Understanding Death and Dying: Societal Assumptions

| By Casa de la Luz
In this series of conversations about the challenges and opportunities that the final chapters of life present, I will discuss basic information and some insights I have gained regarding the complex landscape that is end of life.  It is important to contextualize the individual’s experience of dying within the framework of the family, community, and society.  As people are exposed to the complexities of the legal system, the medical field, their own unique family dynamics, and the continual and dramatic changes that the body is subject to, knowledge helps to reduce suffering and fear.  Over the next several months, I will explore legal and ethical issues, the dying process, complex family dynamics, pain management, grief and loss, and caregiving challenges.
To begin the series, it is helpful to identify a few powerful societal assumptions and norms that influence how we think and feel about the dying process.  There is an unexamined myth regarding death—that death is an unnatural enemy to be held at bay at all costs.  There are many factors that contribute to our society’s denial of death, such as medical technology that prolongs life, the cult of beauty and youth, which is afraid to acknowledge death as a natural part of the life cycle, and the distorted depiction of death in video games, TV, and movies.
Part of the work of the hospice movement is to provide the information and tools to support and awaken individuals, families, communities, and our society at large to the importance and inherent meaning of the passage through the end of life.  Hospices offer the gifts of humane and individualized care, taking responsibility for the safety, comfort, and day-to-day management of patients and their loved ones as the dying process unfolds.  Hospices also are a resource for health care providers, hospitals, care facilities, and caregivers.  They offer information and knowledge that help empower us all to care for one another in a time of vulnerability and great need.
Next month, I’ll discuss planning ahead for the end of life. I’ll address the legal, ethical, healthcare issues that families should discuss and decide upon together. I will offer tips for promoting open, honest, heartfelt conversations with all those involved in the decisions and the implementation of the care plans.
Over this series of conversations, you and I will explore a broader and perhaps more supported framework for understanding and actively helping those we love, and ourselves, at the end of life.
By Marianne Schloss, RN, M.Div
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