The D word is a word that many people fear. It is a word that is avoided, and many people do not know how to respond to it. This D word is death. Death is a complicated subject to talk about and not many people know how to deal with it. In fact, coping with death is different for every person that experiences it. In the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel uses his technique called logotherapy to help himself and others live through the torture of living in a Nazi concentration camp. (Frankl)
The attitude that is associated with death most can be associated with the words fear, threat, unease, discomfort, and anxiety. It is seen as a negative word and is avoided by most people. Dying is a completely natural process and can not be avoided. So why is this natural process avoided in our culture today? Many people have a fear of dying because life after death is unknown. People are unsure of what happens after death, so they have a major fear of the unknown.
Many people look to religion to ease this uncertainty. Religion can be a person’s meaning in life. Living for their God and to praise and spread the word can be a major meaning in someone’s life. Religion gives purpose to death. People spend their lives telling other people about their religion so that one day when they die, they know they have lived up to their purpose. This can also take out the fear of the unknow. Most religions believe in an afterlife. This could be heaven and hell, or it could be reincarnation. Either way, they know that their God put them on this earth for a reason and they live to fulfill God’s reason.
Viktor Frankl and his other inmates are on the brink of death and are unsure if their family members are alive or not. While they are starved and tortured, they search for a reason to keep fighting for their lives. They hope to one day get out of the concentration camps and go back to their normal lives. They search for this meaning in life that will help them find the will to keep fighting and to give reason for the death of their fellow inmates. Viktor believed that if they could find this meaning of life, they could live through all the physical suffering. He believed that their mental help could help them to live better physically through the suffering.
Many other inmates in the book were not able to mentally survive. They gave up mentally and blocked out all emotions. Once they lost their mental grasp on life, they began to decline even faster physically. The inmates that found their meaning of life survived through the starvation and torture. They were able to keep their mental health by finding humor in some of the hard struggles or thinking of the future. Many inmates thought about their family and if they were still alive. This gave them the motivation to keep fighting in hope to one day see them again.
“It is one of the basic tenants of logotherapy that man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.” (Frankl) Viktor was able to search for the meaning of his life and the meaning of his suffering. He used his suffering to find a way to cope with horrible pain and struggles. Through his sufferings, he was able to come up with the technique, logotherapy. Humans search for meaning in their life. They strive best when there is a purpose to what they are doing. Viktor Frankl found that finding meaning would give people the mental clarity they needed to survive. He found three ways to find meaning of life. These three ways were through love, through work, and through suffering. He was able to find his meaning through all three of these ways. He used his suffering to find this technique that he hoped to use in the future for his work. He also found meaning through his wife. He was able to cope with the suffering and use it to make a positive impact.
This meaning of life was not meant to look for the entire understanding of why we are alive and why everything happens but to use the experiences we encounter to make the best of our lives. He used his negative experiences to help himself and others find positivity and purpose in their live. Mental health can have a significant impact on the quality of life. Having a positive outlook on even the most negative experiences can have a positive physical impact on one’s health.
The mind and the body are connected in an extraordinary way. The stress and anxiety of our lives can make us physically sick and uncomfortable. Viktor’s technique was able to connect the two to make even the most terrifying experiences and near-death experiences not so terrifying. This outlook can take away the fear of death. If people use their life to find meaning and to make each moment valuable, they may lose their fear of death. Seeing the impact their life had on people and how each moment of their lives was able to impact someone, they may lose the fear because they have fulfilled their meaning of life. With this mindset, those that are bereaved may have a more positive view of the death of their loved one. They will be able to look back on the impact their loved one had on others and how they can use the experience to help others.
“Man is that being who invented the gas chambers at Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” (Frankl) In this quote, Viktor sees that man can be evil and that man can have a negative impact on another man’s life. He also sees that the attitude of the tortured man has a huge impact on the quality of life. Everyone can choose to change their beliefs and attitudes. Having a positive attitude, even in the worst times, can positively influence the quality of life in yourself and in those around you.
Finding this meaning in life that Viktor suggests will have a positive impact on life can be helpful in many situations. When a loved one dies, people tend to only think of the negatives; The fact they will never see this person again, that they are not able to have certain experiences because of their death, etc. This is also true when a loved one is dying. Only the negative impacts are looked at and people experience fear when they see death coming. Viktor’s technique can take away this fear. If people look at the positive impacts and the reasoning for dying and death, the fear can diminish.
I believe suffering and death give meaning to life. Without death, there is no drive to become successful or find love by a certain age. Death gives meaning to life in itself. People want to find love at a young age and to become successful young. Without this deadline called death, there wouldn’t be motivation and without suffering there would not be as much of a feeling of accomplishment once one has fulfilled their meaning of life. “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” (Frankl) We live knowing that death is inevitable. Eventually everyone dies and some die sooner than others. That is why finding meaning and purpose is so important. Using what one has learned in life through sufferings can help all around you. Accepting death and using it to give drive to make each moment valuable can help one live a happier and healthier life. This outlook can also prolong the life by pushing through the sufferings in order to use the sufferings and experiences for a greater purpose.
Viktor’s logotherapy technique can also help people accept the death of a loved one. When a loved one dies, many people lose that meaning of life at first. They believed that their meaning of life was to be with that person and to love and support them. When that loved one dies, they lose that meaning and purpose. Many become depressed and question whether their life may have meaning. Logotherapy can help them search for the meaning that still exists with their loved one. Holding on to that spiritual connection can help find meaning in life. Using the suffering they experienced and learning from it can be used to help others going through the same situations.
The bereaved can even use the loved one’s death as motivation to work even harder in memory of them. “Love goes very far beyond the physical person…It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self.” (Frankl) This ties in with Worden’s tasks of mourning. Worden believes there are four tasks people go through when mourning. (Despelder & Strickland) These four tasks are to accept the reality, process the pain, adjust to the world without the deceases, and finding an enduring connection to the deceased while embracing a new life (Despelder & Strickland). These tasks can be extremely difficult depending on one’s attitude. When a person finds the meaning of the reality, it is easier to accept it, process it, and adjust to the reality. It can even help someone find a way to connect spiritually with the deceased. Having this spiritual connection can help the bereaved cope with their loss.
There have been three patterns of coping that can be found: emotion-focused coping, problem-focused coping, and meaning-based coping (Despelder & Strickland). The emotion-focused coping style focuses on relieving the impact of stress. It is distancing yourself from the stress to find a more positive outlook on your situation. The problem-focused coping style focuses on managing the problems that cause stress and making goals. This establishes a sense of control. The last coping style is meaning-based. This focuses on finding the benefits and meaning of the stressful situation and maintaining a positive perspective. (Despelder & Strickland) All these coping styles have one thing in common: finding a goal that is achievable and meaningful.
Finding meaning and working towards making the best out of a bad situation or experience can help people to lower stress and accept what is happening. This can help the acceptance stage come faster in the stages of grief. Finding this meaning can help overcome the denial stage, the anger stage, and the bargaining stage. Finding meaning can help people to understand that everything happens for a reason and can help them to find a positive meaning when grieving.
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