~The Five Deaths~
There are 5 stages of knowing about death, which I cover in greater detail elsewhere. I will review 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 pre-written future being unwritten. Most of the pain, in grief and loss, comes via this erasure of pre-written futures vector.
The egoist stage many scarcely get out 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. 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 the antithesis of all we are. But more than that, neurologically there are memories paired by experience. That is to say, not only is there a deficit of experience, 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. 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.
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, is usually the case. It is an honest true beginning, but still falls quite some ways short of comprehension.
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; and 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, as 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. The boxing up and sorting the belongings of a lost loved one is another sharp focus-point of the forth death. As is the reacting to the reactions of living others, true tears and otherwise. Both now and longer term. without these elements – one is not talking about death.
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“.
These spectrum’s 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.
But probably you’re the one, hey? The exception that really gets it. And not actually a first level egotist, with much left yet to explore and experience. It does not seem likely to you, that there are things which remain out there in the world, that could still teach you anything further? Well, of course. Now you do not ague that point. But…still…you know. You.
This concludes the introductory brief of the five deaths.
JJR is the Thanatology, Research Science and Psychiatry Investigator for the ChronicleLS. [Ed1-B11-C-0171130]