Death and dying has always been an interesting issue to understand and interpret. Each person has his or her own view of death and attitude towards it. However, the society as the main influencer has a huge impact on people’s perception of death. The attitudes of the society towards death have been changing over the time. Fear has always been one of the most common attitudes towards death. However, today’s society has developed many other attitudes.
1. Attitudes towards death change over a life period of the person.
When a baby is born he or she does not understand what death means. The concept of death (it is unavoidable, all living things die and we will eventually die some day) has to be developed to understand death and have an attitude concerning it. When little people start understanding death they try to disagree with it and they believe that they can resist it. As the person grows and the concept of death is already developed death becomes a natural thing and viewed totally different. People do not try to argue with the meaning of death.
A great number of scholars investigated the issue of death.
a) Sigmund Freud recognized that people have difficulties with the dying people.
b) Abram Rosenblatt found that when people reminded of their mortality they react more harshly toward moral transgressors and become more favorably disposed toward those who uphold their values.
c) Thomas Aquinus stated that people are afraid of death not only when they feel its presence but even when they think about it.
The ability to understand the reality of death and realize its impact on us, ability to discuss our fears about death helps to fully live our lives.
2. American society happens to deny the reality of death. This is the reason why people always get confused with death issues. In medieval times, people in the western world approached death in a more natural way than in present day. Technology has separated westerners from the fundamentals of their biological existence which has resulted in the realities of death being obscured (Foos-Graber, 1989, p.6).
Recently the issue of death has been raised in the U.S. A huge role was played by the media that covers all “important deaths”. Not only death facts have been reported but also emotional side has been usually brought up. Another thing that makes people think about death and fear it is the emergence of HIV/AIDS.
The only way people witness death is through television. Many have no real experience dealing with the death of close relative or a loved one. So, when it happens people just do not know how to deal with it. Another aspect that effects person’s perception of death is his or her religious believes or non-believes. Different religions view death differently. People of different occupations also view death differently. A medical worker would probably view death as a professional failure while, for example, an artist would take it emotionally and could even be inspired to devote something to the person that died. Another thing that effects the perception and attitude towards death is the circumstances of death. There would be a totally different position about “good death” (when an old person dies) and a death of a teenager in a car accident.
Our society today views the death of a child as more traumatic than the death of an adult. This is because it is rare in the U.S. to die young. It could be argued that whereas social birth often precedes physical birth, this is reversed with older people, as their status declines with age. Similarly, the lethally ill suffer also from ‘social dying’, where others increasingly leave them. ‘There are many ways in which people can approach their own and other’s death, but no one chooses their approach independently of others’ (Mulhall, 1996).
To fully live our lives we should live our lives as if we knew we only had days to live. Thomas Aquinas describes people’s fear of death by making the statement, ” Man (woman) shuns death not only when he (she) feels its presence, but also he (she) thinks of it,” (Choron, 1964, p.71).