Since Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “On Death And Dying” (1997)
statement and the years following her ground breaking work, thanatologists have conducted research and attempted to inform communities that survivors of the death of loved ones are better able to cope their loss if they are aware that death and the period of grieving can be opportunities for personal and community growth. This perspective allows movement towards resolving their loss as well as the task of getting on with the problems of living an emotionally and physically healthy life. In this way, a person can begin to reformulate their loss so as to free up energy that had been bound to the past. As Brody and Hunt (2005) has recently written “There is a change in perceptual set from focusing on limits to focusing on potential; from coping to growth; from problems to challenges; and from existence to living one’s life to the fullest.” The tragic event of a loved one’s death is transformed in such a way that offers new opportunities for continuing life barring occasional memories of the deceased. The emotional and psychological reframing of the loss of a loved one can carry over into other areas of a person’s life, so that attitudes, beliefs and assumptions once limitations may be re-evaluated with greater self-confidence and self-awareness. The process of bereavement and working through grief has been found following a number of recent research studies to provide grieving person incentives that makes possible significant and meaningful changes with respect to life and living (Kayser-Jones, 2002; Long, 2004; Warren, 2005).
In so doing, a person’s perspective to the death of a loved one is transformed. The intensive focus on self-awareness gives way to a changed sense of identity in which the death is placed within a context of growth while not diminishing the fact that a person of importance has died and will no longer be with her or him. Grief then becomes a unifying factor rather than an alienating human experience. The loss relationship is viewed as changed but ended. Transforming the death involves integrating what was lost into one’s own life. Being a survivor, not a victim, generally allows changes in one’s knowledge, beliefs and values about death and about life that might not otherwise have been possible.
Despite a person’s understanding, death is a community event. In life, a person is a member of a society. According to O’Gorman (1998) “In death, he or she does not lose their social distinction.” Death does not end the survivor’s membership in a family, community or a nation. Belief and attitudes toward those who have died generally continue on among the living in virtually every culture or society studied (Warren, 2005). Bereavement, grief and mourning are complementary webs in the fabric of life and, more than many understand, a place in the human life experience.
A survivor’s response to death regardless of gender or age is personal, complex, encompassing a multitude of personal, family and social factors yet to be known or understood even in 2005. Since Kubler-Ross, the thanatological and associated sciences have learned that response to death is influenced also by circumstances surrounding the death (murder versus natural death; child versus adult; accident versus war) and a whole of circumstances yet to be identified and studied. By being aware of the vast range of responses that have the possibly of being presented in the experience of loss and grief, humankind can increase the range of choice a person may utilize for dealing with loss and their personal grieving process. By being more knowledgeable of issues involved in survivor response to the death of a loved one, humankind is offered greater opportunity ranges resulting in more coping mechanism for successfully dealing with loss. In so dealing with the loss experience humanity will become more fully human.
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