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Human Reactions to Loss and Death


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#1    Javril

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Posted 28 April 2010 - 02:51 AM

Hello

I have been considering this concept for a couple month's now and wanted some feedback. There are multiple points, feel free to ask for clarification. In the course of my career I have witnessed many deaths from a variety of mechanisms of injury and feel that I am mostly unfazed by them; I did not initially feel this way and only did after a fairly lengthy time. I have also had to deal with the witnesses of these deaths and family of the victim and the mental trauma it caused.

I propose that we have become less able to emotionally and psychologically deal with death and loss as a society as compared to ancient times. I believe our reactions to death and loss are far greater than those of our ancestors because we do not face it as often. I believe we have isolated much of the act of dying from the public through the actions of hospitals and paramedics. We have also dramatically reduced death rates in general, specifically in children and with certain diseases such as diabetes. Dying for the most part has become a hidden thing and because of this people are not as used to people dying as they would have been in ancient times. An example I can easily think of is with child birth, despite being a tragedy the loss of child and mother was very common until recently if you look at the history of medicine.

I have met many paramedics who are bothered by what they have seen and developed issues such as PTSD despite seeming death and trauma regularly. I have also met many families that have required some sort of crisis intervention to minimize the negative aspects of their stress reactions despite being relatively minor in the eyes of someone who deals with similar events often.

Getting to the point, would a person from a society with a much higher mortality rate have a better ability to cope with death and the stress of a traumatic event than our society?

I find this equally interesting. If you agree that stress and grief reactions are greater in modern society; is it a bad thing?


                                                            Jav

Edited by Javril, 28 April 2010 - 02:52 AM.


#2    Amberlight

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Posted 28 April 2010 - 03:56 AM

Western society generally seems to view death as something to avoid, to keep quiet about. I don't know if it is some sort of dignity issue or what, but yes, we look at death as something hard to accept. Since you have had so much exposure to death, you have desensitized yourself from the sting.

I love how our South American neighbors see death, and how they continue to have the reverance for thier loved ones through "day of the dead". My first exposure to it made me cry. It was very beautiful. I wish we would adopt their way of looking at death as an opportunity to share stories, pictures, food.

Edited by Amberlight, 28 April 2010 - 03:57 AM.

Today on my walk I passed by this old lady who was sweetly calling to her cat. She said, “Here Sylvester, here kitty kitty, come here.” But while she said it she was holding this large broom. This made me wonder what she knew about Sylvester that the rest of us didn’t. - Amberlight

#3    Javril

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 01:31 PM

View PostAmberlight, on 28 April 2010 - 03:56 AM, said:

Western society generally seems to view death as something to avoid, to keep quiet about. I don't know if it is some sort of dignity issue or what, but yes, we look at death as something hard to accept. Since you have had so much exposure to death, you have desensitized yourself from the sting.

I love how our South American neighbors see death, and how they continue to have the reverance for thier loved ones through "day of the dead". My first exposure to it made me cry. It was very beautiful. I wish we would adopt their way of looking at death as an opportunity to share stories, pictures, food.

What do you think is the reason for this difference for belief?

                            Jav


#4    Fluffybunny

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 02:29 PM

View PostJavril, on 28 April 2010 - 02:51 AM, said:

Getting to the point, would a person from a society with a much higher mortality rate have a better ability to cope with death and the stress of a traumatic event than our society?

                                                            Jav
Well as it stands now, the mortality rate for humans is stuck at 100%.

We all die at some point.

I am not sure what reaction you are comparing to in regards to "the past". It is difficult at best to know how others dealt with death when we do not directly witness that reaction. If you are going by writing, well those that write about death are a fairly small number and it is difficult to know how true those writings are. When you are reading, you are looking at some one elses interpretation of events, as seen through their life filter. It could be far better, or far worse than what that person wrote, without us knowing.

In regards to paramedics having difficulties with death; I don't think you are seeing the actual cause. It isn't the death itself, it is the role that we take in that death. As medics we are that persons link to life until we get them to the hospital, so when someone dies in your care, any good medic is going to be effected by the knowledge that the responsibility for that persons life falls into the medics hands. It doesn't matter how many dead people we see; it is our relationship to that person, our link in their care.

Sometimes people in our care are going to die no matter what we do, they are just too bad off for us to be able to help them. It is sad, and frustrating, but those are easier to get over. When someone we are helping dies, and we felt they would likely make it, then issues of responsibility creep into the situation and dealing with peoples lives(and knowing your care makes the difference) is a very heavy matter that has a huge impact. Just dealing with death is not the same impact. If I get called to a scene were an elderly person has died in their sleep hours earlier and their is nothing anyone could have done...well I may be sad by the effect that has on close family that was there, but otherwise I do not carry anything with me that burdens me past that day.

It is true that today most people are more removed from the dying process; that it takes place in a hospital more often than not. Often family is there in the hospital if it is not a sudden death. People no longer take the body of grandma and put her on the kitchen table in her sunday best for friends and neighbors to come by and pay their respects. That being said, we still hold wakes(just in a different location) and have funerals for everyone to attend.

How people react now, versus some period of time in the past is hard to say. In some aspects it is easier on people because they do not have to have death thrust at them in their home(as often, it still happens of course), but conversely people sometimes do not get to say goodbye, either. That has a negative impact as well.

So I am not sure how to quantify what it is that you are looking for, or compare what is happening now to what happened in the past. Not being there in the past puts a crimp on knowing what it was like, and any information we get will be filtered through a persons life experiences, with the end result being that two people generally don't see the same situation the same way.

Too many people on both sides of the spectrum have fallen into this mentality that a full one half of the country are the enemy for having different beliefs...in a country based on freedom of expression. It is this infighting that allows the focus to be taken away from "we the people" being able to watch, and have control over government corruption and ineptitude that is running rampant in our leadership.

People should be working towards fixing problems, not creating them.

#5    Javril

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 10:09 PM

View PostFluffybunny, on 30 April 2010 - 02:29 PM, said:

Well as it stands now, the mortality rate for humans is stuck at 100%.

We all die at some point.

I am not sure what reaction you are comparing to in regards to "the past". It is difficult at best to know how others dealt with death when we do not directly witness that reaction. If you are going by writing, well those that write about death are a fairly small number and it is difficult to know how true those writings are. When you are reading, you are looking at some one elses interpretation of events, as seen through their life filter. It could be far better, or far worse than what that person wrote, without us knowing.

In regards to paramedics having difficulties with death; I don't think you are seeing the actual cause. It isn't the death itself, it is the role that we take in that death. As medics we are that persons link to life until we get them to the hospital, so when someone dies in your care, any good medic is going to be effected by the knowledge that the responsibility for that persons life falls into the medics hands. It doesn't matter how many dead people we see; it is our relationship to that person, our link in their care.

Sometimes people in our care are going to die no matter what we do, they are just too bad off for us to be able to help them. It is sad, and frustrating, but those are easier to get over. When someone we are helping dies, and we felt they would likely make it, then issues of responsibility creep into the situation and dealing with peoples lives(and knowing your care makes the difference) is a very heavy matter that has a huge impact. Just dealing with death is not the same impact. If I get called to a scene were an elderly person has died in their sleep hours earlier and their is nothing anyone could have done...well I may be sad by the effect that has on close family that was there, but otherwise I do not carry anything with me that burdens me past that day.

It is true that today most people are more removed from the dying process; that it takes place in a hospital more often than not. Often family is there in the hospital if it is not a sudden death. People no longer take the body of grandma and put her on the kitchen table in her sunday best for friends and neighbors to come by and pay their respects. That being said, we still hold wakes(just in a different location) and have funerals for everyone to attend.

How people react now, versus some period of time in the past is hard to say. In some aspects it is easier on people because they do not have to have death thrust at them in their home(as often, it still happens of course), but conversely people sometimes do not get to say goodbye, either. That has a negative impact as well.

So I am not sure how to quantify what it is that you are looking for, or compare what is happening now to what happened in the past. Not being there in the past puts a crimp on knowing what it was like, and any information we get will be filtered through a persons life experiences, with the end result being that two people generally don't see the same situation the same way.

We all die eventually, but depending on your level of medical care eventually can be a long time. Would I be incorrect if I said more mothers died giving birth in the 1400's or that a diabetic was more likely to die from their disorder in the 7th century than today? Yes we all die but most of us live with conditions that would have killed us without medical intervention.

Lets use 1350 AD as our "ancestors", the people have lived through the Black Death, Everyone has lost someone. Would these people be as affected by the death of another loved one as we would be? I know it is not reflective of all history but it illustrate what I'm trying to talk about.

Also, Upon rereading my initial post my comments about my own dealings with death came out in a way I did not intend. If I had to re-describe it I would say that I have come to accept that sometimes despite everything we do patients will sometimes die. In those cases I know I have done everything that I could do to help the patient and that it wasn't meant to be. I had trouble with this as a new medic but as I gained experience I came to see that I couldn't blame myself when a patient died.

                                                             Jav


#6    Fluffybunny

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Posted 30 April 2010 - 10:54 PM

View PostJavril, on 30 April 2010 - 10:09 PM, said:


Lets use 1350 AD as our "ancestors", the people have lived through the Black Death, Everyone has lost someone. Would these people be as affected by the death of another loved one as we would be? I know it is not reflective of all history but it illustrate what I'm trying to talk about.

                                                             Jav
I am not sure how one would know the real response of those enduring the plague. It is so long ago that it is speculation at best to guess on the situations then and the writings of people at the time.

During that time(or even later during the Spanish Flu epidemic in the early 20th century) most people would have known, or been close to someone who died, and those deaths would have been pretty miserable and nightmarish to witness.

I still am not sure what answer you are looking for...I have been rolling it around in my head. I can only answer relating to my experiences of death(both close-family and also in my line of work), and I kind of filter through that experience. I thought about how death was much more expected in the 14th-15th century, as the life expectancy at the time was the mid thirties for most of Europe:

Quote

Although the Renaissance was a time of significant change in comparison to the Middle Ages, there were times of both peace and prosperity, and war, disease and famine. For the average man in the street (or village) daily life had changed little since the Middle Ages. Diet was similar, life was short (an average life expectancy of 30 - 35 years in most parts of Europe, with perhaps a 50% child mortality rate within the first year of life), and war and disease were commonplace.
, but there were many people who lived to their 80's though(the huge infant mortality skewed the life expectancy stats), just as they do now. That is a long life by our standards and that long life would allow people to gain many close friends and loved ones just as we do now; the loss of those people would be intense.

Just as people do now, there were people who lost families and were never able to recover from those traumas and were broken for the remainder of their days; unable to remarry or have close relationships. Some were able to remarry and have semi normal lives. I think in a way, death would have had a deeper impact back then...communities were smaller and close knit. Families stayed together(in the same home) over generations; it was less common for the kids to split off and go to other places so many friendships and relationships were life long.

Conversely think about relationships now. We may have more friends than our Renaissance counterparts, but they are often more shallow. We have friends who are people we see at the coffee shop, or online. Friends we grew up with move in and out of our lives as they relocate to different places(the average person moves 12 times before they die and changes jobs even more than that I read recently in a trivia book). All of the moving around by so many people create a situation where we come in contact with a lot of people, but there is no enduring relationship as we grow older. Just like a train passing along our the path of our lives, people get on and off at different stops. So few people end up living in the same town they were born in; people move on.

So I really don't know how to come up with a set answer for you; as there are ideas that make me think that death was harder for people back then in many ways.

Too many people on both sides of the spectrum have fallen into this mentality that a full one half of the country are the enemy for having different beliefs...in a country based on freedom of expression. It is this infighting that allows the focus to be taken away from "we the people" being able to watch, and have control over government corruption and ineptitude that is running rampant in our leadership.

People should be working towards fixing problems, not creating them.

#7    Javril

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Posted 01 May 2010 - 03:32 PM

View PostFluffybunny, on 30 April 2010 - 10:54 PM, said:

I am not sure how one would know the real response of those enduring the plague. It is so long ago that it is speculation at best to guess on the situations then and the writings of people at the time.

During that time(or even later during the Spanish Flu epidemic in the early 20th century) most people would have known, or been close to someone who died, and those deaths would have been pretty miserable and nightmarish to witness.

I still am not sure what answer you are looking for...I have been rolling it around in my head. I can only answer relating to my experiences of death(both close-family and also in my line of work), and I kind of filter through that experience. I thought about how death was much more expected in the 14th-15th century, as the life expectancy at the time was the mid thirties for most of Europe:
, but there were many people who lived to their 80's though(the huge infant mortality skewed the life expectancy stats), just as they do now. That is a long life by our standards and that long life would allow people to gain many close friends and loved ones just as we do now; the loss of those people would be intense.

Just as people do now, there were people who lost families and were never able to recover from those traumas and were broken for the remainder of their days; unable to remarry or have close relationships. Some were able to remarry and have semi normal lives. I think in a way, death would have had a deeper impact back then...communities were smaller and close knit. Families stayed together(in the same home) over generations; it was less common for the kids to split off and go to other places so many friendships and relationships were life long.

Conversely think about relationships now. We may have more friends than our Renaissance counterparts, but they are often more shallow. We have friends who are people we see at the coffee shop, or online. Friends we grew up with move in and out of our lives as they relocate to different places(the average person moves 12 times before they die and changes jobs even more than that I read recently in a trivia book). All of the moving around by so many people create a situation where we come in contact with a lot of people, but there is no enduring relationship as we grow older. Just like a train passing along our the path of our lives, people get on and off at different stops. So few people end up living in the same town they were born in; people move on.

So I really don't know how to come up with a set answer for you; as there are ideas that make me think that death was harder for people back then in many ways.

I'm not really looking for an answer, I just want to learn what others think of the idea. The population concentration point that you brought up is something I did not consider. If I remember correctly less than 1/2 travel further than 50km from their home. That tight-knit community would feel a loss of a member more severely. But you also brought up the infant death rate, would the loss of an infant be as traumatic as it is today since it was so common during that time?

                          Jav


#8    H.H. Holmes

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Posted 01 August 2010 - 04:37 AM

I agree with FluffyBunny on the issue of how death affects everyone differently, no matter what time period they were in. There have always been people who are more vulnerable to loss and those who are not so affected by it. There have been instances of suicide due to a person's grief or sense of loss, yet other people might get through death of someone close relatively fine. This has been so throughout recorded history and I don't see much change today.

Although, I think the way a person is raised and how much they value life is the main component in how much they are affected by the death of others. People who deal with death and loss on a regular, personal basis are more likely to be hardened to grief, than a person who has no previous experience with it. It is a survival reaction, we need to go on with life and not let death occupy our thoughts at all time. That's why religions exist, in my opinion, because they give explanations that gave us peace in the notion of death. With the coming of science, I think that more people are not influenced as much by religion and see death as a definite, irreversible certainty. Many people have no hope of an afterlife, nor is an existence of an afterlife supported by science. This gives some a very bleak outlook on life and death, instead of a spiritual one.

Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens- Jimi Hendrix
Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.-Friedrich Nietzsche
The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.-Mohandas Gandhi




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