Pastoral Care, Chapter 8: Death is a Reality, Not a Threat – Part 3

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has done an invaluable service in the book which she wrote entitled ON DEATH AND DYING. She interviewed two hundred people terminally-ill patients. She asked them some very pointed and candid questions and entered into the depth of their experience with them in a very meaningful way as they talked, not only about what was happening to them physically, but how they felt about being at the threshold of death. After the study, she took some time, gathered her thoughts, and wrote this book.

In the book, she talks about five stages of development in our feelings concerning the inevitability of death. (These phrases are mine.)

The first one is DENIAL: “This cannot happen to me … I will not accept the diagnosis … I will get another doctor … I will go to another clinic … I will do something … This cannot happen to me, especially right now.”

The second is ANGER: “This happening to me and it is not fair … What have I done to deserve this? … How can you say there is a good God when something like this is happening to me?”

The third is BARGAINING: “It is happening … God, it is happening … Will you just let me live another year? … Will you just let me live until my children are grown? … Will you just let me live until I have made this trip or I have accomplished this? … I have these things that are unfinished. Will you just let me live until they are finished?”

The fourth is DEPRESSION: “It is happening, there is not a thing I can do about it … There is nothing the doctors can do … I am dying, and I am dehumanized by the process.” Often, the depressed one withdraws from life saying, “There is no further good or use.”

The fifth is ACCEPTANCE: “It is happening… There is not a thing I can do about the disease itself, but I can cope, because I have the resources within me to do so … I will stay alive as long as I live, and I will share my love.”

While not everyone goes through the process necessarily in that order, and not everyone experiences all of those emotions, I have found that it is when a person has moved to the point of acceptance, having really accepted death as a reality, and especially the possibilities of their own dying, that they are also freed to accept the possibility of living. When they have been freed to accept the reality of their dying they have also been freed to accept the possibility of staying alive as long as they live; and to live life as fully as possible and to share their love for as long as they live.

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