Atti tudes Toward Dying and Death
Death is a topic of importance to us all. It is an event that will happen to each of us. The statistics of death are very convincing: one out of one die. In spite of this, there tends to be a conspiracy of silence surrounding the topic of death. Perhaps this is because most of us would rather not be reminded of our ultimate demise. What is this phenomenon of death? As clever as man is, he is powerless. He may postpone death, relieve its physical pains; he may rationalize it away or deny its very existence; but he can’t escape it (Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 1958). Dying. Death. Die. Dead. These words are so easy to pronounce and so difficult to say. Since they are so difficult to say, we often say them in very strange ways. C. W. Wahl (1959), a researcher in the field of dying and death, claims that most people are unable to handle death anxiety. He says that we do not even refer to death as death, but instead use elaborate euphemisms such as “passed away,” “passed on,” or “departed.” He also adds the sole purpose of the funeral industry is to shield us from the dull realities of death’s presence. We preserve the corpse to make it look as if it is sleeping. He concludes that we identify ourselves with religious and philosophical systems of beliefs which affirm that death is not death at all, but is really a brief transition between one existence and another. Death is a forbidden subject for ordinary conversation. Many people feel an awkward sense of nervous discomfort when such a topic is raised. Were we always reluctant to speak about death? All throughout our lives we have tried not to think about death. Even the media sheltered us to some extent. Nobody died or had cancer-they “passed away” after a “prolonged illness.” The educational system also sheltered us. We completed our early school years without being exposed to readings and discussions about dying and death. Going to college may have given us some information about the subject, but it certainly did not provide us with knowledge on how to cope with death-related situations. Can you imagine being a nurse or doctor and not having to take a course in dying and death? Even those of us who specialize in providing human services were never prepared to understand our own death-related feelings and attitudes let alone others. It was through our personal experiences that we gained knowledge and the desire to share with others. To think about death is still difficult when our personal lives and relationships are involved. Our attitudes toward life and death are challenged when a person close to us dies. Avoiding the subject of death has proven to be very ineffective. People continue to die. We are concerned about how they died. We continue to grieve. We lack support from others. We were told that by attempting to evade the reality of death, we were falsifying the totality of our lives (Feifel, 1959). Feifel added that neither an individual nor a society could face its challenges wisely without coming to terms with mortality. He challenged society to recognize and overcome its longstanding “death taboo.” Ten years later, Elisabeth Khbler-Ross (1969) reported that we can and must relate to the dying person as a person. The hospice movement emerged soon after to strengthen her report. Courses in dying and death were being offered and even the media discussed dying, death, and grief. It wasn’t long after that when health care professionals and scientists began participating in the death awareness movement.