The Last Dance and “Social Death”


The college textbook titled The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying examines death from several angles. The book, used in courses at the University of Missouri St. Louis, considers, among other aspects of life’s end, the “social role” of the dying patient.

The book’s co-authors Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland write: “the death of the body is a physical phenomenon, whereas the passing of the person is a nonphysical (social, emotional, psychological, spiritual) one. When we focus on the former and neglect the latter, biological death may be preceded by social death.”

The authors suggest that a person who acknowledges the reality of his or her impending death may want to examine and assess the life that is nearing its end. A dying person may want to consider his or her life’s “balance sheet,” and attempt to answer questions about life goals achieved or not achieved. Some who are dying may be concerned about legacies and may wonder “how will I be remembered when I’m gone?”

Upon recognizing that life’s end is approaching, DeSpelder and Strickland write, a dying person may be concerned about “re-examining beliefs, reconciling life choices, examining loving relationships, exploring lifetime contributions, discovering meaning, exploring ideas and beliefs about an afterlife.”

Among the needs of dying patients is the need to give and receive love. The authors point out that: “Reconciliation is a key element in satisfying this human spiritual need.”

At Hope Hospice, our chaplains and our social worker guide patients and families down the difficult and unfamiliar road leading to the end of life. They work to prevent social death from occurring before the physical death of the patient. Helping a patient examine his or her life and how it has been lived is part of the care they provide.

For more information about hospice care in St. Louis, please call Hope Hospice at 314-984-9800. We are always ready to answer your questions.

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