What Matters Beyond the Physical Details of Your Life
Dealing with Death
Preparing for and coping with the death of oneself and others
Home Topical Index to all subjects
Most people prefer not to think about dying, and some people can hardly bear the thought. Yet thinking about dying can actually reduce the fear, while understanding and preparing for the practical issues surrounding death can make it easier for ourselves and our loved ones.
The most important preparation, perhaps, is internal. How should the certainty of death affect our approach to life? Do we believe in an after-life, and if so, what impact does that have on us in the meantime? How do we conceive the death of those we most love?
As we ponder these questions, we quickly realize that the most potent effects of death are internal, too: fear, grief, loss, anger, maybe regrets, maybe despair. These are negative feelings, but they can also be managed and even turned to positive account.
Of course there are external effects as well to finances, relationships among those left behind, even to the very fabric of the survivors lives. These, too, can largely be anticipated and planned for, so that even that which is inevitably sad and that which is an undeniable and even grievous loss does not have to be, in the end, destructive.
Dealing with Death relates to other areas of Spirit:
- Beliefs and principles, because our fundamental religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs include beliefs about why death exists and what, if anything, comes after it.
- The Meaning of Life, because our sense of lifes meaning can help us accept death more graciously, or make it harder for us to let go. And because the death of those close to us can change, even radically undermine, the meaningfulness of our lives.
- Dealing with aging, because death is the natural and ultimately unavoidable outcome of aging, and colors our attitudes toward aging.
- Spiritual practices, because these can help us come to grips with our own dying, and with the death of others we love.
Dealing with Death relates to other areas besides Spirit:
- Purpose, because death puts a time limit (even if an unknown one) on our purposeful activities and therefore a constraint on what we can achieve.
- Love, because our death affects others, in some cases profoundly, and vice versa.
- Avocation, because these activities are likely to change as others especially if it's those we most love die before us.
- Security, because dying itself can be costly, and because the financial after-effects can be crippling to those we leave behind.
- Health, because attention to physical and mental health can significantly delay death, for most people.
Dealing with Death Sub-Topics and Resources
The anticipation of death, and even more so the reality of it, has ramifications in multiple areas of our lives. Many of the central ones are touched upon here. But the See also links will take you to information and advice related to special situations and implications, and for the most part are just as important.
Note also that resources dealing with specific religious traditions are mostly not covered here. But if you are a religious believer or a proponent of a certain spiritual approach or philosophical school, you should also seek out sources of information and advice related to your beliefs. Toward this end, you might want to check out Death & Dying: A Selected Bibliography by Patrick S. ODonnell of Santa Barbara City College.
- Free resources:
- How to Overcome Fear of Death, from WikiHow, lists 9 different ways to deal with the fear of death (rating = A-).
- A key element of coming to terms with death, preferably while you are still healthy, is discussing it with those closest to you. The Conversation Project website, sponsored by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, offers a Starter Kit to help you get these discussions going (rating = A+).
- Afterlife, the Wikipedia article, provides a very good overview of beliefs on this subject, including additional web links and book references (rating = A).
- Death, Dying and Loss Blogs, at the blogcatalog.com, links you to an impressive variety of blog sites connected with death, dying, and grief, including Spanish-language blogs (rating = A-).
- Death and Dying Quotes, from ThinkExist.com some inspiring, some thought-provoking, some humorous (rating = A-).
- Other resources:
- Living Fully, Dying Well: Reflecting on Death to Find Your Life's Meaning, by Tina L. Staley, Edward W. Bastian, et al, offers varied, informed, and helpful approaches to thinking about death, as well as exercises to help us cope with our own and others' mortality (rating = A+).
- Dying Well, by Ira Byock, presents a clear-eyed view of what it means to die in modern America, and through his observations and stories illuminates how we can handle it well (rating = A+).
- The Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, offers life-enhancing reflections about death (rating = A).
- Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, by Lisa Miller, presents a wide-ranging and sympathetic survey of views of life after death (rating = A). For a more comprehensive, scholarly treatment, see Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion, by Alan F. Segal (rating = A). Both Is There An Afterlife?: A Comprehensive Overview of the Evidence by David Fontana, and Life after Death: The Evidence by Dinesh DSouza, conclude that the observable evidence supports the existence of an afterlife (ratings = A). Is There Life After Death? An Examination of the Empirical Evidence, by David Lester, offers a more balanced and questioning analysis (rating =A). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence, by Terence Hines, rejects all such evidence and interpretations (rating = A-). Hundreds of other books can also easily be found on this general subject.
- See also:
- Preparing for death: What can we do in advance to help ourselves and our loved ones be ready when the end comes, whether with or without warning?
- Free resources:
- Death and Dying, part of the MentalHelp.net website, links to helpful articles elsewhere on the site, including essays on Dealing With Your Own Imminent Death - Preparations and Activities and Dealing With the Imminent Death of a Loved One - Preparations and Activities (rating = A-).
- Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness, by Drs. Joanne Lynn and Joan Harrold, a complete guide to dealing with impending death, is available in its entirety for free on the GrowthHouse.org website (or you can pay for it in bound book form) (rating = A+).
- Preparing for Approaching Death, at Hospice.net, briefly describes the physical, mental, emotional, and other changes that you should expect as you or someone else nears death (rating = A).
- Donate Life America and The Living Bank are two national organizations that provide information and inspiration about organ donation and remind us that organ donation is something for non-terminally ill people to consider, too (rating = A-).
- In general, making your own funeral arrangements ahead of time is a good idea: you get what you would want, and your loved ones are spared having to make all these decisions under the pressure of time and grief. Preplanning a Funeral, by Barbara R. Rowe for the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, is a thorough and objective look at what you should and shouldn't do when making such arrangements (rating = A). The National Funeral Directors Association's Bill of Rights for Funeral Preplanning lists the rights and protections you should expect from an ethical funeral director helping you with this process. See the Coping with death and dying section below, for more about funerals and burials.
- Other resources:
- Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System, by Stephen P. Kiernan, provides the why and how for arranging to die at home rather than in a hospital (rating = A+).
- Final Exit (Third Edition): The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying, by Derek Humphry, the suicide manual for the terminally ill, revised and expanded from the original hardcover edition (rating = A). Also, The Peaceful Pill Handbook (2012 Edition), by doctors Philip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart (rating = A).
- Before I Go, You Should Know, a $15 funeral planning kit from the Funeral Consumers Alliance, comes with a 30-page fill-in booklet for your final wishes plus Advance Directives specific to your state (rating = A). This site also offers a great deal of useful free infirmation.
- Perpetual Websites will maintain the personal websites of people who are deceased. You can contact them about fees and other arrangements (rating = A-). Also check out Mashable's Prepare For Your Death Online: 20+ Helpful Tools for other ways to wrap up, or extend, your online life after you're gone, and for other death-preparation web-based services (rating = A).
- Parting Words/Parting Ways: Saying Good-Bye to Your Pet, Laura Ritter Carlson, is for pet-lovers who are dying (rating = A+).
- See also:
- Free resources:
- Hospice.net is an excellent resource for patients who are dying, for their families, and for their caregivers. There is also a very good section on bereavement (rating = A+). To find a hospice, go to HospiceDirectory.org (rating = A). The Hospice Education Institute, unfortunately, provides only modest help online, but they have a free telephone number (800-331-1620) offering referrals to hospice and palliative care programs, as well as general information about such programs (rating = A).
- The Compassion & Choices website offers coounseling and other services for those troubled by or uncertain about the end of life (rating = A). The Twilight Brigade provides support and education to dying veterans and their families (rating = A).
- Pain Control: Dispelling the Myths, by Dr. Joel Potash, deals with misconceptions about morphine, and also links to other pain-alleviation articles on Hospice.net (rating = A-).
- Shopping for Funeral Services, from the Federal Trade Commission, is must reading before you talk with a mortician (rating = A), as is a visit to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, which offers numerous helpful publications, links to web resources (including locations that offer family-directed funerals or green burial), and also has local chapters nationwide (rating = A). Burial and Cremation, a LoveToKnow website page, links you to practical information of all kinds relating to these subjects, including much that will probably surprise you (rating = A). For questions and answers about Autopsy, see the FamilyDoctor.org page on that subject (rating = B+).
- Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss, on the National Cancer Institute website, provides a pretty detailed summary of the loss we feel before and after a death, and how to deal with it. Helping young children or grandchildren deal with grief is covered in particular detail (rating = A). The Compassionate Friends is an organization dedicated to providing grief support to families after the death of a child, with local chapters across the country (rating=A+). GriefNet is a non-profit website with information and support groups for the bereaved (rating = A). WidowNet is a site by and for widows and widowers kind of personal and quirky, but it just might speak to you in a way that you wont find elsewhere (rating = A-).
- Mourning the Loss of a Pet, a set of helpful links on LoveToKnow.com (rating = A). See also Pet Loss and the Elderly at GriefHealing.com (rating = A-).
- Readings, Prayers and Spiritual Resources, on Hospice.net, offers a few dozen readings and meditations (mostly, but not all, religious) on death, particularly for those keeping vigil and giving care (rating = A). Also, Words of Comfort after a Death, from LoveToKnow.com (rating = A).
- See also: How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies, from the Social Security Administration (rating = A).
- Other resources:
- Find a Specialist, sponsored by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, can help you find a professionally trained counselor to work with the dying and/or the bereaved. The website is free, but the services of a counselor generally will not be (rating = A).
- On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, quickly became a classic when it was first published in the 1960s. Kubler-Ross introduced the idea of stages of grief, and offers practical insight on how to get through them (rating = A-). Other approaches to grief: Conquering the Mysteries and Lies of Grief, by Sherry Russell, The Five Ways We Grieve: Finding Your Personal Path to Healing after the Loss of a Loved One, by Susan A. Berger, and Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief, by Martha Whitmore Hickman (ratings = A+).
- Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, by Moira K. Anderson, is a book that pet lovers seem unanimous in finding helpful (rating = A+).
- See also:
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