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The Penalty Of Death

The Penalty Of Death
July 27
00:13 2019

By: Dr. Abigail Joseph

I place my phone on airplane mode whenever I put it to charge at night to prove to myself that “I run technology and technology nuh run me.” One day about a year ago, I remember waking up, turning on my cell phone and proceeding to set the coffeemaker. I listened to the unending “plings” from viber, Whatsapp, messenger, texts and voicemail notifications. Later as I scrolled my messages I remember seeing one from a friend of mine whom I chat with daily. She made one statement – “My dad just died.” I choked on my coffee, spilled some on my uniform and stared at the phone, my mind blank for a second.
After gathering myself at the news, my mind screamed at me to type something! Call her! Do something! Instead, I stood there staring at the phone as if the words would change. Eventually I managed to type, “oh my! I don’t know what to say.”

When we experience situations such as death in the family or the death of a friend it’s easy to stutter, say the wrong thing, speak out of context or at times we are just too comical for the actual situation. Our brains were not really wired to handle grief. This makes sense because it’s not every day that we go through it. For some of us, it may be the first time experiencing death in our circle. It’s hard! Saying the right thing, knowing when to speak or what to do is hard!
Grief is an extremely emotional and physical reaction that an individual feels after the death of a loved one. It can be characterized by sadness and a desire to be with the person once more. Bereavement is a normal life experience and a majority adapt to their loss and grief. However, it’s important to know that the period of adapting and adjusting to living without someone is still a painful journey, one that takes months, years even. The death of someone is one of the greatest stressors in the human timeline, and it increases a person’s risk of substance abuse, depression and also suicidal tendencies. I was taught in Med-School how to address death and how to express the passing of a patient to their loved one. Choosing our words carefully, showing empathy, touch and exiting gracefully. But that’s a technique. It can be done with the least bit of emotion and it is not genuine; it’s not the same when dealing with personal loss nor does it equip you to help a friend who is grieving.

When I look around in society, it feels as if they too have their own technique for death, where we have certain phrases we are “supposed to say.” Words we utter without thought, because it’s something we hear so regularly that we are CERTAIN it’s what we are supposed to say. The truth is, often times we say the wrong thing or we are insensitive to the grief of a person because we are too fixated on what we need to say. Our words become callous, meaningless and just noise. Phrases that are to be avoided are:

“How are you doing?” – Like seriously? A person just died and because you are at a loss for words your brain farted those 4 words. When we ask empty phrases like these ones we are bound to get an automated response such as “ok.” It’s not a genuine statement and we already know how they are doing – SOMEONE DIED!!

“I know how you feel” – No, you really don’t. Death is different for everyone, because we are all different and have our own personalities and emotional threshold. You have not the least idea what that person is going through.

“They are in a better place” – Are you kidding me? Better place than here with you! Try again. When a person is broken because a loved one has departed and all you have to comfort them is by telling them their loved one is better off, it comes off as insensitive rather than the point you are trying to make. For them, they just want the person there with them.

“How did he/she die?” – Humans are naturally curious. Please realize that there is a time and place for everything and asking the bereaved how someone died can be as painful as digging into a fresh bullet wound. Try to refrain. Allow them to open up when they are ready.

“Everything happens for a reason.” – When someone is hurting, NO reason is GOOD enough a reason.

There are 3 major psychological components of grief: loss, change and control. Naturally when someone dies we focus on the person that died, but really the effects of death manifest themselves in each individual differently based on their personality, the circumstance relating to the death and their emotional stability previous to the news. We all experience these 3 components differently. The death of a person is a loss in itself but their absence can present other forms of loss – such as financial stability, emotional support, etc. Change is an inevitable process, where a person is forced to adapt and adjust to life without their loved one. The concept of control then plays a central role in the cognitive interpretation of grief, whereas an individual may feel helpless and without control of the circumstance surrounding the death. This can produce feelings of instability, loneliness, vulnerability and a great sense of being overwhelmed.

How a person views life and death is a great determinant of the level of impact death will have on them. For example, society’s structure gives the impression that we all live long healthy lives and children outlive their parents. For this reason when a child dies, it is one of the greatest losses, for it challenges our belief about life and death. Indeed, grieving is a natural process. We all heal at different segments in our individual timeline. THIS is important to understand because at times even years after, we find ourselves still trying to get a proper footing. The fix-it mentality of society contributes greatly to the insensitivity of our generation. Grief is not a disease that has a prescribed cure, it is a process. Some heal in time based on what they do with time. Other times the hurt and pain never goes away.
It’s not what you say, but more about what you do. Learn to be sensitive and understand that grief is a highly individualized process of ups and downs. The less we try to find words and act towards the 3 psychological components of grief the less insensitive our actions become.

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