[*Taken from draft concepts, that became the 2nd book in the “Death Impending” series]
~The Five Deaths~
There are five (5) stages of knowing about death, which I cover in greater detail elsewhere. I will review them concisely here. In essence, they are comprised of the 1. “the egoist alone”; 2. “death, the detached other”; 3. “death, the object“; 4. “death, the known“; and finally 5. “death, the self“.
All stages, at varying degrees, fail to realize that death/suffering are the same concept. This includes, by extension, the emotional and psychological impacts of any death, as it ripples through the world, and psychologically “pre-written” futures being unwritten. Most of the pain, in grief and loss, comes via this ‘erasure of pre-written futures‘ vector.
1.0 The Egoist Alone
The egoist stage many scarcely move passed in a lifetime. This is why the majority of people are so poor at dealing with people they know who are grieving – because they do not know what death IS. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that they do not know, beyond dictionary definitions, what death is at all.
The egoist will use words like “death” and “loss”, and refer to the abstract of the identity of the “other” who has died. They even, on occasion, perform the expected social dances they have been schooled in for this topic. Though, at best, only the dances they have been socially schooled in. And more often than not – they perform even less. They may offer pretenses about it all: but, in actuality, when the egoist talks of “death” and “loss“; they only mean “life“, “concept” and “themselves“. This is primarily due to a genuine lack of capacity, but can last until quite late in life (it is not uncommon for it to continue until the death of the parent at a minimum).
There are reasons for this. One being that the entirety is so unimaginable. Not merely from inexperience and egoic focus, though this is certainly part. It is in this way similar to how, in suicidality, the patient often spends an inordinate amount of time focused on seeing the imagined reactions of those who would still be living! People guilty or sad. People relieved of the burden of them. Utter inability to grasp the nature of death (this is covered in more detail in the chapter on Death Impending Suicide To Avoid Dying). But there is a more fundamental driver-set indicated.
Death is the antithesis of all we are. For an existing machine, to use the machine components, so arranged, in order to generate the experiential representation of “not being that machine” – or even the system state that most opposes the multi sub-system redundancy set of alarms and pre-dispositional states that are its “existing machine-ness” is no small ask.
In addition to that, and more basic for the healthier, more youth-ridden agent; neurologically there are memories paired by experience. That is to say, not only is there a deficit of experience glimpsing the faces of death, but when all is well, and people are healthy – they may only access the memories of things being well, and them being in health.
Even now, I invite the reader to try and remember pain? All you see is the image representation. You can not summon the burning of your hand on a stove, nor child birth, nor striking your funny bone. Being kicked in the shins. Banging your knee, right on the sharp corner-edge of the coffee table. There is a great qualitative absence in the sub type of memory that people generically refer to as “remember”. This deficit has further reaching, and parallel, implications across cognition. And all cognition is anchored in the full faces of death.
2.0 Death, the Detached Other
Keeping as much distance as possible, meeting death as the “detached other” is as close as this style of processing will allow. This remains the case for most of the lifespan, for a great many people. Death is a concept, that happens to other people, but is not an event to be countenanced – except during the moments where the intrusion is unavoidable. And even then a cognitive distance – or pure ignorance of attachment – is often maintained. Only engaging the concept, never the object, or manifest repercussions. Religion is also found in the egoist/early detached other.
Death as the “detached other” is also where most spiritualists (even honest ones), and meditators spend most of their time. It is a step up on the egotist. They may read works on the topic, meditate on their own death (and the death of loved ones). They may even seek to take action of exploration. They may visit at a hospice center, or volunteer at a hospital. They reflect and pontificate on what they think death is (but their behaviors will reveal the truth – they will never allow it to manifest as a full object, only as a detached other). They dwell as “with death” as they can, without being anywhere near it. They may know of people who have died, but have never “lost” someone particularly close, is usually the case. It is an honest, essential beginning, and is preparation for later rapid progression; but still falls quite some ways short of anything that could be called genuine comprehension.
3.0 Death, The Object
The “detached other” borders with death “the object“, only in the death professions. These are broadly identified by the three (3) M’s – Military/Medicine/Morgue. It includes forensics, and firefighters ect as well: but there tends to be a vocational component, and a volume of exposure, that sets these positions apart from the other stages. This death is a real object in the world, however the connection to true suffering can not be allowed. This is as a detachment is required to get the work done. And it depends on the role in the occupation, and in life, as to how completely the framing is made concretely manifest.
Large portions of both medicine and the military, for example, do not deal with death all that directly at all. Though, of course, they will know of far more people who have died and been touched by death – certainly when compared to any ordinary citizen. And this changes again with the profession sub specialties who “man the gates” of death, as it were. Though there is still a distance here, it is not as sharp (PTSD like reactions and burn-out is also higher here). It is this nexus that is as close to genuinely being “with death” as the living can readily be – provided there has been some exposure to stage 4 – death, the known – as well. This is required. There are “advanced” levels of practice within stages; however there are no short cuts to graduating stages. Though certain events do punctuate progression somewhat reliably. However, it is engagement level, at these inflection points, that dictates progression.
Horrific death; first death; death of one of similar age and career; or coming under investigation for practice surrounding a death (especially if there is an extensive time spent with the grieving family); are examples of inflection points at the 3rd/4th boundary for the professional.
The boxing-up, and sorting through the belongings, of a lost loved one’s house is another sharp focus-point, often a marker at the 3rd/4th death boundary. As is the act of reacting to, the reactions of, grieving (especially as manifested in daily living) of others among the family and friends. This is a ‘boundary marker’, as it is essential if you are to ‘know’ death. Indeed, it a critical aspect of death awareness. The calling out for support/understanding from others, during times of grief/burnout (and how this is received) marks another critical inflection point in development. The bio-psychology and philosophy, of why this is especially so, is covered in greater depth in the chapter on “True Tears”. “True Tears” is an aspect of death that is all too often absent in the death/healing, and extended, professions. This absence limits death awareness, which, in turn, limits the ability to conceive of compassion.
These elements are cumulative. They are the abstracts that describe the faces of ‘death manifest’. And the more honest, concentrated time an agent spends looking at each of the faces, the more aware of death, as a fully realized entity, they become.
These elements are all aspects of a single death. Absent these elements: one is not even talking about death. Only its labels.
4.0 Death, The Known
In all cases, a psychic wall still separates. Morticians do not deal with “the dying” part of death, almost at all. Arguably, there is very little “death” in a morgue. Further, all roles have limited interactions with the family, and other emotional components, which make up the third face of death. It is limited to, what quickly become, systematized performances. And then the agent – no matter how moved by a given day’s events – predominantly goes home and forgets about it. This is not a criticism, only an observation. And it may well be a necessity.
The key point is, each stage is an order of magnitude beyond the one beneath it. The difference is not small in caliber. And It is not until the death of someone close to an agent (or an actual prolonged threat to an agent’s own life – a “matinee exposure” to a version of death “the self”) is experienced, that the other experiences take on a new meaning. This is the integration of death “the known“.
5.0 Death, The Self
These awareness distributions overlap. Incorporating a shifting understanding of the highest achieved, and subordinate stages. And none ever completely prepare for the true death “the self”. At least I strongly suspect this is the case. None can be sure. I only know I have invested time and consideration to know enough to know that I do not know. Itself a breakthrough. For you see, it is the nature of each stage to grant a blinding hubris. It is not uncommon to hear claims made, from within a subordinate stage, that the “next stage” is already mastered. This position is – without exception – later revoked.
6.0 Conclusion: Death, The Invisible
The psychic defense mechanics, that stop the integration of death awareness, are nothing short of uncanny.
But that is only my experience, nest ce pas? And you, well YOU, as you’re reading this, you know that you’re probably the one, hey? The exception that really gets it? This is an amazing effect. Part of the death defense writ-large. Without exception – ‘YOU‘ know what death is. Are you able to feel that? My claims about ‘not knowing’, and ‘stages’, read as arrogant. Yet, not arrogant in the slightest: you just…know? You know death.
And it is scarcely conceivable that, in actuality, you may be a first level egoist. With too little invested, and too much left yet to explore and experience, to have much of an opinion at all. That feeling is a kind of proof. Proof of these defense systems in activation. Certainly, not proof of insight. Yet it is nigh impossible to by-pass, or do much more than glimpse, beyond awareness stages. Let me continue to provide evidence of this, with a brief psychic examination, through dialogue. How honestly have you spent any serious time on this topic? Really set aside time to consider?
I mean, you haven’t given it much serious thought. An afternoon? A full day? A week in contemplation? Ever been sick? Ever lost someone actually close? Seen a lot of death, with dying, and the ripples of its effects? Honest answers to those questions will, quietly to yourself, give you some indication of where you are up to.
People can answer “nope” to every single one of those – heck, some have never even seen a corpse! And that is not even an overly significant marker on the spectrum. But they all still “get it“. And they will tell you so, without irony:
“I’m no philosopher, and I’ve never lost anyone too close, or seen a dead body, or cared for someone, or been seriously sick myself – but I understand what death is mate”.
It really is quite remarkable.
Well, as much as you are able, I invite you to take some time to consider death. Now.
[This concludes the introductory brief of the five deaths].
JRC is the Thanatology, Research Science and Psychiatry Investigator for the ChronicleLS. [Ed5-B11-C-0171130]