Pastoral Thanatology: What Do the Dying FearPastoral Thanatology is the study of dying and how to help care for people pastorally. Hence this title is very appropriate not only in understanding the nature of dying but also helping those in spiritual and mental anguish.
Overall this can be a very subjective question because it depends on the spiritual make up of an individual. Are you an atheist who believes you will cease to exist? Are you a Hindu, who believes you will probably return as another person? Are you a Theist and believe that there is a spiritual world of reward or damnation awaiting you?
Again psychologically how did you deal with death your whole life? Did you avoid it? Did you fear it? Or did you openly deal with it or were exposed to it? How did death affect you when you dealt with it? How did you grieve? Were you taught to conceal or reveal your pain?
All these questions circle around an individual in their perspective of death. Yet as a human person, we for the most part all share common traits and anxieties about the unknown certainty of death. This unknown element can bring certain concerns or fears no matter how well we dealt with death in our lives.
Kubler Ross in her book, “Death: The Final Stage of Growth” looked into a program called “The Living Until Death Program” which sought to give consolation to the dying and also gain a greater insight into death. Many were judged based upon the Emotional Adjustment Scale. This scale looked at a person’s ability to cope interiorly and exteriorly to one’s approaching death. It looked at a variety of sociological factors as well, including age, sex, type of disease, religion, etc.
Many of the patients in the study looked for four things to find stabilization. Some found faith, oneself, a spouse or the physician in aiding their emotional adjustment to the pending reality of death. For the elderly the biggest concern and fear was not death itself but they wished not to burden their family. Half the patients also expressed fear of being separated from their loved ones. Life no longer having any meaning was another dread as the dying patient approached the finish line.
While fear of pain and suffering are always a high priority, I feel many of these fears subside to the more lasting realities of separation from loved ones and the fear of the unknown. This is why is it so important to have a healthy dialogue with death while alive.
I cannot relate to agnostics or atheists, but the belief in an afterlife is a soothing reflection I have to this day and one I will undoubtedly have upon the time of my death.
If you are interested in learning more about bereavement care and pastoral counseling, then please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA