Death & Loss: Death Unites Us All (1 of 8)

We all know (rationally) that death is inevitable, yet the death of a loved one can deeply shatter us. In this article, we closely look at what death means to us and try to understand and appreciate life through the lens of death.

Why do modern societies celebrate birth and mourn death?

dead leaves
Death is part of nature, yet why does it overwhelm us?

Traditional societies were closely connected with nature’s continuous cycles of birth-growth-decay-death, and marked these rites of passage with specific and well-established rituals and sacraments.

Modern society seems to have lost this close contact with these natural cycles. Perhaps the  attitude to death is affected by one’s ego, which, inflated by standing atop Earth’s food chain, overvalues life’s pleasures and its own existence, fantasizing about immortality.

Or, more likely, the fear of death is really about one’s fundamental fear of transition – of leaving behind the known to enter an unknown realm. It is also the fear of the very process of dying; and most importantly, the fear of seeing loved ones suffer and die eventually.

Two Types Of Loss

For the person who is confronting death, there are two types of loss:

  • Mourning what is already lost (health, family role, job, independence etc.) and
  • Mourning the future loss of possibilities and plans that have to be abandoned.

So while biologically, one is dealing with death, psychologically, one is dealing with loss.

Shh
It’s not ok to talk about dying

Fear also creates and reinforces social taboos (‘Hush, don’t talk about such things dear …’) and the very same fear is amplified a hundredfold when the majority of people so instantaneously associate early death with the word ‘cancer.’

So it is even more relevant for people with cancer, confronting their own mortality, to be able to discuss their feelings openly and to face the prospect calmly, maybe even with a sense of anticipation.

Rationally of course, people know that dying is an integral part of life and that each and every one of us will eventually die. People have known this from the time they were children, when death was only a concept, through adulthood, when they know death to be an inevitable fact. Yet fear overwhelms reason, both individually and collectively.

Death Brings a Focus to Life

Instead of allowing you to remain preoccupied with the mundane trivia of daily existence, death forces the existential questions upon you, questions like ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘What is life all about?’ People with serious illnesses necessarily have to examine the questions of non-existence earlier than others. A person with cancer gets to ask, answer and act on the big questions sooner, and this can be an enriching process.

Reflection

  • How do you look at death in general and death of a loved one in particular?
  • How does your perception of death affect the way you look at and live your life?
  • Like death, many aspects of life are beyond your control. What can you do make life more meaningful?

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1: Death Unites Us All Traditional societies were closely connected with nature’s continuous cycles of birth-growth-decay-death, and marked these rites of passage with specific and well-established rituals and sacraments. Modern society seems to have lost this close contact with these natural cycles.
Part 2: Five Stages of Grieving Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject of death, describes the four stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Depression that people pass through when coping with any severe loss, including their own death.
Part 3: Cancer’s Five Shocks With cancer, there are five major ‘shocks’ that a person/ his family has to deal with.
Part 4: What Actually Happens at the Time of Death Caring for a dying person, especially at home can be difficult and daunting.
Part 5: Top Five Regrets of the Dying Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five.
Part 6: How to Die Before You Die Perhaps the most exciting and empowering aspect of death is that it resets your clock to zero. By sharply ending what has gone before, it creates space for a new beginning – a rebirth of sorts.
Part 7: Quotes We share some quotations (compiled by Arun Wakhlu) on the subject of Death
Part 7: Video (When I Die) How do we approach death whilst embracing life? How can we change the conversation around death and palliative care for the terminally ill?

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