The last chapter : a phenomenological study of aging Holocaust survivors' views on their own dying and death / by Paula David.
Elderly Holocaust survivors have a paradoxical experience with end of life. Over sixty years ago, as children or young adults they experienced and survived a genocide where millions were murdered. Today they are all older adults dealing with their own aging and mortality. As they approach the last chapter of their life course, the concept of ‘normal’ death or ‘death by natural causes’ may be one that is not readily understood. This study, using phenomenological methodology, invited ten women, all elderly Holocaust survivors, to examine their views and thoughts regarding their own death and dying. The literature review on Holocaust survivors is presented in chronological order reflecting parallels to the life course of the cohort. This is followed by a description of a model for the theoretical framework used for this study where an understanding of aging Holocaust survivors is placed within the context of the life course perspective where it intersects with both trauma and bereavement theory. Data analysis in a phenomenological study consists of a series of reductions as the data is grouped in invariant constituents, reduced to emergent themes and then analyzed for both textural and structural descriptions. Textural descriptions gave voice to the individual participants while structural descriptions incorporated the interpretation of the researcher and the combination of the two sought to find the essence of survivors' views on their own death and dying. The essence was that individual views on death and dying mean views on living, and the women in this group had hard earned knowledge on how to keep living. Within this group of elderly survivors of the Holocaust, their views on their own death and dying were irrevocably intertwined with their commitment to living. Even when thoughts and reflections of death were so central to the narratives, they did not overwhelm the discussion and did not leave an irretrievable depressive shadow. Given the paradoxical nature of this group's views on their own end of life, the study concludes with recommendations and suggestions for further research that look to the importance of an individualized approach to end of life care.
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