Death & Dying
A History of Death
attempted to reconstruct the history of European death attitudes focusing on
approximately a thousand years after the introduction of Christianity up to the present
drew most of his observations from burial practices and rituals surrounding the end of
Came up with 4 different themes from their variations:
1. Awareness of the individual
2. The defense of society against untamed nature
3.The belief in an afterlife
4. Belief in the existence of evil
Death was primarily a community event in the earliest human societies. The community
could be weakened by the loss of its people, and death was relatively tame, it was more
about keeping the community strong.
Ritualization was a way of protecting fragile human society from the uncontrollable
perils of nature and malevolent gods. Much of the danger resided in potential harm from
the dead who might return with a vengeance.
A thousand years into the Christian era, the death of the self became the most intense
concern. The hour of death became the most important hour of life. This transformation
became evident in burial practices; the body and face were now covered and concealed,
taken out of nature.
Twisted death: rationalism and science were contributing to an increasingly progressive
and sophisticated worldview, however at the same time, death became more entwined
with both violence and sexuality. Death had become strange, alien and sometimes
The invisible death: it was considered kind in the 19 century to protect people from
knowledge of their imminent death. Avoidance, misrepresentation, and denial had an
effect that could hardly have been more unthinkable in earlier eras. They were deprived
of the opportunity for that transformative deathbed moment. Death was considered the
failure of a machine.
Not Thinking About Death: A Failed Experiment
Deaths associated with crime and violence received lavish attention, then as now, but
silence had settled over the deaths of everyday people. When a movie script called for a
death bed scene, Hollywood would offer a sentimental and sanitized version. Not thinking about death was a failure. People continued to die, and how they died
became and increasing source of concern.
More physicians are now listening and communicating. Patients and family members feel
more empowered to express their concerns, needs and wishes. Physicians feel more
compelled to take these concerns, needs and wishes into account.
Fatalism: The belief that future events have already been determined; therefore one is
powerless to affect the future.
The person who is quick to introduce a fatalistic statement often is attempting to end the
discussion before it really begins. It is what communication experts call a silencer.
Attitudes, Experiences, Beliefs, Feelings
Attitudes: Refer to our action tendencies.
Beliefs: refer to our worldview. Fatalism is one type of belief.
Feelings: provide us with qualitative information, a status report of our sense of being.
Personal experience influences our attitudes, beliefs, and feelings.
Just because a person has had a particular kind of loss experience does not necessarily
enhance his/her ability to support others.
A death by suicide, for example, has often been considered tainted, resulting in additional
stress and social isolation for the bereaved family.
The Living Will: Why most people won’t.
VandeCreek and Frankowski found that most people had not thought much about their
own deaths and also believed that their last days were a long way off. The authors
conclude that completing living wills connotes personal death, and this appears to be a
substantial barrier to completing the document.
Should I sign an organ donation card?
Personal attitudes play a major role in this decision. Nondonors tend to be more anxious
about death and to have the specific fear of being declared dead prematurely.
People who think of themselves as effective and selfreliant are more likely to sign the
Stepping off the curb.
Its clear that people’s general attitudes and feelings can be expressed in behavior choices
that either increase or decrease the probability of death.
In God they trust
A thoughtprovoking study followed patients through their postoperative period and
found that those with positive religious coping styles experienced less pain and distress.
Anxiety, Denial, and Acceptance: Three core concepts Death Anxiety: Emotional distress and