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Is There Pain After Death?

A cause waste, anger and tragedy


A grandfather-father-husband-salesman-cook-gardener-hiker-gentleman, adored by many, is struck down by cancer.  His disease is particularly horrible, spreading quickly though his body causing damage not only to bone and organ, but to sinew and nerve. He suffers terrible pain for weeks, relieved poorly with inadequate doses of inferior medications, thrashing in misery witnessed by his kin, always at the bedside, ages seven to seventy.  Finally, uncomfortable and agitated until the end, he dies.  Does his pain continue after death?

Pain that is not relieved in a person’s life continues after they are gone, held as a sordid memory by loved ones.  Just as we retain treasured thoughts of joy, wisdom and warmth, we preserve images of pain.  Unrequited suffering contaminates memory, preventing healing, healthy grieving and closure. This pain in turn flows across our communities, touching many who may never have met the patient. 

This does not have to be somatic discomfort to be treated with pain medication.  Shortness of breath, seizures, nausea, wounds and bleeding cast intense images that last more than one lifetime.  Uncontrolled anxiety or fear may contaminate a family and corrupt its fiber, as can loss of spiritual path, loneliness, or guilt.  Failure to settle past wrongs or mixed intentions results in a loss of opportunity, a psychic wound that will never heal. 

A poorly managed end-of-life experience can transform families for generations.  I recently heard of a young man who suffered a miserable protracted death from cancer.  This resulted in his wife becoming chronically depressed and isolated from her family.   She committed suicide, leaving their son a life as an alcoholic and drug addict.  The ripples from that one cancer spread out and, through the network of that family, caused pain for many more.

When we think of end-of-life planning, we focus on those immediate moments for the patient and family, as well we should.  The opportunity to live one’s life well, even at its end, should not be denied, and must be the first goal of palliative medicine and hospice.  However, we cannot overstate the need and potential to protect and even nourish future generations by treating pain of all types in patients with terminal illness, and in families sharing that passage. 

There is pain after death, and I suspect it is the cause of much waste, anger and tragedy in our society. We must strive to prevent that suffering.  Good things are possible, loved ones can be together, memories shared, and solid foundations laid. Patients, families, doctors and caregivers must protect and treasure even this difficult time of a person’s life, because as one life ends, others are beginning.


As published in Sunrise Rounds.


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William H. Bonnie October 11, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Katy Lake's comments are funny. She is ranting against herself in her own post. Thank the easter bunny that there are not many like her and her sister ricki,
Joe October 11, 2012 at 03:28 PM
The thing about atheists that really cracks me up is how they loathe (clearly) having God and religion thrown in their faces yet they have no trouble throwing their disbelief in ours. It makes me a bad Christian (according to the Bible) but I respect your freewill to not believe; it does not bother me in the least and I am not going to spend any time trying to convince you of something of which you will never be convinced. Why is it that you feel compelled to try to convince believers otherwise? How does my belief in God affect you?
Joe October 11, 2012 at 03:29 PM
LOL - seems like Katy and I are sharing a brain today. I really should type faster in the future.
MILITANT ANTI-THEIST October 11, 2012 at 03:30 PM
KATY LAKE, when you and the government take "in god we trust" off my money, remove "one nation under god" out the pledge then i'll consider not putting in my two cents within my first ammendment right. I am a real atheist, I don't celebrate christmas, easter, halloween, thanksgiving or any other holiday associated with any religion. I can smile everyday without the whiff of an after life or a higher power. Why do people (other than myself) say god bless you when someones sneezes? why... because some religious figure decided it was a good idea. when you sneeze, it should be no different than when you expel any fluid or noise such as a cough, burp, or a fart from your body. the person that did it should say excuse me. This is just another example of an atheist being looked at like a bad person because they don't say god bless you when YOU sneeze.
Joe R October 11, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Some of the atheists posting comments here are certainly giving a bad name to atheism. They come across as arrogant, insensitive, pompous and lacking in any trace of sympathy, empathy or human compassion. They sound like Ayn Randians. We still have freedom of religion and freedom from religion if we so choose. If you want to be religious, fine, just don't push your religion in my face and the same goes for an atheist. There should be separation of church and state, the rights of atheists should be respected, there should not be any overt praying in public schools but you can always say silent prayers to yourself, anywhere at any time. As for creationism and Intelligent Design, they have no place in science classes in public schools or any reputable accredited institution of learning. They might be taught as an example of superstition or as an example of a cultural phenomenon gone wild.


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