50+ Poignant Quotes on Life & Death to Reflect On

Updated

It’s been said many times that life is not about the destination, but the journey. Life is all about the people you meet and the things you learn along the way. Even as you get older and busier, it’s incredibly important to reflect on how you’ve lived your life thus far.

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Reflecting on life can sound opaque and wishy-washy at times, especially because it encourages you to sit and think about all your greatest triumphs and misses. Despite the perhaps intimidating silence required to reflect, it is not impossible to do so, no matter how old you are. All of humanity has one core thing in common: that we will all eventually die. 

Accepting that sobering thought can take time, especially if you’ve recently dealt with the death of a loved one. If you’re looking for some words to help you assess where you are now, here are some quotes to give you that much-needed perspective. 

Sad Quotes on Death

Feeling sad about death is natural. Even if you’re not dealing with it right now, death itself can bring up fear and sadness about the unknown. 

1. “Death in itself is nothing; but we fear to be we know not what, we know not where.” — John Dryden, Poet

Dryden, the first Poet Laureate of England, wrote many of his poems when death was a major literary theme. 

2. “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.” — Henry David Thoreau, Philosopher

As a Transcendentalist, Thoreau prioritized connection with nature. Taking the time to connect with yourself, according to Thoreau, is far more important than external or physical achievements. 

3. “I think death is equally terrible for everyone. Young people, old people, the good, the bad; it’s always the same. It’s rather fair in its treatment. There’s no such thing as a terrible death, that’s why it’s frightening.” — Sunako, Author

Death is often seen as “the great equalizer” and is an absolute for everyone. The idea of an arbitrary ending, outside of anything you can do to stop it, can seem terrifying. 

4. “Life will undertake to separate us, and we must each set off in search of our own path, our own destiny or our own way of facing death.” — Paulo Coelho, Author

You might be familiar with Coelho’s popular book The Alchemist. Most books, including his, involve a journey to self-discovery.

5. “People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.” — Haruki Murakami, Author

Taken from his popular book Dance, Dance, Dance, Murakami is a master at examining the feelings we all encounter when we face death. You don’t know how long you have with someone, or with your own life, which makes each day incredibly special. 

6. “Isn’t it sad that so often it takes facing death to appreciate life and each other fully?” — Esther Earl, Activist

Have you heard of the book and movie The Fault in Our Stars? Earl is the real-life inspiration for author John Green’s protagonist, Hazel, a positive and sensitive teenager suffering from terminal cancer.

7. “Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.” —Mitch Albom, Author

One of the more mind-bending quotes on this list, Albom recognizes the sole pressure humans put on themselves because of our ability to record the passage of time.

8. “You know, what’s so dreadful about dying is that you are completely on your own.” — Vladimir Nabokov, Author

Many people want loved ones at their bedside. But the fact that loved ones can’t join them in death can feel lonely and terrifying. 

9. “The typical human behavior is to seek security and certainty. We fear death because it’s the unknown and nobody can give us answers.” — Maxime Lagacé, Hockey Player

Achieving security is the goal of our lives. We go to college, get into careers, and support our families for it. But death infuses insecurity and fragility into every move we make. 

10. “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe, Activist

As one of the best writers and antislavery activists that supported the Underground Railroad, Stowe knew a thing or two about action. But even she had regrets. 

Quotes About the Death of a Friend or Family Member

If you’re planning the funeral of a friend or family member, you likely may be overwhelmed managing many things. You’re putting together a funeral soundtrack with songs about death or looking for goodbye songs .

Depending on the wishes of your loved one, you may also be asked to develop a handout with readings and quotes to remember them by. If you are coming up empty handed, consider using some of these quotes. 

11.  “All deaths are sudden, no matter how gradual the dying may be.”― Michael McDowell, Author

You might have plenty of warning. A terminal diagnosis, for instance, might give you months to prepare. But you never truly feel ready. 

12. “Remember that people are only guests in your story – the same way you are only a guest in theirs – so make the chapters worth reading.” ― Lauren Klarfeld, Author

Even if someone else is nearing the end of their story, it is never too late to make their last few chapters in life truly memorable. 

13. “We understand death only after it has placed its hands on someone we love.” ― Anne L. de Stael, Author

This could work as a great “rest in peace” quote to help loved ones and close friends reflect on how death can touch us all. 

14. “Death – the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening.” ― Sir Walter Scott, Author

Even if you’re not religious and don’t believe in reincarnation, it can be comforting to think about death as another step in the journey of life or existence. 

15.  “The sorrow we feel when we lose a loved one is the price we pay to have had them in our lives.” ― Rob Liano, Author 

The pain of grief post-loss can be exacting and deep, but Liano gives us the silver lining to grief by choosing gratitude for having someone’s life shine so brightly in ours.

In addition, this could be a great reminder to keep in mind while lighting a candle for someone who died.

16. “When he died, all things soft and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.” ― Madeline Miller, Author

Some people are the embodiment of good things in the world. After they are buried, it can feel like they have taken a lot of the hopefulness we had. 

17. “They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. Death cannot kill what never dies.” – William Penn, Politician

Penn was one of the most famous Quakers to ever live. This take on death is in sharp contrast to some more dour thoughts on death, especially noting that death itself cannot kill feelings, memories, and love.

18. “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” — C. S. Lewis, Author

Have you ever heard of phantom pain? It’s when you feel ghostly pain from nerves that are no longer there. The death of a close friend or loved one can feel like an emotional and social amputation.

19. “Death is tough for the people left behind on earth.” ― Prateeksha Malik, Author

With untimely or sudden deaths, the grief that many feel can be akin to wanting to exchange places with the deceased.

20. “Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality.” — Emily Dickinson, Poet

One of the literary queens of the mid-1850s, Emily Dickinson was an accomplished poet with stark and haunting words focused on death. A product of her isolated literary environment, death was a major theme in lots of Dickinson’s unpublished poems. 

Comforting Quotes About Death

Starting end-of-life planning can be scary. But after reading these comforting quotes, you might feel inspired to jump right in. 

21. "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." — Isaac Asimov, Author

As an author who doubled as a professor of biochemistry, Asimov knew all about the nature of transitions. 

22. “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” — J.K. Rowling, Author

Said by headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, this quote crystallizes the quirky and positive point of view of a wizard and human with a long and experienced life. This quote is a complementary reflection on death as part of the cycle of life.

23. “A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.” —Lao Tzu, Philosopher

Spending your whole life cultivating inner courage prepares you for all sorts of events and experiences with courage and grace.

24. “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.” — Terry Pratchett, Author

Renowned and celebrated fantasy author Terry Pratchett was a living embodiment of his words. Many fans and fellow writers consider him to be one of the best influences in literature, no matter the genre.

25. “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” — Rumi, Poet

Carrying a loved one’s memory and spirit with you can apply a true salve to the wound of missing them in the physical world.

26. “It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.” — Samuel Johnson, Writer

Johnson who was alive during the American Revolution, watched many men commit their life to a cause and die with the conviction that they made a difference. 

27. “Death will never make sense to your mind. Only time and self-understanding will alleviate your suffering.” — Maxime Lagacé, Hockey Player

Many people want logical answers. Why did they die? Why did it happen to them? Legacé gently insists that the responses to their questions will not come right away.

28. “I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another.” — John Lennon, Musician

At the time, Lennon couldn’t have known that he would be assassinated. But his lack of fear makes his death inspiring.

29. “If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death.” —Samuel Butler, author

Levity is sometimes a necessary thing to have in mind especially when you go through tough moments in life. Humor and goodwill can outlast our sadness and pain, even when dealing with death.

30. “Yea, all things live forever, though at times they sleep and are forgotten.” — H. Rider Haggard, Author

Everyone’s life, no matter how insignificant they may feel, will live on forever in some way. 

Inspirational or Beautiful Quotes About Death

Though the unknown parts of death can be scary, the finality and connotations of “resting in peace” can appease and minimize our fear.

31. “When he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.” — William Shakespeare, Author

Taken from Romeo and Juliet, one of the world’s greatest romantic tragedies, this quote pays homage to someone unforgettable.

32. “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.” — Oscar Wilde, Author

Author Oscar Wilde had a tumultuous life due to mental illness and his inability to find acceptance. In death, Oscar Wilde hoped things would slow down so he could be at peace.

33. “Do not fear death. Death is always at our side. When we show fear, it jumps at us faster than light. But, if we do not show fear, it casts its eye upon us gently and then guides us into infinity.” — Keiko Nobumoto, Screenwriter

Screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto wrote scripts for eponymous Japanese animated shows that infused humor, wit, satire, and tragedy in a way that hadn’t been seen by western audiences before. This quote comes from the ever-popular space western show Cowboy Bebop.

34. “Birth and death are the most singular events we experience – and the contemplation of death, as of birth, should be a thing of beauty, not ignobility.” — Jacob K. Javits, Politician 

Fear is the feeling most connected to death, but not as often with birth. As Javits mentions above, both are worthy of our respect and appreciation for their totality.

35. “The man who lives without conflict, who lives with beauty and love, is not frightened of death because to love is to die.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti, Philosopher

It is a commonly spoken thought that loving someone is like giving them a part of your life that dies with them when they leave this realm of existence. 

36. “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” — John Muir, Activist

Muir is responsible for raising awareness of protecting our national parks and ensuring public education on the environment around us. In this quote, by considering nature as the ultimate teacher, it demystifies the concept of death. 

37. “Birth is not a beginning; death is not an end. There is existence without limitation; there is continuity without a starting point.” — Zhuangzi, Philosopher

Zhuangzi lived during the peak of Chinese philosophy. During that time, he developed his beliefs about death being a part of a cyclical existence. 

38. “There is no death. Only a change of worlds.” — Chief Seattle, Suquawmish and Duwamish Chief 

By encapsulating death as yet another change in life, it sounds a bit less scary.

39. “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” — J.K. Rowling, Author

This vision is probably true for a lot of people, and not just celebrated author J.K. Rowling.

40. I regret not death. I am going to meet my friends in another world.” — Ludovico Ariosto, Poet

Like many of his fellow creators throughout Italian history, Ariosto paints death as a grand reunion. It’s not dissimilar to some of the religious images we see painted in chapels all throughout the country of Italy.

Literary Quotes About Death

Many of the literary giants reflected on death often. 

41. “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.” — Emily Dickinson, Poet

In her most famous poem “because I could not stop for death,” Dickinson goes on to paint death as an eternal ride, full of peace.

42. “I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.” — T. S. Eliot, Author

From Eliot’s perspective, it’s a pretty keen metaphor for birth and death. To him, they’re only different sides of the same door. 

43. “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” — Edgar Allan Poe, Author

A tortured man and depressed writer, Poe reflected often on whether this life was just another hell on earth. 

44. “A normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven: he wants life on earth to continue.”  — George Orwell, Author

Orwell made a living at satirizing society and the pressure to conform. This quote pokes fun at people who insist everything will be better in an afterlife. 

45. “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” — Oliver Sacks, Author

Remembering that humans are the only beings on this planet to have the capacity to think cognitively and feel such varied emotions can make our experience in this life pretty special.

46.  “I have had intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.” — Oliver Sacks, Author

Are you an artist? Do you enjoy consuming art? If so, Sacks’ quote above can ring true in terms of the exchange of creativity with those who read, view, or experience it. It is an unusual relationship but one that can be incredibly rewarding.

47. “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.” — Thomas Moore, Author

The cycle of life encapsulates the endurance of our lives, but also that matter does not come from nothing. It has to come from something, and we are all parts of this giant cycle of matter and energy. 

48. “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” — Emily Dickinson, Poet

We don’t get a chance to do life twice, but we can quote seminal poet Emily Dickinson many times throughout.

49. “Of course, you don’t die. Nobody dies. Death doesn’t exist. You only reach a new level of vision, a new realm of consciousness, a new unknown world.” — Henry Miller, Author

At points, death can feel so absolute that the only way to make peace with it is to acknowledge that it is simply a change in existence. According to Miller, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.

50. “Death is as sure for that which is born, as birth for that which is dead. Therefore grieve not for what is inevitable.” — Vyasa, Author

It’s natural, if unhealthy, to worry about things that we aren’t able to change. 

Taking the Time to Reflect

Your life might feel fast-paced. You may feel like you don’t have time to take a breath, much less reflect on what you want your life and death to look like. However, taking the time to make sure that you spend your years mindfully ensures that you live without regrets. 

If you’re trying to make sense of a loved one’s life and death, taking some time to process your own thoughts on death and life can be great for your emotional health. Whether you reflect on someone else’s words or your own thoughts, it’s an important practice to start.


Sources

  1. University of Virginia. “Good Quotations by Famous People.” n.d., www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/quotes.html
  2. Osho Sammasati. “Death and Dying Short Quotes.” n.d., oshosammasati.org/death-dying-toolkit/death-dying-quotes/
  3. The Walden Woods Project. “Henry David Thoreau Quotations: Life & Death
  4. Life & Death Quotations.” n.d., www.walden.org/quotation-category/life/life-and-death/
  5. Mormon Light. “25 Powerful Quotes On Death To Heal The Aching Heart.” n.d., www.mormonlight.org/2018/04/23/25-quotes-death/
  6. Caring Magazine. “10 Inspiring Quotes on Living the Good Life.” n.d., caringmagazine.org/10-inspiring-quotes-on-living-the-good-life/
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