Why It Matters: Death and Dying

Diana Lang; Nick Cone; Sarah Carter; and Laura Overstreet

Learning Objectives
  • Describe the leading causes and types of deaths
  • Examine the leading causes of death in the United States and worldwide
  • Explain physiological death
  • Describe social and psychological death
  • Examine emotions related to death and dying
  • Explain common perceptions and attitudes toward death
  • Explain bereavement and types of grief
  • Explain Kübler-Ross’ stages of loss
  • List and describe the stages of grief based on various models
  • Examine care and practices related to death
  • Explain the philosophy and practice of palliative care
  • Describe hospice care
  • Differentiate attitudes toward hospice care based on race and ethnicity
  • Describe and contrast types of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide
  • Describe euthanasia types

Why learn about experiences and emotions related to death and dying?

A gravestone.
Figure 1. Some form of marker is used in cemeteries to identify who is buried there. Headstones such as this one may vary by religion with prayers and symbols, as well as the deceased’s name, years of birth and death, and family relationships. More elaborate stones and statues often reflect family prominence or wealth. Photo Courtesy Robert Paul Young

“Everything has to die,” he told her during a telephone conversation.  

“I want you to know how much I have enjoyed being with you, having you as my friend, and confidant and what a good father you have been to me. Thank you so much.” she told him. 

“You are entirely welcome.” he replied. 

He had known for years that smoking will eventually kill him. But he never expected that lung cancer would take his life so quickly or be so painful. A diagnosis in late summer was followed with radiation and chemotherapy during which time there were moments of hope interspersed with discussions about where his wife might want to live after his death and whether or not he would have a blood count adequate to let him proceed with his next treatment. Hope and despair exist side by side. After a few months, depression and quiet sadness preoccupied him although he was always willing to relieve others by reporting that he ‘felt a little better’ if they asked. He returned home in January after one of his many hospital stays and soon grew worse. Back in the hospital, he was told of possible treatment options to delay his death. He asked his family members what they wanted him to do and then announced that he wanted to go home. He was ready to die. He returned home. Sitting in his favorite chair and being fed his favorite food gave way to lying in the hospital bed in his room and rejecting all food. Eyes closed and no longer talking, he surprised everyone by joining in and singing “Happy birthday” to his wife, son, and daughter-in-law who all had birthdays close together. A pearl necklace he had purchased 2 months earlier in case he died before his wife’s birthday was retrieved and she told him how proud she would be as she wore it. He kissed her once and then again as she said goodbye. He died a few days later.[1]

A dying process that allows an individual to make choices about treatment, to say goodbyes and to take care of final arrangements is what many people hope for. Such a death might be considered a “good death.” But of course, many deaths do not occur in this way. Not all deaths include such a dialogue with family members or being able to die in familiar surroundings; people may die suddenly and alone, or people may leave home and never return (Figure 1). Children sometimes precede parents in death; wives precede husbands, and the homeless are bereaved by strangers.[2]

In this module, we will look at death and dying, grief and bereavement, palliative care, and hospice to better understand these last stages of life.

  1. Overstreet, Laura. Personal Notes. Psyc 200 Lifespan Psychology.
  2. This chapter was adapted from Waymaker Lifespan Development, authored by Sarah Carter for Lumen Learning and available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Some selections from Lumen Learning were adapted from previously shared content from Laura Overstreet's Lifespan Psychology.


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Why It Matters: Death and Dying Copyright © 2022 by Diana Lang; Nick Cone; Sarah Carter; and Laura Overstreet is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.