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Life and Death


Life and death  are inextricably bound together.

‘We do not know when or how we will die. However what we do know, is that we will probably die as we have lived.’

“When I thought I was learning to live,
I was actually learning how to die.”

“We cannot truly live life until we accept that we will die.”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship. Death starts with our first breath. “

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Thinking about life means that of course, life and death are inextricably bound together.  It started me thinking that death is, at essence, about letting go. Life is often not how we think it should be. Many of us have a picture in our head about how our lives should be and then discover that our beliefs and expectations are not met, however hard we try. In Process Psychology and as a therapist and counsellor I feel that learning to flow more with how life is, in each moment rather than how we think it should be, is an interesting process.

The same may apply to our death. Following what is actually happening and letting go of our fears or pre-conceptions, allows us to experience more deeply what is actually happening. There is what actually happens and then there is our reaction to it. Learning to let go and enjoy the moment may support us in doing the same when we let go of our bodies!

This article is a compilation of many different opinions from diverse viewpoints. Enjoy.

Opinions on What is Death?

  • End of physical existence but soul goes on. Leaving a body.
  • End of struggle/peace
  • Involves not just one person, but family and community
  • Renewal, an end and a beginning
  • A mystery is that it? The end or something new? Not knowing.
  • Impermanence, Death can be the greatest teacher.
  • Duality; everything born has to die.
  • What is death is individual to everyone.
  • Going to meet God
  • Our belief systems influence how we die; after life, – re incarnation etc.
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Opinions on Spiritual Care

  • Relates to religious beliefs and practices, values and different cultures
  • Involves a relationship with God or ‘a higher being’.
  • The mystery of beyond the here and now.
  • Relating to nature
  • Faith and prayer, deep listening and contemplation
  • A meaningful way to deal with pain, suffering and learning to let go.


Common Fears

  • Loss of control, not being able to die with dignity.
  • A ‘bad’ death, painful and suffering for self or family
  • Fear of being dead; annihilation, no 2nd chance; no longer existing
  • Leaving people behind. Not being able to say goodbye or completing.
  • Lack of reconciliation with people.
  • Fear of the process of dying and the unknown.
  • Regret/unfulfilled life/Lack of meaning
  • Fear of punishment, limbo existence
  • Fear of speaking about death, avoiding acknowledging death
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Positive Aspects

  • Openness /support, possibility of change, healing relationships, dealing with regrets etc
  • Being present in the moment, valuing life more
  • Having lots of resources re. staff, team, other professional support systems
  • Facilitating and uniting family, chance for love and connection.
  • Sacredness and mystery of the process and a chance for spiritual awakening


Challenging Aspects

  • Can’t fix things or make people better and dealing with denial and anger etc.
  • Viewing death as very negative, hopeless and tragic.
  • Unexpected or death of young people
  • Chronic situations with a lot of suffering, physical and emotional
  • Facing our own mortality
  • Draining and frustrating and lack of resources
  • Loss and grief which can include feelings such as sadness, anger, guilt and self reproach, anxiety, depression, loneliness, shock at time of diagnosis and death, yearning, fatigue, hopelessness, numbness, sleep/appetite disturbances, withdrawal, agitation etc.
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Strategies for coping

  • Dealing with, and talking about feelings eg. grief, hope and hopelessness, anger.
  • Honouring and acknowledging all parts of us, all our different reactions
  • Being aware of ourselves and how we are coping with certain situations
  • Taking care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually
  • Being caring but also having detachment, so we don’t ‘burn out.’
  • Not expecting ourselves to be perfect and getting appropriate support when needed.
  • Knowing our boundaries and acting on them, without feeling guilty.
  • Putting stress management skills into action, especially when we are stressed!


Some Guidance for Carers

      • The antidote to illness is the patient taking control as much as possible. For the patient to know he/she is doing something, however small can have a powerful impact. This can involve them taking control through knowledge, planning, problem solving, benefitting from contact with others, support networks, being able to ask for help, helping the patient accept when they can’t control things, letting them know its ok to express feelings.
      • The patient fears loss of identity in being defined exclusively in terms of the illness. Helplessness increases a sense of hopelessness.
      • In a life threatening or chronic illness, fear and dependence and vulnerability will constantly shift. Emotional flexibility and shift in levels of control will give balance and meaning.
      • At the time of diagnosis, people have many reactions. These can range from shock and disbelief, denial, avoidance, anger, confusion, relief, fear and numbness or extreme emotional reaction. Uncertainty and not knowing can create much anxiety both for the patient and caregivers. Helping people to maintain their lifelong identity and assimilate the illness will be helped by affirmations by family friends and caregivers.
      • Caregivers now facilitate transition from diagnosis through cycles of no serious physical symptoms to worsening conditions, some ‘remission’ and then a downward course with uncertainty and not knowing and ‘being in limbo’. Caregivers go through repeated anticipatory loss, and cycles of attachment and loss, which can be intense, along with physical care, can lead to burn out. The caregiver’s own loss history and resolved losses also impact. Knowing how to enter the circle of the family while at the same time being aware of the work involving a sense of self and being able to preserve one’s own boundaries, is essential.
      • In the rescue fantasy of wanting to protect or to, somehow fix the patient, the care giver becomes over involved or becomes a family surrogate member. Rather the caregiver can be like a facilitator to strengthen and enhance the structure of the family and support systems.


‘Have the courage to live fully. Anyone can die!’

(Thanks to Solution Focus Psychology and Improving Palliative Care)

About the Author
Sherry (BSc. Sociology; MAA. Social Work, AMHSW; Masters Science Soc. Ecology; Diplomate, Process Psychology) is a faculty Director of ANZPOP.

She has offered expert psychological counselling in Australia and overseas since 1989. Sherry is currently based in both the Sydney CBD and on the Northern Beaches near Manly. She also offers national and international phone and Skype appointments.

If you would like more information or wish to reference something you have read on this website please contact Sherry.

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