ASK A SCIENTIST
Question: Why do People Die?
Answer: The truth is that all living things die. Walt Disney's movie, The Lion King, points out death as a part of the cycle of life. We are born, we live out our lives, and we die. Death is one of life's guarantees, a final act of the body.
We can look at the "why" of dying by thinking about our body like it was a favorite coat. Its job is to keep us warm while we are alive. Because we wear it all the time, everyday, day and night, it eventually gets worn out. Medical care, like a good seamstress, can keep us going only as long as our coat's fabric is intact. Occasionally some pieces, a knee for example, can be replaced, like a pocket on a coat may be able to be replaced. However, once the fabric is too thin and worn out, a replacement cannot be made because the repair just won't hold. Then the coat can no longer do its job and we must let it go. When the body becomes worn out from old age or illness or is so damaged from an injury it simply can no longer be fixed, we must let it go. This letting go process is called dying.
Dying occurs over time. Sometimes it is quick and other times it takes longer. This process includes a slowing down of all vital organs -the heart stops beating, the mind stops thinking, and breathing stops. As the body parts stop working, the body begins to die because it no longer is receiving the circulation and oxygen it needs to survive. Earlier I used the analogy of a coat, but now if you compare the inner workings of the body to that of a car. When those gears and lubricants that keep the car working fail, the car cannot run. Just like when the circulation (lubricants) and vital organs of the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain (gears) fail, the body stops running too. The point when the body stops running is death.
Death is the final step in the dying process. It occurs in an instant and is generally irreversible. On occasion, like jump starting a car, a body can be brought back from the point of death, but this is very rare. Most often, once death occurs, the body is considered dead. We will all die someday. It is a part of life and is nothing to be feared. If we work hard to live as full and healthy lives as possible, when it is our turn to die, we can do so knowing we have lived well.
For further help: Cynthia MacGregor (1999) Why Do People Die? Lyle Stuart Publishing, NY and Sherwin Nuland's classic (1995) How We Die, Vintage Press, NY are references to help children and parents understand, explain, and cope with the inevitable process of life, dying, and death.
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