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Coming to Terms with Death - Accepting the Transitory Nature of Life


I didn't know where to put this and if this is the wrong section of the forum, Mods are free to move it. I turned 40 a year ago. I know that many here are also solidly in the 'middle' of their lives. And, while there have been deaths in my life, blessedly, they have been unexpected, sudden, and/or accidental. But, my parents are getting older, my aunts and uncles are aging, they are all solidly into the 'end' of their lives. And, the ailments and frailties of old age have become common for them. As I type this, my mom is dealing with a fractured foot that she got from a mere trip, my uncle is going in to have a hip replaced, an aunt had a hysterectomy to deal with a cancer, another aunt had to spend three days in the hospital recovering from a fall, and last Friday an uncle had a massive heart attack that felled him in a single blow, despite being otherwise relatively healthy. In the larger cultural sense we see this in that the familiar faces that we grew up with on TV and in Movies are also dying.

And while previously deaths of family, friends, and acquaintances were deviations from the norm, they are moving to become the norm. The people who have influenced me the most, who as I child I idolized are slowly, but surely, exiting Life. And, I am finding it hard to come to terms with this. As an agnostic, I don't hold any hope for an afterlife wherein I will be reunited with these people, as a Buddhist I am familiar with sitting with my feelings, emotions, and then letting them go. In practice though this is difficult. I suppose, I made this thread to force myself to sit here with these thoughts. To have to process this emotion into something more than turmoil.

Apologies for journaling on the forum, I guess. But, I just thought there should be a place here where most of my friends are where people can share their thoughts and feelings on this most important part of living, the end. IRL my family is scattered across the country, and there really isn't a dense, physical support network for me to call on in times of distress like this. So, here I am typing this out and crying alone.

If people have practices, rites, or thoughts on how they deal with these emotions please do share.


Mortality has definitely been more and more on my mind as I age. Just no longer existing terrifies me, and I've not found a good way to cope yet.

As to the most appropriate subforum for this, maybe Talking About Everything?


Internet's foremost Bertolli cosplayer
I have a crippling fear of my own mortality*, and every so often will enter a full-on existential crisis where I sit up in bed, shaking, unable to sleep, contending with the fact that not only am I transient, but so is the brain that is shaping my perceptions and creating that feeling in the first place, and I keep spiraling downward like that and I just have to mentally... pull up and start thinking of something else, anything else, because unlike every other aspect of life, this is one that just can't handle examination. It always feels cowardly, but there's just no way to think my way past my own mortality, so it's foolish to try. I suspect that I will find it harder and harder to ignore as I get older, though (FWIW, I also turn 40 in a few months). Some folks age gracefully and accept the natural end of their time on this Earth. That won't be me-- I'll be kicking and screaming the entire way, terrified right up until the moment I'm no longer able to feel anything at all.

*This is just anecdotal, but, in my own experience, this is frequently something that those raised Christian who leave the faith later in life often struggle with in particular. It makes sense! I'm firmly atheist right now, but I could see myself having a deathbed conversion as a cowardly act, just for the sake of my own sanity.


"This is not my beautiful forum!" - David Byrne
(Hi Guy)

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”


Johnny Unusual

As a teenager I had nights were I just impotently thrashed in bed and cried fearing my eventual death. Coming to terms with it took a long time.
Earlier today I got a message that my dad is on life support in a hospital on the other side of the country. Heart surgery went bad. I haven't really dealt with him in years due to issues with his drinking. He may not live much longer and there's not a thing I can do about it. I can't even say good bye to him. The worst part is he didn't give anyone any contact information for me and my sister. If the person who is now making medical decisions for him didn't throw out a line asking if someone knew how to get a hold of me, I might never had known.

And I'm more angry than sad about that. He ruined his life and my relationship with it because of his drinking, and even at the end he damn near made it so I would only find out second hand that he even died. I might cry later, or scream in rage, I don't know. I cut him out of my life, and while I could say I miss him, I really don't. Even when I was physically there, he wasn't part of my life in the last 15 years or so. It's going to fuck up my life a for a while if he does die.

But I knew that was likely when I left. I have no advice for you, gimme a few days and maybe I'll have something.

R.R. Bigman

Coolest Guy
I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I truly hate that death as a function exists, but I am more concerned about what the process leads to. I’ve had a strange fear of my consciousness remaining after death. Not as a ghost, but as a strange form of matter that will have to endure for billions of years until the universe ends. I also fear the concept of being reborn into an increasingly damaged Earth.


perfect world
I'm sorry, Eishtmo. I understand having complicated feelings about a parent and I hope you're able to find peace.

Personally, the idea of my own mortality has never really bothered me. Some here might remember I had a bit of a breakdown in 2017 and (cw) spent a week in a psych ward following a failed suicide attempt. I'm doing better now, but that event marked the culmination of many years of toying with the idea of, and at times actively wishing for, an end to my life. While it's no longer something I want, it's hard to be afraid of a concept that for a long time was a source of comfort to me.

Not to bring the mood down in here, but I don't love life so much that I would have any reason to fear its end. I think the issue is that for whatever reason I'm probably missing something that most people intrinsically have; I've never had any actual dreams or ambitions, no goals to want to work towards. I've never accomplished anything noteworthy in my time on Earth and feel no drive to do so in the future. This absence used to bother me quite a bit, but lately I've become more comfortable with the idea that the majority of what life has to offer just isn't "for" me, and doesn't have to be. There's nothing that I long to do, or to have, or to be, and that's fine. I've whiled away the decades with a series of temporary distractions and can probably continue to do so as long as needed. At some point, sooner or later, I'll just run out of time to kill. As a lifelong atheist I don't expect anything but the cessation of consciousness, so while I'd obviously prefer to just slip away peacefully in my sleep, even if my manner of death happens to be painful it's not like I'm going to be around to remember that pain.

I agree that this thread should be moved to Everything.
On the practical side of things: Find a way to get involved (or more involved) in your local community, whatever that means to you.

On the philosophical side of things: Something I've been enjoying more as I get older is reading more very old texts, ideally from before America existed. People have been thinking about this problem for a long, long time, and removing yourself from the presentism of the culture content mill and social media can help to build connections with a grander sense of humanity across times and cultures, and personally I find it to be meditative/calming to experience a text that makes no effort to welcome me. We're not the first to struggle with this, we hopefully won't be the last. If you (the universal you, not anyone specific) are religious, this can of course include religious texts from your faith. If you're not (and I'm not), this can just be classics that interest you, both religious and literary, from any culture you'd like to know more about.

As James Baldwin said, "You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive."
My dad is apparently awake enough to make decisions now. So I get to put off this crisis for a bit longer.

In thinking about it the last day or so, I find myself not able to work through the idea of him dying as an emotional thing. It's more "what needs to be done." Things like selling his house, contacting family and friends, dealing with funeral arrangements, etc, etc. Maybe it was because it hadn't happened yet, I don't know. I can feel it in my chest though, a familiar pain of stress and worry. I quit my job back in may and since then I haven't taken anything to go to sleep. Last night I did because I knew I wouldn't calm my mind enough to sleep. Sleep seemed to help. It's not over, of course. It won't be over until he does die, then the real madness begins, but for now, I can breathe again.


I am part of a very large family on both sides. Along with that comes a lot to celebrate, and also a lot to mourn. I've lost six cousins, and many more aunts, uncles, second cousins, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, etc.

My dad's oldest brother has been battling brain cancer for the last year. He is now in hospice and he has gotten to the point where his caretakers advised not feeding him because he may choke on food. I visited him recently and it was really difficult to see how thin he is. I had seen him in May, and he had trouble communicating but seemed ok otherwise. He's now completely unable to speak and he's confined to bed. Also, he looks more similar to my dad since he lost weight, which makes it more surreal.

He also seems to be at peace. He does not seem to be in pain, and he's not struggling. He's stuck in bed, but he's at home and a lot of family has been visiting. He has 4 kids and 10 grandkids and they all live in the area. They found a musician who plays guitar for people in hospice, and she's been coming by and playing a lot of music he likes.

Death sucks and it's really difficult to deal with, but we don't have a choice. The only answer is to do the best we can with the time we have.

Paul le Fou

24/7 lofi hip hop man to study/relax to
I am deeply, existentially afraid of dying, but more because I feel like I haven't really done anything worth mentioning with my life and fear that it's only downhill from here. I'm only 37 (...oh) so I know I have plenty of time to make good on my existence, but right now the idea of its ending fills me with a deep, throbbing fear and disappointment. It's not a rational one. I also have a very complicated relationship with nostalgia, which is currently an acutely painful thing for me, and I know it's related.

As for other people's mortality, my mom died when I was 21, of cancer, in our family room, surrounded by family and friends. I had to watch her parents come in and see their daughter, and the way my grandpa said her name will never, ever leave me. I think I make it through a lot of grief and other negativity by having crippling ADHD which prevents me from thinking about it for any significant length of time or in much depth. But I still cry when I think about her sometimes, so despite not feeling moment to moment that I miss her much or whatnot, it's clearly affected me deep down. I've lost all 4 of my grandparents, but I was only moderately close with any of them so I didn't grieve particularly deeply. Honestly, what I grieve more is never seeing their house again, where I had so many childhood memories (they'd moved out before they died, regardless).


behold my godlike
(she/her, or something)
Some thoughtful posts here, definitely some stuff that resonates with thoughts I've had over the years. I really agree with estragon; not that it's unreasonable to be weirded out and terrified by death, which is obviously something that's deeply antithetical to anything we experience in life, but I think that modern culture feels especially alienating and isolating, in a way that can make that understanding of being "gone" feel even bigger than it really is. (And also, in a way that makes it feel like something not to be talked about with other people, despite being arguably the most universal human experience...) Of course I don't think anyone should live without centering themselves to some extent, but reaching out to understand other people, and especially those closest to you in some sense, can really help to put things in perspective.

I've had really extreme feelings about death in my life, with periods where, although I can't say I felt any ideation, I really couldn't understand how to go on living. But around 2016 and 2017 dying became something my mind dwelled on a lot for a long time. Not really because I became aware of growing older (I'm younger than...a lot of people here still, though I haven't been "one of the youngest" for a very long time, even though I'm pretty sure I was back in 2008 around the beginning of TT2.0), but more, y'know, external factors. And after all that time processing I feel like I've become more at peace with my life and the knowledge that it'll end. Not to a point of being fully comfortable with that, since I doubt that'll ever happen, but I don't find myself seized with the same existential terror every time I think about my own passing.

Of course, even as it's easy to say the non-believer's rationalization-"well, once I'm dead, I won't care about being dead", that really at best only covers oneself. I've had a pretty lousy month and pretty much only made it through with a ton of generosity and love from close friends and relatives; at the same time I of course found myself reflecting on how brief life is, and what's important. And of course, it hit me all over again that I'll almost certainly live through my parents' deaths, that there's not a small chance I'll see some of my siblings' funerals as well. And being in a pretty serious long-term relationship...well, the thought that at this rate one of us is almost certainly going to see the other's body is a lot to take. Death leaves grief, obviously, but also quite often messy logistics, and that mundane and practical side feels kind of overwhelming to me more than anything at this point. I dunno. It's not something I'd thought about as much, and very few people in my life have died unexpectedly; my grandfather's passing a couple years ago was something I'd thought about for years and years leading up to it, with numerous events that made me think they were probably the beginning of the end, until they weren't. When I finally heard the news, I cried for a bit and got back to work. Like Paul I'd chalk some of that up to ADHD, but I also think I was really emotionally prepared for it, and I know I'll probably rarely ever reach that point again.

Vaeran mentioned not having overarching goals or dreams in life, and that's also something that really hit me a few years ago. I'd been told growing up that I "could do anything", and then I became an adult and realized that a lot of things were hard in a way I wasn't equipped to really handle. Even now I think about how cool it would be to do hundreds of things I could barely find the time to do even a few of if I spent all of my energy on them. And I'm still not really capable of doing that, so I just meander and do what I do through life when I don't have obligations (which I have a strong tendency to avoid...). But I think that believing those kinds of things have some kind of "true" fulfillment is also something of an illusion...when you look at people who dedicate their lives to creating art, or working to excel in some field, they're inevitably their biggest critics, and being incredible at something never frees someone from feeling like they're still not as good as they wanted to be, like they could have done more before inevitably age and mortality slow and stop them.

I have more thoughts, but a lot of them feel a bit trifling next to all this. Maybe later.


Fearful asymmetry
Honestly? There have been experiments done to revive pig organs using a chemical called OrganEx, and the possibility that this could eventually be used to trivialize death bothers me more than death itself. There's comfort in the inevitability of death, and the way it clears a path for new life. It refreshes us as a species. I don't think the human race would have advanced much if the perspectives and prejudices of the past were still around to hold us back from our full potential.

I can understand fearing death. We're all programmed with a survival instinct that protects us from dying prematurely or needlessly, and that's natural. However, every life must end at some point, and that too is natural. It could be argued that the ephemeral nature of life makes it more special. It gives you a reason to make the most of your brief existence, and to work toward a greater purpose, so future generations can benefit from your achievements. The way I see it, a life without end is a life without urgency, or significance.