Saturday, March 04, 2006

Death, the Dying Process...and Spirituality?

Today I have spent a lot of time in the dying process on my bedroom floor...

...I've skimmed through some 8 books today on the topic of death and dying in preparation for a group presentation I have coming up soon for a class. A couple of the books were fairly interesting, but trust me, I'll be glad when I don't have to hear about Kubler-Ross anymore (that is the individual who came up with the 5 stages an individual goes through when be faced with their impendent death).

Luckily for me, the last book I had left on the pile to go through ended up being one that really interested me. I'm going to reference the book right now, so I can quote from it throughout this passage: "Handbook of Death & Dying" by Clifton D. Bryant.

I enjoyed all the quick reference statistics throughout this book. Let me start with just throwing some out that interested me...
  • From a survey in 2000, heart disease was of course the leading cause of death; however, more people die from influenza and pneumonia than from Alzheimer's disease, and more die from Alzheimer's than from suicides.
  • When considering deaths by unintentional injuries in the U.S. in the year 1999, motor vehicles of course was #1, with a total of 40,965, but the third unintentional injury listed was poisoning, with a total of 13,162. That must suck. But then I took careful not of the sixth injury on the list, "drowning," for my own personal reasons...HA!
  • When looking at statistics of methods of suicide used in Ancient Rome and Greece by gender, the top method for males was weapons, representing 46% of the suicides, while for females it was hanging, representing 34%. The method of "jumping" was used by more females than males, 22 to 13% respectively.
  • Trends from 1930-1975 have always shown higher suicide rates in whites than in blacks.
  • Numbers of executions in the U.S. by method since 1976: Lethal injection--654; Gas chamber--11; Electrocution--10; Hanging--3; and Firing Squad--2.
  • I always knew that Texas was the state with the highest rate of carrying out capital punishment, but I had no idea it was THIS big of a difference... Executions from 1977-2002: Texas had 289 and the second place state was Virginia with 87.

Then there were some direct quotes in the text that really interested me:

  • Hanging a condemned inmate correctly is practically a science. The know must be placed in exactly the right location under the jaw, the weights must be precise, the trapdoor must operate efficiently. The electric chair, under the best of circumstances, is ripe for human and/or mechanical errors...The gas chamber is the most dangerous and complex of the five methods.
  • Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of the discipline of sociology, claims that it was the fear of death and the dead that led to the creation of religion.
  • The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski calls religion the "great anxiety reliever," asserting that it functions to relieve anxiety caused by crisis. According to Malinowski, religion provides individuals with the means for dealing with extraordinary phenomena; it functions to restore normalcy.

The first quote there was just for your FYI, but I also thought it was interesting, as the death penalty interests me. But it was those last two that really made me think, yep. Durkheim's thoughts support a theory I've had for quite some time now. And then Malinowski's assertion goes along with my thoughts on religion being quite possibly the greatest therapy out there.

It's interesting because whenever you talk religion with someone, and one person is a firm believer and the other a skeptic, the topic of what happens after death is bound to arise. This text said this:

There seem to be four possible answers to the question of what happens to us when we die:

  • Annihilation: It is simply the end
  • Immortality: An imperishable soul lives on without the body.
  • Resurrection: After an intermediate period, the dead person rises to live again, in a re-created body.
  • Reincarnation: Something of the essence of the dead person is reborn into another form of life.

I suppose that pretty much is all the options you have to what you might believe happens after death. I can answer the question based on my beliefs with one of those, as I'm sure you can too. I think that is probably where religious beliefs probably come into play.

While I might not consider myself to be a religious person, I do believe myself to be a pretty spiritual person. Because of this, I liked the spirituality section in this book on death. There was a section within it called, "Achieving self-conscious spirituality." I thought it provided a nice scale of questions to consider when evaluating your spiritual nature.

I'll end with that list of questions for you to enjoy as I did:

  • When you are discouraged and despondent, what keeps you going?
  • Where have you found strength in the past?
  • Where have you found hope in the past?
  • Who have you looked up to?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What does death mean to you?
  • What does suffering mean to you?
  • What does [religious] community mean to you?
  • What does healing mean to you at this point in your life?
  • What is your attitude to your death?
  • Can you forgive others?
  • Can you forgive yourself?
  • What would bring you inner peace?
  • Can you find strength in yourself?
  • Do you love yourself?
  • Can you perceive yourself as being loved by others, by God?
  • How are you relating to yourself?
  • How are you relating to others?
  • How are you relating to the universe?
  • How are you relating to your God?

Many of these are the types of questions that I LOVE discussing with close friends. How interesting the topics and discussions always turn out to be!


Holly said...

I like how you began with, "Today I have spent a lot of time in the dying process on my bedroom floor..." -- it provided me with an eerie, yet morbidly funny image in my mind. Anyway...

I just wanted to comment on the spirituality questions. Those sound like a mixture of solution-focused and existential philosophy. Although I am not yet the unyielding solution-focused advocate, I have always been the existentialism admirer.

Good post with an "undying" message. ha ha.

Mark E. Lopez said...

When you are discouraged and despondent, what keeps you going?

Is the most interesting question.

Because, I don't actually know what keeps me going anymore. I consciously am discouraged, frequently - and feel depressed and meaningless. But I just, as it says in a novel I enjoyed, "Dance Dance Dance" - because if I stop dancing, it'll all be over. Unless I'm willing to let it end, I just have to keep going.