Thursday, July 5, 2012

Can You Talk About Death?

The past 4 weeks have been full of tragedy in the Community of Northbrook Illinois.  3 Young men, Billy Garrity, Ryan McCarthy and Kyle Caraher all lost their lives; all too young.  If I use the number of views on this blog as an indication (over 8000) and the times those views occurred, it becomes clear that people have an extreme interest in information at or close too the time of the death.  As the hours and days march on, interest wanes.  One of the problems with this is that those affected most by these losses travel an opposite trajectory.   

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, as a young psychiatric intern, took it upon herself to talk with individuals in the Hospital who were dying as well as family members.  What she then identified is what she termed the stages of death and dying (link).  It was her belief that the stages were;
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Dr. Ross believed that people moved through these stages in coming to a resolution of the loss.  It should be noted that not all people move through all stages or that they move through each stage in progression but we are fairly confident the process starts with denial and can end with acceptance.  Over the years these stages of death have come to be known as the grieving process and that those who are aware of their imminent death (In hospice, etc.) and those dealing with someone's death, both go through this process.

The main vehicle for moving through this process is to actively discuss the death.  This is vital to the person dying and to the people left behind.  Without going into all possible scenario's I'll just say that those who suffer a loss through death need the opportunity to talk about it.  The sad fact though is that most of us don't feel comfortable doing so and that leaves very few people to talk with, especially as the weeks and months march on.  Perhaps we never learn to do this?  Often it is discouraged by the well meaning but uniformed in some attempt to keep others from emotional pain.

What I can tell you from experience is this.  People who have lost loved ones welcome every sincere opportunity to talk about it, especially as time marches on and others begin to forget.  They are hurt by well meaning friends who suddenly avoid them out of fear of not knowing what to say.  Sure kids and adults are somewhat different in this aspect as in their when and where's of wanting to discuss it but they do want to discuss it.

When someone close to you loses a family member or close friend make it a point to ask how they are.  Express your regret that it happened and ask if you can do anything to help.  Most likely just listening is the biggest gesture you can make.  In doing so, over time, you'll notice your own comfort level growing regarding the subject of death as well as a new appreciation for life.  Don't run from these discussions and don't run from the people who have suffered these losses.  Learn to talk about death and use these times of tragedy to everyone's advantage.


Paula Duran said...

All I can say right now is "THANK YOU Dr. Conlin!" As a parent of a grieving teenager I deeply appreciate your guidance and words of wisdom.

John Conlin said...

Thanks Ms. Duran. My kids were all born in NBK, started school at St. Norbert's and still refer to it as their home.