Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Religion & Culture | Why it is so important for us to understand ... the language of the dying

Published:Sunday | January 21, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
A male visitor sits beside an empty hospital bed following the death of a loved one.

Death is an inevitable phenomenon that has touched, and will touch, us all. The young and old succumb alike to what many call a frightening phenomenon.

Regrettably, we refrain from candidly discussing death until it unexpectedly befalls a loved one.

The experiences of the dying must not be ignored. Cross-cultural studies have shown that dying persons expresses certain needs and communicate with us in what I refer to as the language of the dying.

This may comprise vocalisation and hand and facial gestures.

We should study the research of Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley who expanded on the works of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. What we glean from these studies will cause the most obdurate disbeliever to pause.

When death is imminent, many experience a series of emotions. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. The dying process can take weeks, during which time every effort is made to communicate with loved ones.




The first stage, that of denial, is very interesting because individuals will act, talk, or think as though they are not dying. This is usually a temporary process. Denial is due to fear of the unknown, loss of control, and fear of separation from loved ones.

Elizabeth L. Cobbs, MD, from George Washington University, in Washington, DC, clarifies the other stages.

She writes: "Anger may be expressed as a sense of injustice: "Why me?" Bargaining can be a sign of reasoning with death, that is, seeking more time. When dying people realise that bargaining and other strategies are not working, depression may develop.

Acceptance, sometimes described as facing the inevitable, may come after discussions with family, friends, and care providers

In this brief discourse, we are more concerned with the final stage of life when the dying find new ways of communicating.

Unfortunately, the language of the dying is often misconstrued as signs of dementia and confusion because of ingested drugs.

Loved ones, unable to decode this language, discourage these gestures of meaningful communication and request higher dosages of medication or redirect the verbal and gestural efforts of the dying person.

Dying persons speak in symbolic terms. Without special training, their language seems unintelligible. There is usually talk of travel, of maps and roads, and other references related thereto.

Dreams of dying persons are also said to be significant and indicative of the actual time of death.




Most provocative, though, are their visual experiences. Loved ones who have passed are said to visit. Dying persons also speaks of visitations from spiritual or religious beings.

There has also been documentation of quasi-omniscience, meaning, the ability dying persons have to intuitively foretell the passing of others.

Hospice nurses like Callanan believe that dying persons can be empowered, that they cancontrol the time of their death. Many will only pass on when they believe that family affairs are settled, that there is reconciliation, peace, and contentment.

We can also argue that many will hold on as long as possible if they are fearful of the unknown. Others will pass when they find redemption or believe in their salvation. At this juncture, they are eager to embrace the hereafter.

While some will argue that only God will determine the exact time of death, researchers are convinced that the dying person demonstrates some control in the experience.

More important, the dying process should never be insular. Rather, the dying person and loved ones should be keenly involved in the process in order to bring about tranquillity, healing, a sense of closure, and a deeper understanding of life.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author, lecture, and wellness therapist. Feedback: Glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.