For Shakespeare and his contemporaries, death— which modern society has sanitized and rendered largely invisible—was a brutally conspicuous presence. Early modern London, whose gates were decorated with the boiled heads of traitors and criminals, was a place in which public executions formed a regular staple of entertainment, where the corpses of condemned persons were available for public dissection, and where the fragility of life was repeatedly brought home by devastating epidemics of plague that swept away tens of thousands of citizens at a stroke.
Shamanism is the world's oldest and most enduring religious, medical, and psychotherapeutic tradition. For tens of thousands of years and across the world, shamans have functioned as tribal general practitioners and have offered a means for understanding and dealing with death and the dead.
The term Shinto, which is translated as "the way of the gods," was not coined until the nineteenth century. Because Shinto, unlike Buddhism, has never been an organized religion or tradition and has no official doctrines or creed, its ideas concerning death can vary widely from one individual to the next.
"We are destined to die, as death is an essential part of the life-cycle." These words of Guru Tegh Bahadur (reigned 1664–1675 C.E.), the ninth of the ten Indian Gurus who founded Sikhism, typify the approach to death of Sikhs. Death for this religion's 20 million members is an essential path in the journey of life and not to be feared.
For those who believed in an afterlife, death included the fear of punishment for misdeeds committed and unforgiven. For centuries, believers confessed their sins and sought forgiveness on their deathbeds.
When one reflects on the social upheavals and personal tragedies inflicted by deadly epidemics, terrorist attacks, droughts, and floods, it takes a change in thinking to reflect upon death's social functions. Further, one must consider from whose perspective death is perceived to be "functional." The bubonic plague, for instance, meant the death of roughly 25 million Europeans, but it also was the death knell for feudalism and, according to the historian William McNeill, laid the groundwork for capitalism.
Socrates is a name often relied upon when historians want to invoke a notable person from antiquity. There is good reason for the fame and durability of this name.
Belief in metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls into other living beings is ancient. In Western tradition, one of the most common sites for a formerly human soul to inhabit is that of a bird.
Humans typically assume the world to be a benevolent place; we regard ourselves with favorable self-esteem, and attempt to minimize chance in determining life events by believing in an abstract sense of justice, personal control, or a spiritual force that brings order to a potentially chaotic world. Illusory as these beliefs may be, as long as they go untested, they provide a stable cognitive framework for making sense of an individual's experiences and for providing meaning and purpose to his or her life.
Spiritualism is the belief that the living can communicate with the dead. The belief in a spirit world and the living's ability to correspond with the spiritual realm probably dates to antiquity.
The stage theory of dying was first proposed by the Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying (1969), is perhaps the single theoretical model that is best known to the general public in the entire field of studies about death and dying (thanatology). In its simplest form, this theory claims that dying people will proceed through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
As the third major cause of death and disability in America and the leading neurological disorder for morbidity, stroke is a major public health problem. The incidence of strokes is predicted to become worse as the percentage of the aging population, which is predominantly affected, increases.
In typical cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), an infant between the ages of two to four months is found dead with no warning, frequently during a period of sleep. Because the typical victims are previously healthy infants with no record of any serious medical problems, their sudden death is all the more shocking and devastating.
Since 1977 more than a hundred Southeast Asian immigrants in the United States have died from the mysterious disorder known as sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS). SUNDS had an unusually high incidence among recently relocated Laotian Hmong refugees.
Suicide exists in all countries of the world and there are records of suicides dating back to the earliest historical records of humankind. In 2000 the World Health Organization estimated that approximately 1 million people commit suicide annually.
Suicide, voluntarily taking one's own life, occurs in every country in the world. In Western societies, suicide is recognized as a leading cause of early death, a major public health problem, and a tragedy for individuals and families.
Between 30 and 50 percent of persons who die by suicide have a dependence on alcohol or drugs or have shown a pattern of abuse of those substances. The data from four large studies in four different countries confirm this statistic.
Suicides of the young, those who have most of life's highlights to experience, are profoundly challenging to cultural systems. Considerable soul searching was triggered in the United States when, between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, the suicide rates of its ten- to fourteen-year-olds nearly tripled while doubling among those aged fifteen to nineteen.
Suicide, perhaps the most obvious type of avoidable death at any age, is an intentional act that quickly results in death. However, there is a wide range of indirect suicidal behaviors in which death results gradually rather than immediately, and in which the degree of intentionality is less obvious than in an overt suicide attempt.
Support groups have become an important adjunct to the work of the medical and social support fields in addressing the needs of patients and families confronting the anguish of imminent death or the bereaved. Self-help groups provide a level of support that assists terminally ill individuals and their loved ones.
The Sutton Hoo burial ground in East Anglia, England, provides vivid evidence for attitudes to death immediately before the conversion of an English community to Christianity in the seventh century C.E. Founded about 600 C.E., and lasting a hundred years, Sutton Hoo contained only about twenty burials, most of them rich and unusual, spread over four hectares.
Acceptable expressions of sympathy vary across cultures from open and varied displays of compassion to the denial of any sympathy for even a society's most troubled members. While many people take sympathy for granted, its expression is more characteristic of some cultures and at some times in history than in others.