The Death Awareness Movement

Authored by: Lucy Bregman

The Routledge Companion to Death and Dying

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138852075
eBook ISBN: 9781315723747
Adobe ISBN:


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“American society denies death.” “Death is a taboo topic.” “Death does not appear at all in the contemporary worldview.” These and other pronouncements resound, and have done so for at least the past fifty years. These have all but replaced another claim, bound to Freudian theory: “In our unconscious, it is inconceivable to die of a natural cause” (Kübler-Ross, 1968, 2) and therefore to accept our own death. We hear and use phrases such as being “in denial,” not just about death and loss, but over anything unpleasant. Most frequently, the statement or slogan “Death is a natural event, and we ought to accept it,” is repeated as a counter to both Freud and contemporary “death-denial.” While some of these ideas were available long before the start of the Death Awareness Movement, they have by now become clichés – or at least have been spoken and written so often that we cannot imagine a time in modern America when they would not have sounded familiar. While the Death Awareness (or Death Education) Movement includes a large amount of research and professional clinical work, its impact is best gauged by the familiarity of these mantra-like phrases within today’s environment. While it is possible to take issue with every single one of these statements as serious social/psychological claims, they have triumphed as a contemporary way to speak about death, dying, and bereavement. In this essay, we will examine the Death Awareness Movement as an advocacy effort on behalf of dying hospital patients and bereaved families. But it has probably been more successful in creating a new popular vocabulary and set of ideas about death and dying than in its efforts to transform hospitals or medical care for the terminally ill.

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