Only Human | Podcast Review | December 14, 2015 | By

Only Human: “Let’s Talk about Death”

Death, what makes us human.

This week’s episode essentially dissipated all of my previous qualms about the recent direction of the podcast. It’s not even like this week’s episode was anything necessarily biological or empirically public health related. But, as per my obsessive phase in middle school when I voraciously devoured any and all books related to Greek mythology, awareness of our own mortality is part of what makes us human. The topic is perfectly fitting of a podcast dedicated to the trials and tribulations of being only human.

To summarize, host Mary Harris interviews Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates. Bishop Coates has been preaching for 50 years, and has been attempting to alter the way that death is viewed, particularly in the black community. Bishop Coates is faced with many obstacles. First, the topic of death is considered completely taboo: a discussion of death is like inviting death to enter the household. Second, a discussion of anything hospice/hospital related is ill received due to the well-justified fear of the medical world. Bishop Coates cited specific rumors of doctors effectively kidnapping black pedestrians in order to kill them, ‘study their anatomy,’ and find an illness. Similarly, the infamous Tuskeegee Study, a 40-year long horrid, unethical study in which doctors completely falsified information about an experiment to the patients that was to study “untreated syphilis in the Negro Male,” impacted trust between the medical world and the black community. What’s also appalling is the fact that the reprehensible manner in which the study was conducted wasn’t even acknowledged by the United States Government until an apology was issued by President Clinton in 1997. Absolutely wild.

Bishop Coates is so motivated to create dialogue during her sermons because of experiences with the deaths of both her first and second husbands (can you imagine?). In the case of her first marriage, they had not discussed logistics following a potential sudden death. Unfortunately, her husband suffered from a sudden brain hemorrhage, and she had to make serious decisions based on what she thought her husband would want. She doesn’t wish that pressure on anybody. During her second marriage, she and her husband had an open dialogue about his wishes, and she felt much more at peace with the proceedings of his death. This is the exact kind of dialogue she is trying to encourage among loved ones during her sermons.

This episode discusses a rather morbid topic in an enjoyable manner. I was absolutely impressed with the frank candor of both Bishop Coates and Mary Harris, neither of whom shied away from the difficult questions and conversations. In short, the episode was a (surprisingly, given the title) pleasant 25-minutes that might influence some conversation topics with loved ones over the holidays.

Side note about the format of the episode: I do wish that the producers and editors had kept up with the “weird health habit” submissions from listeners. I totally get that there’s an entire episode to speak to it, but I just think the continuity of such a comical topic would have been awesome!

About the Author

Annie Ungrady is a writer at Audiologue, where she writes a weekly column called Podcast Perusal with her impressions of classic podcast and radio episodesYou can email her at

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