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CMAP Health

Normalizing Death,

The Grieving process

Introduction

Before we can normalize death, we need to understand death and the grieving process by having the end-of-life discussion. As living beings, death is a perfectly normal part of our life cycle. It comes sometime after birth at varying ages and stages of life for many different reasons. The unsettling truth is all who are born will eventually experience death.

Despite death being a normal process of living, it is unfortunately not discussed or talked about as much as it should be. This is because our body’s natural reflex to difficult emotions like sadness or fear is to avoid them. This is often the same reaction people have when they fear heights or spiders. What we know about avoidance is, the more we avoid something, the scarier it becomes. Despite the end-of-life conversation being difficult, it is important to educate ourselves and others about death. When we understand something more fully, we are less likely to fear it.

Let’s talk about end-of-life

Some people die suddenly, and some, unfortunately, suffer for years. Death affects everyone, not just the person who is drying. As part of the living experience grief after the loss of a loved one is a major sore spot that people do not discuss. Even more uncomfortable is the conversation to be had when somebody is terminally ill, which often requires needing to appoint a caregiver. The term caregiver has many definitions. But for this purpose, we are referring to a caregiver as the person who tends to the needs of someone dying, often a close loved one. A strenuous but rewarding task that can ease someone’s transition through the grieving process.

 

Why do we avoid the topic of death?

Soodalter et al., 2018 outline’s why it can be difficult for health care professionals to have a conversation about end-of-life with their patients and family members. This conversation Evokes strong negative emotions which can interfere with the thought process of a potential caregiver which then influences their performance and behaviors.

Before we even have the conversation, there are two thought processes that can occur in a potential caregiver; I can do this, or I’m worried this will go badly. The first thought proceeds to the conversation. While the second thought cycles through a process of anticipation of negative feelings, persistent reoccurring thoughts, and potential avoidance of the discussion or details of the situation. Here we can see that the second route can produce stress, exhaustion, and avoidance, which all occur even prior to having the conversation about end-of-life.

During the conversation itself, other negative automatic thoughts can produce the inability to concentrate, difficulty controlling behaviors and emotions, and potentially diversion or giving up on the discussion. With all these though

ts running through our heads before, during, and after the conversation of death. It’s no wonder performance and behaviors are influenced to reflect a type of avoidance surrounding the topic.

Dr. Kathryn Mannix is a former palliative care consultant who retired from her medical career to campaign for a better public understanding of dying. She has many published books including With the End in Mind: How to Live and Die Well (2018) and many talks online. She does an amazing job of describing death in such a way that is peaceful and calming. Here is just one of her many talks online normalizing death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdt7oJMy_Us

 

                                               

Misconceptions

When the loss of a loved one is experienced, often their immediate thoughts are; I am alone and nobody understands, or I will never be able to feel better.

For the person grieving, it’s important to be aware that they are only as alone as they choose to be. Friends and family are not mind readers; it can be difficult for them to know how to help if you don’t reach out. The loss of a loved one often leaves you feeling lonely and disconnected. Talking to friends, family, therapists, or support groups, helps to alleviate this feeling of loneliness.

The terrible cliché of time heals all… Of course, as time passes, one would hope and expect that they can feel better, like a broken bone or learning to adapt to diabetes. But just like wearing a cast or checking your sugar if you don’t follow a professional’s suggestions you will make the grieving period longer and more difficult. When we are open to the possibility of feeling better and embracing the process of grief instead of avoiding it, chances are, the pain of loss decreases as time goes on.

Conclusion

We need to start opening up about death, sharing what our personal experiences with death have been, which are crucial in normalizing the topic. Which will help us reduce our avoidance of the topic. The benefit of talking about death is that everyone can be involved and be well informed about what to expect. Being informed can help to eliminate stress, worry, hypotheticals, and uncertainty. 

Having difficult conversations is not easy and can evoke symptoms such as high emotion, worry, stress, panic, and low mood. At CMAP Health, we are no stranger to having such difficult conversations and can offer support through CBT therapy. It is important to find the support that is right for you and to acknowledge; you are not alone!  

 

 

About Author

Breanne Lyng is one of our (Qualifying) Registered Psychotherapists {RP (Q)} and a therapist under supervision at CMAP Health.  She is completing her Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. She is registered with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA), the Canadian Association of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CACBT), and the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO). To find out more about Breanne you can review her profile.

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