As long as there has been life, there has been the end of life. Some believe that life’s ephemerality is a part of what gives every day meaning. Still, it can be challenging to look at death with such optimism when we lose a remarkable loved one or pet. Despite the ubiquitousness of this experience, processing death can be one of the most challenging aspects of life.
While we typically think of death as the physical end of life, there are other forms of death in world religions such as Christianity, such as the second death and spiritual death. As we travel through our journey with the concept of death, it can be helpful to understand the many meanings death can hold throughout the world and within our own communities.
Why Does Death Have Multiple Definitions?
Understanding the general concept of death and truly accepting its inevitability are two distinct processes. While many of us learn about death early in our lives, some of us may never come to peace with the idea of our own deaths or the deaths of our remarkable loved ones.
When a loved one passes away, we experience a deep longing for them to remain with us. That longing and heartbreak can be hard to reconcile with the beautiful sentiments of meaning, joy, and even afterlife that many of us connect with the end of life.
What’s more, everyone handles death differently. There is no one size fits all response to this natural process. The journey of processing and understanding death is called grief. As challenging as it may be, it’s a necessary part of our healing journey after losing a loved one.
Our grief can lead to a fear of death, a fear of the death of our loved ones, or a deeper interest in why death exists on a philosophical level.
As we explore the many psychological aspects of death, we may find that the concept applies beyond a physical end of life. In Kenneth Kramer’s The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death, Kramer describes three faces of death: physical death, psychological death, and spiritual death. While physical death relates to the biological processes we most commonly associate with death, the concepts of psychological and spiritual death look internally towards the deaths we may experience as we are still alive.
Psychological death is most commonly seen in the elderly or terminally ill. This form of death occurs when a loved one accepts the inevitability of their death and begins to withdraw from society. These loved ones may withdraw from the activities they used to love, they may begin to care less about world news, and they can even begin to separate themselves from their loved ones.
Learning about psychological death can help us better understand our loved ones when they’re approaching the end of their time on Earth. Although it can be hurtful to experience a loved one withdrawing from us during our last moments with them, this is a common psychological process that may help them prepare for the next steps in their journey.
Hospice and palliative care can help ease these feelings of intellectual and emotional pain, as end-of-life professionals are trained to help our loved ones live their lives fully, even as they approach death.
Another common form of death is social death. However, unlike psychological death, social death is something that the living can control. Social death refers to the decrease in social visits that is typical as a loved one moves closer to their final days. Because death can be a challenging concept to understand, some people feel uncomfortable spending time with dying loved ones.
Although there is little we can do to help our dying loved ones physically, being present and showing our love can prevent social death and show our remarkable loved ones the incredible impact they’ve had on our lives.
Another form of death that can occur is called spiritual death. This term has a history in religion primarily, but it can also be a part of a person’s grief journey. Let’s take a closer look into what a spiritual death means.
What is a Spiritual Death?
Death in the physical sense isn’t difficult to define. While this does not mean that it is at all simple to understand, physical signals like a heart that no longer beats can help us identify the physical end of life. When it comes to metaphysical concepts like spiritual death, its signs and definitions become a little less black and white.
The term spiritual death has its roots primarily in religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These religions share the idea that people have both a body and a soul, or spirit.
In a religious context, a spiritual death refers to the inherent separation of humans and God. The idea is that all humans are born with sin, which makes them spiritually dead. However, through finding their faith, they can be made spiritually alive. For some religions, this spiritual death also includes a second aspect involving a physical separation from God, in which we can only overcome our spiritual death when we return to God’s presence after our physical death on Earth.
This also ties into the concept of a “second death,” which refers to a final judgment after our time on Earth is completed. If an individual dies without being “saved” by their faith, they will experience a second death through their punishment in the afterlife.
Although these definitions of spiritual death are inherently religious, there are other spiritual deaths that we may experience in the secular world.
Spiritual Death Outside of Religion
Outside of the religious definition of spirit as a form of faithfulness, ideas such as spirit are secularly given meaning in the context of joy, courage, or ambition. For someone who is ‘spirited’, they are rambunctious and full of life. In the same way, when someone loses their spirits or is in bad spirits, they are sad, forlorn, or cranky.
In a context like this, a person who experiences a spiritual death may be going through a heartbreaking event. When someone loses a person that they love dearly, it can feel like a spiritual death took place.
A spouse that says goodbye to their faithful companion after decades of life together or a parent that must embrace the reality of their child’s death may experience a form of spiritual death during their grieving process. This is the metaphorical death of their joy, courage, or ambition in the face of their grief.
How Can We Overcome Spiritual Death?
Spiritual death can be heartbreaking to witness. As we come to terms with the physical death of a remarkable loved one, we may also have to process the spiritual death of loved ones who are still with us.
As we experience the spiritual death of a loved one or our own spiritual deaths, we may feel helpless or confused about the best ways to offer our support. If you are experiencing something like this or supporting someone who is, here are some ways to possibly lift them up through this hard time.
Give Them Space
One of the hardest things to do when someone we love is hurting is to give them space. Our hearts seem to get torn in two when we watch a loved one struggle through grief or spiritual death.
While we want to be available for them in any way that we can, giving them the space to experience this deeply confusing journey is key. Giving a loved one space looks different for everyone, so finding out how your loved one needs this element of freedom in their grief is also important.
Help With Practical Tasks
When someone is experiencing a deep loss, we can also make the mistake of doing too little. There’s a delicate balance between giving them the space that they need and avoiding a social death. One way to make this balance a little easier is to help with practical tasks like cleaning the dishes, cooking food, or even mowing the lawn.
Seek Professional Guidance
In the event of spiritual death, our love and support can mean the world. However, help from a licensed professional may be what your loved one needs to rediscover joy following a heartbreaking loss.
Find Meaning Through Memorials
Commemorating the impact and legacy of a loved one who has passed away is one of the most powerful tools we can use on our healing journey. In the wake of a death that leaves us confused and heartbroken, having a physical memorial can help to act as an anchor through the storm.
Not only that, but by commemorating the impact and legacy of a loved one, we can create a sense of control in a situation that can make us feel powerless. One of the most beautiful and enduring ways to commemorate the memory of a loved one is to create a memorial cremation diamond.
This process uses the carbon from a loved one’s cremated ashes to grow an authentic, valuable diamond that is an eternal way of showing your love and appreciation. This diamond gemstone can be fitted to any piece of jewelry and will stay in the family forever as a beautiful commemoration of their life and legacy.
While the physical death of ourselves or our loved ones can take a lifetime to understand, other forms of death can be equally impactful in our hearts. Spiritual death is not permanent, and through our remarkable relationships, we can begin to truly heal.