Thursday, November 29, 2012

Death and Dying

Death, in medical terms, takes place when vital functions cease. This includes brain activity, respiration, and heartbeat (Santrock, 2008). Personally I support the idea that death, for all significant intents and purposes occurs at the cessation of higher cortical functioning. Lawyers and the legal system may argue over what constitutes death, so advanced directives will help individuals and their families from the intrusive nature of the law and lawyers at a time when sensitivity and privacy are preferred by most families. Ethically, it is the duty of medical practitioners to do whatever is necessary to support life unless directed otherwise expressed by the individual in a living will or other type of legally acceptable directive.

In some Australian Aboriginal communities, the morning ceremonies can be elaborate and complex (Jacklin, 2005). Community members may burn the camp and move to another location. Once an individual is deceased, it becomes taboo to mention his or her name for a specified amount of time, perhaps forever. Although the dead remain in the minds of the family and community, they may not be openly mentioned or discussed. Most often, the dead individual's belongings are burned (Jacklin, 2005).

Australian Aborigines believe they are a part of the earth. Typically, these people do not fear death and believe it is a time when the spirit is released to its sacred home. Still, though, as in many cultures, the death of family and loved ones causes tremendous grief and sadness (Northern Territory Government - Australia (NTGA), n.d.). Failing to conduct ceremonies properly may cause the deceased spirit to become trapped and fail to progress into the spirit world. Because of this, spiritual ceremonies are taken seriously (NTGA, n.d.). Deceased individuals are given a morning name which is used in place of the name they used throughout their lifetime (Jacklin, 2005). Sometimes, other individuals with the same name will take a new name (NTGA, n.d.).

Although various populations have radically different ceremonies and ritualistic ways of coping with death, for most people, the death of family or a loved one is a deep loss, even when it is a renewal or spiritual progression or reward for the deceased (Stroebe, 2010). Even in American culture, honoring the dead comes in many different presentations, and various ethnicities practice rites that others might find offensive.

As a counselor, it is important to acknowledge and understand the significance and far reaching implications of losing a loved one. Such loss predisposes an individual to psychological and physical ill health (Rudlow, 2012). Although research identifies processes of coping after the loss of a loved one (Stroebe, 2010), of critical importance is understanding there is no one way to grieve loss or the process of dying. Encouraging a client to do either according to personal expectations could cause potential harm (Kübler-Ross, 1970; 1985; 1981)


Jacklin, M. (2005). Collaboration and closure: Negotiating Indigenous mourning protocols in Australian life writing. Antipodes: a North American Journal of Australian Literature, 19(2), 184-191.

Kübler-Ross, E. (1970). On death and dying. [New York]: Macmillan.

Kübler-Ross, E. (1981). Living with death and dying. New York: Macmillan.

Kübler-Ross, E. (1985). On children and death. New York: Collier Books.

Northern Territory Government - Australia. (n.d.). Indigenous Traditional Religions. Global Dialogue Foundation. Retrieved November 18, 2012, from

Rudow, H. (2012). The bereaved at greater risk of heart attack after loss. Counseling Today: CT Daily. Retrieved from:

Santrock, J. W. (2011). A topical approach to life-span development (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Stroebe, M. S. (2010). Bereavement in family context: Coping with the loss of a loved one. Family Science, 2(3/4), 144–151. doi: 10.1080/19424620.2010.576081

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