Using the metaphor of a barrier to describe death makes us reflect on how each person is born to face this barrier one day or the other.
Every move we make in our life is towards this barrier no matter which direction we take. It is very scary to discuss the topic of death. We make daily efforts to prevent death from our contemplations and movements, yet somehow it is always there in the back corner of our mind.
If we were able to overlook our anxieties of death for a short time, we might be able to realize how fascinating its concept from an unemotional point of view is. Perhaps our death is a conversion from life, as we know it, into a new existence. But philosophy around death has been on a constant change and will never cease to find new interpretations for the subject of death and its medical definition.However if we want to stick to science as a start, once the organism loses all its biological functions, this is where we announce the death. Conventionally, death was proven using fundamental cardio and pulmonary criteria.
Doctors would sense the pulse, listen for breathing, and hold a mirror before the nose to test for condensation in order to conclude the death of a patient. These criteria determined fundamentally how we routinely conceive death as the incapacity to breath oxygen into our lungs or/and the disruption of the heart pumping blood. And biologically the external body will manifest paleness, a lower body temperature, stiffness and a decomposition accompanied by a strong foul odor.Psychologically, if we want to refer to psychologists’ theories about the human response to death, according to Freud, humans have a life instinct (Eros) and a death instinct, called Thanatos. He thought that it is impossible for people to imagine their death.
He felt that death was rooted in a human desire to return to the biological material that we all had. And he explains the “Thanatos” by a negative and destructive force that conflicts with human creativity and desire to live which means that people looking for adventures, taking risks, or seeking for violence are driven by their inner thoughts originating from Thanatos. ¬I deeply believe in this theory and that each one of us has an “inner calling to die”. As strange at it might seem as an idea, it might be a good window to explore on the subject of martyrdom and try to understand it. But before diving into the human Thanatos, I wonder what happens when our instinct of death counters with our instinct of life? Well, I believe the output would be fear and anxiety. When we mention fear of death we cannot but stop at the writing of Ernest Becker in his book “The denial of death”. It is exceptional how he managed to take us into the deepest level of human personality and highlight our existential crisis: “This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, and excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression – and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax .
. . What kind of deity would create such complex and fancy worm food?” Becker displays the human innate propensities to explain what faces our fear of death. He talks about the heroic part of our nature, our obsession with life and immortality and how our death phobia can infect our life. As my mother says death is bigger that a mountain and smaller than a hair. The fear of death’s subject is a phenomenon that has occupied the minds of people and thinkers since ancient times.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a swiss american psychiatrist, approaches the subject of loss in her book “On death and dying” by showing how a group of patients responded to the news of their shortly death in five stages: Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She admits that grief is unique to each person and that not everyone goes through all of these stages or in their right order; however it is important to be equipped with enough knowledge about grief to overcome this natural yet dangerous human process. Denial is essential to help us to survive the loss.
At this age, nothing seems interesting or meaningful to the griever. He/she is not willing to understand what has happened and struggle to overcome the shock and survive through each day. Isolation is the safest corner. Denial acts as an immune system to our psychological wellbeing. It is a natural way to let us handle only what we possibly can. As the griever becomes stronger, the denial begins to fade and all the dark feelings arise outward.
As harmful as anger can be, it is a crucial part of the healing process even thought it might appear infinite. The good thing is that we are used to manage anger and all the emotions it comes with. We can express it towards our friends and family, our loved but even to God, that only if there are any monotheist belief left in us.
But at least at this stage, the emotions and reactions we go through are palpable and can act as a palpable connection towards reaching for others who can be of great help to get us out of our isolation.Bargaining is a state of wonder and guilt. The griever finds himself/herself lost in a labyrinth from the past of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. He/she tries to go back in time and wake up from this bad dream and feel free from this unbearable pain. These mentioned stages can coincide; they can come and go at their free will depending on our psychological status.
As our attention becomes busier with our day to day responsibilities, we find ourselves living in the present. We realize what we have lost and sorrow and pain enters our hearts at the deeper level, a level we never imagine existed. We feel this depressive stage is going to last forever. We realize that the dead one do not return.
Depression is natural state of mind that we go through in our grief, which is natural healing process.Finally acceptance is the fact of recognizing this new reality is a long-lasting one. The griever accepts that there is not turning back and he/she must live with this truth. It is not easy stage since the griever has to re-adjust an redefine every aspect of his/her life. Grief has to take the time its need and it might display in the griever many symptoms. In our culture we try our best to avoid conversations related to death. We say if you think a lot about death you will find yourself hunted by it. Every time we engage in a social conversation and the word death comes up we have to say “Far from here”.
This expression shows the deep denial we live in and our rooted fear of death. Another old saying that I always used to hear older people say frequently: “God, please save us from burning, drowning and the deprivation of the streets”. It is very easy to remember it since its rhymes very well in Arabic: Maybe these types or ways of death use to be the scariest but there is a general consensus of types and terms we use for death, some of them are so close to each others but mainly we can name the accidental death, the early grave that happens before the natural expected age at the hands of someone, the watery grave drowning or suffocating underwater, the death by poisoning, the death caused by war, violence, or disease termed as fatality, the starvation in which a person endures or dies because they do not have enough to eat or drink, the supreme sacrifice which is the act of dying to save other people, and Martyrdom. The last two types are close but cannot be always compatible. The only thing that can relate all these types of death is the grief.Notion of griefThere are two things we cannot stare at: the sun and Death.
It’s so hard to face death, especially if we had to lose our loved ones. At the same time, in our culture we say dying is a right, which is the rule of life. We are all going to die at the end but how and when we die makes all the difference.
If you were able to reach a hundred years on this earth then you might be seen as a hero, as a person who surely eats healthy and take care of himself. Somehow the general consensus for someone to die is of the age of eighty to hundred years. Grief and sadness will still be there but at the end the acceptance of death become earlier. If someone dies between the age of fifty to eighty we say it’s a pity. Between the age of thirty and fifty we say death came too early. Between the age of twenty to thirty we say he/she died young. Under the age of twenty, it is the biggest tragedy.
Every civilization has its customs to celebrate or mourn death, to respect the life of the deceased. Funeral can help in accepting the reality of the loss, act as an affirmation of faith and religious beliefs. But beyond the religious approach to funerals and commemorations which we will discuss further in details in chapter three, I have always considered the funeral, in a more general view, as a sort of distraction to the family and friends of the departed, a way to ease in the pain that they are about to suffer. Especially in Lebanon, I have noticed that when someone close to you dies, you have little time to reflect on your loss and you get pulled away to organize the complexity of a busy Lebanese funeral, book the necessary requirements and announce it to the people in a standardized form that gets published everywhere. When the funeral starts all the people that know you and some who don’t know you, rush in to express their condolences. You get carried away with the amount of people that showed up and keep busy describing what happened to each one to the point where you start realizing that what happened is true and not just a bad dream. The Lebanese funeral is usually a long procedural loaded with religious rituals that makes your heart aches with sorrow.
Even if you have no connection with the departed and came into his funeral, the general ambiance, the weeping and lamentation puts you right in the mood. In this whole ceremony people wearing black come together and stick with each other no matter what their differences are. It is like watching a film in black and white. The blackness of the clothes, the coffee, the coffin contrasts with the whiteness of the Kafan, the flowers, the clothes of the deceased.
The end of this long process ends by indicating the location for the dead, a grave, shrine, a familial burial site, etc. The bereaved people often visit these places, and it gives them great comfort in expressing their pain of separation when they go through the human reaction that naturally follows a funeral called grief. I came across a very interesting book that aimed to scientifically understand the grief response of parents who have lost a child to traumatic death and the psychotherapeutic strategies that best facilitate healing.
The book is called “Devastating Losses: How parents cope with death of a child to suicide or drugs”, conceived by William and Beverly Feigelman flowing the devastated loss of their own son. It is based on the results of the largest study ever conducted of parents surviving a child traumatic death. Chapter four of this book discusses the differences in the suicide death circumstances and how they may affect a survivor’s Grief.
It explains how different is one case to another and how the society can help ease or complicate your grief depending on how they see the subject of suicide. The below figure analyze the grief difficulties for three measures by years since the death among five hundred and twenty six suicide-bereaved parents: Although grief might take two to three years after the death of a loved one to reveal its utmost complications as it shows in this figure but it seems like these difficulties generally fades away with time. Time heals I guess. While reading this chapter and understanding how a society approaches suicide can impact a person’s grief, I thought a lot about how our Lebanese society looks upon martyrdom and how we are constantly reminded of them. Not that I thought of all martyrs as suicidal but in term of how we approach it as a subject and its direct relation to how parents of martyrs deal with their grief. The grief over a martyr is very different than a grief over a normal person. We are constantly reminded of the importance of Martyrs and despite our individual beliefs; the point I am trying to make is that the very elevated social status of a martyr might be essential in soothing the grief of the parents of martyrs and in helping them accept the fate of their young sons and daughters. In every death type and not necessarily martyrdom, parents and the close family are affected the most, and in our culture, we have inherited many social symptoms to express this grief.
Mainly women and mothers are the champions in this field. For instance to express their mourning, they decide to wear black for a period of time and even some would wear it until the day they die. Other than our historical social inheritance, each religion adds in its own customs to funerals and grieving, which will be discussed more thoroughly in the third chapter “Our reaction to death”.
Grief is an important and painful transition towards reconciling with death, but as helpful as it can be, some people can get addicted to it and never let it go until the last day of their life.Death in the Eyes of Doha Hassan Doha Hassan is a Syrian journalist and a photographer who got my attention in a book that she published recently. It is an assemblage of articles she has been writing in the recent years. Coming from a country where the shock of death no longer exists, Doha Hassan was able to capture stories of real victims testimonials during the recent war in Syria that started in 2011. She has worked in the fields of active, multimedia journalism for the past 10 years. She worked at the Lebanese “NOW Lebanon” news website for two years, as Syrian disk editor. Doha Hassan covered events inside Syria.
Her independent work is published in different Arab and International websites, magazines and newspapers.In her articles, she describes how fear of death is no longer an obsession in the liberated cities of Syria. People are used to having it around. The testimonials she was able to gather were so close to the excess of death that was present in Syria and it brings out the shocking reaction a person could have to death. For example, this was the reaction of Mohammad al-Tha’er who witnessed a chemical massacre in Douma: “Ever since I took pictures of the chemical massacre, I haven’t touched a camera.
Back then; they were bringing in the wounded, who were dying one after another. I started screaming and shivering. They were piling them one on top of the other because there were too many of them and no space.
.. I used to feel dizzy and about to throw up any minute. I was afraid, but I had no choice but to document the dead and the wounded. Death is frightening.
..”We can feel the violence of death in each testimonial we read.
War drives people to cope with death in an unusual ways. Wars wipe away the coincidence of death and expose our unconsciousness fears. Doha Hassan was able to get so close to death and feels how it impacts people who experience it on daily basis. She concludes in on of her articles:”Human beings are living with death as they try to get themselves accustomed to it. We move on to another day and try to hide death within life, even if we are actually living within death as such.
It is as though we are enduring life so that we are fully ready when the time comes for us to die”Death makes us fall in despair, but our psychological auto immune system keeps us going. We always fall into distraction in order to carry on. The only thing we can do is to live or at least try. We feel we are accustomed to death but I think we will never be. Death and reconciliationWhat is death but a deep secret that scares every single human no matter how brave they are? Is death the end or beginning of life? Is it the end or the beginning of a journey?One might say faith is key player in this matter. Do the emotions towards death differ from a believer to a non-believer? It all comes down to the each individual complexity and life experience. The fundamental psychological issue in the problem of morale may be reduced to the problem of how one reacts to the fear of death.
But this fear was not always present:”…the child has no knowledge of death until about the age of three to five.
How could he? It is too abstract an idea, too removed from his experience. . .
. He doesn’t know what it means for life to disappear forever, nor theorize where it would go. Only gradually does he recognize that there is a thing called death that takes some people away forever. .. (The denial of death, Ernest Becker, 1973, p.
13)”I have always wondered how is it like to live without the knowledge of death. What did it feel like to be a three year old human living without death around? I wish I could feel how is it to be living without “knowing” death. Now death is all around me. Every time I watch the news, or check my Facebook or ever drive down the street, images and numbers of dead people and Martyrs pictures are there to remind me that death is around the corner.
Fear and anxiety can change our actions and perceptions. It can be the fear of an invasion, the fear of the other, the fear of losing a family member but the essence is the fear of death. And once we are faced with this death, it is a total tragedy, and the funerals in our culture are rich in lamentation and weeping. I have heard many elders in our society describe how healthy it is to cry over the death of a loved one. I recall once a friend who lost her father and she was in total shock.
At the funeral, she was present only in the physical meaning. Everyone was crying around her and she seemed like she was in another place. An older woman had to slap her on her face “cry! Why aren’t you crying?”. Later I understood that the elder woman was worried about her and she believed this would initiate my friend’s grieving process. Perhaps one day we might reach a healthier way to reconcile with death and rejoice the circle of life.
Perhaps one day we might stop hanging statues and pictures of dead people whether they are loved one, saints or martyrs all around us. Perhaps one day we will learn how to remember the departed with just stories about them like our ancestors used to do few centuries ago. I realized how psychologically harmful death can be and how essential it is to resolve with it one-way or the other.
And in our society, becoming/making a Martyr has been a very popular way to reconcile with death.