Years ago in Roman times death was too common to be frightening; each life was quietly intertwined into the community. People died, bodies were bathed and attended, and family and friends paid their respects and moved on. Some historians identify the first major shift in attitude regarding death around the turn of the eleventh century when a sense of individuality began to arise and with it, profound consequences: death no longer meant the weakening of community, but rather the destruction of self. Hence the growing fear of the afterlife created a new concern. New conceptions of the Last Judgment which included controlling behaviors by assuring a better life in the next world caused great fear as people approached death.
At the turn of the last century with the urbanization of hospital care, ICU’s, ambulance transport, 911 and CPR (Cardio pulmonary resuscitation) the speed of which death occurred has been greatly delayed as well as removed from our daily observance. What was once an acute and immediate death has become a chronic and ongoing condition. Mortuaries have also played their part in the removal of death from the home by transporting the departed from institution to institution to grave. Families no longer had to care for, sit at bedside and attend to the dead or near dead. We became a nation of outsourcing one of our most intimate rituals to strangers.
With current times and the resurgence of Hospice care along with individuals becoming more aware of their medical choices there is a reawaking to the reality of death.
“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity designed largely to avoid the fatality, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.
The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”