Death and dying in contemporary society: an evaluation of current attitudes and the rituals associated with death and dying and their relevance to recent understandings of health and healing

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Abstract

This paper develops a model which is intended to help nurses and other health professionals in the understanding of contemporary views regarding death and dying and the associated issues of health and healing. The author contends that in the first half of the 20th century, society lost sight of the importance of rituals associated with death and dying and of the need for appropriate death education. Consequently patients and professionals alike found themselves unable to cope with the inevitability of death. Fear supplanted hope, and the health and well-being of society was deleteriously influenced. During the second half of the century, there has been a proliferation of thanatology research and literature. Health professionals are realizing the inadequacy of their knowledge of an issue which fundamentally and unavoidably affects everyone including themselves. The holistic approach to health care has been recognized by many researchers as being essential to health and healing, and therefore death and dying have to be addressed. Often nurses are the professionals left to deal with the patients’ grief and anger, and it is therefore critical that they are conversant with the contemporary parallel issues of death and dying and health and healing. The author also firmly believes that before nurses can help people to overcome the fear of death and to optimize their lives, it is essential to examine the traditions of other cultures as well as personal experiences and coping mechanisms, before an understanding of other people’s fears and beliefs concerning death and dying can be reached.

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