Friday, September 23, 2011

On Death and Dying (A Reflection of the Course Thus Far)

I've been thinking about death a lot lately.

No, but really.


But what I am actually referring to, rather than a mild obsession with zombies, is my COPACE course The Final Chapter: A Study of Death & Dying. We've been approaching death in a way I've never experienced before, and I've been thinking of it in a way I've never pondered previously. Chapter two of our textbook Death, Society, and Human Experience presented the question "what is death?"

At first, it feels simplistic. But then, I began to realize, I'm not sure.

The textbook presented some manners in which death has been viewed in the past (these are the few I found most interesting):
1. Kenneth V. Iserson suggested that death may be a complex process that takes place over time
2. In the 3rd Century B.C. Epicurus thought of death as one event in a sequence of events (i.e. as somewhat meaningless)
3. The Harvard Criteria for determination of brain death (1968) presented five biophysical determinants: un-receptive & unresponsive, no movement & no breathing, no reflexes, a flat EEG, & no circulation to or within the brain.

Later, the text discussed the manner in which people view death - mainly, how it is personified; as a gentle comforter, as a macabre and evil (scythe-clad) being, as an elegant and worldly guide, or as an undistinguished automaton. In their 1997 study, Kastenbaum & Herman discussed how the personification of death differs according to the type of personality each individual attributes to death. 

Although I have experienced death in certain ways, I had never before given thought to what exactly death is - or, more so, what it means to me. Which is certainly a concept I'd need to ponder before becoming involved with chaplaincy/pastoral care or hospice work; fields where death & an understanding of the variety of processing types attributed to death would be absolutely necessary.

So, I began to ponder, what is death?

For me, at this point in time, I see death as only a lack of life. Never before have I pictured death as anything located outside of the body, as a personified figure, but rather, as an internal reaction; one last sigh of life released, and then death: the absence of life.

Additionally, never before had I considered what it means physically to be dead - braindead? Unresponsive? A flat EEG? Upon first glancing at the material, it was strange to realize that I'd never pondered what death "means". But then again, what does life mean?

In pursuing a career that deals with all the meanings of death - the absence of life, the continuation of existence, fate, a complex process that occurs over time, one meaningless event in a series of other meaningless events; my hopes are to bring meaning to life.

Life, in a long process leading to death (with visiting the infirm in hospitals). Or life, moments before death, in a hospice center or home.

I appreciate this course, on Death & Dying, because despite the heaviness of its topic material, it's lending me positive thoughts in a manner applicable to my life goals. I am excited to continue learning, and to hopefully form more fully my own conceptions.

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