Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Psychology of Death and Dying

I took a course this passed semester called Psychology of Death and Dying. Most of it was spent on grief and trauma, though, so it was kinda depressing at times, which is to be expected. But it was still fabulous. Even the textbook was awesome: The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying. All the best quotes, as far as I'm concerned, come from Chapter 1, though (probably because it's the most philosophical), and that's what I'm going to lay out here - my favourites. I'm reading The Denial of Death (1973) right now, by Ernest Becker. It's a mind-blowing, existentially and psychoanalytically driven masterpiece, deeply penetrating like nothing I've ever read before. And, man, oh, man, can he write! No wonder he won the Pulitzer Prize for it in '74. Too bad he couldn't collect it, though...since he died in March of that year. He wrote it while he was dying, and I agree with the professor I had in a psych course called Personality last winter semester that that probably contributed to how "blazenly" written it is (that's not a word, but it should be). All that was left of Becker's intellectual life force - all his fire - went into that monumental piece...but look at me, I'm so blown away by it that I've completely digressed. It's not time for a book review just yet. I'd be finished it by now if it wasn't for the 3 final essays that I had this month, the exam I had in Psychology of Death and Dying on the 15th, and having to worry about making sure everything is progressing with my 12 grad applications that I've been stressing about none stop. That's right - TWELVE!! Anyway, here are my favourite quotes from The Last Dance:

"Among the insights communicated in the work of Emily Dickinson, one of America's foremost poets, is the recognition that it is impossible to affirm life without an examination of death" (p. 19).

"Humour often functions as a kind of comment on incongruity or inconsistency relative to social norms or perspectives, as when a young girl wrote a letter to God asking, 'Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones You have now?'" (p. 24).

"In the health care setting, humour serves to communicate important messages, promote social relations, diminish discomfort, and manage 'delicate' situations; it has been called the 'oil of society'" (p. 25).

"In short, humour is an important aid in confronting our fears and gaining a sense of mastery over the unknown. Finding humorous aspects to death, casting it in an unconventional light, relieves some of the anxiety that accompanies awareness of our mortality" (p. 26).

"Only through awareness of our lifelong losses and appreciation of our mortality are we free to be in the present, to live fully" (p. 26).

"The word thanatos became associated in the early twentieth century with Freudian psychoanalytic theory as a term describing the source of unconscious destructive urges, or the death instinct, in contrast to the constructive activities of eros, or life instinct. Freud postulated that all the variations of human behavior and activity were produced by interaction between eros and thanatos" (p. 30).

"Our relationship with death has, as Herman Feifel observed, 'a shaping power on thinking and behavior at all points in the life span.' The way which we anticipate death, Feifel says, governs our 'now' in an influential manner" (p. 31).

"In a variety of ways, our culture helps us 'deny, manipulate, distort, or camouflage death so that it is a less difficult threat with which to cope" (p. 32).

"Our heroic projects that are aimed at destroying evil have the paradoxical effect of bringing more evil in to the world" (p. 33 - Ernest Becker on terror management theory - how people cope with the awareness of death - four days before his passing).

"Because death is always a possibility, fear of death is built into human life. Studies show that 'fear of death functions as a motivating force whether people are currently focused on this particular issue or not; it is the implicit knowledge of death rather than current focal awareness that is the motivating factor.' In a commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs of Apple Computer pointed out the irony of this when he said, 'Death is very likely the single best invention of life.' He called it 'life's change agent.' In this view, death is necessary to give existential meaning to life." (p. 33-34).

"Technological medicine sometimes seems to promote a view of death as an event that can be deferred indefinitely rather than as a normal, natural part of life" (39).

"As death educator Robert Kanaugh said, 'The unexamined death is not worth dying'" (40).

"Although death's finality appears harsh, for the ancient Greeks it was death that makes life significant. Mortality 'compels humans to make some sense of their existence, here and now, each day to discover what it means "to live well"'" (p. 45).

1 comment:

  1. This blog is awesome. The post is very useful. I have a similar post at the-death-and-dying.blogspot.com. Please read that too!