30+ Famous Proverbs About Death and Dying

Updated

Across the continents and many religions of our world, teachers and sages have offered us wisdom to help manage or justify death. Reading through these famous sayings about death and dying provides a unique perspective into the cultures and people. 

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Throughout the proverbs below, you’ll note that some religions offer concrete, concisely worded sayings, whereas others find favor in abstract messaging. A few rely on emotions while others call on pragmatism to tender quotes about death.

Jewish Proverbs About Death

Jewish "mashals" (proverbs) are characteristically concise, often forming moralizations that are easy to repeat.

1. “Better ruined ten times than dead once.” —Judæo-German

Perspective makes for a better understanding of life. Anything referenced in contrast to death elevates automatically.

2. “So live that people may speak well of thee at thy grave. The just needs no memorial, for his deeds are his monument.” —The Talmud

The proverb means that living a good life rewards people with kind words upon their death. It matters not that they have great stones of honor erected for them.

3. “Every man knows that he must die, but no one believes it.” —Judæo-German 

This mashal means that the recognition of death is distinct from the assertion of it.

4. “Be sure to send a lazy man for the angel of death.” —Unknown 

Miscellaneous resources also contribute sayings like this to collections of Jewish sayings. Here, you can visualize sending the slowest, laziest person so that life is as long as possible.

5. “The angel of death always finds an excuse.” —Judæo-German

What’s familiar to us all is that we live—and die. There’s certainty in death no matter when, where, or how.

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African Proverbs About Death

African proverbs are more abstract—forcing the listener/reader to infer meaning from figurative speech.

6. “Ururu says, rather than closing his buttocks, extract his oil so that he looks shriveled.” —Igbo 

The ururu is an edible raffia termite, which, if it closes its buttocks, will die. So, for it and others to avoid death, sometimes one must rid their life of the sweet things.

7. “When the roots of the tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches.” —Nigerian 

It’s impossible to stop death when it has started.

8. “Where the fire goes out is where one throws away the torches. Where a person dies, there his journey ends. When a man tires in the work he is doing, that is when he stops.” —Igbo 

All things have an ending, including human life.

9. “The length of a frog is only known after its death.” —West African

Rarely do people know the full value of someone until after they’ve died.

10. “When he gets stuck, the herbalist uses the fees he has collected. Where the millipede dies, there is his burial. A person cannot always be lucky. Wherever one is met with suffering, he endures it there.” —Igbo 

We deal with pain, suffering, and other problems as they happen. 

11. “The death of an elderly man is like a burning library.” —Ivorian

With so much wisdom, insight and intelligence, losing any great elder or sage is equally a loss for society.

12. “No matter how beautiful and well-crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death.” —African

There are many things that a person covets, but there’s one thing they’ll never desire.

Irish Proverbs About Death

In contrast to the previous Jewish and African proverbs, you’ll note that Irish “seanfhocails” (proverbs) about death and dying tend to be more emotional by nature.

13. “Do not resent growing old, many are denied the privilege.” —Unknown 

Whether society or self makes one resist aging, it’s sadly apparent that many aren’t as advantaged as others in having the opportunity to achieve wrinkles and persnickety brains.  

14.You never miss the water until the well has run dry.” —Unknown

This seanfhocail applies to both material and immaterial things. One could see it aptly apply to taking someone for granted for so long that you only realize their value upon death.

15. “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” —Unknown 

Loss is too significant to mend itself, but not even death can take away the love you’ve felt for another. 

16. “Is iomaí lá sa chill orainn.” —Unknown

The translation of this seanfhocail is, “We are in the Churchyard (grave) many a day.” It could mean that one must live life to its fullest because they’re dead a lot longer than they’re alive.

17. “We are not in the grave. The grave is on us.” —Unknown

In Ireland, a person does not equal their affliction or condition. The grave is something that a person bears but doesn’t represent who they were.

Chinese Proverbs About Death

In Chinese, proverbs (諺語, yànyŭ) are commonly known sayings from history, literature, and even renowned academics.

18. “The remedy for dirt is soap and water. The remedy for dying is living.” —Unknown 

Although you may lose someone, the remedy to that death is to live a life of value.

19. “The happiest life ends before death.” —Unknown

There are a few ways to interpret this Chinese yànyŭ. One is that life is a happy life until the very last moment. Another is that even those who are happiest must die. 

20. “To die is to stop living but to stop living is something entirely different than dying.” —Unknown

Death is an absence of existence. But those who stop existing while yet breathing suffer greater torture than death.

21. “Sleep is the brother of death.” —Unknown

Idleness is akin to death in that the two produce nothing; they result in no favors, and both instill little room for success. Laziness, one could say, is as good as being dead.

22. “A fox grieves over the death of a rabbit (兔死狐悲).” —Unknown

This is an especially critical yànyŭ. Here, bad people grieve, knowing that others like them have similar fates. But it’s also a condensed version of what can happen to any one of us.

23. “The roots of an old tree in the earth you may find, but a dead man is fully cut off from his kind.” —Unknown

The old tree is hundreds of years old, while the dead man is not. So, it’s unwise to expect quick results in something as short as the lifetime of man.

Latin Proverbs About Death

Latin proverbs are pragmatic, honest, and to the point. They seem pitiless because the language itself is so complex that the meanings often lose something in the translation.

24. “A diabolo, qui est simia dei.” —Unknown

The translation of this Latin proverb is “Where God has a church, the devil will have his chapel.” 

It means that no matter where there is good, something terrible is nearby.

25. “Ancipiti plus ferit ense gula.” —Unknown

Emmanuel Strauss translates this as “Gluttony kills more than the sword.” In other words, more people die from unhealthy lifestyles (and by their own hands) than by the hand of another.

26. “Live your own life for you will die your own death.” —Unknown

It’s useless to live your life through the lens of another because you’re not going to die that person’s death—you’ll only die the death meant for you.

27. “If glory comes after death, I’m not in a hurry.” —Unknown

It’s best to let life take its course and live for the moment while sucking the marrow as opposed to seeking the insignificant and unknowable vainglory.

28. “Death to the wolf is life to the lambs.” —Unknown

Our culture calls it cruel to rejoice in one’s death. But how can someone rejoice in the spared lives and livelihoods of others without summarily rejoicing at the end of brutality?

29. “No one but death shall part us.” —Unknown

Of all the Latin proverbs listed above, this one is bittersweet. Commitment, love, and devotion will not separate these loved ones—only death can.

Christian Proverbs About Death from the Bible

Throughout the Bible, you’ll discover many verses about death and dying. 

Because death leads to an eternal life with God, you’ll note that many tend to promote becoming death positive.

30. “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway, there is no death.” —Proverbs 12:28

For those who follow God’s path and plan, the Bible offers that there is no end to life—there is only eternity spent by His side.

31. “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.” —Proverbs 10:2

Piousness and honesty in life deliver you into the hand of God. 

32. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; and it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” —1 Corinthians 15:42-44

All that happened in life will be elevated in death.

33. “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” —Romans 14:8

No matter where you are in life or death, as a Christian, your life belongs with God.

34. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” —Psalm 73:26

The body is just a vessel that enables life on Earth—and will one day fail. But life with God is eternal.

Wisdom and Death Differ Among Cultures

Proverbs about death and dying differ among the many world cultures and religions as noted above. Many similarities exist in the description of death, but the differences lie in approaching the subject.


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