Reflecting on mortality

Daniel Mendoza ’21 reflects on mortality: 

Avoiding death, in my opinion, is the human condition. It’s undeniable, at least for now. The entire world will, is, or has experienced death. Of the occupations that are out there, Doctors are the ones who see its first-hand effects the most. As a pre-med, I have often thought about what that would be like, but really can’t begin to comprehend confronting death .

These are some of my ramblings:

Doctors

With training, experience, and conviction

resisting disease, illness, and death is the goal

we do all that we can to fight the inevitable

I see people walk out of this building

ready to continue their lives

and others who know that they never will

I’m the harbinger of gloom, the deliverer of good news

knowing that my visage reveals all

makes it much more delicate

It could be easy to say

that the solution is to ignore emotions

but only by feeling deep sorrow

and immense joy,

I can begin to understand

those that seek my help

Death has a largely negative connotation, and it’s very understandable. There is such finite time for existence, but to enjoy those years there must to be the knowledge that life is limited. Doctors should know this, they should feel deeper emotions to become empathetic, not numb. Those complex feelings are what can help us realize that we are exhilaratingly awake. The existence of these reactions emphasizes how death is a necessary yet unwanted aspect of life

If we agree that death is an inevitability , why do we avoid it? The obvious answer is the sense of self-preservation; we want to be alive so that we can live. I want to hang around and bother my friends everyday, to see their faces when I’ve made that terrible pun, or when they get excited about the topics they love. I want to get angry at the work I have to do, just to later feel that sense of relief when it all starts to make sense. We want a chance to explore our surroundings, to follow a path that will let us do whatever it is we want to. We want to be alive to have the freedom to reflect on our desires and interests. The freedom to make these choices is something that I’m all for. I agree that living can be wonderful, and most would say that the thought of death is terrifying, but should we be as afraid of dying as we are?

While I was looking through articles about the idea of death in hospitals, I came across a journal paper that talked about an interesting concept. After studies on terminally ill patients and criminals on death row, the paper came to a conclusion that people tend to overestimate the negativity of dying (Goranson). With longitudinal study using journal entries and surveys, they discovered that people tended to become more positive as they approached death. The researchers suggested that, “this results from increased focus on meaning-making frameworks, such as religion and relationships with close friends and family, during one’s final days”(Goranson). Being closer to death caused people to pay greater attention to the things within their lives, leading them to become more happy than they thought they would be. Instead of being filled with dread, they concentrate on interacting with the world around them. The fear of dying is what makes dying so frightening.

As mentioned, death can potentially facilitate the enrichment of life. It allows for actions and emotions to have meaning. However, this should not be localized at the end of life. We should enjoy those moments of delight and sadness equally throughout our lives. Those in health care will have to understand this in order to be better at what they do. One of the best things they could do for patients and themselves is to practice under the acceptance that dying cannot be separated from living.  Although evading death entirely may be futile, the dread of death is can be transformed into the appreciation of life.

References:

Amelia, et al. “Dying Is Unexpectedly Positive.” Psychological Science, vol. 28, no. 7, July 2017, pp. 988–999, doi:10.1177/0956797617701186.

 

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