More body cells die after about age 30 than what are being replenished. So what sense does it make to distinguish dying from a disease and dying from normal aging?
We all die. Some take longer than others if disease is staved off. Whether it’s from an accident, a chronic or acute illness, homicide, war, or suicide, or age-related organ failure – death is inevitable.
Well, the issue of course, is dying prematurely, and the fear and/or grieving associated with it. But it’s also dying maturely, since anticipatory grieving occurs among survivors and the person as well, even if he or she is extremely old. We fear death, our own, and another’s whom we love or admire.
Society-wide fear of death and dying is endemic to all human cultures. The psychological make-up of humans makes loss an emotional experience, and this phenomenon is seen as an evolved survival mechanism. Avoidance of physical and psychological pain is primarily a human trait, although psychological reactions to loss have been attributed to higher order animals as well, as in dolphins, whales, elephants, apes and some birds.
Humans can actually suffer (crying, moaning, sleeplessness, physical distress, bad decisions, etc.) when someone dies. And can suffer or grieve for extended periods. Years, in some cases. Grieving that lasts a long time and interferes with activities of daily living, like work or social routines, may be classified as “complicated” or “pathological” grief. It may require professional intervention. In normal grieving the walls of pain get thinner and further apart with the passage of time, but may never completely go away. Nonetheless, within months from experiencing a loss the survivor usually returns to former daily activities.
The acceptance of death from aging, as part of normal life, may be better tolerated than a sudden, or unexpected loss. Or much more predictably, than the loss of a child. Or than the manner of the loss, as in a homicide or suicide.
The subjectivity of the loss varies depending on time, place, and circumstance. But humans die, however the means. Cellular death, it can be argued, is a form of dying of the whole body, and without restrictions, is seen as “normal”. The dying are still “alive’ until certain criteria are satisfied to declare them officially “dead” (although we also speak of someone suffering a ‘social’ death).
The issue is one of acceptance of death as a part of life, and education can go a long way in facilitating this acceptance.