8 Great TED Talks About Death, Grief & Near-Death Experiences

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You’ve probably heard of TED talks, but did you know that TED is an acronym that stands for technology, entertainment, and design? 

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As TED talks grew in popularity, the list of topics covered grew as well. Since its founding in 1984, the list of speakers grew to include scientists, philosophers, musicians, business professionals, religious leaders, and philanthropists. It should not surprise you that death (the great unifier) is a frequent lecture topic.

Here are some TED talks about death and dying. While some are about the death positive movement, others are about grief, near-death experiences, and the afterlife.

TED Talks About Death and Dying

You can find some YouTube lectures covering this topic.

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1. “Let’s Talk About Dying” by Peter Saul

Peter Saul, an intensive care hospital physician, was amazed to discover how few families talk about death. 

He described the interaction between himself and a daughter of a weak 94-year-old man suffering from pneumonia. The daughter asked the doctors to do everything in their power to save her dad, who was so weak that he couldn’t speak for himself. When Saul asked the daughter about her father’s end-of-life wishes, she was shocked at the idea of talking about it.

Saul used this example to show the importance of having such discussions when you are well enough to have them. He started a program that encouraged families to talk about death. 

2. “Talk About Death While You’re Still Healthy” by Michelle Knox

One goal of our blog is to encourage everyone to make end-of-life-plans while you are still healthy. If you need more convincing, listen to this TED talk by Michelle Knox.

In her speech, she talks about how important it is to have a will, let others know about your final wishes, and plan your funeral. Making these plans and sharing them with others ensures that your desires will be followed. It also enables your loved ones to spend time with their grief after you die.

Otherwise, the family is left to make the arrangements without guidance. This sometimes leads to arguments among siblings. 

TED Talks About Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife

Near-death experiences affect people differently. One of the TED talks we reviewed tells the story about how a near-death experience changed the focus of the life of someone who eventually became a palliative care doctor. 

You’ll also find movies about the afterlife and TED talks cover that, too. Here are some TED talks about those two subjects. 

3. “What Really Matters at the End of Life” by B.J. Miller

When B.J. Miller was in college, he experienced a near-death experience that changed his life. He eventually became a palliative care doctor. At the time of his lecture, he worked for a hospice facility in San Francisco.

Miller spoke about how death doesn’t have to be a traumatizing, sanitary event, but that is often the experience of those who die in a hospital. Instead, his hospice facility focuses on making sure the dying are as comfortable as possible, which is part of his role as a palliative care doctor.

Besides focusing on reducing the patient’s pain, he also discusses how their facility takes a sensory approach to provide comfort. He described giving cigarettes to a patient dying from a lung disease because that was her wish. And how fresh-baked cookies and pets can give support to dying patients.

If you liked his talk, read our review of his book A Beginner's Guide to the End.

» MORE: Honor a loved one with an online memorial. Create one for free with Cake.

4. “Life that Doesn’t End with Death” by Kelli Swazey

One of the most interesting aspects of the study of death is how it is handled throughout different societies, cultures, and religions. In her talk, Swazey, an anthropologist, describes the death ritual of a small group of people near Indonesia. 

Swazey’s husband is from this island nation, and she describes how when people die, they aren’t treated as dead until a large, elaborate event is hosted for the community members. Until such an event can be planned, the deceased stays at home and is treated somewhat normally.

5. “A Touching Glimpse into the Mystery of Death” by David Galler

David Galler is another intensive care doctor who didn’t think much about death (even though he was in the healthcare industry) until his father’s death. He describes his work at the hospital as being mostly art instead of science. 

In his talk, Galler says that his view of the afterlife is that our ancestors live on in us. Even though much has been written about the afterlife (and there are plenty of movies about death that show these theories), Galler thinks that we would know by now if the afterlife truly existed. 

TED Talks About Grief

We will all experience grief at some point in our lives. These TED Talk speakers share their painful experiences with loss. 

6. “We Don’t Move on from Grief; We Move Forward with It” by Nora McInerny

In this incredibly moving TED talk, Nora McInerny describes losing a baby, her father, and her husband within the span of a few months. As a result of these experiences, she interacted with others who suffered loss. Even though these interactions were first done begrudgingly, she quickly made corrections with other grieving people and started her own grief group for people in mourning.

She describes the wide range of emotions that people experience after losing a loved one. For example, she described feeling rage when seeing older people holding hands. She also described how, when scattering her husband’s ashes along a river, she licked her fingers when some of the cremains stuck to her hands. 

Besides talking about the importance of sharing grief, McInerny spoke about how she will never “get over” the people she lost in life. Instead, she speaks as if those she lost are still an essential part of her life. 

» MORE: Honor a loved one with an online memorial. Create one for free with Cake.

7. “The Journey Through Loss and Grief” by Jason B. Rosenthal

Jason B. Rosenthal lost his wife to ovarian cancer. As she lay dying, the New York Times published a piece she wrote called, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” This piece was published in the Love section of the newspaper and was read by millions. 

In the article, Rosenthal’s wife encourages her husband to go on with life after she died. Even though he was given this command by his wife and had the resources to pursue interests that he wished, Rosenthal speaks about the difficulty of the grieving process.

He said he is still haunted by memories of his wife’s time dying in their home. After she took her last breath, Rosenthal lifted his wife’s body from their bed, carried it down the stairs of their home, and placed her on a gurney. He also described how even though he was able to get through mandatory social events without breaking down, he was incredibly sad. 

8. “How My Son’s Short Life Made a Lasting Difference” by Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray learned about her child’s diagnosis of anencephaly when she was three months pregnant. Gray was pregnant with identical twins, and she finished the pregnancy, knowing that one of her children would not live long. 

Gray wanted her child’s life to make a difference in others’ lives, so she found resources that allowed her to donate the child’s corneas, retinas, liver, and cord blood for research. After the donations took place, Gray wanted to connect with the facilities that received the tissue samples. Even though this was rarely done, she described how satisfying it was to meet these scientists who were able to tell how they used the samples in their research.

What Would You Say in a TED Talk About Death or Grief?

Have you lost someone close to you? If so, you probably have something to say about grief, dying, or the afterlife. What would you say if given the opportunity to share your story with others?

Most people who experience a loved one’s death would probably tell others the importance of making end-of-life plans. Doing so enables the family to grieve the loss and share stories instead of spending hours at a funeral home making arrangements. From planning a virtual funeral with GatheringUs to celebrating a loved one's life with friends and family, talks about mortality matter when understanding our legacy. 

If you're looking for more resources for exploring death, read our guides on the best books about death, death salons, and the best movies about the afterlife.

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