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The Culture of Death and Dying


One day, the Navajo people placed an animal hide in water. ... This is a form of remembrance for loved ones; it can also be viewed as a form of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Culture of Death and Dying

The Culture of Death and Dying
  • Life and Death do not wait for perfect theories,
    definitive studies, and validated intervention

Life and Death
  • Two of the attributes that all humans share are
    the experiences of being born and the fact that
    everyone would eventually die.

Thanatologists those who study the surroundings
and inner experiences of persons near death
  • Stages?
  • Denial and isolation (No, not me!)
  • Anger, rage, envy, and resentment (Why me?)
  • Bargaining (If I am good, then can I live?)
  • Depression (What's the use?)
  • Acceptance.
  • Most authorities believe that these stages do not
    occur in any predictable order and may be
    intermingled with feelings of hope, anguish, and

Death and Culture
  • Fear of Dying is innate
  • Death is a socially constructed idea
  • The fears and attitudes people have towards
    death and dying are learned from educational and
    cultural vehicles such as the languages, arts,
    and religion
  • Every culture has its own coherent explanation of
    death which is believed to be right by its members

Western vs Eastern Thought
  • Cultures can be death-accepting, death-denying or
    even death- defying. In the death-defying West,
    the strategies for salvation have historically
    included activism and denial.
  • In the East, the strategies have often been more
    contemplative and mystical.

No Not Me!
  • The United States, and probably most of the
    societies in the West, is a death-denying/defying
    society where even the idiom of expression is
    that of resistance.
  • People vow not to go gently into the good night
    (Blake, 1988) or conjure images of fighting
    illness, or fighting the enemy, death (Kalish
    Reynolds, 1981).

Death Anxiety Across the Cultures
  • Death anxiety is not prevalent to the same degree
    across cultures.
  • In a study of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians
    found that Hindus (who had the greatest belief in
    life after death) also tested lowest in death
    anxiety, followed by the Muslims, while the
    Christians showed the highest death anxiety

Dont Talk About It
  • Although we are excited about discussions
    concerning birth, people in all cultures discuss
    death with extreme reluctance. However, even
    though we may use the same words to describe
    death, the actual meaning and conceptualization
    of death differs widely across cultures.

Among Many Cultures
  • Death signals an abrupt and permanent
  • In some instances, people are prohibited from
    even mentioning the names of the deceased in the
    fear that doing so may actually endanger the
    lives of the living or prevent the ghost from
    leaving this earth and attaining peace.

What Scares You?
  • Death doesnt scare me. Its what comes
    before death that terrifies me.

Dying to Communicate
  • Interviews and Personal Narratives of over 1250
    cognitive terminally ill hospice patients
  • 60 Female - 40 Male
  • Ages 3 107
  • 80 Caucasian
  • 12 Hispanic
  • 6 African American
  • 2 Other

Dying to Communicate . . .
Concluded that… Terminally ill people are not
allowed to talk about their experience of dying
even though this research shows they want and
need to talk about it.
  • The most basic of all human needs is the need
    to understand and be understood. The best way to
    understand people is to listen to them.

  • Ralph Nichols

3 year old Wisdom
  • Im not afraid. My bunny is
  • going with me.

107 year old Wisdom
I loved my children and theyre all dead now.
Its not right to outlive your children. Never in
my life did I expect that. That was a shame. Im
very old.
The Death-Defying, Death-Denying Society . . .
A death-denying society is characterized by an
inability to discuss death and dying openly. A
death-denying society is one that views death as
a punitive consequence of poor management of the
physical self. A death-denying society attempts
to regulate death to institutions, such as
hospitals. A death-denying society places little
value in a dying person.
Conclusions . .
Death accepting cultures of hospice and
palliative care provide an environment in which
the terminally ill person can talk about his or
her experience of dying with people who not only
understand the many dynamics of death and dying
but embrace people facing death.
Need for Death Mediators
A death mediator has to embrace death and dying
as a part of life and convey that acceptance in a
humane and compassionate way. A death mediator is
often found in an environment which values the
dying. Death mediators are most often found in
hospice and palliative care.
Society Does Not Want To Talk About Death and
It sure is strange you wanting to talk to me
about dying. What type of study is it? You going
to be a mortician? No, my mortician didnt even
talk to me about dying, you must be worse than
Does Your Family Know . . . ???
I think its great youre willing to come here
and talk to me about dying. Does your family know
you do this?
Patients Want to be Told the Truth
He couldnt tell me I was dying, either. Whats
wrong with being honest? When did it become a bad
thing to be honest? I wish he had just told me
we didnt beat it. We tried, but didnt beat it.
I would have understood that, and I wouldnt have
blamed him either.
How Were You Told . . .?
My doctor was so busy, he couldnt, didnt tell
me in person. He called and left a message on my
answering machine. Your MRI shows you have a
brain tumor with mets everywhere. I think you
need hospice now.
Dying to Communicate What the Dying Say about
I think my life is ending too soon. I think I
still had more in me to go. I wish I had done
some things different, but you cant cry over
spilled milk. You look back and wish your
eyesight was dimmer. Memory is a rotten thing,
you know?
What the Dying Say about Death and Dying
It sure is boring.
Does it always take this long?
  • I always thought it would be a little more
    romantic, like in the movies. I guess this
    isnt Hollywood huh.

Is It Always BAD News?
Finally, somebody knows what is wrong with me. I
thought I was going crazy. Im just dying, thats
all, just dying…what a relief.
Whatever happens, I dont want to die in pain.
I mean, who does? I dont care what you guys
need to do, I dont want to be in pain. Dont
make me use a gun (laughs) . . .
.… Im not talking on me, I mean on you guys. If
I have real bad pain, Ill just shoot you.
Tell Them For Me . . .
I think it is going to be very soon and Im, I
am going to be well again somewhere else. Will
you tell them that for me afterwards. Tell them I
was happy to be leaving. Not leaving them, but
released. Tell them that okay, when they are
When Do You Say Goodbye?
How do you say goodbye? I was never good at it
and now, well, Im really having a hard time. How
do you know when to say goodbye for the last
Death Dying Simulation
3 Things You Own (Things you would be sadden to
include pets here) 3
Personal Attributes (What you like about
yourself) 3 Activities You Enjoy (Sex is an
activity) 3 People You Love (Children can be
grouped into 1)
Im Not Ready . . .
It makes me a little crazy to think about it,
but thats all I ever do. I wonder, I keep
wondering is this it? Is this my last day on
earth? I dont want to close my eyes. If I stay
awake, I stay alive. I wish I was ready. I wish I
could tell you that, but Im not, I dont want to
8 Months Later . . .
Im so tired. I think Im ready now. I dont
think too much about it anymore. I wish it would
just happen. Get it over with and lets move on.
Im ready now, tell them all that okay? Tell them
I was ready finally. Tell them please.
Are You Scared?
Oh heavens no. It doesnt scare me. Its rather
fascinating if you ask me. I just wish I had more
time and energy to explore it and find out where
I was going with all of it. I hope there is
awareness. . . I dont want to miss a thing.
Final Wishes . . .
Ive made myself an urn. Im painting it bright
red. That way nobody will forget where Im at. .
. Somebody will have to date it though. Can you
do that for me?
Spell it Correctly . . .
Dont forget how to spell my name. . . Harry. H
A R R Y! You got it?
They Never Forget
  • They may forget what you said
  • but they will never forget how you made
  • them feel
  • Carl

Analogy of cultural diversity using weaving as an
  • Although weaving is a universal technique, the
    patterns that result from this process are
    culturally unique and identifiable.
  • Thus, even when they use the same materials,
    patterns used in Navajo, Chinese, Persian,
    Japanese and French tapestries are recognizable
    not only in terms of colors, but also of patterns
    and textures. This range of diversity applies to
    issues about death and dying.

Attitudes and Beliefs
  • Among the cultural indicators to be considered
  • nature of the beliefs toward the meaning of life,
    death and the hereafter
  • funerary rituals and strategies for body
  • the physical and symbolic boundaries between the
    worlds of the living and the dead
  • the perceived role of the dead on the affairs of
    the living
  • the degree of social stigma attached to those
    dying, dead, or bereaved
  • orientations toward and rates of suicide, murder
    and abortion
  • death prevention and avoidance as a social goal
  • the death socialization of children (including
    death themes in children's stories and games) and
    their involvement in funerary ritual
  • the taboo status of the topic of dying and death
    in everyday discourse
  • the language used regarding death.

  • South Pacific cultures believe that life, as is
    generally construed, departs the body of a person
    in different situations, such as when one is ill
    or asleep. Thus conceptualized, people can be
    said to "die" several times before the final

Truskesian Culture
  • The Truskese of Micronesia believe that life ends
    at 40 years of age, and when you reach 40, you
    are, in effect, dead.
  • Given the physically demanding activities engaged
    in by people in this society, there seems to be a
    noticeable decline in the ability of the Truskese
    to perform their socially assigned roles at
    acceptable standards at this age.
  • Sensing that the end must be coming, the
    individual begins to prepare for death and is
    viewed as being dead even before he or she
    transitions to that point as viewed from the
    Western perspective.

Western Christian Thought
  • Death occurs only once.
  • Christians do not believe that everything ceases
    at death. The person sheds his or her bodily form
    but continues on in spirit where there are
  • The faithful - believers who kept the faith - are
    rewarded with eternal joy in heaven.
  • Sinners proceed to hell.

Mother Teresa
  • Death is nothing else but going home to God, the
    bond of love will be unbroken for all

Native Americans
  • Among some Native American tribes (and certain
    segments of Buddhism), the dead and the living
  • the dead can influence the well-being of the
    living. If the dead (ancestral spirits) are
    properly reconciled, the likely outcome is a
    benevolent spirit that protects the interests of
    the living.
  • If not accorded the appropriate treatment, the
    result is an unhappy spirit that may ignore the
    well-being of the living, leading to misery.

Navajo Legend
  • One day, the Navajo people placed an animal hide
    in water. If it did not sink, then no one would
    ever die. However, if the hide sank into the
    water, then death would be part of life. The
    Navajo did not watch the hide, but turned away
    from it instead. While their backs were turned, a
    coyote threw some rocks on top of the hide. Of
    course, this made it sink down into the water.
    The coyote's reason was that if no one ever died,
    there would come a point at which there wouldn't
    be any more land on which the people would live.
    This is the reason death comes for all of us

Circle of Life
  • Die happily and look forward to taking up a new
    and better form. Like the sun, only when you set
    in the west can you rise in the east.

    Jelaluddin Rumi

  • The universal law of karma ... is that of action
    and reaction, cause and effect, sowing and
    reaping. In the course of natural righteousness,
    man, by his thoughts and actions, becomes the
    arbiter of his destiny. Paramahansa Yogananda

Attitudes and Beliefs
  • When you are born, you cry, and the world
    rejoices. When you die, you rejoice, and the
    world cries. Tibetan Buddhist saying

Death in Hinduism
  • Some cultures, such as the Hindu, envision a
    circular pattern of life and death where a person
    is thought to die and is reborn with a new
    identity. This exit and reentry into life can
    occur multiple times.
  • Death is not viewed as the end of all but only a
    step in the existence of soul, a temporary
    cessation of physical activity. Since Hindus
    believe in reincarnation and the trans-migration
    of the soul, they approach the subject of death
    without much fear.

Hindu Belief
  • According to Hindu belief, it is necessary for
    the skull to be broken by a blow with a cudgel at
    the cremation ground, to free the soul from
    entrapment within the skull.

  • A Muslim's body must be washed at least three
    times after death with soap and water. Perfume
    may be used, or camphor placed, in the orifices
    and armpits, while prayers are said and passages
    read from the Qur'an.

Gyan Rajhans Scientist and Hindu Spiritual
  • We brought nothing with us when we came, and
    would take nothing with us when we leave this
    world. In fact, we will leave a little extra
    behind if we lead a life of goodness and
    philanthropy. If we become soul-conscious, death
    will be an "ordered" process, carried out in full
    consciousness and with understanding of cyclic
    purpose. Once understood, the fear of death
    ceases. It gives us a certain power to control
    our passing over to the other side of the veil.
    Let us approach death with as much normalcy as we
    can manage.

  • In Russia, a copper coin was thrown in the grave
    to help the dead person redeem a better place in
    the other world.
  • After the death of the farmer or his wife, a
    horse or a cow died on the farm, it meant that
    the deceased took his/her share with him/her to
    the other world (usually an egg was put in the
    armpit of the body so that he/she would
    symbolically have his/her share.

Ritual and Culture
  • It is important  to emphasize the situational
    aspects of death rituals when interpreting these
    rituals cross culturally and to take into account
    the cultural context where the rituals that
    surround death take place

Culture Rituals
  • When examining death rituals cross-culturally it
    is easy to attribute the same symbolic
    significance to similar rituals. Nevertheless,
    after looking at the rituals, used in the context
    of the culture they were created in, the symbolic
    meaning can be quite different. 
  • Crying, for instance,  is common at funerals. In
    our western countries it is a spontaneous
    expression of feeling whereas in other cultures
    crying is mandatory on certain occasions,
    including funerals, to symbolize the attachment
    between persons .

Omens Symbolic interpretation of certain signs.
  • The foreteller of death can be a bird or some
    other natural object.
  • An instance of death in the neighborhood can be
    foretold by a raven's croaking, a bird flying on
    the window or into the house, a death tick
    ticking on the wall, a dog's howling, the
    cackling of a hen.
  • The number of years one expected to live was
    counted by the cuckoo's calls.
  • Other omens include noises in house at nights,
    itching of the nose, stalks of straw crossed in a
    peculiar way during threshing the grain,. In
    spring one could foretell poor crops and also
    death Even at childbirth people tried to foretell
    by looking out, what kind of death the baby would
  • Dreaming of a dead person, a priest, or a gift
    given by a dead person predicted the dreamer's
    death. The symbolic language is the most
    interesting feature in the interpretation of
  • Omens were also observed during funerals.

Tombstones Graves
  • Most modern cultures mark the location of the
    body with a headstone. This serves two purposes.
  • First, the grave will not accidentally be
  • Second, headstones often contain information or
    tributes to deceased. This is a form of
    remembrance for loved ones it can also be viewed
    as a form of immortality

  • Cremation is a more recent phenomena. It became
    visible in the late 19th century and it was long
    seen to be the preserve of the freethinker, the
    consciously modern and even the weird.
  • In the US, the growth of cremations has also been
    associated with a social change the breakdown
    of family and community traditions and the
    decline in mainstream religious affiliation

Preparation of the Corpse
  • In Judeo/Christian countries like America and
    most of Europe, the body is embalmed and often
    dressed in fancy clothes to be buried. It has
    been suggested that this ritual is preformed
    because the "sacred quality of man exists in the
    soul and spirit, and that the body, as a temple
    or chamber for the spirit during life, deserves
    decent and respectful treatment" (Haberstein,
  • In some parts of Africa the corpse is bathed and
    dresses as well. Some Africans believe that there
    is a long journey between this world and the next
    and that death is a continuation of life and not
    an ending. Thus, the body is bathed and dressed
    in a manner to represent these beliefs of travel
    for a difficult journey. Therefore, although the
    ritual of 'grooming' of the deceased for burial
    may look similar for both Americans and Africans
    the symbolic significance of the rituals are
    quite different.

The End
  • People living deeply have no fear of death.
  • Anais Nin