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Positive Outlooks on Death, Essay Example

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Essay

The fear of death is a state of mind which, like death itself, is universal.  In her studies of the terminally-ill, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross determined that an individual’s fear of dying has little to do with their socioeconomic background, and much more to do with having support systems and a sense of power in confronting this final journey.  This is a reality I have faced personally while watching my grandmother come to grips with her own mortality during her battle with lung cancer.  Her initial resistance to her diagnosis was based largely on her fear of the unknown; because no one returns from the dead, we have little in the way of concrete information about what can be expected once we are no longer alive.  Kubler-Ross’ work with the dying illustrates the difficulty many individuals have in coping with the fact of their eventual deaths.  However, this process can be eased through the support of family members and friends, as well as the realization that one has lived a life of meaning and importance.

Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking 1969 book On Death and Dying identified five stages that most people undergo when faced with imminent death.  These stages, now known as the Kubler-Ross model, include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. My grandmother’s death was sudden to no one but her; although she lived for six months after her terminal diagnosis, she often told me that she time had begun to lose all meaning.  The world seemed to go too quickly for her once she realized that she had a finite amount of time left to live.  As one of her primary caregivers, I had the opportunity to witness the Kubler-Ross model in action, especially the depression stage.  My grandmother felt that she had wasted too much of her life worrying about mundane details such as doing the laundry and cleaning her house.  It was only once she faced the certainty of her own death that she realized she would have proffered to spend her life actually living in the moment.

Kubler-Ross was asked in a 1995 interview whether there was any good reason to be afraid of dying, to which she stated that the prospect of death need not be frightening “if you have enough people who love you, who will see to it that your needs are met” (Redwood).  This is key to understanding, coping with, and accepting death, as it ensures that an individual’s final days are not spent alone or in a state of emotional and physical neglect.  My grandmother chose to die at home, an option that eased her passing a great deal because she was able to be in a comfortable, comforting, and familiar environment.  During the course of her treatment, I saw many elderly people in the hospital who did not have the luxury of dying at home amongst family.  They seemed, as a group, to be starved for attention of any sort, which must have contributed a great deal to their unease at the prospect of death.

By the time she passed away, my grandmother had reached Kubler-Ross’ final stage of the grieving process:  acceptance.  She had the time to organize her affairs and plan her own funeral, which allowed her to feel as much in control of the situation as was possible.  Her final request was for the poem “Death is Nothing at All” by Henry Scott Holland to be read during her funeral service.  The poem discusses the manner in which life both changes and stays the same for those who are left behind after someone dies.  My grandmother was particularly drawn to the fourth stanza in which Holland writes “Life means all that it ever meant/It is the same that it ever was/There is absolute unbroken continuity/Why should I be out of mind/because I am out of sight?” (Holland 18-22).  It gave her peace to recognize that she would be remembered even once she was dead, and her acceptance of her own death made it easier for my family and I to follow her example.

Death is a certainty for all of us.  We are born, we live, and eventually we die, some more peacefully than others.  The fear of death goes hand-in-hand with the fear of being alone and dying unremembered.  However, death also offers a kind of freedom:  freedom from worries both mundane and great; freedom from physical pain; and freedom to enter the next stage of existence, whatever it may be.  As Kubler-Ross points out, our fears of stepping into the unknown can be eased by by the presence of caring people and the awareness that one’s life was lived with grace, allowing individuals to die with dignity.

Works Cited

Holland, Henry Scott. “Death is Nothing at All.” Poemhunter.com. Poem Hunter, 2011. Web. 17           August 2011.

Kubler-Ross, Elizabeth. On Death and Dying. New York, NY: Routledge, 1969.

Redwood, Daniel. “On Death and Dying: An Interview with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.” Healthy.net. Healthy World Online., 1995. Web. 17 August 2011.

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