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Summary: Death and Dying

Death is defined by medical doctors in the United States as the irreversible cessation of brain function. Kubler-Ross is famous for her work outlining stages of adjustment in terminally ill patients. Her book On Death and Dying (1969) was one of the first to discuss psychological reactions to impending death.

Kubler-Ross found that people who knew they were going to die sometimes denied it. Some grew angry. Some attempted to "bargain" with God. Many ultimately came to an acceptance of their situation.

These five "stages" were not originally seen as a sequence; they were five distinct reactions Kubler-Ross observed in terminally ill patients. In popular culture, they became caricatured as a progression through five steps.

Care of terminal patients in a hospital has many disadvantages. Dying people may be removed from their families at the time when they most want to be with them. A person's life savings may be exhausted in the final weeks of life in futile efforts to prolong life.

Hospice care, used when a patient's life expectancy is less than six months, aims at making the patient comfortable rather than fighting death. It is increasingly popular in the United States and seems to provide a more comforting and meaningful experience for families as well as the dying person.

Near-death experiences often have a powerful impact on people who recover from them. So-called afterlife exper­iences involving a bright light or profound insights about life are not uncommon. Research shows they occur in about one in eight cardiac resuscitation events.

Reactions to the death of loved ones can be profound. If the death is unexpected, denial is a common reaction. Even if the death is expected, people can take years to recover.

Several writers have proposed stages of the mourning process. However, there are many exceptions to these patterns. One study found that over half of widows and widowers experienced no exaggerated grief or despair.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


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