A start: normal dying processes

I’ve heard a lot of stories of dying people needing to get a good sleep before they have enough energy to die, or of dying at contrived times like right before an annoying doctor is due to show up, or right after seeing a new baby relative.

I’m sure a lot of those stories are coincidence, but I’m intrigued by the idea that dying is an action the body takes, rather than an event that just happens when the body fails. Zoe pointed out the other day that many people think of death as a failure of medicine, rather than as a normal event in everyone’s life. To me, thinking of death as an active, biological process makes it seem more like a normal function (which I’m interested in, for now).

This morning I’ve been hunting for information about the normal dying process, and how it varies, and whether there are conflicting models for “normal” death responses the way I’m familiar with different, biased models of sexual response from working on my vagina website (and indeed, Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief seem to draw similar controversy to Masters and Johnson’s model of the human sexual response cycle).

Zen Hospice has a great overview of the physical changes a person goes through as they die, from a hospice perspective. I recognize all of those symptoms from the few people I’ve known at the end of their lives. I can see immediately why there are so many comparisons between giving birth, having orgasms, and dying: all involve extreme physical responses that start to seem normal when you know what to expect. Learning about the physical symptoms of dying feels a little like getting to know the birds in your neighbourhood or something: gaining context.

Graceful Exits:How Great Beings Die apparently deals with conscious dying and dying on purpose, such as the idea of elders wandering off alone into the woods to die. It sounds a bit flaky (i.e., possible use of ambiguous generalizations like “aboriginal cultures”), but still really compelling to me. I’m all for special skills, and this intro sort of makes dying sound like a superpower:

Then the person is left alone. He or she sits down, and within a matter of minutes is able to intentionally close down the body and die.

That would be both more and less useful than being able to cry on command.

But, from my scattered reading this morning, I gather that I should do some searching for literature about “deathing” and “timing of death” rather than the process of dying. It’s a bit weird that “dying” gets used more as adjective than as a form of the verb “to die.” When a person “dies” that describes the moment of death fairly precisely, but when a person “is dying” that could refer to almost any stage of life or illness or injury.

This is the kind of jargon I should figure out soon— it’s hard to organize notes when you don’t know the names for things (and stuff).

One thought on “A start: normal dying processes

  1. You might look into different philosophers’ and religions’ take on what the afterlife will be like. Now, you know what your life is kinda like, and you may have rough ideas on where it’ll go and what you’d like it to be like in the end, so then you can map out an appopriate death – anticlimactic and in your sleep, or brave and noble while sticking up for a cause you really believe in, or somewhere between the twain.

    Your comment about how dying is a process is actually dead on. I don’t know how many of us young people get to hear about the last days of an elderly person’s life, but the two women whose deaths I’ve been around in some way (my granny’s a couple years ago, and now my great aunts) have stories to go with them, and it wasn’t just “they were fine one day and the next, they were gone.”

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