Introduction to the Special Section: Death, Dying, and Bereavement

Article excerpt

Carl Jung noted that, "To (he psyche death is just as important as birth and like it, is an integral part of life" (Wilhelm, 1962, p. 124). However, although birth generally is anticipated with great excitement and celebrated joyfully when it occurs, in our current era, death and dying typically are dreaded processes, and bereavement speaks to its sorrow-filled, painful aftermath. Not surprisingly, therefore, the attitude of the vast majority in our society may be characterized as an attempt to avoid and perhaps deny death, despite the feet that in previous centuries this was not always the case.

According to Jackson (1980), prior to the 20th century, the worlds of the living and of the dead were closely connected, with meaning flowing freely between them. With vast improvements in health care and advances in medical technology, however, birth survival rates improved dramatically, life expectancy increased exponentially, and a concurrent hope that death might one day be conquered seemed to arise. Although space does not allow for a discussion of the variety of factors that also played into the shift, we thus have evolved into a culture that, until very recently, was reluctant to embrace death as an integral part of life, a phenomenon to be studied and understood.

However, there is a wonderful secret shared by many who have entered voluntarily or have allowed themselves to be invited into the world of the dying and the bereaved. That is, we find that we have been given the privilege of witnessing the various miracles of life and death in some of their moist poignant and powerful moments; for death tends to strip away that which is superfluous, revealing humanity in all of its fullness and beauty. Certainly we also may find ourselves witnessing-perhaps experiencing-excruciating physical pain and/or emotional distress. Nevertheless, the awareness that we may be of some help, may act as midwives during the transition from life to death, may ofter a glimmer of hope to those who grieving, is compensation of immeasurable value.

Given my awareness of this secret, derived from a great deal of personal and professional experience (Becvar, 1996; 2000a, 2000e, 2001), I was delighted with Karen Wampler's invitation to be a guest editor on the topic of death, dying, and bereavement. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to work with Karen as well as with those who also have provided contributions to this section. …