How should we feel when we think we think about death?

David Kessler
Hospice & Palliative Medicine

Most of us would say that death is a natural part of life until we come to our own death or the death of someone we love. We see death as an unnatural separation because we haven’t been raised to see death as a natural event.

Our great-grandparents cared for the ill and dying, prepared and buried the dead, and mourned for them, all in front of their children. We have little direct experience with death. If we desire a more meaningful personal experience we must go back and learn the basics. Unfortunately, we have few practical resources to turn to. The first important piece of work was Elis­abeth Kübler-Ross’s groundbreaking 1969 presentation of the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I had the privilege of visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes in Calcutta. Mother Teresa told me that her most important work is with the dying, because she considers life so precious. A life is an achievement, she said, and dying, the end of that achievement. It is one of the most important times of our life.

We must continue to examine the meaning of death because death is central to the meaning of life. If death is an enemy that triumphs over us when our lives end, if death is a horrible trick of nature that defeats us and our health, then our lives are meaning­less. But if we understand that we are born, we flourish, and when our time comes we die, we will live our lives from a meaningful place and live our deaths in a meaningful way.

Through the course of your life, thoughts and feeling about death will change. Elizabeth Kubler Ross spoke extensively about difference stages in dying:

  1. Denial, where the person acts as if there is no problem or issue affecting them.
  2. Anger, where the effect of dealing with an issue produces an anger response.
  3. Bargaining, where people often change their life habits with the hope of bringing about a different result.
  4. Depression, where the magnitude of the issue causes great feelings of sadness.
  5. Acceptance, where the person is realistic and accepts the outcome that is expected.

Whenever we think about death, we should look at ourselves, where we are in our lives, what impact will death have on us (if the death is that of a loved one) and how we usually cope with stressful situations. This helps to determine how we will feel. There is no template for thinking about death and through our life experience, we come to a unique perspective on dying. An example of this would be:

  • A person who has lost many important family members through death might feel despair and lonely because of the number of deaths. They might say "Why me?" and that dictates how they feel.
  • A person may have lived a full and productive life and be ready for death when it comes. This person most likely feels comfortable and happy.

At various stages in our lives, we think about death and make arrangements or give instructions to family members. The elderly often arrange their burial, buy a burial plot and give instructions about the services at the time of death. With illness, people often determine if they would like certain treatments and to be resuscitated if they should die in the course of their illness.

Essentially, we hope to eventually accept death as part of life and feel comfortable with death. Loss that leads to protracted suffering that affects daily life may benefit from grief counseling or other therapies that allow the person to work through their feelings so they can get to a happy place again.

Deepak Chopra
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Or how should we feel when we think that we, or a person we love, could disappear and not come back again?

You can bring fear or peace to this thought; the choice is yours. We would all want to bring peace, and to do that you have to experience through meditation and prayer the deep, still, quiet within yourself. Having found that, you will never be surprised by death. For to die is to return to this same silence, this pure awareness known as "the light." When people say after a near-death experience that they went into the light, they are reporting on a destination that is always with us. The light is your pure being.

Here is another image. Imagine that inside you is a space nothing can touch. Your body is like a house that gives shape to this space of peace and silence. When a house falls down, when its roof and walls collapse, no harm is done to the space inside. Only the boundaries have disappeared. In death we lose our bodily definition, but the space of inner peace, which some call the soul, is never harmed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.