Dying – A Natural Process

Denys Cope - AgeNation's Transitions ExpertExcerpted from Dying, A Natural Passage by Denys Cope RN, BSN, MSS

We, the living (which we all are until we take our last breath), owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our society to learn about the process of dying. We need to understand that death is a natural part of life. In fact, we need to become as familiar with dying, as we are with pregnancy, labor, and birth.

There was a time when pregnancy and birth was not openly discussed, and certainly nursing mothers were seldom seen in public. We did not see pregnant women portrayed on television until ‘I Love Lucy’. It was all a mystery kept behind closed doors. Now, pregnant women are often viewed on television, and actresses are seen fully pregnant in skintight, revealing dresses. In sitcoms, we have seen a woman’s water breaking and even witnessed certain aspects of labor and birth. Mothers now nurse their children in public. It has become a normal part of our culture. It is out of the closet.

Now death must come out of the closet. As a society, is it now time for us to stop pretending it does not exist for us? Death is not a failure, and we are all going to do it. We are part of nature’s cycle, just as is every living organism on earth. We are born, we live, and we die. Ideally, we will become as familiar with the stages of dying as we are with those of pregnancy and birthing. Then, when we are faced with death in our personal lives, we will read about and learn the finer details of the process. We will gather support around ourselves just as we do when pregnancy becomes a personal reality. In this way, shame, fear, and uncertainty are less likely to arise.

As we learn to accept dying as a normal, expected part of life, we demystify it and understand the hard work it is, as well as embrace the gifts that accompany it. When we learn how to best be with each other during this most poignant of times, to offer true peace and comfort, we will have changed ourselves as individuals and as a society.

As a registered nurse since the mid-sixties and a hospice nurse for more than half of that time, I have learned that one of the most important parts of hospice care is teaching family and friends about the dying process, to allow them to become comfortable being with and caring for their loved ones.

With education and support, especially from hospice, a peaceful death at home or in an inpatient hospice facility can be facilitated. And when a person does die in a hospital or nursing home, with awareness, that death can also happen in as peaceful and supportive an environment as possible.

What helps is to become familiar with the actual dying process, the physiology of it, and the spiritual aspects that emerge, to know what is really going on.

Taking care of a loved one who is dying presents some of the most difficult, demanding, and rewarding work we will ever do. Always the challenges are unique—to the course of the disease, our loved one’s relationship to their own death, and our connection with them. Understanding how to be with a loved one in their last days is one of the most life-affirming—and life and death-altering gifts we can give them and ourselves.

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One Response to Dying – A Natural Process

  1. admin says:

    I read an interesting story on the New York times website today – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/health/25navajo.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 – about an interesting cultural taboo among the Navajo which prevents people talking about death, and which is impacting people’s access to things like living wills, durable powers of attorney, do-not-resuscitate orders, electroencephalograms, feeding tubes and ventilators.

    Interestingly, the Navajo have a belief that speaking about anything negative will cause it to happen. What surprised me was that they would consider death a ‘negative’ thing. I had always thought that Native Americans were far more holistic about the cyclical nature of life, death and the spiritual afterlife, seeing death as merely as a transition from one form to another. May be that is so with some tribes and not with others – I am no expert on the subject.

    Is not a lot of the problem in Western cultures generally that death is looked on as a negative thing – the “end” of a life? Certainly, for those like me who believe that our spiritual selves are our natural state of being and that our earthly incarnation is a temporary, and not necessarily a one off, learning experience, then it is much easier to see death as merely a transitional process from physical to spirit – and therefore not an “end” and not a “negative”. That is why people with such beliefs tend to ‘celebrate a life passing’ rather than ‘mourn a loss’ of a loved one.

    I think a lot of the problem in Western culture is our over reliance on science as an explanation for all things and the split between science and spirituality. I’ve nothing against science, I just don’t think it is far enough advanced yet to explain all that needs explaining. We can’t prove that there is a soul or spirit so therefore there is nothing – once we are dead, that’s it. Such thinking then brings about uncertainty, which leads to fear, which leads to no-one wanting to talk about it. But you do need the science AND the spirituality because ultimately everything – the physical world AND the spiritual – have to make sense within the context of each other. Faith is fine, but it still has to make sense. Fortunately, the science and the spiritual ARE beginning to come together – but that’s a whole other subject!

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