In 600 words read about some of the reasons why people might utter the sentiment, “I thought they’d never die!”
When it comes to the circumstances of birth, growth, dying and death in general, dare I say, everyone is aware of the practical realities of life, dying and death.
But time and again, in the midst of grief and loss, even when someone who is 90 years old has died, I hear a variation of this sentiment, “I never thought Mum would die!”
A Child’s Understanding of Death.
In his Psychology Today article How Do Children Comprehend the Concept of Death? James A. Graham Ph.D. observes that:
At 10 years old, most children begin to understand that death is a universal, irreversible, and non-functional state (meaning that dead beings cannot do the things that the living do). Interestingly, even after children reach this level of understanding they might continue to struggle with the idea that death is final, possibly because of certain religious beliefs.
If most children, by the age of 10 years, can at the very least begin to understand the finality of death then how is it that the sentiment “I never thought they’d die!” can be heard by adults of any age?
There are any number of reasons why this might be so…
We don’t want someone we love to die. I used to think that once someone reached a certain age – say over 75 – that their death would be easier to handle, easier to accept. But one of the first five funerals I led was for a woman who was 105 and 10 months old. Her daughters were 80 and 72 years of age respectively. Unsurprisingly there were four generations of descendants at her funeral. A few hundred funerals later and their grief and the way they experienced the death of their mother has created a shift in the way I think about how people respond to the death of a loved one – even if – or perhaps especially if, you can reach 70 to 80 years of age and still have a living parent.
We have always had that person in our lives. If a person reaches the age of 60 plus years and one or more of the generation above them lives to 80 plus years of age, it can be devastating to lose someone who has been such a significant part of their entire life. This is not to say that the death of any much-loved person at any age cannot be devastating. It’s about developing a greater understanding of why people can have the “I never thought they would die” response to an older loved one dying.
We have a leaning towards feeling things deeply in life. There is a psychological assessment tool that talks about the difference between people with a feeling preference in life versus those with a thinking preference. The easiest way to get a sense about where you might sit on this spectrum is to think about someone you love telling you that they have just been in a car accident. A person with a feeling preference will be more likely to ask, “Oh! Are you OK?” A person with a thinking preference will be more likely to ask, “What happened?”
So, people experiencing the death of a loved one who have a feeling preference are much more likely to focus on how they and others will be feeling about that death. This doesn’t mean that people with a thinking preference won’t feel sad or experience grief… it is more likely that in their grief they can also be aware of the practicalities, the realities of life, dying and death.
What preference do you think you have? How do you think this has impacted the way you deal with grief? How can this knowledge help you better prepare for the death of a loved one – no matter their age!
We have just one life…
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For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime Commemoration Specialist and funeral celebrant in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories of the nature of life and being human and celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes and thinking on dying, death, mourning and grief.