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Talking about death and humanity

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We are defined by our actions and key moments in our lives that make us learn, grow and reconnect with who we really are.

No moment is more trying than the “before-during-after” passing of a loved one. It may be a friend or family member, or even an acquaintance, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how you react, internally and externally, and how you heal and keep living.

While we all have our different ways of mourning, one thing is certain: Your heart feels like it has been carved out of your chest and thrown into oblivion.

We value life and would like to think that when a loved one dies, or when we die, our “temple” (body) is treated with respect. Our perception of what dying looks like might come from movies or television programs, glamorized and reimagined to not present the reality, which is uncomfortable to think about. The reality, of course, is generally very far removed from those artistic interpretations.

Read an opinion piece published recently in The New York Times, “The rituals of modern death,” and you might start to get a sense of what I’m trying to address here. Death isn’t pretty. The writer, who is a fellow in cardiovascular medicine at Duke University Medical Center, describes what happens when a patient dies at a hospital. It’s a very calculated, almost ritualistic, step-by-step guide, illuminating a process plagued by paperwork and, oftentimes, the macabre.  

The writer also talks about what the hospital does when there are signs a patient is about to die and their family is around. For example, the nurses will turn on the TV to the C.A.R.E channel, which shows slow-moving nature scenes with ambient sounds (and reminds me of the videos you sometimes see in the little TVs while your airplane is in taxi).

In the piece, which I urge you to read to get a different perspective on what death looks like and how to talk about it with your clients, the blogger also addresses the fact that death is no longer the spiritual ritual it once was. In his own words: “Much like the overarching experience of patient-hood, the end of life has been sterilized. For most of human history, death has been an intensely spiritual experience. Frequently, some religious figure, a pastor or a shaman, would be at a patient’s side at the end to help make it a deep and meaningful experience not only for the patient but also for his or her family and friends.”

With the increasing human lifespan and the wave of boomers staring at a future of living longer and evading death, how can we better plan for the “before-during-after” event?

The NYT writer does end the piece on a high note: He is trying to bring back some humanity into one of the most difficult experiences of life.

With this in mind, I think that we should always make the conscious decision of bringing our humanity into everything we do as well.

See also:

Check out The Death Project

Why advisors are really death planners

5 things to know about a scary neurological death study


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