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Death & Dying
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Death and Dying Introduction
Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us fear death. Death remains a great mystery, one of the central issues with which religion and philosophy and science have wrestled since the beginning of human history. Even though dying is a natural part of existence, American culture is unique in the extent to which death is viewed as a taboo topic. Rather than having open discussions, we tend to view death as a feared enemy that can and should be defeated by modern medicine and machines. Our language reflects this battle mentality, we say that people "combat" illnesses, or (in contrast) "fall victim" to them after a "long struggle." Euphemistic language also gives us distance from our discomfort with death. People who die are "no longer with us", have "passed", gone "to meet their Maker", “bought the farm”, “kicked the bucket", and so on.

Some of the discomfort with the death and dying process has come about because death has been removed from common experience. Typically, we no longer die at home surrounded by family and friends, but in hospitals and other health care facilities. Out of the approximately 6,500 people who die in the U.S. every day, only 1200 die at home. This lack of personal experience with death and dying only adds to our sense of trepidation and fear.

It is human nature to try to avoid things we fear. Because we are afraid, we tend to avoid thinking about our own mortality. It is time to adjust our thinking. We live in a unique era. Thanks to medical advances in defeating sudden causes of death such as heart attacks and strokes, more of us are dying of so-called "incremental" (slower moving) illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and diabetes. As a result, many have been given the gift of time and the ability to shape their death and dying process. Many of us now have the luxury of expressing and recording medical care and financial wishes in advance. In addition, we can address interpersonal (e.g., saying goodbye, forgiving old hurts) and spiritual issues (e.g., finding meaning in life) before we die.

The following paper is designed to provide you with information about how to prepare in advance for your own death, as well as how to help someone you love that is dying. We also discuss grieving and some pointers for those that are left behind to continue living. We hope that this information can take away some of the anxiety caused by the unknown, and allow you to find a way to die a good death, or help someone you love have the same experience.

 

"The act of dying is one of the acts of life."

Marcus Aurelius

"Thinking and talking about death need not be morbid; they may be quite the opposite. Ignorance and fear of death overshadow life, while knowing and accepting death erases this shadow."

Lily Pincus- British social worker and psychotherapist

 

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