For the past five years, Sally Nevius has spent a good 20 hours a week thinking and talking about death. She is part of a group of up to 15 people who get together every Tuesday to discuss issues connected with diseases that threaten their lives or their relatives' lives.

Once a fourth-grade teacher and dean at Mount Vernon College, she is now what is called a "caring volunteer" at the St. Francis Center, which deals with the critically ill. She is also a volunteer with a national organization called We Can Do, which brings together survivors of catastrophic illnesses and people who are struggling with diseases such as cancer.

"My work is never depressing," she says. "Sad, yes. Tiring, sometimes. But I go out of there with a high. I see a lot of healing taking place." The people she works with share information about medical options, write their obituaries ("There is more laughing than crying," she says) and discuss keeping a journal -- particularly a journal of dreams. The objective is to talk out disturbing thoughts.

Nevius also does follow-up visits ("Just being there and listening helps," she says), counsels with relatives ("Relatives feel guilty") and attends workshops on death and dying ("There are always far more people showing up than expected").

"The essence of what we are doing is a celebration of life," she says. "A walk with death cuts through all the fluff. You see the heart exposed. When I am with them I realize that other things are unimportant."