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  • Dr Frantz Pierre-Louis & Lloyd Pierre-Louis

Death and Health

The only certainty one has in this life is that death is unavoidable and (not being pessimistic, but only acknowledging reality) the most probable predictable future for every single one of us. Even more so, while health could be considered a not-so-common gift inherited by a lucky newborn, death is the other side of it if this gift is compared to a medal. Hence, as far as we are certain that earth is not flat, and that it rotates around the sun, unfortunately, for the human beings who, by nature, dream about eternity, no medal has only one side.

That being said, as paradoxical as it might seem for many people, death is an inherent part of life. This is why couple of sensitive topics such as end-of life discussion, plan of care, code status, for instance, as difficult as they are, should rather be seriously discussed between patients and healthcare professionals.

We must accept that since health (or at least a little bit of it) is necessary to sustain life, then, by transitivity, death and health are necessarily linked and for this reason having those discussions with your healthcare professionals should occur not during illnesses but instead in times of health.

As a matter of fact, in the scientific world, the relation between death and health has been studied up to a point where the Terror Management Health Model (TMHM) has been evoked to try to explain how the perception certain individuals have on death impacts their own health. More specifically, the TMHM model which is elaborated in a 2008 article entitled The implications of death for health: a terror management health model for behavioral health promotion, “integrates disparate health and social psychology literature to elucidate how the conscious and non conscious awareness of death can influence the motivational orientation that is most operative in the context of health decisions.” (Goldenberg, Arndt, 2008).

Therefore, contrary to many beliefs, being aware or not of the reality of death is not necessarily a question of fear, or desperation, but sometimes rather an incentive to make health choices different from the ones we would make if this awareness of death was inexistant in our thoughts. Always according to the aforementioned article, three concepts have been proposed in this model with regards to this matter as follows:

‘’ Proposition 1 suggests that conscious thoughts about death can instigate health-oriented responses aimed at removing death-related thoughts from current focal attention. Proposition 2 suggests that the unconscious resonance of death-related cognition promotes self-oriented defenses directed toward maintaining, not one's health, but a sense of meaning and self-esteem. The last proposition (3) suggests that confrontations with the physical body may undermine symbolic defenses and thus present a previously unrecognized barrier to health promotion activities.’’

Finally, regardless of the veracity of either proposition in this TMHM model, and how either specifically applies to each individual, one thing is true: how we perceive death determines somehow how we live life, and therefore the sporadic health decisions we make along the way to adjust to our renewed perception of life. So, if we don’t know the when (of death), we can always choose the how… How to live a healthy life! No matter what, just don’t give up this right!

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