Rationalizing Death

Have you ever noticed how we try to rationalize death? It’s as if we can control it somehow if we can explain it away. If I can understand why it happened, I can somehow avoid it happening to me and mine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. If you read my post from a few days ago you know that a little girl who was competing at the same dance competition as my daughter, Charlie, passed away suddenly after suffering an asthma attack at the competition. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2015/01/27/a-little-girl-died/) Her passing has impacted my daughter, her friends, and our family in a variety of ways, not the least of which is my daughter’s current awareness that children really do die. This made me think about my own somewhat similar experience from my own childhood. When I was in junior high, a classmate was diagnosed with some form of cancer. I don’t remember what type, but within a year or two, Jackie (Hebeka, I think) had passed away. From what I can remember, she had been out of school for some time before she died. I went to the visitation with some friends to pay our respects and I remember it being a surreal experience. It was an open coffin and she was just a kid. But I also remember thinking, “Well, she had cancer and I don’t have cancer, so I am OK”. It was really important to me at the time that I know I was OK and not going to die.

My daughter had the same reaction. See, Charlie has asthma – an extremely mild form of asthma, but asthma nonetheless. You should have seen her face when I explained that this little girl had passed… from asthma. She immediately asked if the little girl had severe asthma (I assured her she had) and asked for reassurance that her own asthma was mild (I again assured her it was). Isn’t it amazing how it is our natural inclination to try to explain death and, often, try to use that explanation to provide comfort that we (are our loved ones) are safe.

How many times have you heard a conversation like this?

Betty:                    “Did you hear about Ben?”

George:                               “No, what happened.”

Betty:                    “He died on Monday.  Heart attack.”

George:                               “Wow. That’s terrible. I just saw him last week and he seemed fine.”

Betty:                    “Well, you know he didn’t take very good care of himself.”

George:                               “That’s true. Poor Judy.”

We are always looking for a reason people have passed away as though this somehow protects us from sharing the same fate. They died because they smoked or drank or sped or didn’t exercise or ate like crap or had cancer… or had asthma. Maybe it is a way for us to focus on the logical side of our brain rather than feel the emotions related to the loss (sadness, fear, anger, etc.). What do you think?

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