The Meaning of Death and Dying

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My perspective on death and dying philosophically view life as a preparation process for death. Death and dying have remained matters of mind, body and soul. They both served merely as an end, beginning, an illusion, a test, and immutable forces of nature characterized by fear. Wood and Williamson note that not until the rise of natural sciences in the late 18th century did matters of life and death become fundamentally organic. This paper shall focus on the meaning of death and dying, anxiety and denial, death and dying awareness, and coming to terms with death and dying (Wood and Williamson, 2003).

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Individuals experience and understand death in several and different ways. Consequently, they have attributed different meanings to death and dying over time. According to Philippe Aries, a French historian death has undergone a series of gradual but discernible changes (Aries, 1981). Most of his works reflect how individuals experience and understand deaths and dying. Michael Kearl, a sociologist notes that we conceptual profoundly meaning of death, and dying in an individual’s cultural orientation. This means that any change in the quality of death and dying, or in the envisioning of them affect the entire social order (Kearl, 1989). A part from cultural meanings on death and dying, there are also religious views on death and dying. Major religions view death as a spiritual process. For instance, Christians have never lost connection death and dying. Christian faithful have always been conscious of the spiritual meaning of death and have responded to the inevitability of death with moral and prayerful disciplines of all kinds. On the other hand, Muslim Sufis view death as a reawakening for a life that offers a spectrum of opportunities, and enables one to recover awareness of one’s full identity. This group accepts death as a gift from God. By using this belief, Sufis no longer see death as a source of fear. In short, Sufis believe that we should learn what death and dying have to teach us before it is too late. Sufis believe that wisdom and knowledge we gain at death reveal the true value of life (Bregman, 2010).

Death and dying cause anxiety among people, but anxiety is a common human attribute (Hayslip, 2003). According to May, death and dying are the most obvious symbol of individual’s fear of non-existence. Many scholars note that anxiety originates from individuals’ awareness of their own mortality (May, 1950). Likewise, Becker observed that fear and anxiety of death are universal, and basis of all fears that we have as human beings. Becker concludes that human fears of death and dying are threatening, and we must defend such fears. Therefore, death and dying anxiety precede all anxiety. In this case, we should try to coexist with death (Becker, 1973). Hayslip remarks that recognizing fears and anxiety of death can help individuals improve their quality of life. Conversely, people who ignore fear and anxiety of death are most likely to experience self-deception.

We can understand death at several levels. Majority think that denial of death is an individual occurrence. However, people’s culture differs with regard to the extent in which they may deny the truth about death. People’s responses to death are to some extent, a reflection of a culture they lived, and finally died. Kearl notes that death and dying are culturally and socially constructed. In other words, people’s attitude and feeling about death and dying are part of their particular culture. This culture may include religion, language use, funeral ceremonies, and the value of the deceased. Some cultures may attach more importance to some deaths than others. For instance, the society values the death of a prominent figure than that of a street beggar. Likewise, society may value deaths caused by cancer than those resulting from reckless behavior like promiscuity and suicide.

We must always be aware of death and dying and adjust across our life span. Most of us think that their deaths are distant. This is true in cases of young adults. However, at some point in life, we must face the loss of important people in our lives. We should learn from these losses that we too will not live forever. Middle-aged persons constantly face the realities of losing friends, and parents to death. These thoughts bring death close to them. Black notes that for most old people death is almost certain. To them, the realities of deaths are almost real especially when such persons lose their loved ones (Bluck, 1993).

Robert Hansson writes that people assume that both age-related and individual differences exist in people’s awareness of death. Death and dying awareness in individuals shape the meaning they assign to life (Hansson, 1999). This implies that the meaning people attach to death can either enhance or inhibit their attention to death. These attachments and meanings may or may not change with age. Occasionally, the meaning of death may be in historical events that influence the nature of death itself and the individual’s response to it. We must note that such effects may vary from person to person with different effects on varied age groups. Some scholars identify such changes in individuals as age-normative, history-normative, and non-normative influences or developmental changes in life span.

Once individuals are aware of their death and dying they must come to terms with them. Recent studies have focused on challenges people diagnosed with life-threatening diseases experience (Sandstrom, 2003). Most of these issues are mainly psychosocial in nature. All in all, dying individuals must come to terms with issues concerning fear of isolation, rejection, feelings of shame, guilt, grief and hanger. There are also issues of radical role changes, loss of future hopes and expectations, denial of death and dying. At times, such people must also adjust to physical and emotional devastations (Baltes, 1968).

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Charles Corr developed a theory to help people come to terms with the death and dying. He looks at physical, social, psychological and spiritual areas terminally ill may experience (Corr, 2003). According to Corr, people must focus on meeting physicals. Likewise, they must also meet bodily requirements in terms of nutrition, diets and minimize pain or physical distress they may suffer. Psychological dying persons must maintain autonomy, richness and security. Dying people must fulfill the above psychological needs by being free of fear and anxiety, sustaining a sense of self-control, and must access activities that satisfy their personal lives. Dying people must enhance social relations they value, work closely with social groups of family and friends. Lastly, dying persons must grapple with the issues of spirituality. They must do this by maintaining a sense of integrity and wholeness, and finding means to sustain a sense of hope.

References

Aries, P. (1981). The Hour of Our Death. New York: Alfred Knopf Publication.

Baltes, P. (1968). Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Sequences in the Study of Age and Generation Effects. Human Development, 11, 71-145.

Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.

Bluck, S. (1993). Understanding Death and Dying From a Life Span Perspective. Gerontologist, 55, 72-101.

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Bregman, L. (2010). Religion, Death, and Dying: Perspectives on Dying and Death, Vol. 1. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Corr, C. (2003). Death and Dying, Life and Living, 4th edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Hansson, R. (1999). The Impact of Bereavement on Families. End of Life Issues, 40, 99–118.

Hayslip, B. (2003). Death Denial: Hiding and Camouflaging Death. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Kearl, M. C. (1989). Endings: A Sociology of Death and Dying. New York: Oxford University Press.

May, R. (1950). The Meaning of Anxiety. New York: Ronald Publishing.

Sandstrom, K. (2003). On Coming to Terms with Death and Dying: Neglected Dimensions of Identity Work. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Wood, W. and Williamson, J. (2003). Historical Changes on Meaning of Death. Death in the Western Tradition, 2, 14-24.

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