Wednesday September 19, 2018

Do we ritualise death to quell our own Sorrows and Anxieties?

Simple rituals, even those that are invented or made up can reduce people’s feeling of grief, say Harvard University experiments

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A Cemetery. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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  • Veneration of the dead is one of the integral parts of religious practices all over the world
  • The earliest evidence of burial comes from Upper Palaeolithic burial sites dating back thousands of years ago
  • Studies show that we ritualise death for our own sake, to quell our own sorrows and anxieties

From mummification to ‘sky burials’, human beings have always shown some form of obsession when it comes to the dead. Mortuary rituals are universal across cultures, but how the dead are dressed vary widely.

While expensive lined and cushioned mahogany or walnut caskets often used in modern Western burials, the Zoroastrians used to place corpses atop specially constructed Towers of Silence for the scavenging birds, said a Scroll.in report.

The Dani people of West Papua, New Guinea also had to cut off their own fingers after the death of a loved one. This seemingly severe and incomprehensible ritual applied to any woman related to the deceased, as well as any children.

For some cultures like those of the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea and the Wari people of Brazil, the best way to honor the dead is by eating them.

Sky Burial Image Source:Wikipedia Commons

For thousands of years, Tibetan Buddhists practice ritual dissection, or “Sky Burials” — the tradition of chopping up the dead into small pieces and giving the remains to animals, particularly birds. Sometimes, the body is also left intact.

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According to Scroll.in, the earliest evidence of burial comes from Upper Palaeolithic burial sites dating back thousands of years ago. The grave goods and other similar burial practices indicate at least rudimentary afterlife beliefs. Even now, veneration of the dead is one of the integral parts of religious practices all over the world.

Death is also central to Christianity. After all, the crucifix is an instrument of torture and execution. Christians also observe special days dedicated to death, such as Good Friday. Rather than celebrating the anniversaries of their births, most saints’ days fall on the dates of their deaths

The Psychology Of Rituals

“Funerals, I had decided, are for the living.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Studies show that we ritualise death for our own sake, to quell our own sorrows and anxieties. There is increasing evidence that rituals serve to regulate our emotional reactions. According to experiments conducted at the Harvard University, simple rituals, even those that are invented or made up can reduce people’s feeling of grief, said the Scroll.in report.

Rituals also serve other purposes and are indications of stress relief. Certain studies show that when people become more rigid and repetitive when put in stressful situations , they are in fact relieving stress and reducing anxiety. Rituals may also serve to stave off our own anxieties concerning mortality.

Furthermore, as rituals call for social gatherings, they create a comfortable atmosphere that binds people together over the loss of a loved one. Hence group rituals, particularly those involving synchronous behavior, also foster a sense of social cohesion that can help us to feel more physically formidable.

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According to Scroll.in, another purpose of ritualising death could be that it helps us to deal with the feelings of guilt associated with disposing of a corpse. When a process is formulated and followed for generations, the central focus is shifted from disposing the corpse to saying goodbye to the one we loved. By doing so, they cease to be people and become objects that we can dispose.

Despite the wide diversity in the traditions of disposing the dead or to bid a last goodbye, it seems that death rituals are meant to make us feel less helpless in the face of our grief and pain.

-prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @ajkrish14

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Deaths Due to Cancer Increases To More Than 18 Mn Every Year: WHO

Krug said the survival rates of people stricken with cancer could be increased by strengthening health services, improving early diagnosis.

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Cancers
Women receive cancer treatment at The National Oncology Center in Sanaa, Yemen. VOA

New data show a significant increase in the incidence of global cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancers, part of the World Health Organization, estimates a rise in new cases of cancer to more than 18 million, including 9.6 million deaths this year.

The report that covers 36 types of cancer in185 countries, finds one in five men and one in six women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime and more men than women die of the disease. It says nearly half of the new cases and more than half of cancer deaths this year occurred in Asia, in part because nearly 60 percent of the global population lives there.

The data show lung and breast cancers, followed by colorectal, prostate, and stomach cancers, are responsible for the highest numbers of new cases globally. It cites lung cancer as the leading cause of death, accounting for 1.8 million deaths in 2018.

 

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Diakite, 46, looks out the window after her annual check up with Dr. Abdoul Aziz Kasse at the Clinique des Mamelles in Dakar, Senegal on July 13, 2017. Diakite has successfully recovered from cervical cancer thanks to Dr. Kasse and yearly checks. VOA

 

International Agency for Research on Cancer head of Surveillance Freddie Bray says by 2040, the number of new cancer cases is projected to rise to 29.3 million and the number of deaths to 16.3 million.

 

“The biggest increases in the cancer burden, a doubling of the cancer burden to 2040, is going to occur in countries at the lowest levels of socio-economic development,” Bray said. “Some in Sub-Saharan Africa, some in South America, some in southern Asia. But there the countries faced with this increasing cancer burden are presently ill-equipped to deal with this pending increase.”

Etienne Krug is director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Non-Communicable Diseases. He says many of the main cancer risks killing people can be prevented by cutting down on tobacco and alcohol consumption, exercising more and eating better.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, is shown the advanced radiotherapy system during a visit to announce new funding and research into prostate cancer, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. VOA

“And we also could do a lot by increasing immunization against some cancers like cervical cancer and liver cancers, for example,” Krug said. “But for those who have cancer, cancer should not be a death sentence anymore.”

Also Read: Exercising Too Little Puts Your Health At Risk: WHO

Krug said the survival rates of people stricken with cancer could be increased by strengthening health services, improving early diagnosis, and providing access to proper treatment. He added palliative care should be given to terminally ill patients to ease their suffering. (VOA)