Death and Grief: What Happens Next?

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Death and Grief: What Happens Next?

Doctor explaining something / Photo By: racorn via 123rf


Death seems to be one of the most inevitable things that would happen to all of us eventually. Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, the fact still remains that somehow sooner, we would all perish in this world anytime.

Grief and Sorrow

In a recent New York Times column, Stephen T. Asma claims that religion can help people deal with grief much better than science can. His case for religion over science has reflected four flaws in response to the argument according to Paul Thagard. It depends on a view of how emotion works in the brain that has been rendered obsolete by advances in neuroscience. It underestimates how much science can help understand the nature of grief and point ways of overcoming it. It overestimates the consoling power of religion. Finally, it neglects how science can collaborate with philosophy in suggesting ways to deal with grief.

He claims that science can only reach the recently evolved rational part of the brain, the neocortex, whereas religion can access the older emotional part of the brain, the limbic system. This view of the brain is divided between cognitive and emotional systems has been overthrown by decades of research. Brain scanning techniques and other methods find a deeper connection between the prefrontal cortex and parts of the limbic system such as the amygdala.

Luiz Pessoa’s book, The Cognitive-Emotional Brain, thoroughly reviews the effects of the amygdala and other parts of the limbic system on many kinds of perception, cognition, and motivation. These cortical functions also affect the amygdala, having an evidence-based approach to theory and rationality can influence emotions by helping people to evaluate themselves of situations that generate emotions. Understanding grief can help people recover from it eventually.

There is good scientific research on grief that can help people understand its process and prospects. In Ruth Davis Konigsberg's "The Truth about Grief", cites studies that most people substantially recover from the horrors of grief within about 18 months. For those who have greater difficulty, there are psychotherapists who are skilled at helping people deal with underlying emotional problems. There is no scientific backing for the famous five-stage model of grief based on denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

He further assessed that coping with repressing emotions is sometimes an effective solution to this problem. Furthermore, science can suggest ways of dealing with grief without buying into the metaphysics of religion.

Religious people often react to horrible events by proclaiming "it's God's will" or dealing with the notion, "everything happens for a reason". But what could possibly be God's motivation for depriving a mother of her young son? The Christian God is supposed to be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But the constant disasters in the world have strongly suggested that any existing gods are malevolent or incompetent or both.

Missing in Asmas's discussion is the important role that philosophy can play in connecting science with people's personal lives. In the depths of grief, it becomes hard for people to see how life can remain meaningful despite the huge loss that they have suffered. Science does not directly find answers to questions concerning right, wrong, and the meaning of life, but philosophy may be able to address these in ways that are well explained through scientific findings.

In an attempt to further classify the importance of extensive psychological research, the book Self-Determination Theory authored by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, summarized and identified three basic human needs namely, for relatedness, competence, and autonomy.

Distraught people can recognize that the loss of relatedness that bereavement brings can be compensated by other relationships, including friends and other family members. The need for competence can still be satisfied by work and other forms of achievement, and autonomy persists as long as people can retain the capacity to direct their own lives. So much that philosophy builds on science, it helps people see that life can remain meaningful and morally valuable, even in the face of grief.



Death and Afterlife

One might find dying as an alternative towards a new beginning. What does it reflect on our lives? Whenever we see people committing the desire to end his life, they sometimes give out last minute wishes or final words. That is how the living establish a struggle when the dead goes on to the afterlife.

Lack of resolution carries extreme consequences. If a survivor has compromised health or engages in a prescribed medical treatment for illness or disease, he/she would be well advised to avoid interference in their regime. A study from the American Journal of Public Health, involving widowed persons revealed that the overall death rate for the surviving spouse doubled in the first week following the loss. In addition, heart attacks have doubled more for male survivors and tripled fold for female survivors. Overall, surviving spouses were 93 percent more likely to get into fatal auto accidents and their suicide rate is increased significantly by 242 percent.

According to the US Census Bureau (USCB), 13 million survivors enter grief annually. Many of them suffer the pain of grief for a minimum of 10 to 40 years. If grief-stricken survivors build up over an average of 25 years, the number increases to almost 260 million people. The amount of suffering within the U.S. alone accounts for at least 80 percent of America’s population. “Thousands of mental health professionals report that although their clients come to them with other presenting issues, almost all of them have unresolved grief as their underlying problem.” (The Grief Recovery Method, Guide for Loss)

Unfortunately, many confuse Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ study, a.k.a. “Kubler-Ross Model” on death and dying as the “Recovery Road Map” for survivors. The confusion lies in that her study concentrated on the stages of grief suffered by dying persons. In the blink of an eye, the survivor is faced with a very different scenario of life. He/she must instantly face the financial, physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual realities and adjustments of survival after a loss.

The study by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had led to an interpretation on the reality that comes with grief and the various misinterpretation and confusion with regards to the scenarios that comes with the emotional aspects after suffering a loss of a loved one.

To recover from grief, one must travel through it; not simply walk and dance on it. The loss of a favorite toy, the death of a pet, or relocating and making new friends all serve as foundational experiences to prepare us for the ultimate loss of our loved ones.

Unfortunately, society has robbed us of many of these fundamental losses and recovery experiences. Others have never had to overcome relationship disappointments, as their friends are virtual rather than actual. The point is that our society is ill-prepared for the pain associated with loss. We live in a pseudo-reality filled with desensitizing scenarios of death.

One day, we will be able to realize that whether we are prepared for it or not, we will participate in life based on the terms set forth by the eternal laws of truth. That is the day that you will receive an unwelcome wake-up call into the pitfalls of adult realities, responsibilities, and crushing grief.


Woman Holding Sunflower in Front of Loved one's Gravestone / Photo By: Benoit Daoust via 123rf


Course of action

Difficult to ease comfort from the pain and sorrow, there are ways on how to address end of life wishes especially when bringing honor is a priority for a departed loved one.

You can do these things as much as you can through the following procedure:

1. Ask the right question.

2. Record those answers.

3. Discuss among the pertinent people (i.e., family members, loved ones, doctors, attorneys, etc.).

4. File documents. Make certain that important documents are filed and duplicated whether through print or any source and is given to medical providers, family and anyone else who may be involved in advocating.


When a loved one's life nears its end, so many areas need to be addressed. Often, it is easy to become overwhelmed and, thus, become immobilized. However, for those who have chosen to accept that the end will eventually come and have taken the time to develop a thoughtful plan, much emotional pain can be spared.

Pay less attention to electronics, the virtual realities, and the intense hype of various entertainment programs promoting violence and mass death. Doing so will allow you to experience life as it should be, with real joy, real fulfillment, and the ability to achieve meaningful recovery.



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