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The Reality of the Subject of Death

by Cathy Coombs 4 months ago in family
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Conversations about death are hard

The Reality of the Subject of Death
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.--C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Does your family have open discussions about death?

Most of us are aware of the joy in life, especially watching a newborn in the arms of first-time parents. We embrace the subject of life. 

We don't like to deal with the subject of death until we have that first-time experience.

My first experience with death was the loss of a grandparent (my dad's mother) who lived two states away. That experience began by watching how my parents dealt with the loss. Even when one of my mom's closest friends committed suicide, it wasn't discussed, but I could see how the shock affected my mom.

My challenging losses were when I lost both my parents. To procrastinate on the sad effects after losing our dad, I asked my brother, "Does this mean we're orphans now?" even though I was trying to dress grief by stretching for awkward humor.

Our parents never talked to us about death and dying. They never talked to us too much about living either really. There are only two pieces of advice that cling to me. After my mom had her stroke, she said, "make sure you live." That was significant. When I was young, during dinner once I said, " I hate peas." Dad said, "never say hate because that's a strong word." He was right and now I love peas and I avoid that word.

By Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

I have learned the definition of death changes over time.

Let's talk about death more often

Being told death is a part of life, or that it's a fact of life doesn't seem to be enough to lay the groundwork for death. I know we have educational resources to help with that. When we experience a death, we have counselors prepared to address grief. We have hospice care for terminally ill patients. We have resources related to suicidal tendencies to reach out to.

Movies cover the topic of death. We have daily news reports of death-related circumstances around the world. When death isn't near, the anxiety of it doesn't affect us.

Should parents have discussions with their children about death? Should they wait until a family member dies?

By Diane Picchiottino on Unsplash

We don't like to be reminded of our mortality.

In society, there are spiritually-minded people and people embracing religious belief systems. Experiencing loss helps strengthen coping skills. A more meaningful definition of life grows too. Comfort methods help people when death occurs as well as help them deal with the fear. It also helps them believe there's some kind of life after death, or that they will see their loved ones again.

We don't like to think of our mortality. We have to learn how to discuss our fears. It takes a long time for people to be open about their emotions on death. The ability to talk about it more should evolve, but not without facing the fear of death.

There are so many questions associated with death -

1. How did the person die?

2. Why did that person die?

3. Who was the person in your life that died?

4. Do we really go somewhere after we die?

5. Did he die alone?

By Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

Hospice staff and medical personnel are angels on earth.

We may procrastinate on talking about death, but there are other things that also need to be considered like burial plans and finances that have to be in order. How do we want to alleviate these burdens from our surviving family members?

When my brother and I had to look into facilities that assisted with end-of-life care for my dad, every sentence alternated with a question. This process helped us understand the compassionate purpose of these facilities and the level of care provided. We met a lot of amazing people! We made the time to meet with people at a funeral home. It was a necessary role. And sorting belongings in my dad's house was hard. You see, my parents had never dealt with the subject of death.

Also, as difficult as it may sound, when you are the main family caregiver, you seem to instinctively know how to step up and help others cope with their losses. Unexpected deaths, including suicides, can occur to anyone. And, death will occur to all of us. There is a lot of good information online associated with helping someone who's grieving.

How many times do you hear, TOMORROW IS NOT A PROMISE?

The truth is, it's true. We all have different ways of looking at death. Some people believe in an afterlife, while others do not.

We need to curb ourselves from believing that death is scary and unpleasant, and dark and gloomy.

We need to address our fears of pain-related deaths and know that death isn't something that just occurs to the aged.

By Mark Timberlake on Unsplash

Fortunately, we have positive options to help us

More people turn to hospice for help. They have staff and counselors who help people deal with grief. They help you in a peaceful quiet room. And when a loved one is lost, there are staff members who reach out to you just to check on how you're doing. There are even advocates at a hospital to help.

Do we need to be trained from an early age that death is a natural part of our lives to help lessen the anxiety of dying as we mature?

When faced with a terminal illness, we should be afforded the opportunity to die where we wish when the quality of life has diminished. It's not always possible to have what we want, but the right to die when death is indeed imminent should be a considered option for us.

By Eli Solitas on Unsplash

Have funeral practices changed in the United States?

Some attitudes and customs still hold true in certain societies relating to funeral practices in American society's social construction. For example, we still commit to emotional display in both private and public settings when a death has occurred. Because we seem to treat death as a concept, some of us still protect children from attending funerals. A child, then, may not be able to see the funeral as a natural event, but more of a social occurrence. I am guilty of not allowing my children at a younger age to attend a funeral. And perhaps it was because I would then have to have a discussion about grief.

We still wear black to funerals, although it's a pattern that some are breaking. Some religious sects see deaths with their accompanying funerals as celebrations of the lives of the deceased. The Muslims, for example, do not believe in embalming or dissecting. The body is treated sacredly by washing it and covering it with a shroud.

The Hindus believe that pure water placed in the mouth of the deceased washes away sins and they mourn for 13 days. The Jewish also wash the body and dress it in a shroud and do not believe in embalming. They don't believe in cremation or autopsies and perform no wakes or visitations.

Most people in American society are buried in cemeteries. If the deceased left instructions with surviving family members or friends, those wishes are to be carried out accordingly. A person, while still alive, is given the choice to donate body organs upon death. Based upon their religious beliefs, if there are any, the funeral can be planned around that belief system. The body is always treated with respect.

We are conditioned to visit the markers at cemeteries of a lost loved one. This has assisted as a healing tool to cope with the loss. We want to preserve and memorialize the death of a family member that we could never begin to prepare for.

Preparation of the body and other procedural requirements

If there is a visitation or a funeral service, there is the preparation of the body. At a visitation, there is either an open or closed casket viewing that usually occurs. If cremation occurs, there is sometimes a memorial service. The funeral home prepares the death certificate. The certificate is then sent to the state for certification. The funeral home carries out the wishes of the family at a cost.

The position of the body in the casket and the position it's placed in the cemetery is a consideration. Some societies believe the body returns to the fetal position, wrapped, and placed on its side. This applies to either burial or cremation. Cremation serves to some the belief that upon burning, the soul and spirit leave the body. Noteworthy, more people choose cremation because it is less costly.

The funeral home plays a big role in helping coordinate plans. Obituaries are an option to appear in the newspaper. They can also appear on an online site with a place for written condolences.

Our cemeteries hold people of different cultures, races, and religions. We have people buried underground and above ground. If you don't want to work with a family-owned funeral home, there are corporation-owned ones. There are price lists available to the public for the awareness of the costs.

There is also the factor of time for all these events to occur. Then you have what some people say is the necessary six months time for the grieving process. Some people believe closure can't start until that time frame passes. I do believe time softens the sadness of a loss, but I don't support that a "closure" takes place - only that time softens the loss.

There's the healthy approach that life continues to move forward. It is seldom a fast process. In college, I took a stress management class. A discussion included the top stressors affecting longevity. The ability to deal with the loss of a loved one was in the top 10. That has always stuck with me and why thoughts of my parents still walk with me.

By Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

How do you grieve?

Each person grieves in a way that is right for that individual. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve. Has society played any role in how someone is to grieve?

The way we grieve can also be dependent on how we saw a loss occur.

Do we draw on the information we received since birth? When we grow up, we see media presentations and family conversations about grieving. These experiences can bring about certain attitudes and feelings. We will also draw upon religious beliefs if any.

If we do not accept death as a reality, we will have anxieties to deal with as we age. If we don't grieve, we will contend with sorrow we continue to bury.

Our culture plays a major role in the way we respond to death because it has fed our minds since birth. At a life stage, questions begin about whether there's an afterlife.

Not every person has strong coping skills to deal with loss. Any distraction can be a temporary cure for denying loss. A person can become very over-productive to avoid thinking about the loss. A form of self-medication such as drinking might start.

It's easy to put on a mask that says everything's fine when in truth it is not. I know that's possible because I've worn that mask.

How a person reacts or responds is also dependent upon how he or she can cope with other forms of stress. It's not just an emotional reaction, but it's physical as well. Unhealthy grieving can affect a person's well-being if the condition goes unnoticed. The way we grieve is also dependent upon how close we were to the person we lost. For example, losing a parent or a child is two of the greatest losses we can experience.

I am not a "clock" person, so I do not take the view that there is a time certain in which a person has to experience grief. If it takes five years, then it takes five years. Sometimes you can have the strongest emotional support system, and it can take a long time to ease the pain of loss. Sometimes people need to resort to counseling. The saddest scenario would be when a person feels there is no one at all to be there when necessary.

Further, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. That is the mind's way of telling the person that something isn't quite right. It might help a person from developing unhealthy habits. It might even help a person from contemplating committing suicide due to a loss. Preventing an unhealthy situation is what a support system or counselor is for.

It took me years to grieve the loss of my mom because I believed she would always be with us. I handled grief in a different manner when I lost my dad because I played an important role during his illness and care for two years. I also had the role of being a strong family member.

If we lose one parent, we need to help watch the well-being of the surviving parent. We have to have information to guide us in what we are experiencing, especially when it's an unexpected occurrence that could lead to what's known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

We have to have a family that supports us, a job that supports us, and a society that wants to be kept well informed on how to handle loss which will, in turn, support us.

Disclaimer: This content is based on experience and thought. This content is not intended to represent medical advice that should come from a qualified provider.


About the author

Cathy Coombs

Earning a B.A. in English Journalism & Creative Writing confirmed my love of literature. I believe every living experience is tied to language. I can't imagine a day without reading or writing. Website:

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