Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying

By James W. Green | Go to book overview

NOTES

CHAPTER 1. GETTING DEAD

1. How far that idea has reached and how much more complex it has become can be seen by comparing popular books on the topic (often shelved in the self-help sections of bookstores) with something substantial like Ira Byock’s clinically based “dying well” (1997). Dying is not easy, nor is it a last “great” adventure in fulfillment, even in a hospice (Lawton 2000; Henig 2005).

2. Despite cautions against using the five-stage model as a prescriptive guide for managing individual dying, Kübler-Ross opens her discussion of acceptance by saying that if the dying person “has been given some help in working through the previously described stages” (1969: 123), he or she will have expressed feelings about anger and depression, mourned the losses to come, and entered a more satisfactory state of “quiet expectation” (124). Success, according to the model, occurs when the futile idea of struggle is abandoned and, almost Zen-like, the patient experiences less anxiety as the circle of interest narrows to a loved one or two who will be present to the end. She adds that some “patients who fight to the end, who struggle and keep a hope that makes it almost impossible to reach this stage of acceptance” (125) will never know that final peace. Their resistance is often abetted by family and medical staff who encourage them to be brave, strong, and unyielding. But raging against the failing light does them no good because “the harder they struggle to avoid the inevitable death, the more they try to deny it, the more difficult it will be for them to reach this final stage of acceptance with peace and dignity” (125). She does not explore whether “peace and dignity” might be attained by other means, through participation in a deeply felt liturgical performance, for example, or limited engagement with lifelong projects. Her interest is in promoting a highly privatized inner state, one uncoupled at the last from a lifetime of social and cultural moorings.

3. There are all kinds of contemporary ars moriendi, from bereavement cards to Web sites, but none more wickedly fun than Edward Gorey’s book illustrating 26 ways to die, from A (“is for Amy who fell down the stairs”) to Z (“is for Zillah who drank too much gin”). See and enjoy The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1997).

4. There is precedent for viewing control as an important aspect of American culture. Impulse control and self-mastery are long-standing religious and cultural themes, famously described by Max Weber in his study of the Protestant work ethic and ridiculed by literary figures as diverse as D. H. Lawrence and Allen Ginsberg. Control is a necessary component of individualism in both its utilitarian and expressive varieties (Bellah et al. 1985), as a feature of everyday speech (Lutz 1990), and in religiously inspired conceptions of the self (Csordas 1994).

5. Bernadin would most likely refer us to his own mythic preference, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, which includes the well-known line, “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (verse 55). Biblical scholar Victor Furnish (1999) summarizes Paul’s views, noting that he had a vision of the

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Beyond the Good Death: The Anthropology of Modern Dying
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • 1 - Getting Dead 1
  • 2 - Exit Strategies 31
  • 3 - The Body as Relic 62
  • 4 - Soulscapes 86
  • 5 - Passing It on 129
  • 6 - In Our Hearts Forever 152
  • 7 - The Future of Death 187
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 235
  • Index 255
  • Acknowledgments 259
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