Death is an integral part of everyone’s life
Tomorrow we pay tribute to the memory of American servicemen who died in battle. Memorial Day, also known as Decoration Day, will be observed with dignity and honor, and due to the numerous men and women who lost their lives in past wars, many of us will reminisce on this day. The remembrance brings to mind not only a particular event or time in their life, but also a whole recollection of memories, past associations, and rekindles a storehouse of emotions.
As we recall those memories, it may also be an opportunity and a time for most of us to think about the subject of death and our feelings and attitudes toward it.
Once thought of as a topic to be discussed only in limited circumstances, we can all thank Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others for teaching us that death is an integral part of life. From the moment we are born we are on the journey to our final and inevitable death. Thanks to these professionals, we also have learned that our exit from life is as important as our entrance.
Her now famous five stages include: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The signal for the end of life is rarely pleasant, we usually want to postpone it, and are often angry at the world and with our Maker for giving us this announcement. We may try to bargain for more time, become depressed and withdrawn before we finally accept that it is our time to go.
Another facet that we may need to think of on this Memorial Day is the grieving process. When we lose a loved one, we need to grieve and mourn. It is the healing process and the steps are so similar. We want to deny that it happened. That person has not died, we want to proclaim. We may be angry that they are gone, that they were taken away at a very untimely moment. We may become depressed and may stay in that stage for a very long time even though we are assisted and supported by family and friends. Finally, if the grieving process is to be complete, however, we must accept the fact that we have suffered a loss and proceed with our life. Then, when the acceptance comes, we are faced with new opportunities and new beginnings. Our perspectives change. We see things differently. We grow, we mature. We resolve old conflicts, we choose to stop grieving and move ahead.
Visitors to the Vietnam Wall have said that seeing a particular name etched on the Wall was part of a healing process, an acceptance, and they felt a kind of peace. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, military men gathered at the site of their fallen comrades and reviewed the time and shared memories. Many said it brought closure to feelings they had repressed.
And so on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who have died before us, let us examine our own beliefs. If we are in a step of the grieving process, whether it be for a person, or the loss of some of our possessions, a job, a position of power or authority, we can choose to move ahead to the step of acceptance, to new growth and new challenges. It will be a healthy choice.
Copyright c 1996 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.