The subject of death has inspired many generations of artists and scientists to draw meaning from the finitude of life. But while these thinkers romanticised death, ordinary people have only gone as far as avoiding the subject.
Sigmund Freud wrote about how humans would create defences instead of coming to terms with their own mortality. These defences come in the form of everyday, ordinary goings-on to keep the mind occupied from the thought of one’s transience.
Sadly, the loss of a loved one, a friend, a parent or a pet bluntly reminds of the ephemeral nature of your existence. As you mourn, you not only mourn the deceased, but your existence as well. Loss teaches you many things beyond the knowledge of death, according to these thinkers.
In a systematic survey conducted by Erich Lindemann, he studied 101 people related to the victims of the Cocoanut Grove Fire in the US, considered the deadliest nightclub fire in history. He then defines grief as “sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat…an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power…” His theory of grief shows how grief has physical manifestations that recur at flowing states.
Remembrance, along with reflection, completes the two phases of loss. When you deal with loss, you deal with memories. According to Centenarymemorialgardens.com.au, memorials are no longer just tributes to loved ones, but also objects of grief. In fact, any object can be a manifestation of a memory with a loved one.
In the process of dealing with loss, people are relearning the world and feeling things they have not felt before. This is especially true for sudden, unprepared deaths. In today’s culture, people deal with loss with profound emotional upheaval. Loss provides people access to their deepest emotions.
Sherwin Nuland, a writer and professor at Yale School of Medicine, writes about how people’s mortality confers meaning on their lives, in his book How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. With his life’s work in medicine and his own experience with loss, he has made profound observations on how people reflect on their much-anticipated deaths.
He writes that the best way people can deal with their mortality is by knowing the truth and by ridding themselves of the fear. To make one’s peace with mortality, a person should find dignity in death instead of denying it altogether.
What these writings teach people is that the death of a loved one should help people become aware of and come to terms with their own eventual demise, instead of denying it. In dealing with loss, people should learn to dignify life not by a specific moment of significance, but by true sources of hope, such as knowledge, love, and meaning.