Since they are born, humans encounter several losses that they learn to accept through grieving, a process of emotional adaptation that, ultimately, is crucial to understanding death as something normal.
As Teresita Tinajero explains to the EFE news agency, there are “…many types of loss, each of which lead to grieving. Grieving is the time you take to adjust and adapt to a new reality.” Tinajero is the President of the Mexican Institute of Thanatology, which was founded in 1994.
Humans begin to understand grief through smaller losses, which can be natural or unnatural. For example, a newborn baby experiences its first loss by leaving the comfort of its mother’s uterus and learning to ask for food for the first time. A few years later, when the child starts school, the mother will be the one to experience a sense of loss by seeing that their child has become more independent. While it does not always have to involve pain and suffering, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or being the victim of an attack, all also require going through a grief period, adds the institute’s specialist.
Tinajero gives an example of a patient that is diagnosed with brain cancer and is told they have a life expectancy of between three and five years. First, the patient experiences a phase of denial where he or she cannot immediately accept he doctor’s words. Next, the patient moves onto the anger phase and becomes mad at themselves. There is also a bargaining phase where the patient “…negotiates feelings of guilt. The patient turns to praying to a virgin or tries to find a way to prevent getting fired.”
There is also a depression phase where, when patients face death, they enter a deep reflection about the intentionality of their own actions.
The end of the grieving process, whether this be death or not, is the long-awaited phase of acceptance: when the patient comes to terms with reality and in some way, finds a reasonable explanation.
In the end, Tinajero adds, we must confront our death. With no predetermined date, it is the “only thing we can be certain of” and is an “individual and irreversible experience.”
Thanatology offers professional help to patients with terminal illnesses, their families or to people that are experiencing a loss. It prepares people to accept any type of loss and allows individuals to make decisions that involve the loss.