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.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Jewish Proverbs About Death
- African Proverbs About Death
- Irish Proverbs About Death
- Chinese Proverbs About Death
- Latin Proverbs About Death
- Christian Proverbs About Death from the Bible
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.
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.
- Bible Hub. (2020). Bible Hub: Search, Read, Study the Bible in Many Languages. https://biblehub.com/
- Dikson. (2017). 50 African proverbs to get you thinking. https://matadornetwork.com/bnt/50-african-proverbs-to-get-you-thinking/
- Gaeilge, D. (2020). Is iomaí lá sa chill orainn. http://www.daltai.com/Proverbs/death/is-iomai-la-sa-chill-orainn/
- Goodreads. (2020). A quote by Irish proverb. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7666006-do-not-resent-growing-old-many-are-denied-the-privilege
- Inspirational Stories. (2020). Chinese Proverbs on Death & Dying (11 Proverbs). https://www.inspirationalstories.com/proverbs/t/chinese-on-death-dying/
- Jacobs, J. et al. (2020) Proverbs. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12399-proverbs
- Ọgbalụ, F. C. (1965). Life and Death; Resignation of Fate. In Ilu igbo: The book of Igbo proverbs. Onitsha, Nigeria: University Pub. Retrieved from: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/igbo/proverbs/index.html. Translation by Frances W. Pritchett
- Strauss, E. (1994). Dictionary of European proverbs. London: Routledge.
- WKU Libraries. (2020). Chinese Proverbs. https://people.wku.edu/haiwang.yuan/China/proverbs/t.html