[MOL] The Phases of Death..... [00293] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] The Phases of Death.....

Yet let there always be hope untill the message has come to you that it is time to go on another journey. 

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.



The anger of the dying can take many forms. Anger at 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. We 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 end. 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.

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