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Death And Dying – Opportunity To Embrace Our Existential Self

Author : Clare Mann

Submitted : 2009-10-22 18:47:40    Word Count : 530    Popularity:   78

Tags:   death, dying, grief, loss

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When someone close to us dies, we have the opportunity to experience ourselves differently in ways we cannot anticipate. Regardless of our relationship with the dead person, the resultant feelings and changing self awareness offers profound ways in which to experience ourselves and others differently. When a person is alive, there is consensual understanding that they are somehow contained or associated within their body i.e. their physical being, even if our experience of them continues when they are not physically in our presence.

When the person dies, we can no longer locate them within that physical form, external to ourselves. We are left with our memories, associations, changing and unfolding sense of who we and they are. In talking to others about the dead person, we can be challenged as to who we believe them to be, sometimes resisting information that contradicts our internal picture of them. However, this time we are left with no opportunity check out or confirm contradictory information with the physical being we know as them. We must, in some way, incorporate new pictures of them (presented through the perceptual eyes of others) into our changing view of that person shaped through our own perceptual system.

It can be a highly confronting experience to encounter the intangible grasping of the identity of another when all attempts are confounded by the bombardment of others’ perceptual frameworks. We are indeed challenged existentially to embrace our phenomenological existential unfixed selves. This can be a highly provocative and painful process which, if resisted, can result in a spiralling depression or anxiety as we struggle to regain our equilibrium.

Models of grief, whilst possibly conveying the essence of the multiple experiences the bereaved person might encounter, do little justice to the enormity of the existential overwhelm an individual might experience. Whilst it would appear that stages do seem to exist, focus on working through them can inhibit our ability to make sense of the personalised existential challenges that grief presents. Focus on generalised staged models of disbelief, anger, depression and acceptance might even directly dissociate us from fully experiencing our existential angst by normalising the experience. By attributing our emotional and changed sense of self to a typical normed reality, we potentially dissociate ourselves from our changing phenomenological selves.

What is the alternative? How do we put time aside to consider our existential experiences and meanings of death whilst dealing with the practicalities involved in funerals and implications for changes to our lifestyle – which may be profound, depending on how the deceased person’s life was interwoven with our own? The alternative is to be open to fully embracing the dying of another and, in turn, liberate ourselves from the fear of our own demise. By fully grasping that one day we too will die, we have the opportunity to embrace what it means to live and are free to choose or not to squander this precious currency called Our Life. And that life is not a fixed commodity measured by the dispassionate baptism of years but an unfolding stream of consciousness which constitutes our Existential Self.

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Clare Mann is a Counselling Psychologist in Sydney Australia who specialises in assisting people to remove the myths of limitation in their lives. http://thesydneypsychologist.com

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