Death comes to all in the end, shrouded in mystery, occasionally bringing with it pain, and while some may welcome its finality, others may fight it with every ounce of their strength. Humans have throughout the centuries created death rituals to bring them peace and healing after the death of a loved one.
Deaths were a form of social event, when families and loved ones would gather around the bed of the dying, offering emotional support and comfort. Myth, religion, and tradition would combine to give the event deeper meaning and ease the transition for all involved. The one who was dying was confident in knowing what lay behind the veil of death, thanks to religious faith or tradition. His or her community held fast to the sense of community, drawing strength from social ties and beliefs. (“Taboos and Social Stigma - Rituals, Body, Life, History, Time, Person, Human, Traditional Views of Death Give Way to New Perceptions" 1)
Americans at the end of their lives no longer have this sense of continuity and stability. Rituals today are as likely to include tubes and noisy machines, artificial ventilators and unpleasant drug regimens bringing as many unpleasant side effects as health benefits. Many times the dying languishes in a hospital bed, surrounded not by the comforts of home and family but rather by sterility and bright lights, strangers and hushed voices. Death is no longer a mysterious part of a cherished tradition but a terrifying ordeal to be postponed as long as possible, an enemy that must be fought off at all costs.
End-of-life care in the United States is often fraught with difficult decisions and borne with great expense. Americans are often uncomfortable discussing death and
making end-of-life choices, and those who do make their choices known are not often heard once they are hospitalized. Further complicating end-of-life matters is the fact that much of end-of-life care in the United States is directed towards prolonging life rather than easing death. (Fine et al. 596).
The two primary forms of care administered at the end of life are palliative care and hospice. Palliative care is intended to treat the symptoms of illness as well as address the individual’s spiritual, financial, emotional, and social needs. Hospice care enables terminally ill individuals and their families to maintain dignity and spend their final days in a comfortable environment.
Palliative care may provide support for the individual’s social support network. While palliative care is often offered as end-of-life care, it may also be offered during any serious illness to ease the burden of that illness, whether or not that illness is considered terminal. (“Palliative Care” 1)
Patients with chronic or life-threatening illnesses may turn to palliative care for its symptom relieving benefits as well as its ability to improve their quality of life. A key factor in quality palliative care is effective communication between medical professionals and the...