Relationships

How Do You Think About Death? (Just an Average Tuesday Question)

ocean by nicki sebastian

This winter, I was walking the boys to school, when the strangest thing happened…

Toby and Anton were running ahead of me, chatting about a beehive in a tree. I let my thoughts wander; and out of the blue, I remembered something my mom had once said: “I’m not scared of death because after death you can’t feel anything. You just aren’t there.” But that, to me, is the scary part. Where are you? Just nowhere? Just nothing? It’s over? Suddenly I felt like I was standing over a precipice. On a regular winter day, for no reason in particular, my mind had wrapped itself around death for the first time, and I momentarily panicked.

A couple weeks later, as I was falling asleep in bed, the noise machine purring and the boys asleep in the room next to me, I started thinking about death again. And the dread and fear crept up around me, until I shook my head and forced myself to think about something else, my heart still pounding.

I’m turning 40 next week, and I’m not NOT having a midlife crisis.

Have you felt this way? I’ve recently realized, death will also happen to me. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but it WILL happen. Before, I knew it would “happen to me,” like knew I would “die someday,” but not REALLY. Not actually.

In my thirties, there were so many things “in front” of death (having another baby, my own parents dying). Subconsciously, I figured, those things had to happen before I died. I wasn’t next up. I didn’t have to worry about it right now. It was so far away, surely.

But Nina Riggs’s memoir The Bright Hour, about her struggle with cancer, published posthumously, began to puncture my cool-headedness. I immediately related to her: we both had two little boys, we both had bearded husbands, and her inner monologue felt so similar to mine; she was a writer and a worrier, too. It felt like I was reading a book about myself. Ordering Chinese food, going to book club, saying goodbye.

The fear of flying often kicks in around age 27, studies reveal, when people start to grapple with their own mortality. They don’t feel invincible, like they did as rowdy kids and hormonal teenagers. I totally get that, don’t you? “As life experiences build up, the reality of ​our own vulnerability as human beings can set in,” says New York-based therapist Nathan Feiles.

And what about your later years? My mom’s husband, Harvey, is 26 years older than she is. Right now, she’s 66 and he’s 92. They say you should listen to life advice from people in their 80s and 90s, because they’ve been staring death in the face for years. And one thing Harvey said years ago has always stuck with me.

When I was in law school, 23 and miserable, I was visiting them in Michigan. Over dinner, I mused, “I just have to get through the last three months of the semester; I wish I could just wake up and it would be over.” Harvey jerked back, as if I had hit him. “Never wish away your life,” he told me, quietly. Over roast chicken and mashed potatoes, I struggled to see what he meant — of COURSE anyone would want to skip days that were difficult or painful or heartbreaking. But, now that I’m older, I’m starting to grasp his point. Soak it all up, even the hard parts. You are alive.

So, how can we move forward without freaking out about death? A friend recommended Staring at the Sun by Irvin Yalom about dealing with death anxiety. “It helps,” she said.

Or what if we reframe things, so that we see life, instead of death, as the mind-bending part? Writes Barbara Ehrenreich in Natural Causes: “You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and see it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.”

Now and again, I’ll be looking at my children playing on the rug and it will cross my mind that we’re all going to die someday — and then I’ll think of things like earrings, and they seem so ridiculous. WHO CARES??? We are going to die, WHY ARE WE WEARING EARRINGS. But then maybe that’s the point of jewelry? And sports? And Beyoncé’s songs? And complicated soup recipes? To be distractingly wonderful and fill up the moments and let you just play with your children on the rug?

Our close relationships ground us, too, of course. After years of living with stage IV cancer, Kate Bowler wrote in the New York Times: “A friend knits me socks and another drops off cookies, and still another writes a funny email or takes me to a concert. These seemingly small efforts are anchors that hold me to the present, that keep me from floating away on thoughts of an unknown future. They say to me, like my sister Maria did on one very bad day: ‘Yes, the world is changed, dear heart, but do not be afraid. You are loved, you are loved. You will not disappear. I am here.'”

Because at the end of the day: “We are all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass

How do you think about death? Do you think about it? What do you believe happens after death? Are you religious? What are your views on the afterlife? I’m so, so curious to hear. I don’t have any answers!

And some comic relief.

P.S. How to write a condolence note, and “how stage IV cancer taught me how to live.” Also, do you ever worry about your partner dying?

(Photo by Nicki Sebastian.)

  1. SallyB says...

    I love GoodReads, and stumbled upon this quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh…

    “The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.

    I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.

    From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.”

    ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Death, No Fear

  2. These comments are pretty amazing! My aunt died of cancer about a month ago. The thing that shook me wasn’t that she died. We knew it was coming, and we were relieved that she wasn’t going to be in pain any longer. The shock came when I remembered that she was never going to be around when I came back home to visit, that I’d never hug her or hear her loud laugh again. Understanding that these things have ended was hard for me, and I haven’t quite made my peace with it yet. A gift she left us, though, was the example of having lived a full life. She died with her loving family & friends by her side, retired from a job she loved, with her affairs in order. She had no regrets. I think of her every day and hope that I live my life the way she lived hers.

  3. KatieSue says...

    The quote that helps me the most about death is by the leader of my faith, Russell M. Nelson, “The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
    I also turn 40 this year and having no spouse, or children, and the youngest of a large family, death is different. I think of death when I go on a dangerous adventure and leave a note on my kitchen table saying my nephew gets it all. But most often I think of how mine will not affect anyone other than to make them sad for a bit. It will not alter the course of anyone’s lives. It won’t be like when a parent of a young child dies, or a spouse dying. If anything it would benefit others, my nephew I have set to inherit all my assets. The only effect my death will have is sadness. Nothing drives home loneliness more than this realization. It depresses me some, but also comforts me. I have plans to not be embalmed and buried naturally. As the Avett Brothers song says, “Give my body back to the earth and not complain.” I even wish there was an option to be left out, to be eaten by buzzards and crows and sore the skies with them as my last great adventure. Recently my beloved companion cat died of his terminal illness, I had to put this idea to the test. I dug the hole myself and buried him with my own hands. I didn’t sanitize the experience at all. I felt it completely. I thought of the first episodes of Six Feet Under when the oldest son compares his dad’s funeral with one he saw in Spain and the old world show of grief they were allowed. I LOVE funerals. The chance for everyone to celebrate the person one last time, tell all their best stories one more time and see everyone they loved. I just love it. I want to be buried like I buried that cat, the experience of digging and burying with my own hands, of holding his body and placing it in the ground, to push the dirt on myself, it was such as cathartic way to say goodbye. I want people to do that one last service for me, as a show of love, and then be free to move on.

    • kitkat says...

      We’re in the same boat – just turned 40 2 weeks ago, no spouse, no kids, and with an old dog I expect to say goodbye too soon, and your comment struck me hard, Katiesue. I found beauty and comfort in your words. thank you!

      p.s. I wish we could like comments here :)

  4. Kate says...

    I didn’t see any comments on mediums so I wanted to share my experience…

    My dad died this past September at age 69 from a rare, aggressive cancer. In December, I made an appointment with a reputable medium in my area and he came right through during the session. The details in the conversation were too accurate and too vivid to be made up.

    Whether it was true or not, this event brought me so much comfort. I encourage anyone who is struggling with the death of a loved one to explore this as an option!

    • Lindsay says...

      What an interesting comment – I’m really glad you shared. Mediums really do take away some of the fear of “nothingness” after death because they tell us there is MUCH more than nothing… and I love that. Thanks, Kate.

  5. I’m a fellow mom of two boys in this neighborhood (our kids are even at the same school–I have a K-er and a 4th-grader), and I also have these moments while walking the streets with them sometimes (I have no idea why watching them run along the sidewalk triggers existential angst, but there you go). I have to admit that I find Barbara Ehrenreich’s quote the opposite of comforting. “An eternity of personal nonexistence” may be the most terrifying phrase I’ve ever heard! Anyway, I wish I had some spiritual faith to help me deal, but for now the best antidote to the terror is watching The Bachelor or an equally vapid but pleasurable experience! Thanks as always for hitting the nail on the head….

  6. Carina says...

    Thanks for this post. 4 years ago I found my little brother dead at his apartment. It was a horrible chock and it made my life to a “before and after” lifestyle. You think that this things will make your family stronger, but in fact it can be the opposite. People deal with sorrow in different ways. My mother refused to get help, and so this my dad.
    I did the opposite, i got to therapy and started to life my life for real. I got over the issues I had, in my life, in my job, in my relationship, and started to live fully out. I never say no anymore, i use to be afraid of water, horses, and no I swim with my kids when they ask me to, and last week i let my 6 years old to manage a horse on his own. I play with my kids, listen to them and I started to enjoy traffic jam, I see it like a break now :)
    It´s like i got a second chance. A second life, his life in a way. He was 27, and is was 37 when he past away. I know it sound crazy that my life is in a way “better” then before. But in a way it is, it was a wake up, not to waste it. All of my problems, was just that, MY problem, and I´m the one who can solved it. I miss his every day, and I´m crying writing this. But at the sam time, my life have never been this amazing, beautyful and aware. And the sorrow is a way of caring him with me.

    • Yes this is how I too experienced death of someone in my tribe. There is a before and an after. The before is filled with entitlement and the after is filled with gratitude and awe. And yes I miss my guy every day but it has made me so much more fully in my fleeting life.

  7. Hi there! I have to tell you, I’m 21 and I think about death all the time. I’m not scared of dying, I’m scared of the loss, that feeling that I won’t be with my loved ones again, that they’ll be left here alone. I had my first contact with death in the “Everytime” music video by Britney Spears, and I always wondered if that’s how it happens, we die and then we come back as a different person, but the same soul. I still haven’t found the answer to it. But I believe the solution for us to deal with the fact that we are all going to die is to live life to the fullest, without regrets, without hard feelings, just light, love and always a feeling of cup half full. Also watching the TV show “The Good Place” has helped me with that, because if the afterlife is like that, than sure it will be great! Thank you for sharing. xx

  8. Carissa says...

    Readers here are brilliant.

    At 25 I held my grandfather’s hand, surrounded by my brothers, my mother and my uncles, as he took his last breath and my uncles told funny stories about all the ways they got in trouble as kids. We were busy laughing and didn’t notice at first that my grandfather had passed. It was a warm, comforting time. It felt right. Until my grandmother walked in and saw him dead. She cried out his name in agony and I don’t think I will ever forget the grief in her voice.

    Now at 30 I have been present for more deaths than most people. I work as a social worker in a nursing home where I often walk patients and families through the final stages of life. I encourage them to view a passing as a holy moment, akin to when a baby is born. It’s the second moment in life where we witness the inbetween, the crossing over from one world to another. To be present for a death is a great honor and gift. And I believe people have some level of control over their own passing. They can hang on until someone from afar can finally come to their bedside, or wait until they’re finally alone. I have been blessed to have been at so many bedsides during this magical time and I do my best to have families view a passing with as much awe as possible.

    But my own mortality? Terrified.

    • Katie Sue says...

      You comment was so great, I love your comparison to birth and it being a sacred moment. It reminded me so much of this quote by John Steinbeck from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez” I had a beloved pet pass away after a couple years of a terminal illness and I thought of it every day and it still comes to mind every time I hear of someone dying after a few days or being surrounded by family and friends…I think it is such a gift to have that moment to share.
      “The moment or hour of leave-taking is one of the pleasantest times in human experience, for it has in it a warm sadness without loss. People who don’t ordinarily like you very well are overcome with affection at leave-taking. We said good-by again and again and still could not bring ourselves to cast off the lines and start the engines. It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be missed without being gone; to be loved without satiety. How beautiful one is and how desirable; for in a few moments one will have ceased to exist.”

  9. Mike says...

    When I was in 3rd grade my best friend, a kid I had known basically since birth and who had lived down the street from me most of my life and with whom I had spent most every weekday of my nascent childhood with, died of cancer. I was front row to the whole process, the losing hair, the make-a-wish trip to Disney, the hospital visits, the hanging out at his house and playing with him until the end and of course the funeral. From that moment on, I have mostly come to terms with my own death and most other’s too. I know its going to be mine and everyone else’s end at some point and I can make relative peace with almost anyone’s death very quickly. I don’t think that I would ever be able to make peace my kid’s deaths if they were to predecease me.

    My grandmother died last Saturday and I had an interesting conversation with my wife about the continuum of life and family. I was not actually in the room when she died, but my father, mother and one of my brothers was. My thought that I shared with my wife was that what a span of life, the people who were present when she was brought into the world are different than the people who were there when she left, separated by the span of 96 years, but still she was with family in both instances. It was a comforting thought.

  10. Sandy says...

    Sigh … death. I had always been very practical about death, never fearing it for myself, only the likely pain involved in getting me there. It was loss that I always feared and my mother’s death undid me in so many ways. I was crushed. Smacked squarely in the chest by grief. It has been 2 years and 8 months since she died and there is not one day that I don’t think of her. She was my one true love in life. She was the person who knew me best and allowed me room to be a fallible human without every thinking of forsaking me. Where she was, there was my home. I often feel lost without her, as if I’m barely tethered to earth. Books on death and dying were my closest companions during the first year and a half after my mother died because most of the people in one’s life are woefully deficit in the skills needed to help one through grief (listening and being). My favorite book was “The Bright Hour” by Nina Riggs. I ached along with her through her story.

  11. Seema Chokshi says...

    I am reading all these comments 4 days later, tears down my face, and screen-shotting them (how 2019) so I can read them again and again.

  12. GraceK says...

    I don’t know what I liked more, this post or the comments. This post is exactly how I have been feeling lately (about to turn 33 and a new mom here), and the comments are what I didn’t even know I was feeling until now. I love Cup of Jo so dang much.

  13. txilibrin says...

    When you father passes away at age 59, not having retired, not having met his grandchildren, you kind of don’t give a c… about death anymore. I always knew I was going to die, him passing away that early in life made me see things under a different light.

  14. Seraphim says...

    My daughter asked me where we go when we die when she was 3 years old – I wasn’t prepared for that question from her so soon. I gave her short, simple answers about what different religions, etc… believe, told her that death was a mystery, and that when she got older she could decide for herself what she believed. My daughter told me that she already knew what she believed – that she would come back again… and then she went on coloring. After we die, I think we end up where our beliefs take us – if your last thought is “I’m going to heaven”, then that’s where you’ll be, simply because it was your last conscience thought. I like the idea of my sweet girl hopping around as a bunny in her next life… it’s a comforting thought (for both of us!). The world is full of mystery and we don’t have concrete answers to many of life’s big questions, so I believe our afterlife (like our life) can be whatever we want it to be.

  15. I am a in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am lds. We are often called Mormons. I have a lot to say about the afterlife but I don’t want to get too heavy. We will be reunited with our families and our imperfect bodies will become “perfect.” As in those in wheelchairs will regain function of their bodies, etc. we will return to our Heavenly Father and will be judged by how we lived our life on Earth. The afterlife isn’t something to be afraid of. It’s a place where we get to be with God again, how can that be bad?

  16. JO says...

    I am crying reading through ALL of this! thank you thank you.
    I was looking in the mirror just last week at the changes in the physical me and it came to me that I won’t be here for my kids’ entire lives… oh, I’ve known it, but never REALLY known it. And, I guess I’m late to the party because I’m 57!! I’m the baby of the family and definitely have “peter pan syndrome”!!… because I just love life, have rarely thought of dying until recently, and never actually feel my age (whatever that should be). I have 4 grown kids, 3 grandchildren (2 near, 1 in heaven) and I often feel like I’ll be around to have lots more grandkids, and even see some of them have kids. Unrealistic? Maybe. Am I afraid of death – yes, especially the part of missing out on the beautiful lives of my offspring & the grief my children and grandchildren will walk out… but I can learn to push aside fear with getting busy and distracting myself with the beautiful life I’ve been given (oh, I’ve had many challenges, sorrows, way-too-early deaths also). A couple of things have come to me this morning through this article and comments: be free to talk to those I love about death & all of our feelings surrounding it… also: be more practically prepared (as someone mentioned) & get things set so others don’t have a burden when I do pass away.
    This has set the tone for my Sunday – thanks again – really. xx

  17. Sharon says...

    I love CoJ comments. So many amazing readers. But I was so touched by all the mothers worrying about their children… For what it is worth, I lost my mother 6 years ago. I was 30, so not hardly a child, but it was sudden and devastating… something I imagined I could never handle (though in the back of my head I knew it was a reality at some point). She was my best friend and I talked to her numerous times a day. While she was close to my father, I feel like we had that special, tell you all the mundane details of your day kind of relationship. She would call to tell me about a delicious lunch, or how she had a headache (and we would diagnose what could have caused it). You know… girl talk ;-). Anyways, all this to say, today I am doing great. I still love her just as much as always, probably more intensely now because I have the memories to look at from afar. But I am more grateful and happy with my life than I ever imagined. Losing her (and likely any tragedy in life) gives you appreciation for all that still exists. I feel so lucky to have had her as MY MOM, as I’m sure so many of your children will feel as well one day. She taught me how to live, how to love and how to appreciate life. Those blessings are with me always.

    • JoAnne Kelly says...

      thank you for this. You are on the “kid” side of what I fear most (my oldest is 30) … and I have such special relationships with my kids, thinking how they won’t be able to handle it all when I die (not to sound egotistical I hope!)… but you bring a focus from your story. I appreciate you writing this and I am sad for you that your mom left you while you were still so young. Seeing the beauty of life really does come in our own losses – such a bittersweet reality. I too love these comments .. xx Jo

    • Sharon says...

      Joanne Kelly – Thank you for your reply to my comment. Not egotistical at all! It makes my heart swell to see and know how many other people have mother/daughter/child relationships just like mine. What an amazing bond and lesson in how to love. I wish I could have had her with me forever, but losing her does not take any of those moments away. Truly, I feel she accomplished everything she needed to do and it was time for me to carry on without her (as though her life revolved around me!). One thing that I was surprised about, is just how present she would be in my thoughts from day to day. I assumed my love for her would fade, like feelings for an old boyfriend, but they don’t… I love her as much now as ever. And I think I always will. And gosh, it makes me feel really good to know she will be cherished forever.

    • JoAnne Kelly says...

      you make my heart so hopeful – what a beautiful love story between you and your mother… and I love that it never ends (I’m all teary over here) xx

  18. Kaitlin H says...

    When I was a freshman in college, a program visited presenting a talk on how to wisely spend your time including the practice of writing your future obituary. It got me thinking and I still can recall what I wrote almost a decade later. I know work in healthcare as an aide and will be going to nursing school. I see death in both my long term care position and hospital job. I see good hearted families grieving over a spouse that is declining and families sitting and waiting for death to come. I’ve seen sudden death where I saw a woman 3 days before I stand death (fully independent) then on my next shift she was gone. When I was 16 my fifth grade teacher who I had kept in touch with died from two forms of cancer in her forties. She is a large part of why I chose my field and chose to race in her honor. I will be completing a half Ironman in 2020 and raising funds for Ovarian cancer research. I am grateful daily for the ability to move (to pee and wash my hands in 2 minutes or less THIS IS A GIFT I REMAINED UNAWARE TO UNTIL this year!), the high quality of life I have and for my supportive family and pets. I am dreading the day my first cat who is 9 dies. She was the “growth decade” pet having adopted her as a kitten before college. I am religious but I don’t personally believe in heaven myself. I think we are here and then we are not. In a way, it is a relief to me to know that. I find it interesting that studies have found prayer activates the same part of the brain as meditation with similar positive effects. One of the greatest gifts you can give a loved one is a graceful, kind death. A death where they, the dying, decide how to spend their final days. A death without suffering and without breaking ribs for a few more days or weeks of highly altered quality of “life.” I am grateful for a significant other that attended my grandfather’s funeral in the morning then attended a friend’s wedding that same night: what a whirlwind. Both pinnacle events in a human life near two difficult spectrums. I’m thankful for a family that acknowledges that some days they get the short end: everything I have was given to my patients that day. I cultivate my community of support and I still cry over patients and residents. Until I had my hand shaken firmly while my eyes were looked upon by a grateful person for kind care, I did not know the depth of my own soul. It is an honor to care for the angry, the sick, the sad, the joyful: my fellow humans.

    I will die. I hope my direct family recalls me fondly and I know one day no one at all will remember me. My quality of life parameters are: moving my body and able to take care of my pet cat.

    I am perfectly okay with that.

    Only through death, can there be life.

  19. Abigail says...

    Death hit me hard in 2018. My dad and his brother both died unexpectedly of heart attacks less than a month apart. My beloved grandma was diagnosed and died of cancer, and to end the year, another uncle died after 17 years of sickness. Having my 59 year-old dad die was horrible. While I am not particularly religious, my dad was a kind, loving, gracious pastor. When I would doubt about an afterlife or theorize if there is a loving God, why do only the “good” humans go to heaven, he would say something along the lines of, “I don’t have the answers, I’m not sure how everything works. But I’m okay with that. Belief has brought more good than bad.” Which he then would expound greatly on. I do believe I will see my dad again. I’m not sure what that will look like, but I can’t think that he just vanished and with his body dying, his beautiful soul did too. So death doesn’t scare me so much – I’ll get to hug Dad.

    • Libby says...

      Abigail, I am so sorry. I wish I could send you a hug… you lived my worst nightmare. Be gentle to yourself and know you are in the hearts of strangers :)

  20. Mary Torres says...

    I experienced death at age 12 when my Dad Died I was very scared of death, to be put in a box and placed in a hole. I couldn’t sleep at night. I saw my mother grieve for many years being Hispanic you wore Black for many years she never remarried she just went to church prayed the Rosary morning, Noon and Night. After many many years my mother told me that she had already made her funeral arrangements and me and my sisters didn’t have to worry about anything. It made me sad to think about the day we would not have her she told me to enjoy my kids, make memories with them listen to them and most of all believe in God. I am now 66 I still work and I still think about death even more now that I’m 66 what can you do we can’t avoid death, I believe that Life is a gift! I wake up in the morning and thank God for giving me another day and yes I Pray my Rosary at bed time.

  21. Jan R. Parker says...

    One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Snoopy facing the water on a dock. Charlie Brown says ” Snoopy someday we will all die” to which Snoopy replies ” yes, and all the other days we will not”

    Live your life and love it

  22. Olivia says...

    Recently it ocurred to me that I’m not afraid of death. What worries me the most is how my children will deal with my death. I’m 37 and they are 3.5 years old and 4 months. The idea that they would suffer, cry, and miss me breaks my heart. I know that after my death I may feel nothing, be reunited with others, feel immense love…etc….but how can I prepare my children not to feel negativity upon my death. How do I ensure they know it’s ok they mommy’s gone, she loved you, there’s no need to be sad…..what can I do now as a mother to prepare them for something that I don’t know when it’ll happen?

  23. J says...

    What a beautiful comment. My sweet little kids are about the same age. My mother-in-law died of cancer five years ago. I was thinking about her tonight, as I do often. That loss makes the now so much more acute and important, but I also lose my mind on the regular. Today my almost three year old cried hysterically because I left the room to shower. “Help me” I think sometimes. But I also know how this ends, I’ve seen it up close. Your reflection was visceral…. thank you for the perspective.

  24. Michelle says...

    At 33 I’ve had no one truly close to me die. My parents’ mothers’ and fathers’ respectively died when they were so young. They describe clinging to each other, and our lives growing up were always “rushed” with the anxiety that milestones would be missed. I remember picking the prom dress my mom loved just because I knew she never had that moment with my grandmother.

    I sometimes feel like the pain they went through has spared my brother and I the pain of losing someone close for so long. The older I get the more anxiety I feel about it. How will it happen when it happens? I’m more comfortable with my own mortality; but my family and friends and even my sweet pup. It makes me cry just thinking about it.

  25. In the final days of 2018, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. At 31 and having not yet had the joy of having a family, my world had (and has) begun to spin out of my control. I’ve been following the blog for long enough to recall the books that hit so close to home for you, Joanna- When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour. A friend also sent me Everything Happens For A Reason. Each of these books I’ve read without putting down and each one has brought me more peace in not just facing cancer, but also facing the unthinkable. In searching for peace about my fears of death, I’m finding a deepened peace in living. I’m finding more beauty and more joy too, as I embrace the grief and sadness. Death is a mystery, even if you consider yourself a person of faith, like myself. I feel like embracing the hard things in life with bravery and blind faith allows us the reward of seeing life through the lens of gratitude, and from that springs joy.

    • Katie says...

      Sending you lots of love, Danielle. ❤️

    • Christine says...

      Danielle – your words are rich with with the mysterious texture of life… it’s sorrows and overflowing aliveness/love. My deepest thoughts to you on your journey. Sending love.

  26. Renee says...

    I don’t have proof of heaven but this reflection from C.S. Lewis brings me hope of an eternity:
    We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. “How he’s grown!” we exclaim, “How time flies!” – as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.

    • Abby says...

      Love this!

    • Jo says...

      thank you for this quote – I’m in tears

  27. Sarah says...

    My twenties were marked by a good deal of death, both sudden and as the result of long illnesses, and I have often felt like I am just in a state of waiting for the next loss. It doesn’t help that I have a partner who has a strong fear of death and convinced that he will die at an early age. But I actually do find a lot of comfort in the idea of nothingness after death. That I am just a tiny speck of temporary life in the eternity of the universe, flaring briefly into passionate existence. It is humbling to be at once infinitesimal and part of the very fabric of all the life that has ever been.

  28. riye says...

    I used to be afraid until both my parents became seriously ill and eventually died. Both of them looked at dying as finally being able to rest. My mom told me she was so tired and that she was looking forward to seeing my dad and her mom. My grandmother (died at 103) said something similar and added that it was lonely when your loved ones leave you behind and die. She also couldn’t wait to be reunited with her family. I wasn’t afraid after that and I hope that when my time comes I’ll see it as a well earned rest. Plus, if mom and I are reunited I’ll get an earful about all the things I did that she found funny. :-D

  29. Hillary L. says...

    Thank you for sharing.

    One thing that gives me comfort and understanding about death is ironically from a law of thermodynamics (ironic b/c i am not science-y and it is the only thing i probably retained from high school science): energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed from one form to another.

    My uncle died of AIDS when i was 10. So from a pretty young age, i have thought about death. Where do we go? Can we still communicate with the living? Can the dead still see what’s going on? I love Kate’s comment that our love anchors us to the present. I think it also anchors us to those whose energy we can no longer see. I really don’t know how it’s possible, but sometimes i think we can feel the energy of someone who is gone. Maybe it’s just warm memories, but it’s still a good feeling.

    I don’t know if we’ll ever know what it looks like to transform, but I guess that’s part of what makes our time here so special. It is isolated to the present. So I guess we should just take Kate’s advice and anchor each other with love :)

  30. Theo Matta says...

    I use to fear death when my children were growing up. I thought no one could love and take care of them as I do. They grew up and I still felt the same but then, my 35 year old son died sixteen months ago. I do not long for it but I have no fear of it either. I look forward to the day when our souls will meet again.

    • Liz K says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss

    • KW says...

      So sorry for your loss, Theo. I think that makes a difference in how we feel about death and whether we’re fearful of it — if someone we love deeply is already on the other side waiting to greet us.

  31. Ewie says...

    There’s a Buddhist book called Live Meaningfully, Die Joyfully. It will change your life. X

  32. Ah, yes, Momento Mori!
    After I had my babies I was terrified of leaving them, though not afraid of death itself (as a Christian). My therapist encouraged me to write them letters, buy a gift, print some pictures and keep them in a box so that in the event that I die, I know they will know I loved them. I’ve even seen where a mom with stage IV cancer had indentations of her thumb made in clay so that her boys would have something of her to hold whenever they need to. It doesn’t take long to do and I can now put that emotional energy I spent in fear, into joy with my children.

  33. Alice says...

    All my childhood I was afraid of death. I was weak kid and had asthma attacks, and I thought I wont live long… When I grew up and had my own children my desperation changed the focus from my mortality to fear of loosing them. Two years ago I had preterm labor and lost my baby. Now I am expecting again and should be happy but I’m not. I am afraid and exhausted and feel like trapped in my own mind where nothing else but fears lived. I am healthy and baby is ok, but my mind is dark and dangerous place. Sometimes I am afraid to go outside the house – I can catch the flu or get in car accident or smith like this. I have lost belief that someday I can be free happy and enjoying life. Now it seems smh unbelievable, some luck I don’t deserve – to have healthy baby and happy life. My relationships are ruined and we are on the path to divorce despite of pregnancy. I am 27 weeks now with my tiny girl, this is my fourth pregnancy – I have teens boy and girl.

    • Jen says...

      I can not recommend enough how much therapy can help with these kinds of overwhelming anxieties and painful feelings. I’m sorry things are so hard and I hope that you find some really good support to help you wiggle your way through this.

  34. Kate says...

    I had a health scare this week (I’m fine), and I live alone. It was really quite scary to wonder how long it would take anyone to even find me if I were to pass away in my sleep. I had a very clear “but I have so many things I still need to DO!” thought – it’s all a bit terrifying.

  35. Maggie says...

    Thank you for sharing this! There is a reason you feel this way and that it hit you so hard this winter. Perhaps the God who created life and death is drawing you to himself. As a Christian, I’m not afraid of death, because I don’t believe you won’t feel anything. On the contrary, you’ll feel more alive and loved than you ever could have imagined on earth. I know you’re not religious, so it probably sounds crazy, but this assurance brings more than comfort when a loved one dies, it also brings hope.

  36. When I was in third grade a classmate of mine died from cancer. Ever since then I have often felt a deep sadness about death and loss. I even was sharing this week with my mom how I don’t know what I would do if so-and-so died and she reminded me that there is a certain grace and strength that comes when loss happens, one that you can’t perceive until it is needed.

    In college I became a Christian and this has shaped a lot about how I have looked at death. For me, now, death is sad but I also have hope in the afterlife I believe in. I have talked with many other Christians about how Jesus spoke of restoring earth to what it should be—one without all the bad—and it is something I think of often. I tell my friends and family who live far away, “I can’t wait until we all live on the same street on the new earth.” I think that the thought of death is something I often want to avoid, but it is helpful for me to think of it as a reminder of how I will use the time before me and love the people around me.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this!

    • Shelley Ahrens says...

      Such beautiful thoughts, so beautifully said x

  37. Jac says...

    You will die, it is true. So will I. But I am not afraid of death. Death has touched me more than most. The panic comes from knowing you will cease to exist. I can align myself with my Quaker beliefs and feel comfort knowing that I will transcend the Earth and be in the presence of God for all eternity. And although I have faith in God, I don’t know FOR SURE that I won’t just blink out like a lightbulb and become part of the vast nothingness of the universe. I like to think of it like we’re flowers. If there’s nothing when we’re gone, then we lived a season like a flower in a field. We’re part of the cycle of the universe. It helps me with any sort of ego I’m dealing with. That one thing is no more important than another. And that death is just the completion of our existence, not anything to be afraid of. A time to look back and savor. And to forgive ourselves.

    • Vicki says...

      Beautiful sentiments. Thanks for this.

  38. Megan says...

    Thank you, thank you for writing such meaningful, substantial content. As a 31 year-old wife and mother of an infant, I stared death in the face. Literally out of nowhwere, I contracted a mysterious gastrointestinal illness that caused a seizure and a coma. Doctors were unable to tell if I would wake up and if I did, if I would be able to breathe on my own.
    I did wake up, but weeks later I began what I now understand to be a journey of a severe chronic illness that has rendered me unable to work or do 3/4 of the things I used to be able to do.
    I suffer plenty, and it is hard – excruciating at times, but I walked away from my near-death experience awoken. I used to be so focused on my career ambitions and monetary possessions and now what brings me back to joy every day are my beautiful son and my husband – in a word, love.

    • Lilly says...

      I wish you the best. What a lesson you are teaching. Thank you!

    • J says...

      Thank you for this reminder, Megan.

  39. Megan says...

    Thank you for writing this post!

    I’m your age, my husband is your husband’s age, I have a small son, so I often feel the same kind of kismet when I read your posts as you describe feeling when reading Nina Rigg’s Bright Hour (and, yes, I felt it when I read her book too).

    This post made me ask if you were actually me in another body– it’s so similar to how I think about death and dying and I never heard anyone else say the same thing before! So, thank you so much for making me feel less alone, and if you feel the same panic about nonexistence again, know at least that there is another woman your age in another city also randomly panicking for the same exact reason :)

    I feel like I struggle with this question in part because we, as a culture, so rarely talk about death and dying. Which is weird because it’s the only single unifying experience of being human. I’ve tried to bring it up sometimes with my husband, family, and close friends but the conversation is rapidly shut down as ‘morbid’, especially among non-religious people.

    And, I understand that. Yes, most days, I spend my time thinking about my work, my son, budgets, taking care of my house, and in my lighter moments, about earrings, skin care, and amazing recipes :). But then, like you describe, sometimes this awful panic hits about dying and I feel incredibly frightened and alone. I’ve read and reread ‘Bright Hour’ and the same thought haunts me: what happened to Nina Riggs can happen to me. No, it WILL happen to me. It’s just a matter of when. My body will, someday, be unable to sustain life. And then what happens to the rest of ‘me’, or is all of ‘me’ connected to this body?

    And that’s how I felt until a recent severe illness made me realize how awful it is to suffer. In the worst moments, a release from that, even if it were into nonexistence, seemed so much less frightening, and I felt so close to my loved ones who have died (my mother, my daughter, my grandparents, and even our old pets). But as I recovered, I felt closer again to the living– my son, my husband, my brother– and the fear of dying returned.

    So I think I learned that there will likely be, at least, that small mercy of grace near the end of life, even for the most frightened people, like myself.

  40. Cait says...

    Thank you for this!
    I am 33, have two small children, and have been struggling with this real, gut-punch-at-three-a.m.-while-I’m-nursing-my-daughter-in-the-dark -awareness of my own death for a couple of years.
    It has really helped me to do research on other people’s personal experiences of facing their mortality (by reading books like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour…)
    I’m so glad I’m not alone.
    Sometimes that’s all I need to feel better about the end of life: the knowledge that we all have to do it.
    (Sometimes that does ‘t help at all.)

  41. I feel so heard and understood reading this, and I’m comforted to know I’m not alone. My dad died when I was six — a story I was intricately woven into, actually — and I’ve long dealt with anxiety at the thought of death, maybe earlier than most. For as long as I can remember, if I start thinking about death and let the reality hit me that, YES, I will die, I can literally think myself into a panic attack. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought a lot about why that is, and as scary as the unknown of the “afterlife” (or lack thereof, I’m not sure yet) is, I think what scares me most is the absence of life. I am in love with life, and that is why I fear death — I realize how incredible it is that we get to feel a cool breeze, laugh with our friends, eat delicious food, fly in the air to new places, study our children’s faces. I don’t want to ever lose all that. I guess it’s the ultimate case of FOMO, haha.

    Anyway, I don’t have any answers or tips or words of wisdom to add to the wonderful ones here, but glad to know I’m not alone in this. None of us are.

  42. Beautifully put. (Also helps to explain why I became a sudden hypochondriac around age 27.) I think of this line from The Fault in Our Stars: “What do you fear? Oblivion.” I was raised super Catholic and heaven was a given for me throughout childhood, which was a comfort. Now that I’m an adult I’ve come to question much of my religious upbringing (for good reason—there is much in the Catholic Church I can no longer agree with.) But I do miss that certainty that there is an afterlife and we will all be happy there. I don’t know what I believe anymore; practically my mind tells me this is it, just this one precious life, but I still pray every night, I still picture the people I’ve lost up there looking down, I still talk to them and ask them to look out for me. I’m not sure there’s an afterlife but I desperately hope there is. And even if there’s not, I think believing in one can bring us all comfort which is why I’ll never be one of those people who argues that there is no heaven.

    • Chrissie says...

      Mary Kate, I so relate! I was raised Catholic too and I’m jealous of how certain my family is about what happens when you die. It seems to be so comforting. I’m definitely in the “I just dont know” phase of life. I still pray to my relatives who’ve passed before me and wonder where they are.

    • Rachel says...

      Can I join this club and hang out with you guys? Mary Kate and Chrissie your words really resonate with me where I am right now.

  43. Connor K Novy says...

    I finished reading Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty this week and it is exactly about this, and how American/Western European death culture is built around denying the fact that we will die and pretending our loved one is still really here. I think part of accepting death is enjoying the present, but also a second equally important part is being comfortable with our own and loved ones’ inevitable demises, especially after they are gone.
    It’s a good book and very funny, and I recommend it to anyone interested in that stuff.

    Also the author should definitely do a Beauty Routine post it would be in-cred-ib-le.

    • Carmen B. says...

      I read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes but I still have a lot of anxiety/fear about dying.

      The book was fascinating, though. I’m so glad I read it.

  44. Ashley says...

    A year ago I turned 30, and although it prompted me to question and make changes in my life for the better (career change, to travel solo more and generally make more opportunities for myself) it also brought to the surface a new anxiety about death. Not about me dying- something which doesn’t phase me at all, but about losing my parents.
    I’m single and my parents are a massive support to me. I’m very close to my siblings but they are building their own families and I worry that I haven’t met the person to start creating mine with yet.
    It was getting to the point where I would cry about my parents dying, but also cry about the fact that other people having to experience this too and wondering how people survive it. But they do, every single day. And yes, it is devastating but it is so NORMAL. It’s the most common experience that we will all share.
    I found a podcast called Griefcast (it’s a UK podcast) and it really helped me in normalising my feelings. It’s hosted by a comedian, all the guests are comedians but it isn’t a comedy podcast. Something about the balance of discussing such a difficult topic in a frank and open way and hearing others experiences really helped me.
    Thought I’d put it out there incase it helps anyone else.
    Love the way the Cup of Jo team approach topics like this and the conversations that follow in the comments. I often search through previous posts for topics that are relevant to where I’m at and read all of the comments again- it’s like having a community of cheerleaders ready and waiting with advice and support :)

  45. I get sad, especially when I think about my daughter and how we bring little people into the world fully expecting — hoping against hope — that we will never see their whole lives. And that hurts. I think of these song lyrics from “Talk on Indolence” by the Avett Brothers:

    “Now I’ve grown too aware of my mortality
    To let go and forget about dying
    Long enough to drop the hammer down
    And let the indolence go wild and flying through”

    And then I look at my daughter again, and she reminds me of what it IS like to forget and just live and enjoy. And maybe that’s why the world has children.

    • Laura D. says...

      I just came here to tell you that I am an avid admirer of the Avett Brothers, and their discussions of death in their songs do help me (like you :)). “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die” is one I think of often, as I feel a lot of anxiety about my own death.

  46. Peg says...

    I go through periods where I think about death too much. It’s horrible to think about how much I would miss my kids if I died. And then that also makes no sense at all. I also get stuck on what the moment that you go feels like. I will obsessively think about it until I start to panic, and then have to shake out of it. Basically go play with my kids and remind myself that everyone is here and safe right now. And then I am relieved and happy. Thanks for sharing your anxieties. It is really comforting to read about others scared about the same not talked about things.

  47. Charlie Murphy says...

    When I was about 5, I stood at the top of teh stairs looking down and it hit me: my mom could die. It was the first time it ever occured to me, and I was immediately devastated. I broke into tears. Luckily, my mom knew just what to say. 20 years later, she did die: to early, before I was grown and had a family of my own. It’s still devastating. I lost my best friend, my mom, and a big part of me. There are so many things no one else knows about me and that I don’t know about myself because my mom was the only person who knew everything, who saw every moment of my life and why I am who I am. Today, I’m 30 and think about death very differently than my peers, because I’ve experienced it much earlier and differently. I’m not afraid to die: I’ve seen suffering and pain during the end of life, and I want only to have a good, loving life that I fill with goodness. I don’t want to outlive my friends, or struggle to hang on. I want my future children to know I’m still with them even once I’m gone: I’m in the wind, in their hearts, in their goodness – just like my mom is all the best parts of me.

    • Lin says...

      Beautifully said!

    • Maria says...

      Your comment shows just how great your mom was.

  48. Marie-Claire says...

    As a child of divorced parents, I was always suuuper attached to my Mom. I distinctly remember going on sunny beach vacations in Florida with my dad in the summer and spending half the time with a lump in my throat worried my mom would die while I was away from her. Sometimes I attribute it to being an anxious kid, but I also think it’s because I had such an amazing mom. Who wouldn’t worry about losing someone so great?

    When I was 24 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and when I was 26 she died. The part that can still jolt me awake in the night is thinking back to how sad I felt when I found out the cancer had metastasized- that she would die from it. Having her there in front of me- eating dinner with her, talking on the phone, sleeping over at her house-but knowing that soon I wouldn’t. It was literally l my deepest, longest held fear coming true.

    Now that it’s been five years, i of course see it differently. I now have two children- a three year old and a 4 month old- and getting to live the mother-child dynamic again feels so lucky to me. I still lose my mind on the daily about getting everyone dressed, my baby screaming through another car ride (ugh), and and just the general relentlessness of motherhood. But there is an underlying feeling that i GET to mother knowing in a more acute way how special that is. Even in the (many) dull, mundane moments, that never feels small.

    26 is young to lose a mom, but she got to raise me through and through. And I get to feel like a living legacy- and that my kids will get some of her through me. While I plan on being around to see grandbabies grow up, I at least hope i make it till my baby feels like he was fully raised by me. Xo

    • salbra says...

      Oh Marie Claire – this is perfect on so many levels. You are surrounded by love and that concept of fully raised – my heart x

  49. Michele Cloghesy says...

    What an incredible essay. Emotions swept over me. There seems to be such a difference between death as part of a normal life trajectory and unexpected death. My husband of 25 years died of cancer at 52. He was the epitome of healthy. It wasn’t supposed to happen to him. As a widow I still struggle with the unreal nature of his death and what is left behind. Part of my very logical brain can not wrap my mind around the life changing events. I am left parenting two children who as young adults now, will not continue to benefit from the gift that was their father.

    The writer said ‘it may not happen today or next week’…. but then again, it just may. My husband’s death left me with a keen awareness to not put things off. Say what needs to be said. Take the trip, class, compliment. Live life like it might not go on forever. None of us know when the expiry date is on our time but chance are we will wish it was longer then it will be.

    • jones says...

      I am so sorry for your loss. My sister died at age 45 last year after a sudden and unexpected illness. I lost grandparents I was close to previously, but their death was not completely unexpected, we all had time to prepare and we said our goodbyes and I loves. The death of someone younger and more unexpected is a completely different beast. I appreciate many of the comments here, but it just isn’t the same thing when someone’s passing is more expected and after living a long life. There is an anger and sense of being cheated of time (at least in my case). You are right about not putting things off and this has made me much less tolerant of people and things that waste my time.

  50. Kelly says...

    I have seen counselors at a local university hospital for anxiety, including the fear that my husband will one day die, and have later gone to other doctors within the same university system for other medical needs. One time a nurse left my chart on the screen when she left the room. It noted my basic information, my chronic illness, and anxiety. Under anxiety it said simply, “fears that her husband will die.” It was somehow darkly funny to me that every medical professional who glances at my chart even for a moment knows such a tender and vulnerable part of me.

    Now I’m having a baby after years of infertility and I can just imagine what my chart will say a year from now.

    When my anxiety about death isn’t overwhelming me, I can say it absolutely does make me cling firmly to the sweetest parts of life: my husband’s fuzzy beard, the way he is somehow always carrying things for me, the dumb language we use with each other and no one else. It’s almost too much!

  51. gb says...

    “There is a time for everything,
    and everything on earth has its special season.
    There is a time to be born
    and a time to die.”
    Whether listening to the Byrds sing this song from the 60s or reading from the book of Ecclesiates, I always find great comfort in these words. Even more over the past two weeks as my mother in law passed on to a new life. As I was cleaning out her “treasures” from her assisted living room, these words continued to flood my mind. She had a great collection of classy costume jewelry that she wanted my daughter to have a first pass and then along to other relatives. As we spread the jewelry on my dining table I kept thinking that a part of her is still with us and will continue to shine through her two sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren. And when my daughter stood to read scripture at the celebration of her grandmother’s life, I smiled through the tears and know that her Granny was smiling down on her too.

  52. First of all, I want to send my condolences, hugs and ice cream to all who experienced and shared their loss on this page. After having my entire family die within a span of four years, I definitely recommend completing your Advance Planning while you are young and healthy. Advance planning cuts down on anxiety and uncertainty and allows you and your loved ones the peace that nobody realizes they’re going to need! After my mom died unexpectedly, leaving me with a NIGHTMARE mess of death duties to complete without her instruction, I created a company called Good To Go! I travel across the US to facilitate unconventional advance planning parties! They’ve been called ‘Death Tupperware Parties’ with everyone bringing a pot luck dish based upon a recipe of a loved one, booze and a sense of humor and I play a rock and roll death-themed soundtrack (Stairway to Heaven, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Another One Bites The Dust, etc…) and we TALK ABOUT DEATH! I offer a ‘Departure File’ that includes everything a will doesn’t cover. Daily logistics like ‘What is your email password?’ ‘Do you have a storage space and if so, where is the key located?’ I included every single question that arose after my mom died. But it’s not just a history of your bills and passwords, it’s a history of your joy. ‘What words of comfort would I give you while you are grieving my loss?’ ‘How I got through death and grief in my life’ and your favorite movies, books, travel destinations, memories of family. This is all crucial to helping your loved ones focus on grieving rather than detective work. I make it so easy for people to get organized, but people are reluctant to talk about death and dying let alone death preparedness.

    I encourage everyone to complete their advance planning while they are young and healthy in order to leave behind love rather than logistics. Think of it as an instruction manual for the people who love you most. We spend more time building a burrito than we do planning for our own deaths!

    • This is genius! I’m sorry about your mother.

    • Allison says...

      Incredible, Amy! I love “leave behind love rather than logistics” and your business sounds like the lemonadeiest of lemons. Brava!

      I am a hospital attorney who helps caregivers navigate how to give someone a “good” death without anyone having any idea as to what that person would want it to be, and sometimes family and friends disagreeing about what the patient would want while it is happening. I preach to all who will listen – say your peace now – it allows peace when it matters! To so many people: family, friends, and the physicians, nurses and pastoral care who only want to give you the care that you want and is meaningful to you when death is inevitable.

  53. Agnes says...

    What I’m going to say may sound as simplistic as a 5 year old, but at 46 it’s as real to me as the skin on my body. My dad died last December. We watched him die over the course of 6 days, and we sat around his bedside, laughing, crying, hugging and kissing him as much as possible, sharing memories and saying all we needed to say. For me, it was only, ‘thank you and I love you.’ I got to say it and I’m forever grateful. He knew it was his time to go and he wanted to go, which helped. The last page of the book of his life had come, and his volume was fully written. My volume will complete later and I will see him again. I am at peace with this. I know life is temporary and eternal is eternal, and although I miss him, I am at peace. I also know that when my last page comes, I will enter into love. I’m OK with that. When things are inexplicable and we will NOT understand in full, we MUST make peace with the fact that we are children in this universe.

    • sallyb says...

      I am completely with you, Agnes. I lost my Mother after successful heart surgery—she had come home, had a 30 day follow up with her heart surgeon and was preparing for a new chapter. A year later, my beloved baby brother chose to end his life. After the memorial service, my Dad became ill and was diagnosed with cancer. He chose to carry on without treatment, lived two more happy years, with illness the last four months. As I was tucking him in one night, he said “I want to go home”. Three days later, he was gone and I was with him as he left for that home. Three most precious souls, three different losses. Miss them all and feel they are with me…No longer brought to my knees each day. Joy in the knowledge we will see each other again and blessed by our lives together.

    • Agnes says...

      I’m so sorry for how much loss you’ve been through, Sally.. so glad you are walking upright again. Sending a big hug to you tonight.

  54. My husband and I got together 12 years ago, when we were 19. At 22, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The harsh reality is that he has a shorter life expectancy than me; he says he’ll feel like he’s had a good long life if he makes it to 80 (his grandfathers were 92 and 101 when they died).
    Obviously I can spiral into preemptive grief about losing him some day, about the possibility that it could happen tragically soon if he just runs out of Life Savers in his glove compartment. But most of the time it just feels like a sad foregone conclusion, and I almost draw strength from Future Elderly Widowed-But-Independent Emily.
    So it is *very* jarring when I have moments of recognizing my own mortality, of realizing that it’s possible I could be the one to leave *him* behind.
    I’m not afraid of death itself – usually I believe it’s just nothingness, a ceasing to be, or if I’m feeling romantic it’s converting into dust on the wind or something – but I dread the pain of losing someone I love, and can’t stand thinking about causing my loved ones that pain by leaving them.

    On another note… sometimes I get legitimately angry that I’ll die and never find out how this all turns out. Will we colonize Mars? Will the coral reefs ever grow back? Will we find other intelligent life out in the universe? Will people still handwrite letters in 100 years? Who will be the last humans, and what will their lives be like? Isn’t it just so crazy that we’ll never get to know how history ends??

    • Olivia says...

      I love that! Now I’m mad I won’t know how things end/progress.

  55. jones says...

    My sister died last August and she was only 45. She got very sick about a year before she passed away. Once someone you love dies relatively young it is never far from your mind. People say many things on a daily basis that stick daggers in your heart and I have only recently noticed how much people complain about birthdays (she never gets to have another one) and also use the phrase this is killing me or I am dying in jest.

  56. Kelli Fletcher says...

    All of this. Yes. It’s a low-simmer anxiety and it hurts so much because it’s so beautiful and yes, one day it will be gone.

  57. Rose says...

    Well I’m 42 years old, if I’m lucky enough to live into my 80’s that means I’m halfway through my life. I’m lucky to be this old. My husband and I came thisclose to hitting a moose last night. My blankets caught fire while I was sleeping once, I’ve narrowly avoided being in vehicles that ended up in serious accidents. Death is a constant companion to me. I think about my aging parents and how I still feel like a kid because they’re alive. In my community we’ve had many, many people die young and I’ve been to more funerals than anyone should ever have to go to. With that being said, I believe that there’s something more beyond this life. I’m First Nations, Mikmaq specifically and just the other day I was reading on my Facebook a post about sacred fires. In many FN communities a sacred fire is lit and kept burning for 4 days when someone dies. The belief is that there is another fire burning in the afterlife and the fires are used to guide the recently deceased to the great hereafter. Your spirit is said to travel by canoe across a great body of water, away from one fire and towards the other. Your ancestors are waiting to welcome you on the other side.
    I find this comforting.

    • Lindsay says...

      This is beautiful.

  58. Lenae C says...

    When this post was published the other day, I was in the middle of writing a eulogy for my grandmother, who passed away last week at the age of 94. In the last 19 years she battled — and beat — cancer twice. She was so resilient, and maintained a positive attitude throughout surgeries/chemo/radiation, even though it was clearly so painful. She loved life, and wanted to keep living it. So, the advice your mom’s husband gave you about “soaking it all up, even the hard parts” really resonated with how I remember my grandma, and I eneded up using it in my eulogy. Thanks for the inspiration, and for always posting such thoughtful content.

  59. Meg says...

    The precipice! I’ve never heard anyone describe my feelings so accurately. It first happened to me when I was reading Tuck Everlasting in grade school. It happens from time to time, always out of nowhere, and I feel like I’m falling until my mind grabs onto something in the moment to pull me back. I move on to other thoughts quickly because thinking about it all is just too big right now. It feels like I stumbled upon a secret that wasn’t meant for me. Yet.

    • One of my favorite books. I think about it a lot. I think I’d definitely drink the water, would you?

  60. Kalli says...

    I have just recently decided to tackle my fear of death and realized that what I actually fear is the loneliness that comes with a loved one passing and the mystery of how what makes us such complex creatures can vanish so suddenly.

    Thanks for acknowledging this difficult topic. Off to find a hug.

  61. Beth Peacock says...

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (generally known as Mormons), I believe that this life is a very small, but very powerful/important part of our existence… sort of like going away to college. It’s a time to learn and grow, but we aren’t meant to stay here forever and it is in no way the culmination of our existence. Being with our loved ones is a key component of what will come next, and it is possible because of the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    • JA says...

      That’s a beautiful explanation.

  62. Clara says...

    Death has always been a part of my life. As a child, I planned my funeral before i planned my wedding. So, for me death, is the feeling of nostalgia for a place I’ve never been.

  63. Elizabeth says...

    What a great post! I’m like your mom: it doesn’t really concern me because…there will be no “me” anymore. Only the memory of me.

    I was raised evangelical Southern Baptist, but I deconstructed into atheism throughout my twenties. Religion exists as a comfort for our collective fear of death. You should read Why Religion by Elaine Pagels. It was published last year, and it’s so fantastic. I bought it for my husband (a religious studies teacher) for Christmas and ended up reading it myself in two days (whoops!). Pagels is a religious studies scholar, so the book is about her intellectual history with religion, but it’s ultimately about the most horrific thing one can imagine: the death of her young son to a rare disease, followed just one year later by the sudden and accidental death of her husband. Horrifying, I know. But she has a beautiful point about this notion of the afterlife. We, the living, are the ones who live the ‘afterlife’. When we suffer the loss of an intimate–a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse–we must disassemble and rebuild our own lives. And THAT is the afterlife.

  64. Summer says...

    Oh man, do I feel this. I’ve always thought a lot about death, but more so in the recent years (and that’s SO TRUE about the plane). Last year, my best friend died of cancer at age 37. In the past few months, we’ve had to send a parent to assisted living. It just feels like….we do all this stuff and then what? To be left behind? Aging seems like it can be very, very lonely. (Other concerns: Will I fall for the 2050 equivalent of Nigerian Prince scams? I mean, technology is getting FOR REAL for real, and I’m still youngish!)

    I don’t know that I worry about death as much as dying, assuming it’s not sudden. Who’s taking care of me? Will anyone visit me? Will I know them? Will I have enough money saved to pay for good care? Once I’m not mobile, I’m really hoping dignified death is legalized.

    Something else… it’s weird to me that one day everyone we know will be dead. Like, all these cute babies are going to have to go through this crazy life, have their heart broken, find a career path, hopefully have a wonderful life, and then…dust to dust. When I was little, I thought the key was being famous – a movie star or president! – but as I got older, I realized I just know people from the past because I like history and most people are ridiculously stupid. Like, “Who’s the Beatles” level, ya know.

    But I’ll forever be thankful that, at least for now, I’m on the same planet as Betty White. #blessed

  65. Brendy says...

    My thoughts on death were changed just two weeks ago. My beloved 18 year old cat passed away. I thought her death, though sad, would be peaceful. I thought she would just stop breathing. I didn’t put her down because I was trying so hard to extend her life. Because she passed with me at home, there were no drugs. It was violent and scary and the most horrible thing I’ve ever witnessed. I’m more scared of death than I ever have been. Not only do I miss my sweet girl, I feel guilt over her experiencing a “natural” death where frankly, she looked terrified. My heart breaks that her final moments were filled with fear. And I can’t help but think of others close to me who have died without the benefit of morphine and hospice.

    • Elizabeth says...

      Brendy, I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved cat. Our animal companions are so much more than pets.

      I hope you don’t guilt yourself or regret your decisions for her end of life experience. You couldn’t have known how horrible the “natural” death would be. And she may have been terrified, but think what a comfort it is that you were there with her. As animal lovers, we have an obligation to shepherd them through that great transition. The fact that you stayed and bore witness to it: that’s no small feat.

      Be gentle with yourself through this time of mourning. Much love and peace headed your way. <3

    • samantha says...

      We lost our sweet kitty unexpectedly and in a terrible way a few weeks ago, and I have been having a real hard time with the guilt that she died so scared in a room at the vet. Logically I know that the 14 years of her life before that were excellent and shouldn’t be canceled out by that last hour, but it’s hard. Solidarity, friend.

    • Brendy says...

      Thanks to both of you for your sweet words. I was worried that people would see I was commenting about my cat and roll their eyes. But I was mostly referencing experiencing death with someone you dearly love. I also lost my dad tragically and suddenly when I was in my early twenties. But I wasn’t there. They were two very different experiences. But seeing it up close has brought up a whole new set of fears. Not to diminish that it was “just” my cat. She got me through my dad’s death and every other hardship I have had in my life. Pets are a part of the family, and I feel her loss deeply. Sympathy to all those who are grieving the loss of our furry family members.

  66. Julia Vesilind says...

    Its so odd. Death. I have never feared it. I don’t really know for certain what is out there after but whatever it is has always seemed peaceful to me. I have lost grandparents and felt fine. I believed there was a heaven for them. They all had amazing great lives. And I was always so happy for them that they could move on, not be in pain, rest. My dad is sick now and it’s a very real possibility he will die. He is young, 59. He’s my step-dad and came into my life when I was just 3 and he was just 21. He was the greatest dad I could have had. He always loved so purely and innocently- an easy smile for anyone. His love and passion for my mother was the example of how a man should treat a woman. He lived a fire life of fun times, a ton of laughter and the easiest going personality you ever knew. His body simply cant keep up. I will miss him terrible but I am beyond grateful for his time with me. Its not his loss that I will mourn but rather my mothers and my brothers.

  67. Kelli F. says...

    Thank you for this post! I have all of these feelings a few times a week and I have a close friend that does too, so we talk it out often. My husband and I recently purchased our first home. To do that, we made a huge move from Boston, MA to Raleigh, NC. We left friends and jobs and memories that haunted streets we had been walking for 10 years. We left the home where we had our two babies! All this to return to our first home state, near our aging parents, to get a lifestyle that would maximize…our lives. We were SO pumped to finally have purchased a house and to know where we were going to be grounded for decades to come. But for weeks after we first moved, I had waves of anxiety set over me while my kids were playing on the rug or in the yard. I just couldn’t shake that one day, this house would be empty and they would be gone. And this gave way to my anxiety about dying (which I’ve had since I birthed my first babe). One day, I’LL be gone from this house too. And where I’ll go, I don’t know. I haven’t decided what to think about that yet. Good lord these thoughts are so heavy. I sometimes have to sit in them and soak them in. Dive deeper into their feeling and meaning. But often I physically shake my head to drive them out. What a relief to see you and so many of your followers feel the same way! We truly are just walking each other home, aren’t we?

  68. bethany says...

    I grew up in a very religious household and was taught strict notions about the afterlife – heaven and hell were real places, and you had to work really hard every day to be A Good Person and Believe The Right Things or else you would wind up in hell.

    And then my mom died of terminal cancer when I was 24.

    And that whole experience of her death, that process of saying goodbye, turned all of those notions upside down for me. In the end, my mother wasn’t comforted by her own beliefs about heaven, she was tortured by them, worried she hadn’t been good enough. Everyone was showering her with love and respect and telling her how much she meant to them, but she was still worried she was going to hell, and that was heartbreaking to me. When I stepped back and took an honest look at the theology I had been raised with, it felt cruel and inhumane. And the truth is that none of us knows what happens, so trying to hold that over anyone’s head just doesn’t make sense.

    This, of course, wreaked havoc in my spiritual life and I couldn’t go back to believing what I did before. It’s been really hard to rebuild my spiritual life and grieve her death. What does all of it mean, then? What does it mean to live a good life? But somehow, right now, I’m less afraid of death than I’ve ever been.

    I was watching S1 of True Detective this week and last night we watched the final episode. There’s a part at the very end where Matthew McConaughey’s character explains his brush with death and describes it as a warm, material darkness where he felt the love his deceased daughter and father as a tangible, growing presence enveloping him. I have no idea if that’s true, but I found that so comforting.

    • Bethany says...

      Ok, this is INSANE. First, my name is Bethany. Second, I was raised in an incredibly religious home. Third, my father died of terminal cancer when I was 27, which really got me thinking about what I actually believe and how religion affects my family and their outlook on how they live their life. Fourth, about 6 months after his death, I watched S1 of True Detective and it completely changed everything I thought about religion and God. Fifth, I have never been freer, happier or less afraid of death than I am now. Hi Bethany, nice to meet you and apparently share your story.

    • bethany says...

      Omg, hi other Bethany who shares my life story! If you ever remember to check this thread and want to talk, my email is bgdsuckrow @ gmail dot com. I’d love to connect. <3

  69. Sad about puppies says...

    There are so many wonderful comments now that I’d have to take the day off to read them all, but in what I have read I haven’t seen any that say they fear the death of others–which is more the case for me than my own death. When my husband asked me to marry him the “but one day you’ll die” thought was already there. I’ve lost my grandparents and miss them so much it hurts. The years I had with them aren’t enough to make their death worthwhile. Some day my parents will die. I could outlive my brother, my husband, my best friend. If I don’t, they’ll have to live through my death. I’m a happy person, it’s not that I sit around and think about this all the time. I love my life, but I don’t see how living can be worth the grief of death. There are dozens of reasons I’ve chosen not to have children, but the thought of them one day dying, or them having to live through my death, are high on that list. I won’t even get a puppy because I know one day it will die. That people aren’t concerned with sparing themselves that pain, sparing their children that pain, is really interesting and confusing to me. I’ve never felt like anyone else was on the same wavelength until I heard Anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar on the Sam Harris podcast–turns out I’m not the only one who feels new life isn’t worth bringing into the world because the suffering we endure is just too great. Just throwing that out there in case anyone else feels alone in their thoughts that seem morbid and crazy to most people, There are at least three of us out there :)

  70. Erin says...

    I believe that our life isn’t really our physical presence…it’s our “impact” on other things. Our life is how we treat others, what we teach others and the how we interact. How BIG our life is, isn’t determined by how long we exist on this planet, it’s how much we experience, listen, teach, learn, love etc. That’s what brings me comfort when thinking about this…but even more importantly, it brings me joy to think about the daily opportunities to do such things.

  71. Shannon Bell says...

    I’ve always had minor bouts of anxiety about death since being a kid and watching sad movies where characters die drawn-out deaths, like from a terminal illness. (Strangely, brutal graphic murders aren’t so much tear-jerkers…) But it would always pass. Lately, since becoming a mother, I’ve had a renewed sense of dread about it, realizing that I have given birth to someone I KNOW will see a world I will not see (or, even more tragically, the possibility of knowing a world where he doesn’t exist anymore). I can’t decide what bothers me more, but the whole experience of motherhood has made aging and death more of a reality. The generations are shifting. My grandparents are dead or dying, my parents are becoming grandparents, we are becoming parents. The palpability of that generational shift is overwhelming, if not downright scary. Making the idea of death harder to brush aside.

    But despite all this, I think it’s important that we reflect on it. It is indeed what makes us the most human of all: our ability (or curse?) to contemplate our own deaths.

  72. Once again, you’ve shared something that hit just the right spot for me at just the right time. My birthday was yesterday, the last year of my thirties. I’m grappling with these types of thoughts as well. Thank you for sharing.

  73. Sarah says...

    I am a Christian but I have no idea how to think about death. Recently, a mentor of mine who was only 36 passed away. I realized how much my faith had changed when the canned Christian responses about death started rolling in. “At least she’s with Jesus.” “She gets to reunite with her father (who died 10 years ago) in heaven.” “We will see her again.” I couldn’t confidently agree with any of these sentiments. The truth is – I don’t know what happens when we die. I don’t think I believe in a heaven or hell or that I will even have the consciousness I’ve had on earth and therefore ability to recognize former loved ones.

    To me, it’s all about trust. All I know is that something outside of my control brought me into the world and something outside of my control will take me out of it. If I can trust the phenomenon of life, I choose to believe I can also trust death. I love the reader comment about “death being the next great adventure.”

  74. Debra Hannah says...

    Beautifully said. I agree! :-)
    My faith helps me see death as something not to be feared, but as a true homecoming!

  75. Fabulously written. Unlike you, I’ve had these panicky ‘death realisations’ since I was about 5. All my life, I’ve pictured the vast nothingness after I’m gone and I’ve freaked. It haunts me often but I love the quote about life being a break in our nonexistance – how interesting to think of it this way?! Thank you. I’m off to Google the books you recommended.

    Siân

    • Oh my gosh, me too! In fact, when I was about 7 or 8, I would no longer say “Hail Mary” because of the “now and at the hour of our death” part. The nothingness was terrifying to me (I’ve always been an overthinker). My parents even brought me to a Christian counselor at the time, but it’s never gotten better for me – I just don’t think about it.

      I *should* go look for that book. Or at least note the title…just wanted to say how nice it is that someone else gets it.

    • Same! My parents always said the prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” when I was little, including the “If I die before I wake” part (which maybe people don’t do anymore?). I still remember laying in bed as a tiny child thinking: IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE?! WTF?!

  76. Jess says...

    I love this post. I lost my father to cancer in March of 2017. My world as I had known it for 32 years ended when he took his final breath that early Saturday morning. Things were a blur, as they so often are after a love one passes, however, I remember telling my mother sometime after that I no longer feared my own death, because I had watched and felt my father do it.

    • Anne says...

      Jess, I’m sorry about your Dad. Mine passed away March 2017 and I was with him until the end. The labored breathing, the death rattle, the morphine tablets- I remember those details and can’t shake them when I think about him. I wish I could live a few hours of my day in the pre-cancer diagnosis world where life was more brilliant, more idyllic. Now my new normal is a world that’s tempered and not as bright and shiny.

  77. Ashley says...

    I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Jane Goodall a few months ago and someone asked her what her plans were for the future – “what will her next adventure be?” I’ll never forget, she sat there quietly and steadily looked at us and said, “Death. Death will be my next great adventure”. A few weeks later I sat in the hospital and helplessly watched my dad take his last breath and I all I could hear in that moment was Jane’s voice in my head, calmly and confidently saying “death is the next great adventure”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that’s really beautiful, ashley. and i’m so sorry for your loss. xo

  78. Rue says...

    I’m a geologist and my research is all about LONG stretches of time. I’ve spent years working on a scientific puzzle that’s like some kind of cold case mystery, only all of it happened a billion and a half years ago (literally). When I’m at work, a “small” amount of time is a few million years. Anything under a million feels like the single tick of a second hand on a clock.

    I know many friends and students (I’m a professor) find it eerie to think about stretches of time that are that long. But for me, I find so much inspiration and comfort in spending an entire career immersed in this way of thinking about time. It’s not just ME that’s ephemeral, it’s almost anything about the world that our senses can perceive. So we’re not alone in it. We’re part of something giant and amazing, like being one of the photos in those portraits that are actually made out of thousands of photos, the ones where each photo is like one pixel of the bigger image.

    The world is constantly remaking itself, but mostly it does it so slowly that we can’t perceive what it’s up to. And most of the stuff that’s “permanent” on our planet (at least, the stuff that sticks around for hundreds of millions or billions of years) is stuff that’s so enormous and/or so far away from us that we don’t know it’s there. Like how ancient ocean floors are sunk hundreds of miles below our feet and eventually pool on top of the Earth’s core. And meanwhile we’re just going about our day (our life, really), picking out pretty earrings. It honestly makes me feel safe and comforted, knowing the real important stuff is happening without any help or influence from us, and we’re just getting a few glimpses of it if we’re lucky, while we’re here.

    • Rachel says...

      Rue, your comment resonated so deeply with me and reminded me of my first discovery of vishnu schist. It was in the late 1990s when I rafted through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. There were parts of the river where the canyon walls soared hundreds (thousand?) feet above us and revealed layers of geologic time. My life–and my anxieties–were dwarfed and it was a both a relief and a comfort.

      Thank you for your words. I am glad for them.

  79. May says...

    “The fear of flying often kicks in around age 27, studies reveal, when people start to grapple with their own mortality. ”

    To echo a commenter below, I also thought this part was very interesting. I have flown all my life – I still do quite often – and I love love traveling. But this did resonate with me: I’m 26 and get really freaked out about turbulence now. It’s probably a result of what the studies describe about age, but I know it’s also because during a recent flight I took last year. All was normal and well on that particular flight, me minding my own business watching a movie, when suddenly I heard from the captain, “Cabin crew, there’s an emergency” or something along those lines. I immediately took off my earphones, looked around, and it seemed most people didn’t even hear it. But I noticed the flight attendants all went back to their seats, there was suddenly no air at all and became super stuffy, and from what I could feel it seemed like the plane wasn’t really moving and in fact descending slowly. The next 20 minutes was excruciating. Somewhere in my head or heart I just felt like something bad was going to happen and this. was. it. Even the flight attendants didn’t speak and their expressions, to me, were serious and stern. I got cold sweat everywhere. It was completely silent on the plane too (most people were sleeping). After a while, the captain finally and suddenly came on the intercom again and explained. My heart was pounding as he informed us that the plane had actually lost cabin pressure for a while. The machine controlling pressure wasn’t functioning normally and because of that he had to descend quickly and turn off the air flow in the cabin. It was then fixed but they were still testing it and might even have to turn back or land someplace nearby. In the end, we arrived at our destination just fine.

    I was pretty numb afterwards. It took a few days for me to stop thinking about how I felt during that 20 minutes: panic, dread, fear. It just hit me that I didn’t just hallucinate hearing that “there’s an emergency” and something was happening to the plane. Now, I’m ultra sensitive on planes, especially when there’s turbulence (read: I’ll leave nail marks on my boyfriend’s arm from clenching so hard). I’m still a frequent flyer and will always be, but I’m no longer carefree that’s for sure.

  80. Michelle says...

    Eleven years ago, after my third child was born, I was lying in bed. The door was ajar and the glow from the hallway nightlight was creating a beautiful aura around the door. I started to think about space and how we are just here for teeny tiny blip in time. Floating in this massive unknowable, mysterious universe. Then it HIT ME. It’ll be over and poof. I’ll be dead soon. Those lovely sweet, tiny creatures I created-I will know no longer. All the stuff. All the things. All the people. Will just be gone. All the effort…. I had to shut the light off from then on despite smacking into dark walls on the way to nurse at night.

    I do not believe in a ‘god’ so I find no solace in any of the stories. And I have explored. I sometimes wish I did believe it because I could find comfort in the ‘afterlife’. Continuity is would be nice. But it all seems like horseshit to me.

    Anyways, from that point on, I do think I started a slow spiral into a high functioning depression which still remains. Its hard to be an observer, a realist and still be perky all the time. To one extent, it is a gift-to feel, to see, to experience with depth. But its curse is that its hard to switch off. Oh to just be light, free and delighted with a lovely thing, person or moment, knowing that it is temporary. Its almost like it hurts more because I can not hold it forever.

    That being said, I am looking into microdosing now.

    • Shannon Bell says...

      Me too, I have felt at times how nice it would be to be a believer because it would give some comfort. And then I remember why I’m not a believer – because it IS just comfort for the human condition… a self-delusion passed from generation to generation to explain away the scary, unknown, dread.

      I was hoping someone on here had some kind of secular/agnostic-friendly ideas about grappling with this kind of death-dread!

  81. Malwina says...

    This may be my all-time favourite post of yours ever (and I am a long-time reader). Thank you. I turn 40 in August and all of this rings so true. Happy birthday and enjoy that special day. You’re alive!

  82. Nicole says...

    Kristin, I think this all of the time, too. I don’t have children yet, but while I wait, it is so comforting to think that my dad who passed away a few years ago is with them.

  83. Eda says...

    I don’t think we completely get lost. We will degrade and join the cycles such as nitrogen, carbon etc. Nothing gets lost, we cannot leave the earth completely. We transform into something else. So, you might think that you are looking at a flower but your great grandparents might be there. Somehow they come back in your life but in another form. We will spread everywhere!
    This thoughts relax me as I recently lost my grandfather who has been the most amazing person I knew. I miss my mood I was feeling when I was with him. When the wind blows among the peach trees he planted, I can almost hear that he is finally in peace, all the suffering is gone and I know he misses me too.
    Also I am almost sure that I am not formed of parts of a polar animal such as a penguin. Because something deep in my soul hates COLD!

    • Jane says...

      My grandfather called this “The eternal dance of the atoms”. My aunt had this put on his funeral wreath. I, too, find this a very comforting idea which is why this is what I have told my curious five year old: Nothing ever goes completely.

    • Julia says...

      I love this! My Grandfather died a few days before my 10th birthday in 1994. He was going in for routine hip surgery at 69. A few days prior my brother sister and I were all laying out on chaise lounge chairs on my Grandparents big sprawling deck. As we sat watching the August sun go down over Lake Washington, I remember asking him about death. What he said next has followed me through life. “Always remember to stop and smell the flowers”. He passed away two days later with complications during surgery, which was absolutely heart breaking. BUT to this day when I see a beautiful wild pink rose blowing in the wind, or hear/feel summer gusts of wind rustle through trees- I stop and I take it all in- and smile because I truly feel him with me. I hope that I can only pass this on down as I go through life as well.

  84. Miranda says...

    I think about this SO often! Thank you for writing this, and sharing your thoughts and normalizing this conversation. I have wondered and thought a lot about death since I was pretty little. It used to be a big source of anxiety but a lot of things—books, ideas, conversations, even movies— along the way have made me less worried. I did major in religious studies in college and attend an episcopal church sometimes, but my own philosophy is more broad and undefined, and ever evolving. I think that probably the mystery of it all, of life and death, is so much bigger than we have the capacity to conceive of. That is an idea that some people find overwhelming maybe? But to me, it’s beautiful and very comforting. Moments of great beauty, of love, when we experience the sublime—I think maybe then we are brushing up against what is real. We have to let go of the need to know what is next. I could go on and on. There is a quote from Peter Pan—“to die will be an awfully big adventure”. I try to think of it that way. Also, there’s an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation (of all things) called “Negilum” that I find to be really comforting and seems to sum up my feelings about this whole question. Most recently, the book “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” has me thinking beautiful thoughts about what it might imply about our own experience of consciousness, about life and death. Thank you again for sharing these thoughts!

  85. Rachel says...

    My therapist once asked me what I would miss most about losing my loved ones, specifically my parents. When I rattled off a list, it wasn’t anything about their physical beings, it was the things we did together I thought I would miss the most. “Do more of those things,” she said. If I find myself anxious during the daytime, I try to take action by reaching for the phone, dropping a line via text or email, or making plans with my loved ones.

    I search everywhere-in and outside of myself to find something that will settle my anxiety about death. To no avail, I searched these comments thinking I’d find a novel idea I hadn’t considered yet. It is comforting however, in some way, to know that so many of us ponder this subject and is encouraging to have open discourse about it. Thanks for opening the conversation, Joanna.

  86. Daniela says...

    I clearly remember the first time I realized the finality of death, and I was only about 8 years old.

    Now I am 43 and wonder virtually daily – does everyone else walk around thinking, this might be the last minute of my life. Tomorrow may not come. Because I do. I try to make it a positive force in my daily life choices, to live in the moment, to tell my children I love them every day, not to sweat the small stuff, etc. etc., but more often than not it just paralyzes me and makes most things unimportant. I think people don’t think about this enough.

    • Yes, me me! I wonder this almost daily too. You’re not alone. And it is completely paralyzing to think about it too much. Sometimes it hits me in the middle of the night or on the tube and there’s nothing you can do to rid that feeling. I never understand people who don’t fear death or aren’t worried about it – for example, my OH!

  87. Angela says...

    It’s the hope of heaven that soothes my soul! Although, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I can slip into fear sometimes. But my hope is in Jesus. There is so much negative that has been done in these name of Christianity. It makes me mad and sad that others may be so turned off by the people who espouse these beliefs that they do not search on their own and discover their power. Love to all!

    • Mwis says...

      The hope of life with Christ at my end of living makes me excited!I am not scared of dying.

  88. “The fear of flying often kicks in around age 27, studies reveal, when people start to grapple with their own mortality. ”

    This part was interesting to me, because, it now occurs to me that my fear of flying developed as a result of my abrupt and sudden dad’s passing (two years ago). I’m only 21, but I’ll often be stuck thinking exactly about what you talk about here––this idea of no longer existing.

    About two years ago, a few months after my dad’s passing, I was listening to Terry Gross interview the author, Amy Tan, and something Tan said stuck with me:

    “As a consequence of these experiences with death at a very early age, death is something I think about every single day. … Not with a grimness, not with a sense of the curse that my mother had instilled in us, but with this notion that you have to think about your life every day, and is what you’re doing meaningful? Did you discover [anything] new today? What do you believe at this moment? …

    I think it’s a wonderful perspective of life. People think that I’m paranoid — I think they’re avoiding the inevitability that this is going to happen.”

    This made me feel sad yet happy at the same time (and it still does!), and I thought I would share because it seems that the best things in life are a combination of those two things.

    I also highly recommend listening to writer Jenny Hollowell’s essay––A History of Everything, Including You: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/history-everything-including-you_podmash

  89. Alex says...

    I think of death everyday, almost every moment; it’s my job (palliaitive care doctor); it’s my life (I was diagnosed with cancer and given slim odds of long term survival); it’s my heart (my beloved father was killed a few months ago in a car wreck).

    Ultimately I could say so much but instead will say the work and obsessing we do around death is necessary- there are no shortcuts to the grief and the anxiety and the joy and the pain in thinking about our own mortality. It is the journey of realizing that we live and we die and so it goes. Some of us get more time, some less… but today is each of ours. Once you explore it I will say it gets easier… So trite. So true.

    • Maggie says...

      Thank you, Alex. This is beautiful and gave me some comfort. I think about it every day as well and lost my everything, my father, 7 months ago, unexpectedly. Sending love

  90. Have you read How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan? It’s really fascinating and talks about administering psychedelics to people with terminal cancer and how it helps reduce anxiety drastically. People come away feeling “one with the universe” and “love for all human kind” and a sense of expansion. Reading that book, taking psychedelics myself, and having my Dad pass away 3 years ago has been really helpful for me to not feel so nihilistic when it comes to death and more humanist.

    • Summer L says...

      I really want to read the Michael Pollan book. There’s a podcast called “Medicine Stories” by Amber Magnolia Hill and in one of the early episodes (#5 I believe) she interviews a woman, Cari Leversee, who was dying of cancer. Cari ended up leaving this earth 6 days after the episode was recorded. She was microdosing on psilocybin. Listening to this episode really hit me hard and made me think of death in a whole different way.

    • J says...

      100% recommend this book, too! It’s so thought-provoking around the topic of death (and funny, and extremely well-written). It really made me love Michael Pollan, too.

      My dad passed away when I was 21, and I spent the better part of ten years feelings nearly constant low-level anxiety about death. Death felt SO REAL to me, and I didn’t know how to live my life in the face of a gaping, ever-present, hole of inevitable nothingness. Therapy, meditation retreats, travel, tons of books, giving birth to my son, and carefully guided psychedelic experiences of my own have helped heal me to the point that death doesn’t scare me nearly as much any more. I guess I’m less convinced of the gaping hole of nothingness than I once was.

      Lastly, on this topic, I REALLY recommend the book “After This” by Claire Bidwell Smith. Her parents both died when she was in her early twenties, and in this book, she investigates the question of what happens after we die firsthand–or as firsthand as possible while she’s still alive! She sees multiple mediums, does a shamanic journey, etc. It’s told in both a really personal and journalistic type of way, and I found it incredibly compelling, wise, and ultimately hopeful in it’s view of death and how to live life in the constant shadow of death.

  91. Capucine says...

    I think that a midlife crisis is often the moment in your life when your special people start getting sick enough or old enough to actually die. Not old enough to marry or have babies; old enough to die. The milestones can get mighty real right about 40.

    Beloved people died last year in my life, right there under my hands, while I sat in disbelief as the impossible happened, just like birth. And now, I KNOW. That I will die as myself, who I often dislike so heartily. That my beloved older husband will also die. I’m already standing beside the deathbeds of the people I love, the future and right now collapsed into a single moment. Mortality is certainly a case of ‘if you do not know, words cannot explain it, and if you do then words are not needed’.

  92. Anne says...

    I have spent so much time thinking about death. I confronted it very young and spent years working through it. My parents were so patient and so good at giving me a thousand ways to think about it from conservation of energy to just going back to wherever you were before you were born. I almost want to write a book about it.

    What I think most hit home for me recently though, as a mother of two living in New York with my husband and confronting the daily struggle of trying to live well in this city or get out, was when my husband got a new job and we saw we’d be here another five years. I presented it to my aunt as a “well, it’s fine. We’ll just while away a few more years before we get to our forever home.” Her response was, “this is your life!” It echos the “never wish away your life” remark that you mother’s husband made. I think we are often trained to put up with misery and hardship for a big payoff in the end—getting into a good college, graduating law school, making partner, retiring comfortably. It was her remark that made me stop and say, we can’t both be at big law, we can’t hire someone to raise our children for us, we can’t put up with an apartment that feels cramped and tiny and makes me mad every morning when I try to get the toaster out. I can’t keep putting off making friends because it’s hard and my friends are all still in the city I thought we’d return to. I left my job. For now, I am soaking up my two baby girls while they are tiny and trying to catch every laugh. I will go back to work soon. I am also investing the time to develop strong female friendships with women who inspire me. I am calling my family and visiting them. My girls need to know how connected and loved they are. Because when I turn around at the end of all this, I don’t want to see that I put off everything that living is all about. I want to work hard on difficult problems but not at the expense of living a life.

  93. Katie says...

    This post! My goodness. Crying while reading this on my iPad next to my sleeping nine month old son. XOXO

  94. I’ve been thinking about this as well. I turned 40 in December. And My husband took me on a trip to Mexico. We left our two boys with my parents and spent a week together. On our first night we were sipping margaritas and watching the sunset. An older couple (late 80s maybe early 90s) sat down near us. Close enough that I could hear them talking. The man helped her sit down and then ordered them glasses of Chardonnay. I continued to watch the sunset and mildly judge them from afar (my bad 😬) As i listened to them talk, I heard a beautiful thing. They talked of the colors of the sunset. They talked of how magical the colors of the water, sand, and sky blended. He took her hand and kissed it, he said nothing. That gesture and the simple ordinary things they talked and laughed of brought me so much happiness. They were an unknown story to me. Had they been married a year or sixty? How many kids did they have? Where did they live? What did they do?
    The next thing I knew I was curled up on my husbands lounge chair crying, Overwhelmed with this precious life. I had lived half of life already and it went by in a flash! The next half coming up is such a mystery. I wanted to put the brakes on and say wait, have I done it? Have I done life to my capabilities? What do I do now? What do I learn now? In that moment I was so overwhelmed with love for my husband, love for my kids, love for my family, love for the lessons I’ve learned and will soon learn.
    My quick judgment of two people turned on me and showed me my own mortality. It was beautiful and scary and life assuring.
    We all watched the sunset together that night. We never saw them again but their love and mortality touched me forever. Tuning 40 is no joke!

    • Alison Steeves says...

      This made me tear up! <3

    • Stephanie says...

      I loved this comment Aimee! I find that whenever I make a quick judgment from afar, some lesson is dropped in my lap moments later – just like this. Thank goodness 💕 (And I’ve been reading through all the comments with a box of tissues!)

  95. Elizabeth says...

    Wow, what a beautiful post Joanna and such a deep topic for a Tuesday :)
    Just after I read this yesterday, I got into my car to drive home, and “It’s the end of the world as we know it” came on the radio. I couldn’t help but giggle a little!

    I myself am a firm believer in Jesus Christ. That He is God, come down to earth to die and rise again for us ALL. To show us how to live while we are here in this world, and how very much we are loved by Him! It’s so easy to look around at the world and see how visibly things are broken, that things are not as they should be. I take comfort in knowing that this world as we know it is in a broken state and that Jesus will return and restore its glory one day. But in the meantime, we have access to Him now! And can actually experience Heaven on our way to Heaven through relationship with the living God himself! The fact that God would WANT relationship with each and every one of us, as broken or seemingly whole as we may be, is still so incredible to me and the biggest blessing I have ever experienced in life. This relationship is what sustains me and takes away any fear of death, replacing it with peace and actual excitement for the time to come.

  96. Sarah says...

    As a kid I was kept up at night in fear of the nothingness that I thought must follow death.

    Now having my baby, and surviving the death of so many influential women in my life (my mother, both grandmothers and an aunt – all within a year and a half of each other) my fear is not the unknown. I now fear dying having left things unsaid – I want my daughter and husband to know just how much I love them and how special they are to me.

  97. Marianne says...

    I turned 40 last year, the same age my mother was when diagnosed with breast cancer. My youngest son turned 9 years old this year, the same age I was when I lost my mom after a two year fight with cancer. So yeah, I’m thinking about death lately. I think my biggest fear is not being there for my kids, to see them grow up. The other fear is not meeting the goals I’ve set for myself. I found my professional career late in life and feel like I’ve barely ticked off the boxes of all I want to do professionally and personally.

  98. Meg says...

    I love this <3

  99. Carolyn says...

    I so related to your description of thinking about death like a precipice. It just pops up sometimes and I have to shake it off too. I read this while nursing my 4 month old son and just cried and held him – I know we’ll all go, but now more than ever before, I sure don’t want to.

  100. Sarah says...

    I’m an oncology nurse and that often spills into palliative care. I work at a downtown teaching hospital where I see death from the perspective of nearly every culture and religion on earth. It can often be a peaceful and deeply meaningful time, no matter where you come from. Many people come to terms with the end of their lives in a truly beautiful way. They die celebrating their life, surrounded by family and community. After I witnessed this mind boggling process over and over and over I came to realize, death probably isn’t what most of us think it is. I stopped worrying so much about an afterlife (or a lack of one). It seems to me, the trick to dying (and probably living), isn’t a big unknowable phenomenon. Love fullly and completely—that’s it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is really beautiful, sarah. thank you so much for sharing, and for the important work you do.

    • agnes says...

      You’ve put that so clearly Sarah. I have experienced the same but didn’t manage to explain it well. The intensity of the present seems to beat the fear of death… Much love to all the readers here!

  101. Catherine says...

    I find death terrifying. I’m 48, two girls, and I cannot imagine the possibility of not being around for their whole lives. I found this poem somewhere, and read it from time to time when I find myself perseverating on death:

    You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

    And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

    And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

    And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

    • Laura says...

      This is my favourite way to think about death. Reminds me of this poem, “Pass On” by Michael Lee, which has helped me through some tough times.

    • Bec says...

      I love this poem. It reminds me of the way Philip Pullman talks about death in his dark materials series, that we are all dust!

    • Megan says...

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Catherine. It was really (my kind of) beautiful.

    • at peace says...

      Thank you Catherine, I also believe this to be true. To share one personal experience…
      I was meeting with a complimentary therapist who asked me about my life and what was going on with me–I shared that I was struggling with ongoing grief at the loss of my beloved brother to suicide, and the death of my Mother and Father, all within the span of 4 years. When she told me that she was able to connect and speak with the departed, I invited her to my home.
      In an hour and a half, she connected with him and shared messages: that I should study Quantum Physics, that we had been together always, that the purpose of his life had been to experience and understand loneliness due to actions he had taken in a previous life, that he had decided not to continue and to end his life, that he was with me to help me learn and complete my life’s purpose. Whether by accident or synchronicity, I continue to see hints or evidence that he is with me. Whether all of this is true or a habit of a hopeful and naive mind, this experience brought me joy and peace. As she said to me…”he is fine, and now he knows everything…”

  102. Christina says...

    I practice Buddhism, and meditating on death is one of the oldest and most common meditations. In the West, we often have such unhealthy approaches to death, that it really makes sense to ponder it and become comfortable with it, since it is the greatest inevitability. It is not morbid; it is self preserving to get to a state where you are at peace with your own humanity, which at its core means eventually dying.

  103. Ariel says...

    Over a three week span, two years ago my youngest son was born, and my grandmother died. The stark contrast of life and death unfolded before our eyes. My mother has spent the last two years deep in grief, and it’s given me a window into the inevitability of us all losing each other at some point and how much it hurts. What we have realized is that the love still remains, victoriously. It’s in vivid dreams, chance meetings with strangers that share her likeness, finding items that were lost, birds flying through windows, forgotten voicemails reappearing etc. We are finding that perhaps she is around, just in a different form and that maybe we really don’t completely lose each other after all.

  104. belinda says...

    oh my gosh, i’ve been feeling and thinking the same lately too. I’ve had my babies, i’m turning 40 this year, i’ve been putting it down to a midlife crisis. i suddenly feel anxious that i’m letting it all get away from me too quickly, or without seizing the day more. … glad to hear i’m not alone

  105. I think about death all the time. When I was younger, it was fear of my parents dying (still is), but lately it’s everyone. It’s my husband, my young son, and me. I worry about it hitting me suddenly, and it hurting, and my family being without me. I worry about becoming a young widow unexpectedly (or maybe it’ll be a long slow painful process). You assume you’ll get until you’re old and gray, having lived a full life, but more and more, it just occurs to me, there are no guarantees; tomorrow is not owed to us.

    But… Thinking about death makes me really REALLY appreciate the here and now in ways I hadn’t before. Even though it’s a huge buzzkill to be having a great time with my family or friends to suddenly be struck with the thought of “You know they’re all going to die someday”, it offers a moment of blinding clarity and realization. Yes, one day we won’t all be together, but we’re here now. Remember these days and hold onto them for dear life!

    • Lauren E. says...

      This echoes how I feel. As of now, recently married and no kids yet, I can only really think of death in terms of losing my parents and if I think about it too hard it crushes me.

  106. Sarah says...

    I don’t believe I fear death, so much as not being prepared for it. When someone recently said ‘you’ll die without finishing all the items on your to do list’ I couldn’t handle that. That’s not my nature. I want to have my will, and my funeral prepaid, and the hard decisions made simpler by me being clear that it’s OK to ‘let me go’ and to not suffer as I suffer through whatever (dementia, incontinence, whatever! etc).

    Having not seen this place or done that? They don’t matter – I keep those lists to drive me to live deep and wide. To break up ‘eat sleep work repeat’ cycle.

    But I don’t have kids. I don’t have a life partner. Yet. I suspect when I have one or all of those, I might see things very very differently. And I wish for God to give me that change and time.

  107. Liz says...

    There is an amazing author that helps me think about death, Stephen Jenkinson. There is an amazing film about him, grief walker. Innumerable podcasts. He wrote a book called, Die Wise. And there is this article…
    https://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/476/as-we-lay-dying

    • Rachel says...

      Have you read “Die Wise”? Would you recommend it?

    • Laura says...

      Thank you for sharing this! I am a palliative physician and someone grappling with many of these issues. Reading this was fascinating and gave me a lot to think about!

  108. Monika says...

    I am 41, with three small boys at home. I’ve had two strokes of unknown cause and I grapple with the idea of death often and deeply, because it’s a ‘what if’ that has crept close to me. And the value in thinking about death is that it is a counterpoint to whatever you’re going through in life. Maybe it offers you comfort if you are ill and suffering. Or maybe it shines a light on the small bits of sweetness that we all take for granted in daily life. Maybe death isn’t to be feared but rather be reimagined as not an ending but a different part of a journey? For all we know, we end up as sunbeams warming someone else’s skin. Some days, I’m wracked with fear about it all. But other days, it makes the mundane so cozy and meaningful and precious and it takes place of the fear entirely.

  109. I first considered my death on the playground when I was six. I slipped away into a quiet spot between the fence and an old shed. I remember it so clearly. I watched other kids playing and thought, one day we will all die. I remember playing at my aunt’s home, near her piano- I was probably about five. I thought one day my Mother will die and the dread frightened me. I realized soon after–but probably not today.

    I think the longer I live, the more I think about death, and the more I feel comfortable with it. I have a young son and a husband and I stop often to treasure my son’s chubby cheeks on my face, my husband’s body in bed. I think that life is fleeting but its also grounding. I think what if this was my last Christmas and then I think- well it has been so so beautiful. I feel more at ease with death having ushered a life into the world. I too, am grappling, at age 34, with these thoughts. Thanks for sharing and thanks for creating this conversation. We are all in it together, and there is comfort in that.

  110. Jennie says...

    Wow. I never thought of thinking about death – not my death. Certainly the death of loved ones, but not mine. I never thought of it as something to be anxious about. It is almost confronting because it is the only guarantee that I have. At some point, I will be gone. But not now. Not this minute. But at some future point, death will come.

    When I decided to have a baby, I did not write a birth plan. Hats off to those who do, it is just not for me. The baby is the one in control, the baby has the plan. My job was just to listen, take in information with the doctors and then assess and react. I guess I feel the same way about my death.

  111. Rachel says...

    Wow, these are the exact thoughts I had as a six-year-old when I first asked my mom about what happens after you die (we were alone in the car when I asked, my poor mom!). I just remember feeling panicked – the thought of infinite nothingness was overwhelming to me, and honestly still is from time to time, even as a thirty-year-old! Anyway, I just wanted to thank you so much for this beautifully written post. So soothing to know that others have these thoughts too!

    • Eva says...

      yes! i distinctly remember learning about death at the age of 5, and the weight that came with it. my sister and mom were out for a walk that evening, and i don’t recall how it came up but i remember my dad was home and i cried. hard. and he consoled me, saying i had plenty of time and no need to worry about it.

      since then i’ve taken more or less the same tack as jo whenever the thought overwhelms me—force myself to think of something else. but maybe it’s healthier to turn it in a positive light, rather than avoid it. with a baby on the way, now’s a good a time as any to try a new approach, right?

  112. despina says...

    When is your birthday Joanna? I am a fellow Aquarian who is turning 40 this Saturday the 26th (I like the thought that I used to share my bday with Paul Newman :))
    I am married but have no kids, nephews or nieces and I sometimes wonder who is going to inherit or chuck all my belongings when I am gone.
    I often think about death and have done so from a rather young age. I remember my mum insisting on taking me along to pay our respects at her uncle’s funeral. It was the first time I ‘d seen a dead body from that close.
    It was not pleasant, but she insisted that death was part of life and we had to acknowledge it sooner rather than later.
    Which was a powerful lesson, seeing as my dad died when I was 20 and my mum died when I was 28.
    Keeping ourselves protected from the bleakness that is death by refusing to hear or think of it is absurd to me. We all proceed to death as soon as we are born. There was nothing before and I am pretty certain that there is nothing afterwards. And I am ok with it :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      mine is january 31st. happy birthday to you on the 26th! i’m so sorry about the loss of your parents. you sound like you have such a healthy approach to death, i’m inspired xoxo

  113. molly says...

    I’m curious Jo, you talk about deeply personal things on this wonderful blog but I haven’t seen much about your experience as a child of divorced parents or your experience being a twin (I could have missed the posts). I would love to know more about your experience with both – but understand they are also incredibly personal. Love the blog and basically want to know everything about you (sounds weird when I actually typed that out, since you are a stranger :)

    – xoxo TMI

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’d love to write about both! it’s funny, i never think of my parents’ divorce or having a twin being that different from other ways of life, because they’re so normal to me, but i guess it would be interesting to discuss and hear others’ thoughts. thank you, molly!

  114. caro says...

    I like to think of dead as it is expressed in a Bach Cantata from the 18th century –
    “Komm, o Tod, du Schlafes Bruder” – “Come, o death, brother of sleep”.
    A never ending peaceful sleep.

  115. Johanna says...

    I have been reading your blog for many years, but I’ve never written before now. Such a beautiful piece and it hit me at the exact right moment. Thanks for putting our collective thoughts into words.

  116. I’m ok with the thought of my own death. Maybe it’s because it is some far away event. I’m young-ish and healthy. I have told my loved ones my desires when I die. Enjoy my tattoos, med student, when you dissect my cadaver!
    And other than that I don’t really think about it. This past year I have been thinking about the kind of person I want to be remembered as. I have no delusions that anyone outside my family and a few close friends will remember me.

  117. I feel the energy of life through nature and animals and oceans, and it feels full and alive and like it contains the cellular wisdom of infinite and eternal intelligence and we are all a part of that eternally.

    I appreciate this quote from Abraham-Hicks. This has helped me to align my perspective and calm anxiety. January 22 was my 70th birthday so I have embraced this wisdom more fully with each passing year.

    As humans — we love you so much — you have a screwy perspective of this continuum of life. Most humans believe that you come into these bodies and you live for a little while and you get it right or you don’t and then you leave, when really what is happening is you are eternal. You never really leave.

    And even when you are no longer focused in your physical bodies, you are still consciousness and you are still focused on what’s going on here on Earth. There is a collective consciousness that is so interested, so eager about everything that you all are about. And that Source Energy is what Man wants to call God. You all have direct access to that. Abraham-Hicks

  118. Mia says...

    My mom died when I was 23, and it was (and still is) the most devastating thing that happened to me. Since then, I though a lot about death, mine and of the people I love. And just like you, ‘not feeling anymore’ terrifies me. Especially since I went through some really difficult times and I’m now in a much better place, loving life more than ever. Sharing a quote from Murakami that I think about every time I think about death. “Death is not the opposite of life but an innate part of it. By living our lives, we nurture death.” x

  119. Kelly says...

    I’m in my mid-20s and I feel like I confront death daily. I was raised Catholic but I’m not a regular churchgoer. I’ve had some health scares recently that do leave me wishing away my life. When you’re in chronic bodily pain, it’s hard to be grateful. But I also know (because my illness comes and goes in cycles), that there will be days, after unimaginable pain, when all feels right with the world and it’s like I had never hurt. I like to think death will be something like that.

  120. SB says...

    I have been thinking a lot about death lately too – I’m in my mid-thirties and in my 20s, experienced a lot of death of loved ones. Now, as my dad gets older (in his mid60s) and my step-grandmother approaches twilight (in her 90s), I’m noticing how much Americans generally and me specifically struggle with the idea of deaths: our and others.

    I’m not afraid of dying (yet) but I am almost paralyzed by the thought of not having my dear old dad around. My faith in God means I believe peace comes afterwards, but I know all too well how hard coping can be for those of us left behind. I’m trying to read more about rituals of death and dying in other cultures and in various religions to find ways to welcome death. It feels silly to be afraid of something that is an essential part of the natural world, and I want to make peace with dying while it still feels distant to me. Currently, my favorite thing to remember when I start to feel anxious about loved ones’ deaths is a morbid but beautiful quote from the Book of Common Prayer, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

  121. Emily says...

    This poem sums it all up for me:

    What the Living Do
    Marie Howe

    Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
    And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

    waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
    It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

    the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
    For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

    I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
    wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

    I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
    Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

    What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
    whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

    But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
    say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

    for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
    I am living. I remember you.
    From What the Living Do, copyright © 1998 by Marie Howe. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.

    • Lauren says...

      Wow. Beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing!

  122. Char says...

    I haven’t read through all the comments, but if you put ‘Alan Watts Acceptance of Death’ it is pretty much my thoughts on death and dying. When I first realised at a young age that one day I would die, I found it comforting to think of the before, before I was alive.

  123. Maureen says...

    I wish I could explain eloquently how much my faith in God has helped me through my life, through suffering and loss, abandonment, uncertainty, depression and pain. But I can’t. All I can say is that I know that comfort is real, that it is meant for everyone and I wish it for everyone…try taking a step of faith and you may find yourself “surprised by joy”.

    • JA says...

      I echo this sentiment! The Heidelberg Catechism sums it up well:

      “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

      “That I am am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

  124. Joy says...

    Last year I had a health scare which catapulted me into a tumultuous season fraught with darkness and anxiety. I believed God was with me, perhaps nearer than ever. But I was still scared. Mostly for my children. How would they cope when I was gone? It was a devastating thought. But I grew so weary with worry. And one day, while I was driving, something dawned on me all of a sudden. Yes, there were things I would be leaving behind. All that is bad in the world: sadness, brokenness, pain. And good things too: the shadows of what is Real, glimpses of Glory, echos of Eternity. But I would be going to the place where all the Beauty came from. Forever. And upon realizing this more fully than I ever had before, an overwhelming sense of peace came over me. I had tears of joy… and can you believe it… excitement. I genuinely look forward to that future glory. I do not wish my earthly life away. And I’m still human – I don’t long for death! But I DO long for Life and true Life is found in Jesus Christ.

    C.S. Lewis describes it well in The Great Divorce, “Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains… Everything becomes more and more itself. Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness; but your darkness cannot now infect our light… Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”

    • Em says...

      Thanks for this, Joy (and Jo). My grandpa died this past week, and ever since he was diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer’s several years ago and then especially since my daughter was born last year, thoughts about death and especially the horrible aspects of aging on loved ones have robbed me of some joy. I have been afraid that at 38 I will never have the blissfulness about life of younger me again. But maybe that is on purpose. Now I know to drink in the joys there are–laughs with my girl friends, nose touches with my daughter, conversations with my parents–more deeply and to cherish those. I am a Christian but sometimes the dark parts of this life can drag one down and you lose perspective. Thank you for your reminder, Joy, of the Light that cannot be infected with darkness. A hug to everyone out there struggling.

  125. Nora says...

    Same!

  126. Rachel L says...

    I live in a church square, and so an ancient graveyard (last inhabitant arrived in the 1830s) forms our front garden. I have always found it incredibly peaceful and calming to be surrounded by the dead. And, as the family who lived in our home in the late 1700s are buried just a few yards away, it’s also made me realise that we never really own anything…we just look after it in the best way we can, and then move on (physically OR spiritually) This has helped me to ‘let go’ of many things. My darling Dad was terrified of death, and when he wasn’t far off leaving us he held both my hands and said ‘what do you think it’s like to die?’ He had dementia (although he knew who we all were, which made a huge difference) and was quite childlike. I so wanted to comfort him. I told him what I really believe…that it’s not frightening at all. That we don’t know anything before we’re born, and after death it’s the same. There’s no blackness, no limbo, no eternal anything. It’s like when you have an operation…they put you under and when you wake up you can’t believe the time has passed and you knew nothing. Only you don’t wake up. A few days later he died…suddenly, alone, in his sleep and incredibly peacefully. Three years later, I think of him so often at the very end and hope he wasn’t frightened…and then I think ‘if he could do it, so can I’ It helps. I miss him. The finality is the scariness. But I also believe that confronting it, in the way that we all are on this post, sharpens our experience of LIFE. It’s such a wonderful, magical thing. And, for me, the certainty that it will end makes it more beautiful. x

  127. Rose says...

    Yes. In many different guises. When I was 19 my sister attempted suicide, so I’ve though about her dying. I’ve thought about my parents dying very often, it was one of my fears when they went out, which must have been good fun for our babysitters.

    Then, on exchange in Egypt, two years after the revolution I was sitting with some new friends who casually mentioned their wills that they’d made up during the days in Tahrir square. They’d seen friends die and they didn’t want to die without last words to friends, parents, siblings. They were like me, in their early twenties, sipping coffee and debating this and I felt like such a fucking baby at that moment. Like such a coddled human being next to these brave contemporaries. That really hit me and since then I’ve though about once a month that I should make up a will, just in case. As a kindness to those who could be struck by sudden loss, but also as a reminder to myself of what I have right now. Haven’t done it till now (six years later…).

    As for the experience of it. I’m mostly scared the dying part will hurt. That it’ll be terrible and painful and long. Then at times also scared for the nothingness, but it’s mostly the preceding bit that I just pray won’t be bad.

  128. Amanda says...

    I feel like it’s no surprise that you find yourself thinking of death more after watching Free Solo, honestly. I know it’s just a movie, and what we choose to internalize from films can be very fleeting and unimportant, but I feel like the feelings of fear and dying that come up from that movie can really linger.

    I’m a rock climber, and so is my partner. He has been climbing a lot longer than me, and never really felt a fear of dying until I started climbing with him. One day, while climbing a problem outdoors, one that he has done at least a dozen times, he slipped and felt he could not finish. He later confided in me that while he was up there, he couldn’t help but feel scared about what would happen to me if in that moment he fell and something awful happened. He started to worry about the trust I put in him when we climb together, and what might happen to me if I fell while he was belaying me. He started to worry about what would happen to our life together, our plans for the future, and suddenly life felt so fleeting.

    We are both in our twenties, and I have never thought about dying in a serious way, and it was hard for me to relate to him. However, when I watched the film, I suddenly started thinking about life and death in a different way. Life is so precious, especially when we have important relationships and people around us. This fear has actually made me love rock climbing more, as it has helped me come to terms with the fear I now have to learn to understand and embrace in life. I definitely recommend trying it for those who who may be grappling with this thought– or any other sort of extreme sport like parasailing, scuba diving, or skiing (with safety precautions, of course)!

    I make sure to value individual moments more now, and sometimes that does mean buying a pair of seemingly unimportant earrings! Because in this moment, they make life wonderful, and fear feel so far away.

    Sorry this comment is so long haha

  129. I went through health/death anxiety a few years back when my father-in-law passed away at the relatively young age of 57. It took me months of reading, researching and eventually CBT to get through it. Something my Mum said – a nurse of over 30 years – really stuck with me; it’s something she says to families who have heard bad news, or to anyone pondering their own mortality: “All any of us really ever have is today.” You can take that either way I guess, but all I thought was “And isn’t today beautiful because we have it?”

  130. Sarah says...

    Someone who was dear to me passed away 10 months ago and it has made me feel so *alive* since then.

    “I’m here explaining what sex is to my daughter who just asked.”
    “I’m here to drive my son to his doctor’s appointment.”
    “I’m dancing in the kitchen with my husband.”
    “My daughter woke up in the middle of the night and I’m here in my bed when she came looking for me.”

    I do believe in life after death, but to be alive is a gift.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s really beautiful, sarah.

  131. Sarah says...

    I was raised in conservative evangelical culture and now identify as a post-fundamentalist, progressive Christian (i.e. I am deeply informed by the Christian tradition and see Jesus as our best and fullest picture of who the divine is, but also believe that love is love, science is real, and that God is scandalously inclusive and always flipping upside down our tidy ideas of right and wrong, and who’s in and who’s out).

    Even though my spiritual tradition talks beautifully about life after physical death, I still have anxiety about death because I am afraid it will mean the loss of connection in my most intimate relationships, and because I don’t know what to expect! As a therapist, I try to lean into the experience of the many little “deaths” I have experienced within myself, and witnessed in my clients, and how often what felt like death (emotionally, psychologically, relationally) actually made space for something new to emerge and grow within us. Similarly, my image of God as a force of love that heals and restores the world helps me feel a little less afraid. I am far less focused than I used to be on scoring a ticket to heaven in the afterlife, and more focused on the possibility of justice and love gently re-shaping the world. In the end, my beliefs regarding life after death are summed up beautifully by Julian of Norwich:

    “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

    Thanks for your vulnerability & transparency, Jo!

    • Julie says...

      Thanks for this comment. You have so nicely summed up my own religious status, which I’ve never been able to do well after an evangelical raising. It seems like Christianity comes with so much (often rightful) cultural baggage, and the disclaimers are endless. I feel like I have to attach to anything faith-related, “But I love science! And powerful women! Racism is real and deeply embedded in our nation! And…and…”

      My patron saints are Nadia Bolz-Weber, Austin Channing Brown, Krista Tippett, Anne Lamott, and Barbara Brown Taylor. :)

    • Sarah says...

      Julie, we would obviously be friends–your saints are mine! Can we throw in Rachel Held Evans?

    • Julie says...

      Yes to RHE! So comforting to find you here. :)

    • Brendy says...

      I will look up these authors because i feel the same way about religion as you. Thanks!

  132. t says...

    I haven’t read through the comments but to me this is the exact reason why most organized religions exist. It is so much better to believe that there is some sort of afterlife. And I so understand and appreciate that.

    I am somewhere between agnostic and atheist (I don’t believe in god but I do believe in the combined power of humanity as a higher power) so I certainly don’t think there is an afterlife; that finality is hard to reconcile. I hope I am wrong!

  133. Em says...

    Dang. Wasn’t ready for this one today. I think of death too often, I fear. After having children, and dealing with aging parents, it is on my mind more than I think it should be at 34.

    Months after I had given birth to my first son I suddenly broke down in tears in front of a friend. She asked what was wrong, what had made me so sad. I said that the thought of never seeing what my son would be like as a grandpa was devastating. She just responded with, “But we still have SO much time with him!”

    He is now almost 3, and I know very well that the hearbreaking truth is that no amount of time will ever be enough. I have never been religious, but there has to be a way, right? That we are reunited somehow? I just can’t accept that death is the end.

  134. Sharon in Scotland says...

    I’m 55………..that is not middle-aged, I’ve got to the top of the hill and am hurtling down the other side.
    I remember realising when I was 14 that I was going to die, it was shocking and scary, still is, but now I feel sad, lots still to do……………do I have time?

  135. Brianna says...

    Your post comes at a very interesting intersection in my life. Grappling with understanding what life will be like without certain loved ones.

    The last sentence “Because at the end of the day: “We are all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass” took my breath away.

    What a beautiful and poignant reminder of what life truly means.

    Took my breath away.

  136. Kristin says...

    I am a Christian, but admittedly have trouble conceptualizing what must happen when we die. I can’t bring myself to accept there is only one answer. I do find comfort in the belief that the afterlife is outside of time, and so it’s possible that we are all already back together again, if that makes sense. My dad died when I was 18, and at 30, this past July, my son was born. I love to think that my dad already knows him.

  137. Elise says...

    One of my favorite poems that I read again and again, like you. It says so much.

  138. Would never forget this:

    Soak it all up, even the hard parts. You are alive.

  139. J says...

    I think about death often. I wouldn’t say that I worry about it, but I find myself preparing for it. I hear the saddest song and half-jokingly tell my husband to put it on my funeral playlist. I have a bin for each of my 3 daughters and I include things like their birth stories, my wedding ceremony, lists of their favorite childhood books, etc. And I just started a folder for each with copies of my favorite articles & posts on life. They’re still too young to understand or appreciate most of them, but in the event that I’m not here later, I want them to know who I was, how I felt, and that I was thinking of them.

  140. Joyce Alexander says...

    I love the quote at the end of this post that “…we are all just walking each other home…”

    I have peace when I think about my death. Not because I’ve made friends with the concept of death, because I do believe it to be an enemy, but because I place my hope in a God who promises to do the unimaginable, to undo death and make “Everything sad will come untrue…”as J.R.R. Tolkien so richly puts it. The truth is that death, as the old quote says is not a period but a coma. As humans, we are made to live eternally, and by God’s grace, He has seen fit to ensure that He himself has made a way to bring His children back Home, to a world, this world, redeemed and made new, a very real place that will no longer include pain, or sorrow, or sadness, or evil, where every tear will be wiped away by the very God who made us and promises to right all wrongs in the end, to bring justice, and peace. Death does not win. What a comfort that heaven is not a far off place in the clouds, but a world, this very world restrored, a new home where men and women dwell, living, working, and creating…enjoying God’s good presence forever, as it was always intended to be. And with this mindset, I find that the small, seemingly everyday tasks that fill my time take on a different meaning. Serving a God who sees means that even the smallest acts of mercy, cleaning the face of my children after a meal, washing the clothes of my family so they can be worn anew, taking a meal to a friend who has suffered loss or sickness is a lasting and weighty endeavor…in faith, we are joining in the restoration of all things, not in vain because all things and people will eventually vanish, but because it is a gift and a privilege to come alongside the Creator and join Him in restoring order, showing mercy, and bringing redemption where we are in our own little corners of the world while we wait with anticipation for a day when “all things will be made new”…

    C.S.Lewis said, “In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

    • Breanna says...

      THIS. Thank you, Joyce. Beautifully put.

    • Sarah P. says...

      So much yes. I can’t fathom what my life would look like without the hope and faith I have in God and the promise of eternal life in heaven. This promise of purpose literally gives me life and although I am not immune from fear, I am not paralyzed by it.

    • Jovita says...

      This is so, so beautiful Joyce. I am so thankful for the God who loves us, sustains us and promises to renew all things.

  141. Lindsay says...

    Have you ever read books about near death experiences? Obviously nobody can know for certain what happens after we die, but considering the miraculous nature of this life, it’s very hard to believe there isn’t more. Also realizing I’m more than my mind. I am a witness to my thoughts. I am a soul/spirit that exists beyond this chitter chatter, fear and ego going on in my head. I doubt that part dies when our physical body does. I also have had spiritual experiences that make me believe in a higher power.
    John Lennon quotes:
    – everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.
    – I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.

  142. Justine says...

    I just turned 42 and realized, I too, started thinking about death more as I turned 40. The fact that I am a parent of two small girls of course plays a big part of this. This article did nothing to help me. :-)
    This paragraph hit home, because I often have the thought “Who cares about this” …
    Now and again, I’ll be looking at my children playing on the rug and it will cross my mind that we’re all going to die someday — and then I’ll think of things like earrings, and they seem so ridiculous. WHO CARES??? We are going to die, WHY ARE WE WEARING EARRINGS. But then maybe that’s the point of jewelry? And sports? And Beyoncé’s songs? And complicated soup recipes? To be distractingly wonderful and fill up the moments and let you just play with your children on the rug?

  143. MD says...

    I think that I may see death differently as a pediatric oncologist. Bottom line is we have relatively little control. Of course, we can do things with the intent of remaining healthy – exercise, don’t smoke, etc, etc. But in reality, death (sadly and frustratingly) does not discriminate.

    I carry this with me as the idea that life is to be lived. Most of our little problems (such as my earring broke – ha!) are not in fact problems at all. We are lucky to be alive each day that we are and so we may as well enjoy the hell out of it, all the while caring for others and for ourselves.