filled with practical information,'" Cochran said. "I know that death can be threatening, and I didn't want to prevent people from doing what they needed to do to deal with it."

Cochran, 55, seems too full of life to have earned the nickname of "Death Lady," which some friends have affectionately bestowed upon her. But it was the bonds of friendship that catapulted Cochran into her crusade to educate the public about death.

More than 10 years ago, Cochran's friend, Julia Mayo, was diagnosed with brain cancer. After her diagnosis, Cochran spent countless hours with Mayo - talking, laughing and having sleepovers.

Although she was devastated by her friend's impending death, Cochran said she found in Mayo her greatest source of strength. Rather than retreat into grief, Mayo inspired others with her courage and positive attitude, Cochran said.

"We even gave her a memorial service while she was still alive," Cochran said. "I realized that even as I was helping her, I was resisting her death. She really ended up teaching me and many others how to die gracefully." After Mayo's death at age 49 about a year later, Cochran wrote obituaries and eulogies for friends, and she became a pre-arrangement consultant with a local cemetery, helping people plan their funerals. The idea for the book grew from her desire to do more for the grief-stricken families she encountered.

"The challenge for me when I was writing this book was to get out of the way and let it happen," Cochran said. "I never felt that the book came from me - I felt that it came through me."

With chapters on everything from grief to information on handling assets and living wills, the book is equal parts handbook and inspirational guide. In addition to interviewing dozens of people, Cochran also includes personal treasures, such as a letter to her unborn grandchild.

`Book shakes us up'

Greatest source of strength

Friends say that Cochran is the type of person to approach a subject like death compassionately.

"The book shakes us up, teases us and somehow motivates and inspires us," said Gerry Love Landrum, a psychotherapist who has known Cochran more than a decade. "I know that as a culture we have been in fear and denial about death, but Pat wants us to befriend death and gain the wisdom from it now."

The Rev. Wesley C. Baker, pastor of the Kittamaqundi Community church in Columbia, provided information for the book and said he has seen many people devastated by death.

"So many people we deal with are totally unprepared because they never wanted to think about it," Baker said. "They are so desperate and helpless, and they would really have been helped if they had a book like this."

Far from being morbid, the book is realistic, Baker said.

`Death rate is 100 percent'

"The death rate is 100 percent," Baker said. "There is no way in the world that you can escape it, so you might as well deal with it positively."

Cochran - who is planning workshops based on her book - said she hopes readers also take from her book a renewed sense of life with a "mindful sense of death." That's what Cochran said she and her family have gained since the death of Mayo and other loved ones.

"It allows us to love each other best," Cochran said. "We can look at each other now and see each other's mortality."

Pat Cochran will appear at Borders Books & Music, 6151 Columbia Crossing Circle, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. today. Information: 410-290-0062.

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