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. Oh lady. I feel this. I wish we were friends and could go have coffee, which would turn into cocktails, because talking about how hard life is can take awhile. I believe in Jesus but I hate saying I’m a Christian because I feel like it just has shitty connotations. I also don’t like saying I’m religious because that connotes being involved in something regularly. The only thing I’m involved in regularly is believing I need Jesus, listening to Cafeteria Christian podcast a lot, and having honest, vulnerable conversations with my community. We talk about the importance of emotional health and healing, how we can grow by encountering our childhood wounds head-on, and how God never intended for life to be this hard when He made us. We talk about how death is not part of the plan. That it’s not the way it’s supposed to be and that He mourns with us. We also talk about how we still can’t answer the question about WHY God doesn’t stop it all from happening and wave His magic wand (what am i saying, he doesn’t need a magic wand, he’s God) to fix all the things…but that we do believe he created the good and that he’s still in control of the world despite us being finite and human and unable to understand what the fuck. All I know as a 30 year old, after a whole lot of unexpected loss the last few years and a lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety (especially about terminal illnesses and death), is that I can’t do any of this life without my people. I know I’ll continue experiencing tragedies and eventually die…but I can only hope to do that in the company of fellow sufferers, questioners, believers, hopers, friends. I believe they’re my gift from God when I can’t feel Him or understand Him.

  2. Jen H. says...

    I’ve always found this Mark Twain quote oddly comforting:

    “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

  3. tEEj says...

    My mom died 2 years ago and I realized that I don’t worry about dying, but I do not want my people to die. Each loss feels like it chips away at me. But also makes me wiser, kinder, and more appreciative of the present.

    Additionally, and maybe because I have MS, I worry more about living poorly (sick, lonely, or with a disability) than I do about it all ending.

  4. Lauren says...

    Thank you, thank you – a million times, thank you for this article. I was just talking about all of this with my therapist yesterday. For me (and probably for a lot of people) anxiety and death go hand and hand. Fear of death is what landed me in my therapist’s office in the first place. The thing I find most helpful is talking about it, which you so beautifully did here.

  5. anon says...

    I haven’t read anyone’s comments yet. But I think about death a lot. I think about it in multiple ways. Death of loved ones, death before being able to say goodbye vs. death that allows one to sort through things for closure over time. Mainly I think about my first miscarriage I had, and how different life might be if I hadn’t. I think about the very difficult struggles my (alive) child has and will have for life, and I think about how unfair it is for my child to have to live life like that, which leads me to think about our death. Would after-life be better than the current one for us both? It is a very real and dark space that I visit on a semi regular basis. Likely nothing would happen from my own doing, I’m probably not that type of person. But when I read stories about parents taking their children’s lives and their own because of special needs, while I feel sadness, mostly I feel understanding. No amount of outside love and support could ever fill the deep vast ache that a parent feels when their child has to live with a challenge for the rest of their lives. The neurotypical/able-typical world is not there yet for intellectual differences. Sometimes the prospect of ending this cruel life’s offerings and going on to the next is enticing. But I won’t because just as much as I am pulled to those thoughts, I am pulled by the life that is my child’s and their ownership of it.

  6. Marie says...

    I’ve been thinking about this A LOT lately.
    My grandpa passed away last Sunday, and his funeral is this Friday. He was 90 years old and died peacefully, pain-free.
    The hardest thing to fathom right now, for me, is the thought that losing your parents in your forties to sixties is… normal. Natural, even, much more so than losing a parent at a young age or worse, than losing a child. My dad is just experiencing something that I will probably experience as well, and twice if things go “well”. It’s so weird to think of a death as sad but not tragic. I do get that it’s the way we all want to go but it’s a reality that’s just so hard to grasp.

    • Emily says...

      Hi, Marie–I’m sorry for the loss of your granddad. My grandfather died in July at 97 and my grandma followed on Jan 5 at 97 as well. They were married for 74 years.

      Being with my dad and his five siblings, watching them carry the caskets of their parents, and really seeing them–as the old men they’ve become (they’re all mostly in their 70s) took my breath away. They buried my grandma less than a week ago and I just felt so bereft for my dad–he lost his mama. And while many say to him, you are so lucky to have had her until your 70s, to him, he was a little boy whose mom was gone.

      xo

    • Marie says...

      Hello Emily, thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time to answer.
      You’re so right – it’s impossibly hard to see one of your parents become a child again, because everybody does when something like this happens. My dad had already lost his mum so I know (even if he doesn’t show it) that he now must feel so alone on Earth, with the two people that gave him his life now gone. I think it’s even harder when you don’t believe in God, because then you really realise that you’re standing entirely on your own. He’s fifty and he’s also a father responsible for his own children, but he lost the people he looked up to when he was most vulnerable and the only adults who have been in his life from the very very very beginning, shielding him from hardships and ensuring he had everything he needed to grow up in a loving, safe environment.
      It’s all so very sad and makes me dread so so much the moment I’ll be in his place…

  7. Jessica McMurtrie says...

    My sister passed away from brain cancer three months ago. I am knee-deep in grief right now but it has changed my perspective on life and death. For one, I have always been a worrier and let the what-ifs creep in. Now, I find myself saying “why the hell not” all the time. I used to be terrified of death and now I know that when I die, I will see her again and that brings me great comfort.

    • Emily says...

      Jessica-I am so very sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine. xo

  8. Chris says...

    I love these scriptures on life and death:

    1Co 15:54 — 1Co 15:58
    So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
    “O Death, where is your sting?
    O Hades, where is your victory?”
    The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

    I believe these scriptures explain that God wants us to enjoy our life on earth (“God…gives us the victory”); and though we die someday, the “sting of death” is taken away for those whose hope is in Jesus Christ… And we can live life in such a way that isn’t “in vain”. Earrings and all!! :)

  9. I feel like this more often than I think is normal. My mum said to me once that death is like it was before you were born and hat freaked me out so badly I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and panic about nothingness and have a mild existential crisis. Having the capacity to understand our morality is a problem of the human condition but I guess it does help us really appreciate life :)

    • Chantel says...

      So nice to hear that I’m not alone with these feelings! I feel exactly the same way as you do. Occasionally the fear creeps in so bad that I feel paralyzed-it is a completely overwhelming feeling, like I’m drowning.

  10. Breanna says...

    I truly appreciate the thoughtful and gracious exchange of ideas and thoughts here. Thank you for opening up these important discussions, Joanna. I respect your honesty in sharing your heart process with us!

    I definitely think about what comes after death a lot. I absolutely have fear sometimes and my response is to turn my mind back to the truth that I know. :) For many reasons (scientific, personal, and logical, to name a few), I am a Christian – I live my life with and for Jesus – and actively align my perspective with what is written in the Bible. The Bible and my relationship with Jesus give me certainty of what will happen after death; this certainty is what I build my life on.

    For anyone curious, I enthusiastically recommend seeking the answers the Bible holds! What is there to lose?

  11. In the 80s, my now deceased father gave me the same advice Harvey gave you (though I was 5 and eager for Christmas to arrive). But it stuck.

    I don’t fear death because I was ok before I was born and I expect the same after I’m gone. There has been so much death – especially when you include all living things. It’s going to be ok. And in the grand scheme of the universe, I am so small and insignificant.

    My sister has already died – that also makes me less fearful.

  12. Amanda says...

    Wow! Great post.
    I am in my 40s and experienced a terrible car cash last year (with my family in the car). Although we all ended up being OK in the end, it was a realization that no matter how much I try to plan life, I truly have no control, and — honestly — I and any member of my family could die at any time. While this sounds negative, it has been weirdly freeing and has really enabled me to live in the moment and not postpone the things I value or really want to do in this life. It also helps me to better appreciate everyday moments in life — a great Americano, walking in the rain, an amazing song, my child’s eyelashes, my friends texting me strings of emojis, and so on.

  13. Himali says...

    CoJ Team,
    Could you possibly add a ‘Love’ or ‘Like’ button on the comments section? Some of these comments are so heart-wrenching-ly beautiful, I wish there was a way to appreciate them without having to comment on each one of them (Would probably take me a few hours ;)). All you ladies are just so wonderful….

    Unfortunately, I grappled with this question too prematurely, thanks to some material I read when I was barely 10-11 years old. Ever since, it really really bothers me to the point of panic that ‘One day I am going to sleep and then never wake up again’. Rather than worrying about what will happen next or afterlife, it is FOMO!
    That fear stayed with me throughout my adolescence… I developed hypochondria.. It took me couple of years to understand that worrying about it did not make any difference to its inevitability. What mattered was what I did while I lived and what legacy I left behind.
    This still bothers me, out of nowhere, but I have learned to shrug it off for now..
    Love, Himali

    • Rachel says...

      Heart emoji…

  14. NancyS says...

    I’ve always lived in the moment (even at age 60) and never thought to far into the future. Recently loosing my husband at age 57 keeps me thinking about it all the time now! Talk about a wake up to get your ducks in a row. As much as I miss him, what saddens me more is what he is missing – going to the movies with his son, favorite songs on the radio, a good grilled bacon & cheese sandwich. I’m not very religious, I don’t worry about heaven or hell, just what simple pleasures I won’t have anymore once I pass.

  15. Abby says...

    In the LDS tradition we believe we’re all “spiritual beings having a mortal experience.” I do believe in an afterlife, but that doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t unsettle me from time to time. But knowing I have a Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, as well as loved ones who went before, waiting for me when I die brings a lot of comfort. Also I read a book once about people who’ve “died” and come back and a common thread was that their fear of death was completely gone. It was an incredibly peaceful experience for them. That comforts me.

    • Andrea says...

      Hi Abby, do you happen to remember the name of the book? Sounds like something I’d like to read.

  16. Starla says...

    This was such a beautiful thing to read, Joanna, I loved it. It made me giggle and tear up, and mirrored a lot of things I’ve reflected on. Thank you!

  17. colette says...

    The first funeral (my 18-year old cousin’s suicide) I went to was very difficult and my father said then that “dying is just a part of living” and it helped me then as it has helped me at all the later funerals I have attended. I play the piano and so I play at most of them, giving some peace to the deceased (I hope) and it feels like a gift to me to be able to express my sorrow through my fingers.

    Just yesterday I heard the word Bardo which is connected to Tibetan Buddhism, a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or at at, death. It’s the intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth (thank you Wiki!). I make sure I don’t avoid the quandry and remember reading — when I was a pre-teen — a book about after-life experiences. It was calming in a way. I remain open to reading and listening to stories about death (“After Life” – Radiolab; “The Secret of My Death” – This American Life, and so on). By not shutting out the unknown, I can feel more comfortable knowing we will all go one day and maybe someone will play at my funeral. Happy Birthday Jo. 40s! are the best.

  18. Lydia says...

    Conan O’Brien had an interesting perspective in last week’s New York Times:

    I had a great conversation with Albert Brooks once. When I met him for the first time, I was kind of stammering. I said, you make movies, they live on forever. I just do these late-night shows, they get lost, they’re never seen again and who cares? And he looked at me and he said, [Albert Brooks voice] “What are you talking about? None of it matters.” None of it matters? “No, that’s the secret. In 1940, people said Clark Gable is the face of the 20th Century. Who [expletive] thinks about Clark Gable? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be forgotten. I’ll be forgotten. We’ll all be forgotten.” It’s so funny because you’d think that would depress me. I was walking on air after that.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/arts/television/conan-obrien-tbs-show-reboot-half-hour.html

  19. BQ says...

    I lived in a foreign country, with a civil war and death around me, as a school aged child. I felt real fear for my family. I faced a real threat and hidden in a safe haven.
    Back in the US as a teen, I couldn’t relate to my peers that didn’t recognize their own mortality.
    I don’t follow organized religion, but I feel death is a sacred event. As a health care provider, I’ve seen many people withdrawn, very lovingly, from care by their families. I’ve concluded the only thing to fear is not sharing how you feel with the people you love and care about in life. Don’t regret not having those important conversations. And I hope I keep my sense of humor too!

  20. asia says...

    My gran used to say the same thing as Harvey! Now, when my youngest gripes about wishing it was Friday, or vacation, or summer, etc. I always say, “Remember what my gran used to say!” And she’ll roll her eyes and say, “I know, I know, ‘Don’t wish your life away!'” I’m guessing that one of these days she’ll have a revelation about it;)

  21. Hannah says...

    “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)

    • Raks says...

      Yes! Death is the beginning of REAL LIFE with Jesus.

    • Holly says...

      Yes!

    • Patricia says...

      Came here to say this. Thank you, Hannah.

  22. Tracy says...

    I’m not really afraid of death for several reasons. (However, I am afraid of what might lead up to it and what will happen to my loved ones after I die. I don’t want to die in a scary way, obviously. I also still haven’t made a will and trust to protect our kids, so not being prepared is on my mind.) After we die I’m assuming it’s going to be peaceful oblivion until reincarnation possibly? This Buddhist belief makes sense to me from a scientific standpoint because matter is made up of energy and energy never dies, it’s just transformed into something else. So I believe that the energy that makes up us will just be transformed into something else. For this reason I love the idea of those tree burial pods.

    Another reason I’m not afraid is because I’ve also dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts in the past. Because of that experience, I know what it’s like to have being alive feel so exhausting and painful that the prospect of death seemed like a peaceful, pain-free alternative at the time.

    The last experience that gives me a relatively fear-free view of death is that when my grandfather finally passed away, he actually died twice. At the ripe old age of 99, he’d already watched his wife and almost all his brothers and sisters pass away. He wasn’t afraid of death and was ready to go when it was his time. (He’d already been resuscitated during bypass surgery in his 70’s.) One night he went into cardiac arrest and he had a Do-Not-Resuscitate order, but the paramedics ignored it. When he woke up in the hospital he was not happy. He wanted to go when it was naturally his time, in the comfort of his own home and the paramedics thwarted all that. He died in the hospital a few days later. (At least the hospital respected his DNR order.) That whole experience made me furious. My beloved grandpa been robbed of the peaceful end to his life that he wanted and it was a complete waste of everyone’s time and energy.

    But this whole discussion has made me realize that I have to get myself and my family better prepared for the inevitable. I have to make sure that they know how much I loved them, that that love is eternal, and they should take it forward with them into the rest of their lives. That was the gift my grandparents gave me.

  23. Becca says...

    Getting engaged was the first time I really “got” death – my then-boyfriend proposed, I said yes, and then immediately had the realization that one day I would plan his funeral. What the?! My Aunt passed away a few years ago from a terrible combination of mental and physical illness and watching her lose herself without a fight really highlighted for me that dying is inevitable but living is a choice that you have to consciously make every. single. day. I am so sad that she did not choose life. I will always choose to live.

  24. Farhana says...

    I’ve wondered your perspective on death, after Paul. How has it changed you?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s funny, i expected it to, but i didn’t really. i think because paul and i were so different. he thought so much about his legacy, and what makes life meaningful for him in that way, whereas i think SO MUCH about my two boys and how i could ever stop mothering them. that’s why the memoir the bright hour really hit home for me — because she was a mother who had a similar reaction to facing death as i would, i imagine. paul’s death was impossibly heartbreaking, and i still miss him all the time (we spent this past new year’s eve at his grave), but we were so different in terms of our personalities and approach to life, so his death felt removed from my own death experience, if that makes sense.

  25. Nectar says...

    When I was 6 I asked how old my parents were and was shocked to find out my dad was 50 years older than me. I cried, didn’t sleep, worried that he was so old he wouldn’t be around when i grew up.

    My parents got really concerned and decided to talk about death openly. Reassured me that he’ll be around for a long time and to take in the time we have together. Death is as real as birth. We spoke about his funeral (play his favorite jazz songs), his requests (no crying, only happy memories, don’t spent a lot of $$), and also spoke about the legalities (wills, life insurance).

    It may be a bit morbid but I find it comforting, and it won’t be as shocking for when the time comes.

    He’s 83 btw and still kicking!

  26. meredith says...

    I don’t believe in an afterlife or heaven or hell or any of that. You just cease to exist. But! All of your parts…..down to all of your tiny atoms and molecules go on and on and on. Taken up by countless living things. Becoming countless more! My favorite place on earth is a salt marsh. When I die, my instructions ask for cremation and having my ashes spread in the closest salt marsh. I love the thought of my bone fragments being picked up and carried and deposited by water over and over and over for all eternity. For whatever reason, I take great comfort in that. I am still very much a part of this wonderful place.

    • Starla says...

      YES!

    • Lisa says...

      I absolutely love this. Nature always wins and through it, we go on and on.

    • inga says...

      I now take comfort in this, too. Thank you!

    • Jen H. says...

      This very much goes along with another quote I love, from the novel “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith (the protagonist has just attended her first college chemistry class):

      “Everything, decided Francie after that first lecture, was vibrant with life and there was no death in chemistry. She was puzzled as to why learned people didn’t adopt chemistry as a religion.”

  27. Jo says...

    I’ve been thinking about death a lot the last year as well and am fascinated by the Death Positive Movement. I love the idea of thinking and talking about death so that we take out the scary mystery of it – and start accepting it as just another part of our journey. I also signed up for “WeCroak” which is an app that sends you 5 quotes about death / dying at random times throughout the day – much like death, which often comes randomly. It sounds morbid to some people, but I think it’s quite beautiful. In other cultures, that have been around much longer than ours!!, they handle death so differently with beautiful ceremonies, and blessings of the body after the soul has left. Here, we try to avoid it as much as possible; we don’t like to see the lifeless bodies, and we even avoid conversations with our loved ones because it makes us sad or scared. I will never forget a story I read about a woman who was sitting with her grandmother who was dying. The grandmother kept trying to talk about what death was going to be like, but the granddaughter kept changing the subject because she was sad and scared. The granddaughter reflected on that time later, saying she wishes she’d been there for her grandma, because her grandma was probably scared too and she deserved to be able to talk about her next great adventure.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh wow this is so fascinating! thank you!

  28. Loved this. I became aware of my own mortality at the ripe age of 14 when I was crippled with fear for weeks and months (I have proof of this in form of my diary). Anyway when I talked to a friend about this many many years ago she said “I´m not afraid. It´s all a circle.” and somehow this stuck with me. It´s all a circle – room for interpretation I guess, but somehow I find this thought very comforting.

  29. Samantha says...

    I used to have a more ‘black or white’ view on death. Heaven! Angels!

    Now I believe death is just change. We are morphing from this current existence into… something else. Nothingness? The great Universe?

    I do know, at a very physical level, at the very least, my body will be morphing into something that ends up feeding the Earth. Once I came to grips that it is just a ginormous shift, it gave me a sense of relief. I change every day! If I can embrace the shifts within my current existence, I can definitely embrace the Great Shift at the end of this experience. <3

    • I just finished reading From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty.

      It’s a really good read – and so interesting to learn about what different cultures do to bodies after death and how people interact with bodies after death.

      Big takeaway – western after-death body care isn’t conducive to returning to the earth – now looking into what my options are to to make my exit a little more gentle…

  30. KJT says...

    A little over a year ago, I lost a family member in a brutal random crime. He wasn’t yet 40. He was the life of the party, a truly wonderful and caring man with hundreds of friends. Everyone has so many fantastical stories about him, some funny, some touching. Losing him really put life in perspective to me. So much stuff just isn’t worth the extra worrying, but of course there are still worries. I try not to compare myself too much, but when in doubt I always wonder what he’d do, and if possible, I try to do that.

  31. Susannah says...

    I certainly feel some kind of way about death. My brother died in a car accident when he was 29 and I was 26 and I had that “well, this is definitely real” precipice epiphany full frontal. When I find myself grasping at the edges of trying to figure out what this entire business of living and then not-living is (oh, you know, that old thing) and how I feel about it, I always return this poem by Marie Howe and when I’m done reading it every time I’m like whew, OK, I am moored again in something that feels like truth.

    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.

    • Julee says...

      Well if this isn’t the most haunting, beautiful poem. I teared up reading it. Thank you for sharing.

    • Tovah Close says...

      That’s so, so beautiful. Thank you.

    • Megan says...

      This poem. Yes– I “feel moored in something that feels like truth”

      Thank you.

    • This is one of my all time favorite poems <3

  32. Else Endecott says...

    That’s the beauty of knowing our Savior lives! He was born, lived a perfect life (He is the Son of a loving God), died and then overcame death when He was resurrected! If we truly understand our Savior’s role in this whole beautiful plan of mortality, we don’t need to be fearful! Christ was resurrected and was reunited with His loved ones and so will we!! Everyone will overcome physical death, that’s our Savior’s gift to us. That’s how much He loves us! Spiritual death (our separation from God) is overcome through our Savior as well, but we have to believe, have faith, follow the commandments, repent when we make mistakes and serve our God and fellowman, and then with our Savior’s help, we will overcome spiritual death too! It’s all such a beautiful plan! Our Savior is the key! I’m so grateful I’ve been taught this since I was a kid and then as a missionary for my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in my twenties I got to share this knowledge with others so that they don’t need to be fearful of the unknown future. Now as a mom of five, I’m trying my best to teach my kids this knowledge so they know the plan and purpose of this life.

  33. Megan says...

    Death is definite, living is optional. Today, I choose to live. It may not be an over the top, stop the presses sort of day, but it is mine and I will do my best to enjoy it!

  34. Kath says...

    I’ve dwelled on this a lot over the last two years both because of a death in the family and because I started reading a lot of Civil War books and the deaths of so many left me wondering. It’s weird because sometimes I’m indifferent to the thought of there being nothing—of never again thinking, etc—of it all being over while other times it’s overwhelming and sad. I’m 22 and everyone thinks I’m too young to dwell on it. I guess I just hope that there’s something and that we remember us.

  35. Joslyn says...

    I have been reflecting on death a lot recently. As a mother of a beautiful one year old little girl and with another on the way I am somehow hyperaware of my own mortality. The interesting thing to me is that now that I am a mother I feel both more anxious about death and more calm about it. I selfishly want to spend every living, breathing, blinking moment with these precious children my husband and I have created and nurtured. Yet at the same time I feel like bringing them into this world has made me accomplish something so profoundly grand that I can go off into the good night knowing I made this world better because of them. And somehow at the end of the day that gives me peace.

  36. Jenny says...

    Having my little girl made me think about death in a much more concrete way. As an only child, I always worried that I would die before my parents. I couldn’t stand to think about how sad they would be. I remember relief right after my daughter’s birth thinking, “OK. Now if I die, my parents will still have Elizabeth.”

    Then they handed her to me and I thought, “Oh no! What if I die before she grows up?”

    Elizabeth also thinks about death. Sometimes she will ask me when I will die and what will happen.

    I tell her that I will always watch over her and stay with her if I can. When I die, she should imagine that I am still there with her and lying next to her as she falls asleep. And that even when she is gone too, and the Earth has fallen into the sun, I know that the dust that made up my body will ride on the winds reaching out to her.

  37. Lilly says...

    I had this very vivid dream years ago: I was dying, and I felt as I was becoming part of the stars, and the moon, and the planets. At that point, I probably believed more in heaven than anything else, but there was this feeling in my dream of “Oh, right! How did I forget this? This is what happens.” And it felt like finally being whole after so much searching for that same exact feeling. Now, when I think of death, I can perfectly recall that feeling, and all I feel is peace. I have two little kids (so little!), and I worry more about my death for them than for me.

    • Ashley says...

      So so so beautiful. I think at the moment we Shift over, we must all think that — “oh yes! THIS. I’d forgotten!” Thank you for sharing — I cried a bit.

    • Sarah says...

      This is beautiful, Lilly. I think that with death will come a kind of remembering. <3

    • Lindsey says...

      Wow! What an absolutely beautiful, gift of a dream!

  38. lil j says...

    My adorable Aunt Jimmye (who was a pistol) used to say “I’m just going up ’round the corner, kid.” She lived to be 100, and my spunky, survived-the-Great-Depression, death of her beloved, funny husband, ran-away-to-California auntie had it right.

  39. Emily says...

    I’m 42, and lately I have felt more comfortable with the idea of making room for others who will come after me. I don’t want to put more pressure on our suffering planet by stretching my life out too long and taking finite resources. Our children and grandchildren will face so many unimaginable challenges, and that breaks my heart. So, with the time I have left, I’ll do my best to live simply, to make others happy, to protect my beautiful children, to stay healthy, but when Death comes, as Mary Oliver said, I want to step through the door full of curiosity.

  40. Jordan G says...

    I believe in heaven. It doesn’t take away the sting of death completely, but it does provide peace and strength to endure the mourning. When my dad was killed in a car accident 3 years ago, I was fully shocked and heartbroken. Yet I was filled with peace and comfort in a way that can only come from a higher power. I understood my time with my dad was a gift, and I was grateful for it. I was peaceful about his place in heaven, and that gave me strength.

    I understand this is not something everyone believes, but I wanted to share my personal experience. My faith and belief in heaven does not protect me from the sorrow of death, but it provides peace and perspective that keep me afloat during times of great loss.

  41. Camille Joyeux says...

    A beautiful metaphor reminding how mysterious it all is…

    In a mother’s womb were two babies.

    One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”

    The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

    “Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

    The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

    The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

    The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

    The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

    “Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

    The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

    The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

    Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

    To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that’s so beautiful, camille.

    • Christine says...

      This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

    • Noelle says...

      This lovely, and made me cry. Thank you for sharing.

    • NancyS says...

      Wow – amazing – really makes one think!

    • Tovah Close says...

      Whoa. Yes.

    • Marisa says...

      This is cute, except fetuses have no life without their mother having life. This story was written to make a case against abortion. As a women’s health care provider, I am always amazed at how ordinary and extraordinary both death and new life can be. We all make the best choices for ourselves and our loved ones regarding the beginning and the end of life.

  42. SJ Bryan says...

    My grandmother passed away two years ago. Before her death, her mind started to go. She spoke to my mom about how when we were not visiting her a woman, she called her Emily, would come and sit with her. Only my grandma could see her. I don’t know if Emily was a product of my grandma’s dementia, or if she was a visitor from the other side, but I like to think she was an ancestor, a family member, coming and watching and waiting with my grandma as her body shut down and she was preparing for death. I believe our spirits lived before we came to earth, and I do not believe death is the end. I believe our spirits live on. I am religious. I’m a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My beliefs bring me comfort and peace. My oldest son is getting ready to leave home, and I feel so many emotions. I celebrated the day he took his first step as a baby, but over the years it feels like each step he takes leads him further and further away from me. But as hard as this is, and no matter how far his life’s journey separates him from me, I will always have him, and he will always have me. We are still together, like the quote you shared, just walking each other home.

    • Ashley says...

      Oh my gosh, SJ! I just watched this Ted Talk about the visions/people that the dying see! Basically, as we reach the end of our life (naturally), the dying begin to have dreams of those who have gone on before. Sometimes, they are visited in their waking hours by these spirits. I found it beautiful & inspiring.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbnBe-vXGQM

  43. Twyla says...

    I can’t say I’m overly nervous about dying myself, but the though of how it would affect my family really terrifies me. My husband really would not manage well, nor would my parents. I guess you would say that I am fairly religious, and am comforted by the Bible teaching that death is like a deep sleep, where you cant feel pain, heartache, anger or anything at all. We aren’t afraid to sleep, and it’s nice knowing that people who have suffered a long time prior to dying are now getting the rest they deserve.

    • Elizabeth says...

      This is what terrifies me the most. I don’t want my children to be sad or my husband to be overwhelmed were I do die too soon. I also don’t want to miss out on their lives and growing up years! Death itself is less scary, but what’s left behind is terrifying. I can’t think about it.

  44. Emily says...

    I’m not a worrier, but I am married to one, and it FREAKS HIM OUT how much my family cavalierly talks about death. (e.g. any time my parents travel my mom calls to say “we’re on the plane, jewelry is in the safe deposit box, the key is hidden under that box in the attic”). My parents and I have always just thought/talked about death and planned for it as the one sure thing. I think there’s something comforting in that, almost.

    I am a practicing Christian, but I’m not confident what post death looks like. I’m also not concerned about it and would rather focus on living a full life that I’m proud of, and not letting the concept of death steal my joy. I see the guarantee of death as a great argument for enjoying life good food and wine – I’m not trying to live a long, spartan life (I’m also not free climbing in national parks, though, I guess everyone has their line in the sand).

    • Kristen says...

      Emily, I love your way of thinking, “I see the guarantee of death as a great argument for enjoying life”. I think I’ll go have a snack now!

  45. Cara says...

    I believe in God and that we’re all children of God who came to Earth to have a mortal experience. The way I see it, each one of us—animals too—was a soul created long before our bodies were. I don’t think there’s any other way to explain the deep familiarity and affinity we have for people and things and places before we even fully know them in this life. When I think of death, the emotion I feel the most is profound missing. But I don’t think where we go after we die will be a sad place. I think it’s more of a resting spot, like coming home after a beautiful but exhausting vacation. I’ve always thought of what Dumbledore says to Harry: “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all those who live without love.”

  46. Jane from Brooklyn says...

    Agree with Nicole Taylor ^ I believe in life after death and feel that is the true existence. I’ve also had many people die in my life and have had stories that reassure life after death. : )

  47. “One thing I feel clear about is that it’s important not to let your life live you.” -Irvin Yalom

  48. Elizabeth Linke says...

    Hey !:)
    i absolutely can imagine how you feel about death. I had the same anxious Thoughts. I’m catholic and believe in God :) my mum always told me : of Course you are afrid bc you don’T know what happened, right`? she also told me her idea of Death, that our bodies of Course don’t excist but, our Souls get together and there is a place when you find all of our loved ones , so you actually just step into another ”life”. Sounds actually postive , right :?
    another Thing i can recommend is the Little book of Khalil Gibran called PROPHET . Inside the book you find some good description, for example about Joy & Suffering ,the real meanings behind those words, also it’s a wonderful Help to many questions in Life ,and how to handle Situations. There is also an Explanation about how to understand Death, he wrote something like : Of Course you are afraid of death , like a horse is afraid and jumpy , before you put your Hand on his head just actually to stroke his head , right?:) and it’s the same with DEATH god just will put his Hand on your head :D and welcome you . )
    He also writes that life and death belong together as love and hate, as joy and suffering etc. The book really helped me to understand all sides of Life and Death. Maybe You’ll check it out and get some answers for your Questions ,too;) live life to the fullest and don’t be afraid :) !

    PS: sorry for my baaaad english , I’m from Germany Hamburg:) mostly i speak german,

    Have a lovely Week;)!

  49. It’s a hard, hard question and death has freaked me out many times. For me the answer has been delving into the spiritual side of life through the physical. Who thought it was a good idea of design to make us complex worlds of breath and thought and food? Believing that all this just turns into… nothingness is something that just doesn’t make sense when considering the vastness of all we are now, and the grandness of the world. Our finely-tuned selves and universe has led me look beyond what I can see, and there I found a God, or Being, who is love. It sounds so weird, but everything about life is weird. We can’t explain it, so I decided in lieu for faith and trust.
    I don’t regret this decision for one minute. Anxiety is swept away, not by knowing what the future holds, but knowing it holds me in love.

  50. Rachel says...

    I went through a period a few years ago where I was focused on this a lot. I felt the same ways as you do Joanna. I realized that I know exactly what happens after we die, it is the same thing as before we are born- we just don’t exist. The thought of no longer existing is so upsetting I would lay up at night staring at the ceiling worrying about it.

    One thing that makes me feel better is telling myself that one of the most painful and beautiful parts of being human is grappling with the knowledge of our own mortality. It is okay to feel dread, pain or grief on contemplating our eventual death. The understanding that our lives will someday come to an end is the reason why humans are compelled to make beautiful things, and forge connections with one another. I still sometimes feel that deep sadness and despair that can come with thinking about dying. But then I remember that feeling is a uniquely beautiful part of being human and it softens the pain a little.

    • This is so beautiful, thank you Rachel.

  51. Rachel says...

    I am a nurse and worked on a floor that had very sick patients for years. I have seen how death punctuates one’s life. For some it is a gentle period at the end of a long rambling beautiful sentence and for others it is a comma smack dab in the middle of a thought that will never be finished. I work in an office doing public health work now but my mind will still wander back to certain patient’s rooms. I am happily drinking my coffee reading a blog and then I’m instantly taken back to the bedside of a young woman and her mom telling me to go home and hug my baby after she said goodbye to hers. I am forever changed by all of those moments and am so happy to just be alive. Life is beautiful and devastating and we are all so lucky to live it.

  52. I love this. Thank you for making space for these important questions. I used to have paralyzing confusion and fear about death. What resolved it for me, in surprisingly deep and lasting ways, was a path of serious meditation and mindfulness practice. Many traditions throughout the world (including mine, which is Zen — but many other insight lineages, too, including that of Ram Dass, who’s quoted above) have developed surprisingly efficient and life-changing paths of practice that can take you (yes, right in the midst of modern life!) across the threshold of what’s famously known as awakening or enlightenment — which is really just a cognitive shift, a shift in perception, that lets you see for yourself your true nature (and the nature of reality). It’s called “seeing through life and death,” and it’s not nearly as difficult as you might expect. For me, the path of personal practice and discovery has been utterly life-changing. My death anxiety (and so many other life issues) dissolved at the roots, so to speak, leaving space, joy, peace, clarity, integration, and freedom. Our culture historically has placed these traditions of liberating contemplative practice on the margins, but they’ve been cultivated for thousands of years, are becoming more accessible now, and can answer these exact questions about life and death in deeply liberating, relieving, and vitalizing ways. It helps your life come alive and blossom. I highly recommend taking your existential questions seriously! They can become an amazing turning point :-) Any meditation and mindfulness tradition focused expressly on insight, and embodying your true nature, will help. (And I teach Zen, in particular, at enteringthestream.co, if you’re interested!) Thanks, Joanna :-)

  53. Katharine says...

    Maybe death is like childbirth. You are terrified of the unknown going in, but once you’re there, you are just in the moment. And as everyone says with childbirth, look how many people give birth, so everyone gets through it.

  54. Colleen S says...

    I’m aware of death. Being 35, and my parents in their sixties, it’s something I think of on occasion. My grandparents (of which only one is still living) died at 66, 70, and 71. I live in an area that seems to be THE zone for fatal car accidents, and I’m highly stressed out by the apartment I live in. I worry, but figure if I don’t think about it, I lower my stress somewhat.

  55. Cailin says...

    This is so beautifully written and really hit me in a way I didn’t expect. Thanks for writing!

    I have a terrible habit of imagining headlines or stories about my death. I caught myself doing it the other day as I was headed out of the house in a rush…it hit me that I might die in a car crash and people would say “she had just made bacon, the pan was still on the stove, and she didn’t realize those were her last moments…” and suddenly I was convinced I really would die that day. I didn’t, but wow. What strange ways we all deal with the mystery and certainty of our demise.

  56. gk says...

    i think about death often – i always have (anxious kid? over-analyzer?). i remember a few nights, being wide awake thinking about death. i don’t really believe in god or heaven, so my world view is more along the lines of…we probably just cease to exist. which is a crazy thought. i remember when i fell in love with my husband, i was stricken when i realized that one day he was going to die – i’d be so sad without him! (how arrogant of me, assuming he’d go first).

    my daughter died soon after birth, so her brief life/and death are something i think about daily now – just a part of my new normal. somehow, i am now less afraid of death. when i die, i will be wherever she is – heaven, reincarnated, nothingness – who knows? her death made it very clear to me that there is only so much i can know and control. no amount of time with her would have ever been long enough. perversely, that thought comforts me. even if she had a long and full life – even if i died first – it would never have been enough time. same logic applies to my husband, son, all my friends and loved ones – there will never be enough time with them. we have little or no control over how long we live – but we can make the most of the time we have. we control the things we can control and enjoy the beauty and love around us.

  57. Denise says...

    My husband used to say “life’s a bitch, and then you die”. Well didn’t he know it, he died at exactly 50-1/2. I’m not afraid of death now, except for leaving my babies. They are 28 and 22, and I’d like to be around a really long time for them. But still, when the time comes, I am ready.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that you still call them your babies. xoox

  58. Gina says...

    I’m actually excited about death! (Not in a weird I’d-like-to-die-right-now way, but in a that’ll-be-fine-too-when-it-comes way.)

    Science and logic offer a good deal of evidence that there is more to come after we die. I’m convinced that we are very much “there” when we die and that it has the potential to be quite lovely.

    I encourage you to do some digging. Study and scrutinize the arguments from all the sides. You’ll find what’s what.

  59. Liz says...

    Not sure if this is healthy or not, but I find the fact that we are all going to die one day comforting because it really reinforces the notion that all these material things people get hung up on don’t matter. Does not matter what your credit score is, or if you bought a house or the right house, or what have you. You can’t take it with you when you’re dead. Like they always say, no one on their death bed wishes they spent more time working, This universal truth, that we are all going to die, reminds me to prioritize experiences and relationships over the “rat race”, namely: work and material things.

  60. emily says...

    Beautiful post. Reminds me of when my daughter was eight and her good friend died from a sudden illness. One morning I woke up to a text from her mother that she wouldn’t be carpooling to soccer, and within days she was gone. Oh, the pain. I’m not religious, but spiritual in the sense that I don’t discount any possibilities. I don’t need answers and I am in awe of life itself and our infinite universe, but all of a sudden I faced having to explain death to my devastated, confused, and angry little girl. I had no time to prepare, was I saying the right thing? I tried to cover all bases in my explanation of death, hoping something would bring her comfort. She did NOT like the idea of her friend as an angel, which now makes me smile, I wouldn’t have gone for that either. Turns out she shares my preference for “let the mystery be.”

    At the time I wondered if it was right to take her to the funeral, to have her witness a mother’s raw suffering while placing her hand on her daughter’s coffin as they exited the church. “I feel so sorry for you,” she wrote to the family. Our tears were drops in their ocean of sadness, but connected us just the same.

    Somehow we made it through, and I think it brought us even closer. This tragedy is something we now share, and when she sees me catch a glance of her dear friend’s picture that she has slipped under the plastic cover of her middle school homework binder, the look on her face tells me she’s ok. She understands why I hold her so tight. Oh what a life she will lead after this experience: overflowing with love, caution, empathy, wonder, gratitude.

    • Lainey says...

      “She understands why I hold her so tight.” I’m tearing up! Thank you for sharing this story Emily

  61. Meg says...

    I find this really comforting and grounding: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

    ― Richard Dawkins

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, that’s really beautiful. thank you for sharing, meg.

    • pam says...

      such a simple beautiful fact.

  62. b says...

    I read once that everyone dies twice. Once when you die, the second time is the last time anyone speaks your name. I take an odd comfort in this. It also motivates me to leave a great legacy so I can weasel a little more mortality out of this place than the average person ;)

  63. LCS says...

    My nine month old daughter died from cancer in 2017. I am a physician, but my training did not prepare me for the horror of her death. I have always been an atheist, and this view was only further solidified after her death. She belongs nowhere more than she belongs in my arms. I also don’t believe that she is not truly gone as long as we remember her. Her death is sure and irrevocable, and it doesn’t help me personally to pretend otherwise, although my husband derives comfort from this idea and practice.

    As we emerge from the wild grief and parent our 3 year-old son and our daughter due in a few months, we try to make choices that will lead to a more meaningful life. For me, this means acknowledging the beauty in the humanity around us, caring for what is human about ourselves and others, valuing what I have to give and how I want to spend my time. That is all we have at any moment, and there are no guarantees.

    I think I read this on this site, that the pain does not grow smaller, but your life grows bigger, and that has held true for me.

    • Colleen says...

      “She belongs nowhere more than she belongs in my arms.”

      Wow, LCS. I am so deeply sorry your daughter died so young. <3

    • Your daughter absolutely should be with you and your family. I am sorry to read this.

      I hope you have people around you who are also comfortable with maintaining her memory.

      If you are comfortable sharing – what is her name?

  64. agnes says...

    Since I was a little girl, I have been terrified by my own death. That’s mainly why I became a philosophy professor, I wanted to study about death and the misteries of life. It didn’t help at all. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I took a year off to be with her and hold her hand until her last breath. That helped. I spent all my time with her, shared stories with her, listened, soothed, fed her. Her calm, her being alive until the last moment proved me that we should trust the present. I understand that fear of death is unavoidable, but let’s pretend and play the game of life. Let’s pretend we’re here for ever!

    • Hettie says...

      “but let’s pretend and play the game of life”

      Absolutely love this sentiment.

  65. Laura D. says...

    Thank you for posting this. I don’t know why, but I guess I assumed I was the only one having some of those thoughts. I have been afraid of death for as long as I can remember. As a child, the thought of it would close in around me at bedtime, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Any time I focus on it even now as an adult, I get this swim-y feeling in my head; you described that feeling so accurately in your post. I don’t know what happens after death, and I think that is what frightens me most–the magnitude of the unknown.

  66. Cynthia says...

    Because of my faith, I am not afraid of death. I have dealt with death all my life. My maternal grandfather died when I was 10, my maternal grandmother when I was 11, my dad died from cancer when I was 19. In between, other relatives and and elderly friends died. My younger brother and only sibling died from cancer when I was 56, and my mother died 2 years ago at the age of 94 and I was 62. I am comforted by the Bible verse, “Lo, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” So I feel surrounded by my loved ones. I can see why death could be scary if you have no religious beliefs.

  67. Sarah O'Connor says...

    For the sake of intellectual honesty I’ve tried on the idea that this is it and when we are dead its over but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I believe that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. I believe that life is a beautiful thing and/but we are only seeing a small slice of the big picture here. I believe that we are collectively learning and growing and awakening to our own divinity and interconnectedness. I believe we are in a sense creating “heaven on earth” through this process and/but that there is still more to the story.

    And as a mother I see no benefit to meditating on the possibility of my untimely demise. I am here! I want to be here! I do not control the universe and/but by creating community, modelling loving relationships and just being present right now I am giving my children what they need.

    • Dana says...

      You must be my spirit sister :) I believe everything you’ve written here.

    • Sarah O'Connor says...

      Pleasure to make your acquaintance Sis ;)

  68. Elena says...

    Every once-in-while my husband will turn to me and say, “You know, we’re all going to die one day?” Yup. I know. (He’s a little freaked over it)

    I don’t believe that anything comes after death and for now (age 40) I’m pretty calm about it. My five year-old on the other hand, is going through all the feels regarding death. We had two family members pass in the space of three weeks back in October and she is still processing everything. Last night she broke down and sobbed during bath time, saying she’ll miss me when I die.

    We haven’t sugar coated anything for her: everything dies. We talk about being present, being kind and loving to those we love and knowing that you can carry people in your heart. And hugs… lots of hugs.

    • b says...

      I will occasionally remind my husband that “one of us is going to be a widow” He is in denial. “Nope” is his only response and the conversation is over :)
      My toddlers aren’t asking yet but it does concern me that there isn’t different vernacular for my ipad and phone that frequently “die” and then are back to normal after a quick charge. Does anyone else have better wording or am I overthinking this?

    • Elena says...

      B, I wouldn’t over-think it too much, but if you like, you can say that the battery is drained. :)

  69. Emma says...

    When I was about ten, I became intensely aware of death, crying every time I left my grandparents house, convinced that this was my last visit with them (they all lived at least ten more years). Five or six years later, I remember telling a friend that I had a weird feeling that I wouldn’t live to thirty. She wisely (VERY wisely for a teenager) told me that I only had such a feeling because thirty felt SO far away. Now here I am, on the verge of 29, and preoccupied by the potential of my own mortality. Perhaps it’s because I had a visit to the ER for a kidney infection this fall that felt like it came out of nowhere and really hit home the idea that my body is out of my control, or that teenage premonition is in the back of my mind, or I’m just grappling with my own mortality in a totally normal way (Nathan Feiles comment has BLOWN MY MIND).

    Either way, booooooo. It’s the worst.

    When I have these moments, I try and ask “what are you really afraid of?” and the answer is never death itself but instead “leaving my husband alone in this world” or “only being remember as dying young and tragically”. How do you assuage these fears? They feel so real, so scary. At the very least, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in these feelings.

    • Paula says...

      “When I was about ten, I became intensely aware of death, crying every time I left my grandparents house, convinced that this was my last visit with them (they all lived at least ten more years). Five or six years later, I remember telling a friend that I had a weird feeling that I wouldn’t live to thirty.” <— OMG the SAME happened to me!! I feel so understood

  70. Sisi says...

    Another commenter mentioned how at-peace the idea of death was as a young, single woman. I think that’s where I am. I’m perhaps a strange case, though, because I’ve always recognized death as coming whenever it pleased. Several children in my life died when I was a child myself, so being young never equated to immortality to me.

    I came to grips with this reality in middle school. I grew up Christian and it has always been a major part of my life, so I think I see death as a “coming home” moment (don’t tell my mother)? As Dumbledore said, “death is but the next great adventure!” (Yes, I just quoted HP :P) This may sound crazy, but I’m excited for the day when there is no more pain, no more societal hatred and prejudice, no more hiding ourselves from others. Instead, we’ll be with Love itself (which is Jesus) and that is honestly the hope of my life! The ironic hope of my life is the end of it, haha.

    On the downside, as someone who also struggles with anxiety/depression, suicide has crossed my mind on a number of occasions. Ultimately it’s the love for my family and friends that has kept me here, as well as the conviction that it would be wrong in the eyes of the Lord (although, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he would banish me from heaven over it!). Thus, although I don’t fear death, I still have to make an effort to enjoy each day of life!

    What an interesting subject and such varied views! Thank you for bringing it up on this blog. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments, everyone!!

  71. Sophie says...

    Oh my – this one hit home for me. As long as I can think I struggle with the thought of death. Lying awake I imagine it like floating in an endless universe and it is a scary thought. Then one day I got good advice – from a 7 year old. We were driving home with my two children and their cousin. It was a beautiful late Summer evening and it was getting dark outside. One of us mentioned death and my niece said: „you shouldn‘t think about death when it is dark outside, you‘ll just get scared.“ She is so right. From then on I tried to stick to daylight when wondering about the end.
    But lately it did not work so well – I have a small baby and like with all my children I find that birth is linked to death in a way that makes me think of death more the usual. And soaking in every moment with this little boy also makes the thought of having to leave unbearable. I just hope I won’t have to and try to let these thoughts pass by in the night.

  72. Danielle says...

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! My birthday is next week (on the 31st and I’ll be 32) and as I get older I get more and more anxious about my parents and them eventually dying. I realize it can’t be easy for them either because everytime I speak to them I bring it up (what a downer!) – and I’m realizing it’s more my heightened anxiety (from work stress, recently going through a breakup, etc.)

    So in an attempt to regain control of my thoughts, anxiety, and sleep, I’ve decided to look into a therapist. But thank you for this, it’s nice to know others struggle with this as well.

    • Alyssa says...

      Danielle – I am right there with you. I’ll turn 30 this year and realize more and more how scared I am to lose my parents. Like the thought just destroys me. I’m starting to get that feeling about my boyfriend (who will one day be my husband). The thought of live without those we love the dearest can be unbearable. It’s been suggested that I see a therapist too. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  73. Lizzy says...

    (I can’t credit it, nor can I be sure that the quote is quite right, but…) A number of years ago, I read this line.

    “Here I am, ready to go. And yet, not in the least ready. For in my unreadiness lies my readiness.”

    I find it both comforting and motivating.

  74. Megan says...

    Don’t think about it. What’s the point? Make a will, get life insurance if you need it, install smoke detectors, etc., get your check-ups. Cover your bases, and keep it moving. It’s coming for everybody. Enjoy your life.

    • Emily says...

      Yes!

    • Katie says...

      This is a very pragmatic approach and I appreciate it.

  75. Annika says...

    I am more anxious since beeing a mom. With two little ones I think about death far more often then I used to in my late 20th. I am scared of flying now, which is ridiculous because I used to fly all the time jobwise. But now all I can think of is will I be able to safe them? And if I´m flying solo I am freaking out because I wouldn´t be able to see them grow…
    My kid though told me last week that it will be totally cool to die, as then he can see all the real dinosaurs in heaven!! And he hopes for a house with a pool in his second life.

  76. Emily says...

    I have worried about this a lot more since having children – I think so much is the horrifying thought of not seeing them growing up. However, it’s always been relatively abstract until my Dad was recently diagnosed with stage IV bowel cancer at the age of 58. Although there’s still a chance that it may yet be cured, it has truly made me think about mortality in a way that I have been lucky enough not to have had to until this stage. Death (both mine and my loved ones’) scares me, but it has made me appreciate what I have, and helps me be more present.

  77. KL says...

    Death can be scary sometimes to me for three reasons: 1) I don’t know how it will happen- and I’m terrified that it will be painful, 2) if it happens “too soon” I may not have traveled as much as I would have liked, or done the things I would have liked- basically I worry that I’ll be dying and think *AH, IF ONLY I’D GONE TO FRANCE INSTEAD OF SIT ON THE COUCH THAT ONE WEEK I HAD OFF*, and 3) I just gave birth to the most beautiful and perfect, happy baby three months ago, if I died “too soon” I wouldn’t get to see the person she becomes or hear what kind of laugh she has, and I wouldn’t be able to teach her all the things I want to teach her. (also, random, but sometimes I wonder/worry who will be the one to find my vibrator as they’re going through my things…please God, not my father)

    • Dawn says...

      Oh my god, KL your last sentence made me laugh so hard! I told my best friend where I stash mine and said, “If I die please get rid of my vibrator before my mom finds it!” So glad I’m not the only one lol.

    • Cailin says...

      …please God, not my father

      hahah this has made my morning.

    • Mae says...

      I’ve spent the last three hours reading these comments in between long crying jags (what I will per-grief?) because I have been so overwhelmed by the simple fact of mortality over and over again these past five years. Much of my anguish is like yours – that I don’t know how or when I will die and I feel strongly that I’ve squandered a good decade thus far and that’s a real bummer and now I have a two-year-old who brings such limitless love into my heart that it is impossible to comprehend that one day I will not be able to feel that love or shower him with it.

      I very much needed to laugh with your light-hearted phrasing “IF ONLY I’D GONE TO FRANCE” and “please God, not my father,” especially giving me a giggle.

  78. Colleen says...

    I listened to the podcast episode “Notes From A Transplant Surgeon” on Fresh Air last week and got quite tearful. If you don’t have a belief system that restricts it, please consider electing to be a donor. I take peace in knowing that if my body is in a decent state when my eyes close forever, perhaps I can still offer a promising new beginning to someone in need.

    I’m very mindful of death, but not in a fearful way. Usually in the morning hours during my long commute I take time to think about how my life will inevitably end and take a deep breath of appreciation. I don’t obsess over what I hope my funeral will be like, or if there is a passage just around the corner opening up to an afterlife. Rather I take the opportunity to reflect on how temporary and fleeting living is, and to grow my grace & understanding in this realization.

  79. Angela says...

    When I think about my death I worry (and panic a little) that I don’t have all my things in order for the ones I leave behind. I’m 40 with 2 little ones and a husband and want to make sure they know I loved them. But also I want to have practical things ready. So I have written them each a letter every year on their birthday. I also have an envelope amongst my papers called “Things You Need When I Die”. In the envelope is a letter each and all the information about my bank accounts, pension payouts on death, insurance etc and more crucially, the password for my Google Photos account. It may seem silly but knowing I have this ready makes me feel more prepared and in control.

    • Lainey says...

      Not silly at all – very sensible! Someone once told me at work that I should keep everything in order so if I was hit by a bus the next person could take over seamlessly (cheery!). I think the same about home (although I’m not as organised as you). If died or became incapacitated tomorrow, I don’t want to leave a mess behind for my family to have to sort out – in terms of my stuff, money, admin or paperwork. You have some great ideas there.

  80. Emily says...

    I’m turning 40 in 7 months. I’m single with no children. I worry about my parents passing away. But I’m not really worried about myself. Other than the fear of dying alone and no one knowing for too long. I just have this feeling I’ll outlive everyone and no one will be around to worry about my passing. And ceasing to exist doesn’t really scare me.

  81. pam says...

    I think about death as being the end of our consciousness. We just return to the state we were in before we were born, which is nothing. A hundred years from now no one on earth is going to know who you were or say your name or think about your existence at all (unless you were famous in some way, let’s face it). I try to remind myself of this fact daily, to keep a perspective.

  82. JB says...

    I do not believe there is anything after death. What’s scary to me is not knowing when it’s coming; however, when I was in my early 20’s I developed a blood clot in my lung (from taking the pill – know the risk, ladies!). Had I not gone to the hospital, a little short of breath, presenting no other symptoms, with an observant triage nurse, that may have well been my time. It was scary, and I’ve spent a decade reflecting on it. My conclusion is – had that been my time to go, it would not have been helpful to know beforehand. I would not want my life to be time bound in that way. I would not want to trade any of my experiences, the love of my family, meeting my husband, but also: my first failing grade, that fender bender, that one nasty fight with my beloved mum, the time no one asked me to dance. Somehow, all the worst parts of my history would’ve been amplified with an end date. Instead, they’re just a part of my life, my story, that bleeds into the next good and beautiful thing, and that is not finished and has no end date. Not knowing how much time I have is the scariest and the most necessary ingredient of my life – I will just continue and I’m thankful for that.

    • April says...

      JB, just jumping in to say I had a similar experience — blood clot in my lung in my 20’s from taking the pill. It was a miracle anyone caught it. I think often of the doc at the ER who had a hunch and ordered an extra scan. So very, very serious. It is incredible there is not more talk among women about the risks of hormonal birth control. I am glad you and I are both still here to tell the tale.

    • Stephanie says...

      Hi, JB. I’m so thankful you survived this. I love hearing these stories. My good friend/sister-in-law died from this same thing at age 29 two years ago. It started as minor leg pain for months that went unchecked, then a blood clot from her leg traveled to her lungs and killed her. It was so sudden and she had only been married to my husband’s brother for a year and half. We’ve dealt with anger and not understanding why something like this can happen to someone so young. And wondering how we didn’t catch it. I’m so thankful everyone’s story isn’t the same, and I so wish our story had been like yours.

  83. Bay says...

    I believe that after death there is nothing, not as a huge feared nothing but in the way that you just.. Aren’t. And I think that having just one life, so finite, is so short but also the only way to truly have meaning. You will be memories to others and the ripple effect will have small impacts. But there is no hell, no heaven, and no eternal life (what a terrible thing it would be). I think about death all the time, for as long as I can remember.

  84. Hannah Lowe says...

    Cup of Jo is my absolute favourite blog. This is the best space on the internet for women. I love how you’ve taken on this topic – it’s important that we talk about these sorts of things.

  85. I’ve always been afraid of flying, and never truly death. However, as a soon-to-be 25 year-old (yes, I know I’m probably to young to have a cent in this conversation), the older I get and the more possibilities life opens up for me, the more afraid of dying I am. It’s like the future is within my grasp and if it were all gone–I can’t even think it. I don’t think I’d feel anything or be anything after dying, but the thought of not being present to help my aging parents, be a sister to my sister, a partner to my partner, a contributing member to society overwhelms me. How can I not be those things? Yet, I know one day I won’t and it’s the pure inevitability of it–the lack of control–that most frightens me.

  86. Claire says...

    I have come to see death in much the same way as birth. Death is simply a returning to the energy from where you came. We will always be part of the cosmos and there is no ‘endedness’ really. Of course the physical ‘you’ will cease at some point but I genuinely believe the spirit or higher consciousness that is really you, is released back to the wonderful Universe in which we are all intrinsically and eternally linked.

    • Sannie says...

      Amen.

    • Lisa says...

      Yes, yes, yes!!! I could not put this into words, but yes, this.

  87. Amanda says...

    Wow. This post is perfect. I feel like you took the words out of my mouth. Thank you!

  88. Cecília says...

    Dear Joanna,
    I got such a chill when I read the title of this post. I closed the page immeadiately and it took me a good night of sleep to being able to read it. This has been a constant fear in my life – together with an inimaginable disease), a fear I’ve been able to tackle and control. But for the past month and, I’m sure, feeding on the fact that for the past seven years I’ve been constantly losing loved ones and that I’m confronted with age (!) related health issues, I’ve been collapsing to it. Every single night I dread about it.
    Still, I try to count my blessings and underline the great love I have from my boyfriend, family and friends, but it isn’t easy.
    Thanks for sharing and to let me (us) know I’m not alone on this.
    x

  89. I read The Bright Hour while pregnant and also simultaneously dealing with a cancer diagnosis. It was both the best and the worst thing I could have been reading at the time. A lot of the commenters here remark that becoming a mother changed their view on death. This was very true for me also. The very real thought of leaving my husband and our little boy, that I had not even met yet, behind was what kept me awake at night. It was the hardest thing I ever had to face, and all I could do is try to get through it, one day at a time, and just keep on trying to be in the moment and look for the beautiful things in my pregnancy. I have now been in remission for about a year, and my boy is 13 months old and completely healthy. I don’t think a day has gone by that I have not thought about death, but then again I also see so much beauty in everyday life now. I think you cannot truly appreciate the light without a bit of shadow.

  90. Sarz says...

    Such an important topic, and one so seldom discussed! Well done, CoJ. Having a life-threatening operation as a kiddo helped me get more comfortable with the idea that this is all temporary. What a thrill it is, to have friends and books and music and food with us on our little go-around. Of course I’d love for this all to continue on as long as possible, but whatever the fates decide, I couldn’t say I didn’t have it good! Gratitude really is the best buffer. ?

  91. Niamh says...

    What a wonderful post – I always think that my energy will go back into the energy of the world somehow, to be recycled and to become part of the ongoing waves of life. That always comforts me.

  92. Sarah says...

    My school principal died when I was 8, the friend I sat next to in maths class when I was 9, then my dad when I was 10, my mom when I was 13, my aunt, my grandfather, my grandmother, my uncle … all before I turned 28. After all this, I have what some friends have cald a strange relationship with death… you’d think after all this, I’d be scared to die, I’m not. I’m an atheist, I don’t believe my loved ones are waiting for me in a heaven, or reincarnated for me to meet at a later stage in life. I feel that death has more to do with the living who are left behind than with the people who have died. My life is more meaningful because I carry all those souls within my soul. I dance to that song because my mother would have loved it. I wear these earrings because they embody 9 year old sparkly Meg, I travel to the Vatican to stare in awe at the buildings my grandmother once described to me. I wish they were all still here for me to hug and argue with and share books. But, they’re not. And one day I’ll be gone too. And someone will carry my soul within their soul and they’ll look at a ridiculous meme and think ‘god. Sarah would have loved that’.

    • katie says...

      This made me well up. Thank you for sharing this, and it’s exactly how I feel about those I love, and about death.

    • Debdor says...

      Wow, “death has more to do with the living who are left behind than with the people who have died”. That is such a simple truth, but I had never thought of it that way before. I have experienced the death of 2 family members in the past 18months, and you have hit the nail on the head. Their going is so final, that it is like you are stood on a cliff top looking down, knowing that you cant reach them…

  93. Liza says...

    I’ve approached my fear of death in a much braver way than any of my other fears: I’ve tried to really embrace it and now read a TON about it, which weirdly does help. I’d recommend Mary Roach’s book Stiff, Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal as a starting place.

  94. Elif A. says...

    Dear Cup of Joy Family,

    It’s really one of those moments when you have your drink in front of you and open your favourite blogs to read; then.. ^^

    I’ve just lost my mother. She’s just left. I’m 31 and she was 53.
    She was fighting with cancer (we all were fighting side by side); a very late diagnosis to a lovely woman who had the healthiest choises all her life; my mom lived 2.5 years more after her diagnosis – a big thanks to her love, compassion, endurance and devotion. I miss her soo much already. (That’s another thing.)

    As a yoga practitioner and a teacher; I’ve been practicing ‘staying in the moment’ ‘awareness’ for the last 12 years and maybe more. This is beyond words. This is the most fulfilling, divine thing a human-being can practice. This love, devotion, mind-set, enthusiasm -call it whatever- can help us in any situation.

    When one understands that “I’m more than my chronological identity”, the mind softens.”You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” as Rumi says. One is not vanishing completely.

    Being present in the moment, love, devotion, enthusiasm; those really help. Thank you Jo for your writings and you blog. I love it soo much!<

    • KL says...

      Thinking of you, Elif <3

  95. McNeill says...

    For help soaking up the alive-ness, I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s little book “Present Moment Wonderful Moment.” It’s a series of 49 short mindfulness verses that are intended for everyday moments like washing your hands, taking out the garbage, and eating. I’m working on memorizing a few so that they come to mind easily, and help me re-set a bit.

  96. Tessa Valyou says...

    THIS: I remember when I was 6 and first realized I would die. We had a baby sitter at the time and I totally freaked out. Then I would think about my own death on and off through my teen years and into twenties. Its almost every night now. I go through phases where the last thoughts I think are those ones. It makes my stomach turn a bit. Its like a cruel game I play with myself. I am a very rational person and this gets me everytime. Often that is why I read books before bed, to get my mind away from death. You know how people are always asked their greatest fear in interviews? I am constantly like “WHY ISNT IT ALWAYS DEATH?” Im in my mid thirties now and starting to think I don’t have to live this way. I am going to look into the books and podcasts and read all these comments and maybe look into therapy. Its inescapable I know, but I don’t have religion to believe in an after life. Thank you for posting this, seriously, I feel less alone in my thoughts. I think some of us just think of it more than others. There is this parable a friend posted, about a baby talking to its twin in the womb about ‘whats after’ that has really resonated with me. Its called ‘Conversation in the Womb”

    • Kait says...

      I love ‘Conversation in the Womb’. I found it a few months ago and as someone who really struggles with anxiety, especially the anxiety around death, it helps to think about death in a similar way to birth. Thinking about the time before I was born and existed isn’t scary, so why should death be? Easier said than done…therapy helps, though. Mindfulness, being in the moment, and gratitude are the only things that pull me through that sudden gripping fear.

  97. Jess says...

    I’m Catholic and one of my best friends (a nun) often says, “The party’s upstairs!” … as I don’t have a husband or kids, I honestly feel excited about dying (because of what I believe is on the other side), but I think that would be different if I was a wife and mother. Thank you for an interesting and searching piece.

  98. Sharon says...

    I’m a Christian and my faith assures me of a life hereafter, and so death unlike for some, is part of the process of life. I am in no way looking forward to death right now because it is so final, but I can’t imagine what how death feels to someone who has no faith at all…we are all going somewhere…faith helps define where that is, and certainly for me and my family, we see death as stepping through it into eternity where no pain exists and we exist in a different dimension. It makes living more real to embrace the moments, but we all realise we will not always be here with the living.

  99. Maggie says...

    One thing that brings me comfort is talking about it with my spouse/kids. We have a lot of life insurance, an estate plan, and we’ve communicated our wishes to each other. (Cremate me, sprinkle me here, play that song at my funeral). The fear of “but what if” is at least covered from a practical point of view.

    As for heaven – The typical images of “eternity” sound super boring to me. How can anything be amazing and wonderful ALL the time? How drab! But, I can’t wait to pull up a bar stool with friends and family I’ve lost, knowing there is no closing time and we can talk forever.

  100. Sonia says...

    One sunny day my grandpa said “we will only truthfully die when we are no longer a heartfelt memory to someone”.

    Its been 19 years … my heart still aches, his picture holding me is still in my desk. My grandpa lives on.

  101. Bethany says...

    I heard Sir Patrick Stewart once call life “the light between two darknesses,” and I cannot think of a more beautiful, precious outlook on life. It’s not that the darkness is bad or evil, it’s simply nothing. You weren’t there before and you won’t be there after, which is peaceful in and of itself. But while you’re in the light, soak in every last drop. Leave it to Stew to cut to the heart of things.

    • I love this (And Sit PatStew). However, doesn’t it kind of feel like you were there before you were born, because you get to read all that history? I hate the idea of missing all that future (part of the reason I’m such a Star Trek fan).

  102. sarah says...

    My mother died when I was 7, so I don’t remember having ever been unaware of death, if that makes sense.
    My mum herself never came to terms with the idea that she was going to die, so she pretended she would get better until the end. She didn’t leave me a letter or any personal objects, because she couldn’t face it. That was very hard for me.
    So I always promised myself to go through life with my eyes open, to be aware of death and grateful for life.
    I am 36 years old and my will is perfectly in order, complete with détails about my burial and everything. Creepy, I know.
    The first time I mentioned marriage to my partner, it was by saying “If I die, I want you to at least have money” (needless to say, it freaked him out no end. It took him 2 years to propose after that haha).
    I have long talks with my dad because I want to make sure I really get to know him before one of us dies. I go to funerals to support friends, but also to live with the idea of death, to get comfortable with it. I think in our society we live too far away from death, so it scares us. If we see it as part of life, in my experience it helps a lot with the anxiety.

  103. Elise says...

    It’s a topic that I struggled with when I was 8 or 9 years old. I was terrified of dying, of being no more. I think that we really cease to exist when the memory of us ceases to exist in our friends’ or family members’ hearts. But then, they will also pass away. That’s the way it goes. The day before yesterday marked by aunt’s passing away, way too early. But she’s still here in my heart, and that’s what counts. Somehow she’s still there.

  104. Julie says...

    This subject is sadly very near to me. Over the past 8 years, at almost 2 year intervals I’ve watched the passing of my Mother, Grandmother, Grandfather and most recently my Father… in that order. I’m aged in my 40s. I do not believe the spirit dies with the death of the body. I’ve had too many experiences. I know my Mother visited me at least 3 times after she passed, she sat at the end of my bed and I just knew she wanted to let me know she was Ok. Then as time grew closer to my Grandparents passing…. there would be feathers in my path and birds would stop by for a little longer than normal. A few months ago, I found mounds of feathers… in the garden, on the street, in the water floating at my feet. I was sitting on my balcony and a feather floated in front of me, as if out f thin air. I sensed something was up. I then learned my father had only a few short weeks to live. He hasn’t been gone a year, it was my birthday recently and before sunrise I went to the beach to take some photos of the soft light. I found myself wondering how the rock pools would photograph and as I was playing with the focal point through the lens, a white feather floated right into the frame. I do believe our loved ones watch over us and I talk to them often. They are still around, just in a different form.

  105. Corina-Alexandra Cucutianu says...

    Oh my soul! I have recently found myself thinking very often about death. My own, my parents’, my friends’. Truth be told, not death scares me, but the idea that everything we do doesn’t seem to really matter in the big economy of things since we’re all gonna die someday. Like is it worth it to be good and live a moral life, is it truly bad if we are selfish or even do bad things (not like commiting crimes, but more like not being overly careful with others and spend so much time thinking about their feelings more than on our own). If one day we’ll all turn to ashes (and most definitely Earth will do too), how do my decisions really influence this world? What are we doing here is more of a question to me than what is happening after we die. Like really, there has to be more to life than waking up in the morning, being a good citizen, a loving partner, a good daughter, a devoted employee. So again: why are we here?!
    I’ve also been reading Lev Tolstoy’s book called A Confession and can find myself into his own struggle to understand the scope of it all. Religious or not, agnostic or atheist, we’re all oblivious to what will come the day we’ll die. But in the meantime, “we’re all walking each other home” and none of us knows truly what they’re doing…

    • Mary says...

      I struggle with this concept regularly!

  106. Gemma says...

    Next month I will turn 39 and I dont know why, I start thinking about death too. Death of my parents, how to explain to my kids if this happen, … My first worry is about the death of the people around me but a few days ago I started to worry about my own death and the pain of my two kids if this happen (Magí 8 and Cora 3). Right now there is no one sick in my family, so I think: DONT’ WORRY! I think it’s normal think about death when we grow up and have kids. Like many people say: We have to live the present and enjoy it!
    (sorry for my english)

  107. Bekki says...

    What a beautiful article, Joanna, ever so brave and vulnerable and relatable. I‘ve grown up lutheran and have found my own way in it, so I really feel that my faith is not a hand-me-down from my parents but that I found it by myself. I’m not sure I believe in hell anymore, but I do believe in heaven and in eternity and in LIFE. I have a husband and two little ones and I know the anxiety you were talking about. I hate the thought of leaving them, and my heart clenches whenever I’m troubled by thoughts of losing them. But in it all, i feel so much peace, like a tranquility, being carried by goodness. I believe that our souls and even our bodies in a way are eternal (even though I don’T say I understand completely what it means, but larger than death). I believe that the earth and every soul on it is waiting or has already began being redeemed, being transformed in its originally perfectly created way and that this will be visible and tangible in heaven. There is so much hope, that everything and everyone will be made whole again. And that this here is but a foreplay.:-) I loved C.S. Lewis’ “The great divorce”. It’s such a great parable, so full of mystery and wonder and HOPE. May you be very hopeful, entering this new phase of life. ❤️

  108. Katie says...

    Oh my, am so relieved to read that i’m not the only one who freaks out about death. Why does it always happen in the middle of the night? I have even woken up my poor husband in a panic with a demand to hold me and please tell me a great story to take my mind off it. So many unexplained answers….

  109. Julia says...

    I consider myself blessed (in the truest sense of the word) to believe in God. As a consequence, I also believe that death is not simply the end, but also a new beginning. Leaving this world is unfathomable, but I believe that I will be in a better place after dying.

    (It‘s not like the thought of LEAVING doesn‘t freak me out though – but fear is an aspect of this world, not the next one.)

  110. Ni says...

    I am a mother of three and the middle one, 8 years old, was lying in bed one night and suddenly we heard her crying. My husband and I both ran to her, she was so upset and finally said: I am so scared of dying.!
    While totally taken aback by that answer I prayed a quick prayer and then calmly explained to her: “You are gonna die. One day. One day far away. But: You don’t have to be scared, because when you do, you are going to heaven. Jesus will meet you, and he will bring you right to his father, our loving God. There will be no more problems, no more pain, no worries: Just an endless Halleluja, talking to Jesus, praising and worshipping our great GOD all day long. But for now, you are here with us, and we will do everything in our power, that you are not going to die anytime soon”. We hugged and she went back to sleep. After we left her room, my husband was a little grumpy. I was like: What now? After a while he said: Now I am concerned, that she is going to “do something stupid” when she is a teenager, because you painted her such a beautiful picture of heaven.

    It is just what I believe. (He too, for that matter!). We love Jesus, we read the bible with our kids, we are saved, we are going to spend eternity with HIM!

  111. Mary says...

    I’ve had quite a few operations and spent a lot of time in hospitals (I’m now very much healthy) but because I confronted my own mortality early on, I don’t worry at all about death now. If anything, it’s had the opposite effect. I think I feel more invincible than most people my age because I’ve lived through so much and I’m not dead! ? What’s more I learned to thrive instead of just survive. For what it’s worth, I don’t actually believe in death, not in the sense that you’re absolutely gone. Yes, I believe we leave our physical bodies, but for me our most intrinsic selves, our souls if you want to call it that, live on eternally. They simply cannot be destroyed. And I also, believe we are re-born again into this world as different personalities…so basically we are physical for a time, then non-physical and on and on. It’s all so personal isn’t it, our relationship with death. Ps I’m hoping to die peacefully in my sleep!

  112. Jasna says...

    I turned 40 yesterday and have the EXACT same thoughts as you!

  113. Alex says...

    I am a Christian and have had faith in Jesus and eternal life since I was a child (John 3:16, in a nutshell). I thought little of death and had no discernible fear of it until I had children. But now I have two very young children and I worry about death regularly: mine, my husband’s, theirs. I worry about it because I have this strong sense that (1) I adore them and cannot fathom the pain of losing a child – it is the single most frightening thought I have ever had, and (2) they need my husband (their dad) and me to live much, much longer to take care of them, love them, raise them, support them, celebrate with them, etc. It feels like a variant of mom anxiety. I pray a lot these days that God brings me peace and eases this fear. I’ll seek professional help with the anxiety if necessary, but I’m not at that point yet.

  114. Chelsa says...

    It is comforting beyond any words to read this post and the comments. This thought comes from the most selfish and yet deepest place of love- I dont want to leave my life. Ever. It hurts to even think about my two boys living a life without me – and they are only 3.5 and 5 months old. The hardest part to come to terms with is life does in fact go on…without you…the physical you that can feel and give love, hug, laugh, feel joy, see nature, be with people that love you, etc. Sometimes I look at the sky and think about how much I miss nature when I die. It is a heavy weight to carry, the worry and sadness and yet impossible to shake. When we lose people and pets, I wish the world could stop and acknowledge the heartache. But it doesnt. And that is hard to accept.

    I started reading The Bright Hour on a plane…biggest mistake..nothing could conceal the tears. I can still feel the lump in my throat from reading her words.

  115. Kristy says...

    In my lowest moments I often thought why bother since all of us will end up in some kind of tragedy. My kids watched Up movie recently and were all bawled in tears after the grandpa’s wife died. One of them (age 7) is quite occupied with the idea of death, recently she told me that she wished she would not grow up so me and her father will not grow old and die. I told her that I don’t mind growing old if I get to see her grow and maybe have her own kids one day. Life is bittersweet.

  116. Nina says...

    Oh shit I’m going to have to start thinking about death in two months (when I turn 27…)

  117. Heather N. says...

    I was in a pretty bad car accident a few years ago. I was unconscious for a little while. For the few weeks after, it bothered me that when I was unconscious it was just that, nothing. Then I had dreams that there was a pedestrian that I had hit, and he was trying to tell me things through the windshield. I asked, and people assured me that there was no pedestrian involved. So I’ve wondered if something did go on while I was unconscious but I just don’t remember.

    We’ve been having large and moderate earthquakes for almost two months and I’m much more frightened by them than when I was younger. Someone from NY said at least with other natural disasters there’s at least warnings of storms, or tornadoes, and fire watches.

    The same thing with death. It seems too big a thing to sometimes be so sudden.

  118. Melissa Zaugg says...

    I have always believed that this life is temporary and once we die we will advance into a much greater existence. That belief has given me peace with death. Just this last year my brother lost a best friend to brain cancer. It was a year of fighting but knowing the whole time that there wasn’t a cure. One night I found myself faced with the stark reality that I had no control over when I would died. And worse, I had no control over when my child would die. Life could be taken from us at any moment. Death didn’t play fair or wait for good timing. I was in tears, begging my God to not take my child from me and then begging Him to not take me from my son. It was a painful realization and after I cried and begged for hours, I accepted the lack of control I have on making my own heart beat. I was able to feel at peace, not okay but an acceptance of my lack of control. It’s what I needed to say goodbye to my brother’s best friend and mourn the loss his family would be enduring. Since his passing I have fallen to my knees a couple of nights, as I am alone in my son’s room while he is at his dad’s house. And I, again, beg God to please not take my son from me. I can’t help myself but imagine the years of heartache that would follow if my son was taken from me. After having my son’s life flash before my eyes, I realize that even the horrible days I will miss. Even the days I felt defeated and the days I was not proud of the mom I had been to my sweet boy, those days would be missed too. And I would have no regrets, because I loved him as much as I knew how. And I tried as hard as I could to show him as much love as I could. And that’s what gets me off my knees and keeps me going. What a blessing to love someone so deeply that you are taken to your knees, pleading you’ll have them the rest of your life.

    • Meredith says...

      Love this, Melissa. It it such a blessing to love and to know love so fiercely.

  119. Mara says...

    I few years ago I underwent a surgery that required general anesthesia. When I woke up I was astonished that the past hour had just disappeared. I had ceased to exist. It wasn’t painful or sad, I just wasn’t here, the same way I wasn’t here before I was born. I think that’s how death will be and it’s somehow comforting.

  120. Wendela says...

    I have been thinking of death as the thing we know happens to everyone, as a part of life, and as the thing that forces us to appreciate our lives and each other. It’s easy to forget but none of this is permanent. If you can hold that in your mind then you have to be grateful for all of it. It forces you to see what a gift life is. When I’m having bad moments it’s a good reminder that it will pass and that any future me will be glad to have had even the bad days.

  121. CR says...

    I’ve found peace in thinking that death is going back to the place you were before you were born. It’s still uncertain but we’ve all been somewhere before we were living on this earth, so why not go back?

  122. Hani says...

    I think almost daily of a line if read once here- was it from Nina’s book?, “I can say my goodbyes to everything else, but my kids- I just can’t let go of mothering them.”

    I, myself, am not afraid to *die*, even suffer and die- I believe Jesus IS who he says he is, that he’s The Way, that this isn’t all there is- life has meaning, purpose, and a future beyond death, all of it.

    So I make my peace with every last thing, betting all my hope on that— and still, my heart shatters at the thought of leaving my daughter and son.
    They are 5 and 3 now, and it’s different than when they were infants. Now I really *know* THEM, who they *are*— now that the love between us has really bloomed, how can I let go of mothering them?

  123. Katie says...

    Amazing post and comments. Thank you so much!

  124. S says...

    This is absolutely me. I started Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” right before I turned 30 and couldn’t get past the first chapter. Total panic on the bus. It hits me so frequently. The fear of what the process is going to be like and what happens after (if anything). Instant thumping heart beats and welling eyes. Children are not in my future and the various implications that that reality could have in the whole process is nerve wracking.

  125. Lauren says...

    I just finished the book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande and can’t recommend it enough. It made me realize that aging poorly, without integrity or gratitude, is far scarier than death. Death is really just a single moment, but it’s everything before that moment that counts!

  126. Candace says...

    My mom’s sister died of Cystic Fibrosis when she was about 11 and my mom was about 20. Throughout my life my mom has always cried when she talks about her, but perhaps the most when she said what a lonely road that must have been for such a little girl to walk alone. My mother, being a writer and author herself, decided to write a fantasy novel about death to sort of go back and hold her sister’s hand through it. It became a National Book Award finalist.

    I have my own beliefs about what comes after this life, but I hope to live with and love others in such a way that regardless of when and how I will see them again, my heart will weep for what I no longer have here with me.

  127. Marie says...

    I am scared of dying alone. And I do not want anyone to suffer on my behalf, which is pretty contradictory, right?
    Afterwards… I do not know, yet.

  128. Carmen B. says...

    Wow. I love this post. It’s so honest.
    I worry about dying, getting dead, and being dead several times a week.
    It started when I was 31 and has not left me. Sometimes the worry and fear are so strong it keeps me up at night. For me, it’s the different ways I can die. It sends my heart racing and it takes me a while to calm down.
    I end up doing deep breathing exercises and funny/cute videos to shake it off.
    Thanks so much for writing about this.
    I feel a teensy bit better knowing I’m not the only one.

  129. Kelly says...

    When my mom was in the final stages of dying, she told me she wanted to be a bird and fly through the sky. A few days after she passed away, a snowy white owl landed in my front yard tree when I was walking home. We locked eyes and I couldn’t breathe. We just sat staring at one another. I’ve never seen one since. But in that moment, in my heart, it was her telling me she was ok. I feel like our spirits go somewhere. I always pray that I’ll see her again because one lifetime of knowing her was not long enough.

  130. Susan says...

    This is why so LOVE you so much Joanna. You put words to the feelings that have been swirling in my head (and heart!) but somehow I had not yet been able to give voice to. Thank you for this. And yes I think it is related to age. I am in my early 40s (how did that happen) and, as you say, it just hit me this year that one day I will die too. I have these moments now of feeling how achingly beautiful life is. And then I am also struck by my privileged position in life. For so many each day is just another struggle to stay alive, feed their children, find a source of clean drinking water, etc. How to process all of this? Still working on it. Thanks for sharing.

  131. Shannon says...

    I’ve had a few of these heart stopping death realizations over the years (even as a kid), but none so gut wrenching as those since I’ve had children. The thought of not watching them grow is what tortures me. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in these moments of overwhelm.

  132. M says...

    I live in a country where you sometimes need to travel long distances over alpine passes,. When I was at university, I was travelling back between semesters. It started snowing and the road was icy – the driver left it too long to put chains on the wheels and the bus slid and went off the road. It was the strangest sensation as everything slowed down and I had a sense of peacefulness. I’m the end, we came to a stop fully upright in a ditch. While that was a relief, it showed me that we can respond to the prospect of death in unexpected ways

  133. Anna says...

    So many songs on this theme are actually beautiful (The Last Goodbye by Billy Boyd, Endless Years by Will Reagan and United Pursuit, The Parting Glass by The High Kings or Ed Sheeran or any version you please). People down through the unknown ages have thought about death, the one sure thing (and yet so often a surprise). Given the opportunity, Mozart might have left this comment here:

    Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine on
    them.

    The trumpet will send its wondrous
    sound throughout earth’s sepulchres
    and gather all before the throne
    Death and nature will be astounded,
    when all creation rises again…

    King of tremendous majesty,
    who freely saves those worthy ones,
    save me, source of mercy.

    (Mozart’s Requiem)

  134. Sarah says...

    My mom is in the midst of terminal breast cancer – and she’s young, just 52. Sometimes while we’re FaceTiming, a baby bouncing on my knee, and toddler running around our small apartment, she’ll sob into the phone “I don’t want to die! Why do I have to die?!” And as I try to think of comforting words, I’ll hear my daughter shout from the bathroom, “Mooooom! Wipe me!!!” Or the baby screams for his paci. Or any number of distractions children cause. It used to frustrate me that they interrupt these important conversations, but I’ve learned in service to my children I feel closest to my mom. When I wipe a kid’s bum for the fifth time that day, or am up all night nursing a baby, I’ve come full circle. I feel the love she has for me through my children. That love lifts the burden of her leaving us.

    • KL says...

      Sarah, what a beautiful sentiment. This gave me tears this morning, and I’d like to look at things the same way. Thank you for that. Thinking of you and your wonderful mom <3

  135. My dearest friend was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer a little over two (!) years ago at the age of 37. For the first time in my life I found myself really pondering these questions and fear about death in a meaningful way.

    Of course my first thoughts were full of sadness and fear for her. She had just found a forever kind of love and her life was (still is) so rich and full and dynamic. It seemed impossible that she might not have another 40 years or so to shed her particular brand of magic in the world.

    Then the fear of losing her really started to set in for me. She’s a dear friend, yes, but also the kind of friend that takes care of me in the most loving, mothering way. I started to imagine the emptiness of a world without her and even more impossible was the idea that my baby daughter might not get to grow up with a childhood full of memories of her.

    But when I really let all that fear wash over me, I realized that I really don’t have to worry about the world without he, or anyone I deeply love for that matter, because she is so deeply woven into the fabric of who I am. She is in so many mannerisms I have, she’s the reason that I know how to scramble eggs or how it feels to be unconditionally loved and taken care of. She’s there in ways that I don’t even recognize because they are just organically part of who and how I am in the world. My daughter will always know her because she lives inside of me.

    Even if I die today, I too am already so deeply woven into the fabric of my children and husband and loved ones in ways they might not remember, but are impossible to forget. That’s everything.

    When the time comes that I will have to say goodbye to my best friend or another loved one or to this world before I’m ready, no amount of anxiety or avoidance or preparation will protect me from the enormous grief, I know this. Yet it doesn’t scare me because even more enormous is the amount of transformative love that has grown in the precious time I’ve already been lucky enough to have here.

  136. Pondicherry says...

    I was five months pregnant when I lost my mother. My heart literally aches everyday/everytime I think about her. Knowing I won’t see her again, not here, not in the afterlife is the most painful part of losing her.
    Death scares me ONLY because I don’t want my children to live in a world without me in it.

  137. My mom died when I was two months old (on Christmas). I think about death at least a few times a day which my husband told me is not normal, but I guess for my circumstances, is normal?

    It sounds weird, but thinking about death so much actually makes it less scary to me? I am so grateful and thankful and happy for the present that I have. I put all bad experiences into the perspective of, I’m alive, and it makes everything truly not that bad.

  138. EM says...

    When I was student teaching, my mentor teacher shared with her high school students about facing death and, in the moment when she was certain she was about to die, feeling utter peace. I had a funny/terrifying experience when I was a teenager that convinced me of the same thing–I was on a roller coaster, and the harness clicked partway undone. I was certain that I would die falling onto the pavement, and, though my body was screaming and clenching, my feelings were (besides mortification at the prospect of dying from a roller coaster and pity for my family who would mourn my loss) of complete peace. In that moment, I knew what I believed about death, and I felt that my next conscious experience would be to see God. There is a book about forgiveness and joy in the Holocaust called, “The Hiding Place,” and the author recounts an exchange with her father regarding her fear of death. The father asks, “when you and I go to Amsterdam–when do I give you your ticket?” And she says, “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly…When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need–just in time.” I believe that death comes with the gift of peace to anyone who can look into her heart and accept it.

  139. Midge says...

    “We are going to die, WHY ARE WE WEARING EARRINGS?” might be one of my favorite lines, ever.

    • Starla says...

      Me, too!

  140. Tricia says...

    My dad passed away when I was 21 and like you I wondered where he was. I wanted to believe so badly that he was in heaven and asked many people what they believed happened when we die. I only remember two answers. One was a girl who was an atheist (which I did not know when I asked her) and had recently lost her sister to suicide. Her answer was not what I wanted to hear. She said we are buried and just become more dirt. Her answer disturbed me so much. I am now 63 and her answer is still very clear in my mind after 42 years. I asked another friend and she said of course my dad was in heaven because there was no way good people and bad people were given the same reward. From that day forward I believed my dad was in heaven and it brought me such peace. I liked her answer and it was exactly what I needed to hear.

  141. Jen says...

    I’m so grateful for this post and for your openness to us. I think that I think about death more often than the average person. It’s possible that this related to having lost my dad to cancer when I was 28. Most of my worries centre on the fear of leaving loved ones without me, especially my son and husband and less about what happens to me. If what I believe about death is true, I’m to be with Jesus in eternity- whatever that means I’m reality. Sometimes I can get pretty lost in the sadness of imgaging my son without me to care for him. It can be hard to shake. I wish I had something brighter to end this comment with (lol) but I don’t really have a method to shake the thoughts off.

  142. Kate says...

    I’m not afraid of death. To be completely honest, I welcome it. This country, this world, it’s all going to hell in a hand basket faster than I can handle sometimes. Death seems like a welcome gift.

  143. Brit says...

    My worries have been particularly fixated on death since my son was born five months ago. I want to focus my attention on the joy in his every moment as he explores the world and delights me beyond measure. But it seems the power and intensity of my love for his little life has, in a study of contrasts, suddenly made the reality of death more stark. I wonder and worry about my own death, and I mourn the milestones that I’ve now realized my parents won’t live to see. I lie in bed late at night, knowing the warm spot our dog occupies next to me will some day be much colder. But most of all, I contemplate how the same world that has given me my beautiful son could ever be so cruel to go on spinning even a day longer than his little life. All I can ask for is that someday, hopefully when he is very old, perhaps so old that he is as bald as he is now, he will be glad that he was born and that I was his mama.

  144. Lisa says...

    Oh man, this really resonates. I also turn 40 in a few days and it all began to come to a simmer for me a couple of years ago when I left religion behind, a friend around the same age as me died unexpectedly, and I read The Bright Hour. Suddenly I was terrified of not existing. I grew up in a very religious household and took it for granted that I would die and be together forever with all the people I loved. Choosing to leave religion behind has difficult and heartbreaking in many ways (disappointing my family tops that list!) but one of the hardest things I’ve had to grapple with is that I just don’t know what death means anymore. It puts a lot of pressure on my life knowing that this might be it. One thing that struck me when I read your post is that I don’t feel anxious about what came before my life so why should I feel so anxious about what comes after? I mean, I’m not losing any sleep over all the things I didn’t accomplish before I was born and all the people I didn’t know for as long as the world existed until now so why should the after be any different?

  145. Len says...

    Once again I’m amazed at the depth, beauty, and honesty of this post and the responses in this thread. As someone so deeply shaped by the views of other writers, as well as the writings of my faith, I find comfort in the many voices that preceded me: the person of Christ who reassures me that there is love and room in the next life, the sardonic yet sincere perspectives of poets like Emily Dickinson, who vacillates between belief and unbelief and comments on this movement with some irony, and the myriad stories and experiences told by others, reminding me how full and beautiful, yet incomplete this life is. And surrounded by all these wise, sometimes uncertain, always human, voices and perspectives, I’m struck by the infinitude of this life. Why can’t there be more? And why do you have to answer, positively, “no,” when we can’t possibly know?

  146. Alena says...

    “It’s the last night of my twenties, what kind of relaxing reading material on CoJ will buoy me into my thirties?”

    Okay, cool.

  147. Hannah says...

    Wow, thank you for this. My favorite thing you’ve posted in a long time. For me, the fear of death (and flying, and even driving) and general anxiety and catastrophic thinking all took hold after I had a baby. He is 14 months old and it hasn’t let up. I appreciate not feeling alone in this and relate very much to being suddenly stopped in your tracks by these kind of thoughts.

  148. This has been fascinating to read everyone’s comments. As a practicing Christian (LDS) I believe in life after death, and even more importantly to me I believe our relationships continue after death. There have been times in my life – like when my 3 year old was life flighted-where I have felt my grandma and my grandpa, both dead, both whom I adored, with me. I believe that we remain ourselves after death and that we continue to progress and grow. I struggle with finding the right words…. It’s a belief backed up by a feeling, but in the end it’s a choice. I choose to believe it because it brings me joy. Peace now, and an ability to be present and soak in my relationships, and peace about what comes next. If I end up being wrong at least I had peace in this life.

    I do have to admit that I do worry about me dying, as far as what that would mean for my four kids… But ultimately I’ve decided to do what I can and leave the rest to God.