Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said, “It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar. In spite of the fact that it happens all the time, we never see it.”
As an ICU nurse, I worked around death a good part of my adult life. I mistakenly thought I understood death, until it happened to me. When I was personally thrust into the unwanted, tragic world of grief, I was completely unprepared for the anguish and debilitating pain I experienced. But, what was even more surprising to me was the overwhelming number of friends and family who were uncomfortable with my pain and the changes it caused in my life. I realized that not only was I unprepared for death and the fallout that occurred in my life, my family and friends were also unprepared for how to support me.
Our Western culture has inadvertently conditioned us to avoid death and grief. Our society tends to isolate those who are struggling with illness, pain, death and grief — hoping that if we don’t see their pain and struggles, the pain doesn’t exist, and won’t alter our tidy and predictable lives. We tend to behave as if death and pain are contagious diseases, ones that if we stay away from, we can avoid contracting ourselves.
I don’t believe this insensitivity is intentional. Society has not prepared us for how to deal with pain and loss. We are brought up to believe that life will remain predictable and under our control. Then when the unexpected, death or illness, does happen in our lives, we are ill-equipped to deal with the emotional pain, and upheaval, that it brings. Society subliminally sends us the message that we are expected to quietly bear our pain, while still maintaining our daily lives, ‘getting over’ our grief in a timely manner, while not unnecessarily disrupting anyone else’s life.
Unfortunately, for those grievers who are experiencing these life altering challenges, this unintentional alienation by those we were looking to for support, only further increases our suffering. The griever’s life is in pieces and we have no idea how to start to put the pieces together again.
Society’s expectations of the griever are unrealistic. For a griever who has lost a loved one, who was an integral part of their life, nothing will ever be the same, and the pain will always be there. Life is turned upside down. Learning to live with pain and grief is a process and one that cannot be forced.
Why is our society so avoidant of pain? Do we really believe that ignoring those who are suffering will protect us from experiencing pain ourselves? What drives our avoidance of death?
Most members of Western society live as if they believe they have all the time in the world. Death is something that happens to other people, not to them. Despite this cultural denial of death, not one person will escape this human existence without experiencing physical death.
Death and grief are Universal.
They touch all genders.
They don’t discriminate based on socioeconomic status, or age.
Death and grief, do not care if you are a mother, father, spouse, child, sibling or friend. We will all be touched by them.
There is no life without death. They are two sides of the same coin.
Many people believe that the fear of death is actually a fear of life. Acknowledging and accepting that death is inevitable requires us to face the fact that we have a limited time here in a human body. We are then forced to ask ourselves how we are spending the time we have been given.
As much as we want to believe the fantasy that we have control over our lives and that death will never impact us, there are really only two certainties we can rely on in life – birth and death. The ultimate life lesson for us is to learn to take a closer look at what we are choosing to do with the time between these two events. If we pay attention, death has much to teach us about life.
“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.” – Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
On behalf of griever’s living in a society that denies pain…..we don’t want to have to act like we are ok, when we aren’t. We don’t want to pretend we don’t miss our lost loved one, because we do, and we always will. We don’t want to have to walk on eggshells when someone doesn’t know what to say to us. We are doing our best to put our lives back together and all we really need is understanding and patience.
The time is now for a shift in how our culture views death and pain. The shift can start with those of us who have experienced grief and loss. We should not have to hide our pain. By sharing our experiences, we can begin to pave a new path where empathy, community and acceptance are a reality in our society.
Pain and Loss are a part of this human existence.
As a griever you may feel that you are all alone.
You are not alone.
We are all in this together.
I believe this is one of the biggest lessons that death and loss can teach us all.