Let’s Talk About Death with a Smile in Our Hearts
By Cristina (Tinoca) Senra, MS, and Renata Tarevnic, PhD
A few years ago, we came across a book that surprised us with its title – Death is a Day Worth Living (Arantes). Yet, it has helped us both professionally and personally. Taking care of someone is the greatest victory in the face of illness and it's an excellent reason to search for a new look at life.
The only certainty in life is that we are going to die. Death, sooner or later, comes to us all, and along our journey we lose people, and we lose places. We will go through several losses in our life.
Most of the time we prefer to avoid the issue: “not to mention it”, “not to imagine what it will be like when my father/mother/brother/significant person leaves”, “not to comment if a student has not returned.” We use words like “leave”, “travel”, and “better place”, avoiding the word death.
Death was relegated in the 20th century to the forbidden, the shameful, the occult – an enemy to be defeated at any cost. The difficulties of our current society to deal with the loss and realization of mourning are, to a large extent, the legacy of a mentality that keeps death as a forbidden topic, and the way to undo it is through an education for death (Kovács 2005).
The importance of focusing on the theme of death is linked to the fact that, when talking about it, we are talking about life and, when talking about life, its quality ends up being reviewed (Gonçalves & Bittar 2016).
Since 2019, we are experiencing a “new world” all the time. The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with a sea of feelings and inevitable exposure to the loss of students in our classes (due to decreased functionality, fear, death) and of our loved ones and friends (by separation, isolation, death).
The instructor is a caregiver. A daily life of caregiving imposes duality in situations such as health/disease and birth/death. Dealing with extreme situations requires professional training. This challenge is even more urgent for health and education professionals (Gonçalves & Bittar 2016, De Lima et al. 2018). Hence, the importance of talking openly about death and creating coping strategies both in our professional and personal lives.
Coping is the set of strategies developed to deal with situations of pain and suffering, allowing one to overcome conflict and make adaptations to the new situation. Overcoming the situation is not the equivalent to forgetting the event. Rather, it is the capacity to move forward with life despite the loss suffered (Gonçalves & Bittar 2016).
In view of aging and death, whether it is a symbolic death or the perception of their own transience, it was shown (Ribeiro et al. 2017) that elderly individuals employ a coping strategy that produce either favorable or unfavorable health results. Favorable strategies were negotiation, acceptance, accommodation, looking for social support, looking for spiritual comfort, and living in the moment. The unfavorable strategies were anticipated grief, desire to die, isolation, and submission.
For coping strategies to be created, it is extremely important to give grief time and space. Several authors mention that poorly prepared grief is becoming a public health problem, given the large number of people who become ill (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, etc.) due to an excessive burden of living the grief (Kovács 2005).
Grief is normal and natural, but we have been ill prepared to deal with it. Religious and spiritual leaders have pointed out for centuries that we should look at loss as an opportunity for personal spiritual development. Common responses to grief include reduced concentration, sense of numbness, disrupted sleep patterns, changed eating habits, and a roller coaster of emotional energy (James and Friedman 2009).
Physical activities, especially water activities, are an important coping strategy. Exercise can positively alter responses to grief. Additionally, the aquatic environment provides a physical and emotional embrace when the body is immersed. Aquatic experiences are kinesthetic discoveries where water interacts with the nervous system and with the body as a whole. The aquatic interaction happens at all levels. When we let go of our body, the water carries us, surrounds us, and rocks us in a special affection (Velasco 2013). The water nurtures our body, heart, and soul.
“Tears are made of salt water, like the sea.
Crying out this emotion is like taking a dip in the sea from the inside out.
Everything can die except Love. Only love deserves immortality within us"
~ Ana Cláudia Quintana Arantes
• Give yourself time (as much as necessary) but choose completion and recovery rather than isolation and avoidance.
• Accept your feelings and know that grief is a process.
• Claim your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness.
• Be able to enjoy fond memories without having them precipitate painful feelings of regret or remorse.
• Acknowledge that it is perfectly all right to feel sad from time to time. Talk about those feelings no matter how those around you react.
• Spend time with friends and family.
• Don't isolate yourself.
• Do physical activities that you most enjoy and, whenever possible, in a group setting.
Since we will experience the death of someone along our journey, let’s talk about death with a smile in our heart, remembering the beautiful memories we shared.
Arantes ACQ. 2016. A morte é um dia que vale a pena viver. Rio de Janeiro: Oficina do livro.
De Lima R, Bergold LB, Souza JDF, Barbosa GS, Ferreira MA. 2018. Death education: sensibility for caregiving. Rev Bras Enferm. 71(Suppl 4):1779-84. doi: 10.1590/0034-7167-2017-0018.
Gonçalves, P. C., & Bittar, C. M. L. 2016. Estratégias de enfrentamento no luto. Mudanças – Psicologia da Saúde, 24(1).
James, J., Friedman R. 2009. The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition_ The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith. Harper Collins e-books
Kovács, M. J. 2005. Educação para a morte. Psicologia, Ciência e Profissão, 25(3), 484-497
Ribeiro MS, Borges MS, Araújo TCCF, Souza MCS. 2017. Estratégias de enfrentamento de idosos frente ao envelhecimento e à morte: revisão integrativa. Rev Bras Geriatr Gerontol. 20(6):880-8.
Velasco, C. 2013. Boas Práticas Psicomotoras Aquáticas. São Paulo. Phorte Editora.
Cristina (Tinoca) Senra is an AEA International Training Specialist, Ai Chi Trainer, and a Star 2 International Trainer for Anti-Gravity. With a master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology, Tinoca is the owner and CEO of Mundo Hidro and Education Program Director for Fitness Academy-Portugal. Her achievements include Portugal’s Instructor of the Year Award (2002) and AEA’s Aquatic Fitness Professional Global Award (2005).
Renata Tarevnic is a professor at Estacio de Sá University (UNESA- Rio de Janeiro) with a master’s degree in physical education and a doctorate in experimental and human biology. Renata is a Trainer for Mundo Hidro (Portugal), a program developer for multiple videos relating to pregnancy and postpartum, and author of the book, Aquatic Fitness Manual for Pregnant Women. She was recognized as a Top Ten Presenter for IAFC 2019.