It can be considered unusual to sit down and think about how and when we are going to die. When it comes to thinking about death and dying, we usually assume that we're going to live a long and healthy life. We believe that we won't die until the chart tells us it's time to “kick the bucket.” This is true even for those who work in the medical industry and who deal with death daily.
On the flip side, there are those among us who are consumed with thoughts of death. You can't stop thinking about how and when you’re going to die. It may lead you to develop an irrational fear of dying, known as “death anxiety.” But, what if there's a benefit in thinking ahead to your death?
Acknowledging that one day you will die may get you to start living to the fullest now, and planning for when the time comes. The following tips may help you to better cope when thinking about your mortality and ease some fears you may have.
1. Get Comfortable
Getting comfortable with death can mean getting used to talking about it, planning for it, and not being afraid of it.
Our society generally tends to view the topic of death as being taboo and off-limits in conversations. It’s very unusual to have these discussions whether in our homes or in social settings. It’s rarely mentioned in our everyday living unless we are dealing with the death of someone close to us. The idea of death genuinely scares us. Most of us are uncomfortable with it, and don’t know how to address the topic even when forced to.
When you get comfortable with death, your own fears of it begin to diminish.
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2. Talk About It
Death is not supposed to be sad or frightening, yet when you open up a dialogue about it, people tend to look at you funny — sometimes they even run away from the discussion and start avoiding you.
Having these conversations should start with yourself. When you begin to think about death and explore it, you start having this internal dialogue as you learn about your own thoughts on the matter, what your beliefs are, what scares you and why.
Once you’re comfortable with having these conversations with yourself, it may be time to open up to others to see how they think and feel. It sometimes helps to share your thoughts and beliefs with others to see how you compare on the subject and what you can learn from them.
3. Learn About It
Learning about death doesn’t mean you have to undertake a formal study on the subject. It simply means, in part, being open to reading books about death, and perhaps learning how death affects people in different cultures. In reading about it and exploring death around the world, you may find that we all share the common thread of the cycle of birth and death.
In many ways, we can learn from each other and each culture’s views on death, our common fears, and end-of-life rituals. The more you know about death and what to expect when the time is near, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. You’ll soon start seeing things differently and perhaps even believing that death is an essential part of life.
4. Take Stock of Your Life
When you recognize that death is part of life, you may begin to acknowledge the sacredness of it. When the realization hits that there cannot be life without death, you start seeing things differently.
You realize that sooner or later we all must die. You may begin taking stock of all of the things you’ve accomplished in your life, and find that a life well lived leaves little room for regret. This may include personal and family goals you had set out to accomplish, as well as professional and educational milestones you’ve reached.
Some people who feel that they’ve fulfilled their personal missions in life fear death less than those who are still waiting to accomplish things on their “bucket list.”
5. Strengthen Your Spirituality
When you make space for spiritual growth, your views on mortality begin to change. Many people fear death, and most avoid anything associated with it as if their life depended on it. As you learn to depend more and more on what other religions and spiritual beliefs teach you about the after-life, this may ease your fear of the unknown.
For those who are facing their end-of-life and who've come to terms with their mortality, they hope for a peaceful death above all else. Most religions hold out that life is sacred, and that death should be prolonged whenever possible.
However, not everyone has the benefit of adding extra days to the end of their life, leaving the terminally ill to put their faith into their religion and its teachings. They gradually learn to let go of their fear of dying.
6. Appreciate Life
Death is inevitable and will come to everyone, sometimes when it’s least expected. When you recognize that you can’t predict when and how you’ll die, you’ll become more comfortable with your mortality. Appreciating the life you have now and living it to its fullest is one way to come to terms with the inevitable fact that you, too, will one day die.
This doesn’t mean that you should live every day thinking about your death. That is counter to what appreciating life is all about. Recognizing your mortality and living life to its fullest is a pathway toward peace and understanding.
7. Attend Death Events
There’s a new movement making its rounds that encourages you to learn about death and mortality while having fun and meeting other like-minded individuals. The two main components of this movement are briefly described below.
Death positivity is a movement that encourages you to accept death while embracing life. It aims at bringing awareness to your mortality and to positively impact the way you view death by encouraging open and honest engagement on the topic of death.
A death salon is an event that is part of the death positivity movement where people come together to explore their mortality through knowledge and art.
These conferences are held throughout the world for the purpose of opening up a dialogue about death and dying. Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion and is encouraged to talk about their fears.
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8. Explore Death
Getting intimately familiar with death can help you overcome some of your fears toward it. You can get closer to death by volunteering at a local hospice care facility, visiting the sick and dying at a hospital near you, or by becoming a death doula — one who helps in the transitioning from life to death.
Spending time in this environment may allow you to see the other side of death — how beautiful it can be when seen through the eyes of compassion. For many, death brings an end to suffering. When you witness the joy of someone waiting for death to come, you’ll understand that death is a source of comfort for those who are suffering a slow and painful death.
9. Get Your Paperwork in Order
Acknowledging your mortality should nudge you in the direction of getting your end-of-life affairs in order. This paperwork may include some or all of the following:
- Last will and testament
- Different types of power of attorney
- Funeral wishes or prepaying a funeral or cremation
Living with Mortality
Accepting and preparing for your death allows you to live your life more fully. Freeing yourself from the fear of death opens up the possibilities of taking life to the next level and experiencing it in ways you have only dreamed about being possible.