Yet let there
always be hope untill the message has come to you that it is time to go on
In this article I would like to introduce you to the
four stages of the dying process. There is no particular order to
these stages, and not everyone experiences each stage. Some of us remain in one
stage throughout the process. Others shift back and forth. It is important to
keep in mind that each one of us is a singularly unique human being. Just as no
two lives are exactly the same, no two deaths are either.
Denial is an
amazing defense mechanism and seemingly unique to humankind. Denial is our mind’s ability not to accept facts or
circumstances which we cannot yet handle.
It is not wishful thinking
or hopefulness. It is not a conscious process. It is a process in our
subconscious mind which helps to maintain our psychological balance and our
sanity. Although I do not recall Philip being in denial about his impending
death, when he was first diagnosed with cancer, he was in complete denial of the
disease. He believed he had pneumonia. He could not understand why the doctor
wasn’t prescribing antibiotics to cure him. Yet he and I had heard the
same diagnosis, together, at the very same time. I knew he had cancer, but he
thought he had pneumonia. The mind buys time for the
subconscious to accept what it must.
Anger The anger of the dying can take many forms.
our loved ones for staying while we must take our leave. Anger at the medical
professionals who failed us, at the disease which ravaged us, and at the world
we are saying good-bye to. Many of us become angry at God. “Why me?” we ask. “Why now?” “Why
this?” We swear, we pound our fists, we yell at the universe. This, too,
is a healthy stage.
We are fighting mad. We are venting. We are
facing the reality of the situation, that our time here on earth had a beginning
and is coming to an end. We are darn angry that we never went to Europe, owned a
Jaguar, or lived to see our grandchildren. We are
fighting mad. How dare this happen to us!
Depression is anger turned inward.
are not ranting and raving anymore. We don’t yell. We may lose our
appetite and our interest in connecting with our family and the other important
people in our lives. The anger is inside of us, and we are unable to express it
outwardly. If the depression becomes serious enough (i.e.
when suicidal thoughts or behaviors arise or the situation becomes otherwise
intolerable), outside intervention in the form of psychotherapy, spiritual
counseling, or psychiatric treatment can be a blessing.
Acceptance is not a death
wish, but a realization and recognition that our life is going to
A sense of serenity may be evident in us, perhaps fueled by a
new or reconnection with our spirituality. We have faced the demon squarely; our
eyes have met his. We know that soon this chapter is closing, and another will
have begun. We may say our good-byes now; meet and greet those we have not been
with in a long time; finalize our affairs. We accede to the fact that we are
finite beings, that we have taken all this world had to offer us and had given
this world all that we could.
Please remember that where ever we or our loved
ones are in the dying process is an appropriate and necessary place for us to
be. It is not our job to push, prod, or pull ourselves or others
into a new or different stage which may seem more acceptable to the world
at-large. This is not a baseball game. We do not have to hit the ball out of the
stadium, touch all three bases, and heroically slide into home plate in order to
score a home run.
There is no right way to die, just as there is no
wrong way to live. The journey is ours alone, and it is our right and our
privilege to choose our own route back home.