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Is Dying Traumatic?


bleedblue22
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This may be kind of a strange question to ask, but I have been thinking about it lately and find it frightening. If our brains are products of evolution where traits favorable to survival thrive, wouldn't the process of death usually be an extremely painful and cause all of our brains to resist it to the end? The process of dying goes against everything our brains are "designed" for, so it is not like our brains would have evolved a mechanism for a smooth dying process. The way certain people talk about the body naturally shutting down doesn't really make sense because why would we have evolved a way for our bodies to shut down smoothly as it confers no survival or reproductive advantage. It seems most of what we do and experience is in order for us to live and survive, so I would think our brains would interpret death to be the worst thing possible no matter what age we are at.

 

Does this make sense? I am not really scared about things once you are dead as you probably will have no experience and it won't matter, but the process of dying seems like an extremely scary and painful process. Is there a chance we could have evolved some sort of mechanism to make our brains peaceful and accepting of dying as it happens?

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Can't say I have ever been there.  A few of our members have been dead so maybe they will chime in.

 

 

However it seems that an instant death isn't traumatic to the victim, even if it is traumatic for the surviving family members.  For slow deaths sometimes the mind plays tricks on the victim to lessen the blow - NDEs and that sort of thing.

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NDEs are fascinating. It seems very strange that when a brain is not getting the oxygen and other substances it needs that it would interpret the experience as calm and peaceful.

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NDEs are fascinating. It seems very strange that when a brain is not getting the oxygen and other substances it needs that it would interpret the experience as calm and peaceful.

 

 

I was once watching a documentary where some starving lions took a young gazelle and began to feed before they even killed it.  I thought that would suck for the gazelle but it got me thinking about NDEs.  The poor animal was exhausted and defenseless.  All it could do was lay there and wait until the end came.  Perhaps NDE's are the way consciousness tries to cope.  The vast majority of species on this planet are in constant danger of being eaten by somebody else.  Even if we don't like death it is part of our natural system so I think organisms will naturally adapt.

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The thing is that an adaption of that sort would not bring any survival or reproductive value with it and would not be selected for through evolution. It might be passed on, but creatures with that adaption would not be any more successful at passing on their genes than others.

 

On the other hand, I suppose an adaption to allow the body to be calm during a extremely traumatic experience might help the animal succeed in reproducing as it would not carry around such a debilitating traumatic memory which might cause it to become antisocial or behave strangely

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I think we have evolved to survive long enough to reproduce and raise our young... once we are no longer able to reproduce, the evolved survival impulses are diminished, to say the least.  I am speaking from the point of view of a female, as this is what evolution has developed for us.  For males, presumably they can reproduce well into old age 0-picture.gif lol.  So I don't really have an answer for that side of things.  Very elderly men seem to slow down in the sexual department near the end, so perhaps their bodies get past reproducing too.

 

I heard somewhere that after a certain age, maybe around 20-25, our bodies are on a slow decline (and at 45 I can vouch for it feeling that way).  Over the years I have been aware of many people dying, and I have been told of peaceful exits, and stories of cancer patients saying their goodbyes and peacefully falling asleep and hours or days later just stopping breathing and dying.  The only people I can think of that have a painful or distressing death are those attacked and murdered, or tortured, or injured in accidents and unable to get pain relief before they die.  The statistical probability of that happening to you is very, very small.

 

I have an anxiety disorder and I can tell you that if you are susceptible to real anxiety, and you focus too much on the remote possibility of a painful death, it will drive you mad.  If that is happening, you should see and doctor and a therapist about it.  Anxiety disorders, OCD and related disorders are treatable, no one should have to suffer with them in our countries.

 

Most people (in our countries) seem to die either in their sleep or in a bed, medicated, cared for, and with a brain and body that slowly stops working.  Palliative care is a human right and our governments have a duty to encourage its availability.  I say that because in the US xian conservatives seem to oppose most humanitarian laws and services and people need to stand up to them.

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I am pretty sure that in most slow deaths one's brain chemistry changes so much that perception is altered substantially, If you have ever had a high fever you must have noticed that the "world" looks and feels differently than when your temperature is normal. I was present when my mother in law was dying. She would come in and out of consciousness and her consciousness was not complete. She was in no apparent pain.

 

Also, I think It depends upon what you are dying from. But even if it is painful there is always morphine, which god forgot to give our bodies so we could naturally avoid intense pain. Bottom line I think it can be painful, without medication. And if that doesn't work, one can be put in a coma. Don't worry because nobody has ever failed in dying. Rip

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The thing is that an adaption of that sort would not bring any survival or reproductive value with it and would not be selected for through evolution. It might be passed on, but creatures with that adaption would not be any more successful at passing on their genes than others.

 

On the other hand, I suppose an adaption to allow the body to be calm during a extremely traumatic experience might help the animal succeed in reproducing as it would not carry around such a debilitating traumatic memory which might cause it to become antisocial or behave strangely

 

That seems to be more likely - or it's simply one of the many possible responses to stress. I like your idea :)

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Yeah I do have anxiety caused by my kind of ocd/rumination thinking where I can get stuck on a problem for a really long time (like what is it like to die?). I am seeing a therapist for it and taking xanax for it.

 

I guess I should really stop asking this question of myself since it seems to just be driving me crazy. However, sometimes I feel like the more I ignore these obsessive thoughts, the more they bother me. So I feel the need to ask the question and get some feedback so I can put my mind at rest for a while and move on to other things.

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Yeah I do have anxiety caused by my kind of ocd/rumination thinking where I can get stuck on a problem for a really long time (like what is it like to die?). I am seeing a therapist for it and taking xanax for it.

 

I guess I should really stop asking this question of myself since it seems to just be driving me crazy. However, sometimes I feel like the more I ignore these obsessive thoughts, the more they bother me. So I feel the need to ask the question and get some feedback so I can put my mind at rest for a while and move on to other things.

I agree with your approach. It seems to help me to gather information about a fear, so I can use my rational mind to take it apart.  Glad you're getting help.

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I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of the dying process.

 

Not just the pain and discomfort, but the humiliation.

 

I don't know about anyone else, but I would be embarrassed to have a heart attack in a public place such as a restaurant.   Here you are flopping all over the place, grabbing your chest, falling on the table and knocking over chairs, basically making a spectacle of yourself while everyone stares.  And to add insult to injury, you might even soil yourself.  Maybe i'll get lucky and someone will drive by and shoot me in the privacy of my own home.

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I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of the dying process.

 

Not just the pain and discomfort, but the humiliation.

 

I don't know about anyone else, but I would be embarrassed to have a heart attack in a public place such as a restaurant.   Here you are flopping all over the place, grabbing your chest, falling on the table and knocking over chairs, basically making a spectacle of yourself while everyone stares.  And to add insult to injury, you might even soil yourself.  Maybe i'll get lucky and someone will drive by and shoot me in the privacy of my own home.

 

For all you know you will die in your sleep decades from now alone and none of this will matter.

 

if you heart attack in public the last thing you will be thinking about is your image. The pain will probably be the first.

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Palliative care has come a long ways. You can be totally snowed as you float into that good night. After you die, I'm assuming it's just like before you're conceived. 

 

My two cents!

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I suspect the process to reaching end isn't too pleasant - but some ways are probably better than others, painwise. I think about all the various ways a person could die, and they are practically endless. I would rather not be run over by  someone's pickup truck backing out of a driveway (as was recently reported happened to a 65 year old woman here). I would rather not be murdered or drown. Of course everyone said that who was murdered or drowned.

 

Also, like MikeD said, if it has to be a heart attack or massive stroke, I would rather not be out in public.

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It's coming up to two years since my father died.

 

Seems to me the process was more traumatic for those around him than for him.  His mind steadily weakened over the months up to his death until he became violent towards my mother.  He then went into hospital and into rapid decline.  When I last saw him he was cheerful enough, but completely incoherent - he clearly thought we could understand whatever he was trying to say (and maybe it was sensible - his speech had deteriorated to the point it was impossible to tell).

 

He died the next day shortly before I was due to visit - apparently he had been laughing and winking at the nurses, but then suddenly became unconscious and died about 10 minutes later.

 

As far as I could tell, no pain, just a loss of personal faculties and dignity about which he seemed only dimly aware.

 

So, I take it the answer to whether dying is traumatic (for the one dying) depends on how they die and of what cause.

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As a nurse I have experienced a lot of death and I can say with certainty that every death I have witnessed has been peaceful,quiet, and with no mental anguish on the dying persons part.

 

Physical anguish was present on occasion but was able to be helped with the wonderful narcotics we have nowadays.

 

I see death as a peaceful event that is more traumatizing for the people still alive who loved the person then the person themselves.

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Acceptance of death is what we all face. That's how 'all men are created equal', we all die. The worst thing a person can do is teach one's child we die because we are cursed by some supreme being because someone ate his magical fruit. Kids accept death the way they are taught by their parents. I have had NDE before, never saw Jesus, and nothing happened that would make me believe there is an afterlife. People work themselves into a frenzy thinking about dying. The older I get, the more I think about what I will be doing when that time comes. It's not an obsession but you can't help but think about it a few times as you get older. I have relatives who are obsessed with the notion of dying. I think they are trying to convince themselves they are going to heaven by talking about it all the time. I have relatives that have passed away, and friends as well who were much younger and much older than myself, and those in my age group too. First funeral I attended for a friend, I was in seventh grade. Kid dropped dead in gym class, had a stroke. No one I have witnessed dying ever passed without pain and some degree of suffering. Mother Teresa would be proud. My overall opinion is that being alive is taken for granted and death is something that is ignored until we are faced to deal with it. I try to celebrate both.

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Thanks for the answers! I suppose since I have been so healthy throughout my life and not dealt with any serious health problems, this question gets me more. I have never gone unconscious for anything other than sleep or the local anesthetic they used to get my wisdom teeth out. I suppose the feeling of realizing I am going unconscious (perhaps for the last time) during a health scare is what freaks me out the most.

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I think what comes before death is what is traumatic. I have had a death experience and there was no fear only pure experience and awe

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Here's my two cents:

 

I almost drowned twice and was amazed at how calm my brain was ("Oooh!  I'm going to die!  How about that!") while my body flailed until I got attention and pulled out.  Yeah, I finally learned to swim as a young adult!  But I can still remember how calm I felt inside both times as it happened and I KNOW it was happening, so maybe that can help answer your question as far as accidental deaths.

 

Then I spent some years working as a caregiver with elderly people, and spent hours and hours alone with them in their homes while they pre-died or whatever you'd call it.  Anyway, most of them would never discuss death at all (and with severe dementia or Alzheimers, any discussion was totally gone).  But some would discuss their death in a scared way, and they NEVER died during that stage (not in my, admittedly limited, experience).  One of my favorite guys, 92 years old and in a lucid moment in his dementia, said a few times at this stage, "I WANT to die, but I'm too SCARED because I'm a SISSY!"  But when people got very close to death, I never heard one of them talk about being scared any more about dying, but it was more a resignation and they were just READY to go because they were so flipping tired of being here and not being able to get out of bed or eat or move normally, and they all seemed to me to be very calm in their last week or so.  I NEVER saw anyone in a panic at the very end, with or without palliative care, hospice, or medication.  My favorite guy from above was very calm, sometimes silly, at the very end, and had his own way through his dementia to say a sweet "goodbye" to his wife of 61 years, which she understood.

 

For the close family and family caregivers, going through this process with their loved ones is hugely traumatic.  Even when it is a relief when someone dies (as with both my parents with their final weeks with cancer through their bodies and pain), it is traumatic going through the final weeks, seeing your loved one go from being strong and independent to a weak, dependent dying person.

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Hmm... I think for me since I get anxiety attacks and the like that in a way I have imagined death as a anxiety attack multiplied by a thousand. Like if I get this scared when nothing traumatic is happening, how bad would it be if I am in pain and my body is shutting down.

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The thing is that an adaption of that sort would not bring any survival or reproductive value with it and would not be selected for through evolution. It might be passed on, but creatures with that adaption would not be any more successful at passing on their genes than others.

 

 

I'm not so sure of that.  What if the adaptation happened long ago?  Imagine back over 66 million years ago when the only mammals were small rodents.  Let's say their primitive brains cause them great pain when their brain is under high stress.  When they have a NDE they scream in pain and flail around attracting attention to themselves.  Wouldn't that result in them being eaten very often when a NDE happens?  Then if one of them gets a mutation that allows it to draw less attention to itself during a NDE it would be less likely to be eaten (even if the conditions only apply in rare situations).  If it recovered from whatever caused the NDE it would live to pass on it's genes.

 

I can't think of a way to test it but there is a hypothesis.

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Hmm... I think for me since I get anxiety attacks and the like that in a way I have imagined death as a anxiety attack multiplied by a thousand. Like if I get this scared when nothing traumatic is happening, how bad would it be if I am in pain and my body is shutting down.

 

I'm pretty certain that if you had a terminal illness, given your anxiety disorder, your doctor would prescribe some strong anti-anxiety medication along with some really good narcotic pain relief. 

 

One way to alleviate your anxiety about this issue would be to ask your doctor what can be done to help someone in this situation.  

 

I get severe anxiety if I am hospitalised without warning.  I manage this by learning as much as I can about medicine, and telling the staff about my anxiety disorder.  Good nurses are skilled at dealing with anxious people.  

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I'm not so sure of that.  What if the adaptation happened long ago?  Imagine back over 66 million years ago when the only mammals were small rodents.  Let's say their primitive brains cause them great pain when their brain is under high stress.  When they have a NDE they scream in pain and flail around attracting attention to themselves.  Wouldn't that result in them being eaten very often when a NDE happens?  Then if one of them gets a mutation that allows it to draw less attention to itself during a NDE it would be less likely to be eaten (even if the conditions only apply in rare situations).  If it recovered from whatever caused the NDE it would live to pass on it's genes.

 

I can't think of a way to test it but there is a hypothesis.

Makes sense. Another question is whether something still is relevant for advanced primates, and has it still been selected for during the last few thousand generations, and if not, what remains of it and how does it manifest.

 

If you look at people that are to be executed, say in ISIS videos, they don't seem to make a big deal out of it. So at least the mind is not eager to react to impending doom that it is intellectually aware of.

When the body has no way to deny it is in danger, perhaps then something else happens. If you are drowning, it surely should be beneficial to go into some sort of berserk in order to break free of anything and to reach surface. Anyone who has panic'd a bit underwater should know this is how it goes.

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I've passed out several times over the years- via heat stroke, head injury, shock, excessive alcohol & other fun substances. And the process of blacking out was never traumatic at all. Basically it starts with narrowing tunnel-vision and proceeds into something like falling asleep quickly and involuntarily. Events leading up to it may painful, but not the process itself of going unconscious.

 

I see no reason to think that death will be any different.

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