How Different Cultures React to Death and Dying
This research explores the literature across cultures on death and dying in order to highlight the impact of culture on reactions to death and the dying process. A theoretical framework is established, using Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of dying, followed by a succinct discussion of the reactions and attitudes toward death and the dying process of four cultures (Buddhist, Hindu, Native American and American). By illustrating the different reactions and attitudes toward death of these cultures, it is revealed that through increased cultural understanding health care workers can provide more personalized care to the dying.
Fear, Mortality, Burial, Religion, Buddhists, Hindus, Native Americans, Americans Introduction
According to Kart and Kinney (2001, p. 532), “Death is something that must be faced by everyone.” Despite the inevitability and universality of death and the dying process, different reactions and perceptions of death arise in different cultures, from the conventional Judeo-Christian reaction in American culture to the belief in reincarnation in the Hindu culture. Bereavement, grief, and mourning often accompany the death and dying process, but as Kart and Kinney (2001, p. 532) make clear, these aspects of the process are typically “culturally proscribed.” This discussion of different reactions to death and the dying process across cultures will focus on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of dying with a comparison of how different cultures (Hindu, Buddhist, Native American and American) react to death and dying. Literature Review
Death is one of the few experiences shared by all humankind. In her groundbreaking book, Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross begins her book with a discussion of Western man’s fear of death and dying and by pointing out that this subject has become, for many individuals, a taboo. Kubler-Ross (1969) outlines five stages that terminally ill individuals experience through the process of dying: Denial (shock), Anger (Emotion), Bargaining, Depression (Preparatory), and Acceptance (Increased self-reliance). Understanding this process was important to Kubler-Ross, in order to alleviate anxiety and fear of death both in the dying and those left behind. While Kubler-Ross’ stage-process focused mainly on Western experiences and encompassed a Christian ethos, perceptions of death and dying vary significantly from one culture to the next. Buddhists
While one or more or all of Kubler-Ross’ stages may be relevant to other cultures, many cultures view death in a manner that often negates the anxiety and fear experienced by many Westerners with respect to death and dying. In looking at other cultures, it becomes apparent that the view of the afterlife is often a significant factor in how people deal with death and dying. For example, in the Buddhist tradition in Asia, Buddhist Lama Priests preside over a three-day vigil of the dead body, while friends and relatives burn oil, offer sacrifices, and pray with the Lamas. Unlike the denial and anger experienced with Western death, Buddhists believe in holding such a vigil because of their belief that the deceased may return, “This vigil is very important for the Buddhists who believe that upon death the soul leaves the earthly body immediately but hovers around it for three days and that sometimes within this timeframe the soul may decide to reunite with the body causing an instance of miraculous resurrection” (Lama, 2004, p. 1). Because of this, the dying have some hope that death is not final and experience less anxiety and fear during the process. Hindus
Hindus believe in karma and rebirth. Those who are dying also experience less fear, anxiety, and anger than Westerners, because of their belief that a life lived well will result in the achievement of the end of the cycle of birth and rebirth –...
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