How to Start Accepting Death and Mortality

Updated May 11, 2020
A young hand touches an old wrinkled hand

Death is something all living things will eventually experience. Learning how to accept your death and process your emotions surrounding it can help you feel more at ease with this topic. Whether you are currently in the process of dying or are just pondering what death means to you, it's always a good idea to be as knowledgeable and as emotionally prepared as possible when it comes to this difficult subject.

Talk About Passing Away

Death may feel like a mysterious process that can be difficult to gather information on. Because those in the dying process are often unable to communicate, and due to the lack of research regarding death, this topic can feel overwhelming to delve into. Avoiding this subject can build death related anxiety, so finding healthy ways to communicate your fears, thoughts, and emotions is a great first step when it comes to processing what dying and death mean to you.

Engage in Open Conversations About Death

Speaking with trusted friends and family members about their thoughts and experiences regarding death and dying may provide some comfort and reduce some fears you may be having. Talking with others can help you figure out what you believe death and dying are like, as well as what you'd like to have arranged for yourself after you pass away. If you don't have anyone you feel comfortable speaking about death with, groups like Death Over Dinner can be a good site to explore as they emphasize the importance of making death a mainstream topic of conversation.

Connect With Others in the Process of Dying

Volunteering in a nursing home, hospital, or hospice organization can help you connect with people facing imminent death. These individuals may also have a unique perspective and insight that can impact your understanding of death and dying. While this type of work may be meaningful for some individuals, others may not find this type of connection helpful and that's okay. Exploring what your comfort level is with death and dying is a learning process.

Understanding Mortality Salience and Preparing for Death

Mortality salience is understanding that dying and death cannot be avoided. It is completely natural for anxiety to build up around the idea of dying and death. As humans, we are programmed to strive for survival, so of course dying feels scary, intimidating, and something people want to avoid. Research indicates that feeling more powerful can reduce anxiety around death. These feelings of power may instill the notion of having more control over your life, which can provide comfort when it comes to the thought of dying. When you feel ready to do so, engaging in exercises that give you more control over your thoughts and emotions can increase your feelings of power and thus may reduce fear around dying and death.

Practicing Mindfulness

Research indicates that mindfulness can help reduce anxiety about death and dying. Practicing mindfulness allows you to be fully present and in the moment while deeply connecting to yourself, your thoughts, and your emotions. During a mindfulness exercise, you learn to acknowledge what is going on within without judgment. To begin:

  • Sit comfortably and bring up the thought of your death.
  • Without judging yourself, begin to notice what you are feeling in your body.
  • Notice your thoughts floating by.
  • Continue to breathe deeply and allow yourself to fully feel and think about your own death.
  • When you're ready to do so, stop the exercise.
  • If you need to, do something that helps you decompress after the exercise.

Keep in mind that mindfulness takes practice and a lot of patience to get used to.

How to Accept Your Death Using Visualization

Envisioning what you want the dying experience to be like, as well as what you'd like to happen after you pass away can be really helpful in terms of coping with your mortality. Although it may sound scary at first to do so, acknowledging what the dying process may be like for you can help reduce stress or intrusive thoughts about dying. Remember that the more you push away thoughts or emotions, the more likely they will come out in an explosive and/or unhealthy manner. Processing through journaling or just taking the time to think about what you envision for the end of your life can take a lot of power out of the scariness that may accompany it. To begin:

  • Close your eyes and imagine that you've passed away.
  • Think about if you'd like a funeral or memorial and if so where it will take place.
  • Think about if you'd like to be buried, cremated, or another option of your choosing and the location.
  • Imagine who will come to pay their respects.
  • Think about what loved ones may say about you.

While it may feel strange at first to think about, doing so can help reduce death anxiety, as well as help you figure out end-of-life plans. If you are in the process of passing away, you may consider writing down or letting a trusted loved one know how you'd like your death handled.

Write Your Own Obituary

Writing your own obituary is an exercise you can try to help reduce death anxiety and work towards how to accept your eventual death. To do so:

  • Introduce yourself and the age you passed away
  • Discuss your career and/or home life
  • Discuss community ties and volunteer work
  • Give funeral details
  • Write about who you are survived by

Although this exercise may feel bizarre to do, for some it can bring a tremendous amount of peace and comfort regarding their own death.

Dostadning: "Death Cleaning"

Based on the Swedish words for "death" and "cleaning" combined, dostadning refers to the decluttering of your life and calls for a "mindful clearing" of possessions prior to death. It's important to focus on the mindfulness of dostadning; it's not a frantic dumping of items but rather an intentional inventory of items and deciding what can be donated, given to a loved one, or thrown away. When done mindfully, this cleaning out of things before death can help a person better prepare mentally for what is ahead and cling less to the things of this world. This mentality can also be applied to life if you feel bogged down by physical possessions and want to live life more simply. A home that is organized, tidy, and manageable tends to be a more peaceful place to live.

Exploring Your Beliefs As Death Nears

In many belief systems, death is not viewed as an end but rather as the beginning of something greater. Studies indicate that people with some type of religious belief are generally more accepting of death than those without any belief system in place. Those who believe in an afterlife tend to face less anxiety about their own death, but that isn't true for everyone. There are some individuals who don't believe in an afterlife or aren't religious who don't fear passing away and see it as a natural process. The important piece is figuring out what you believe in or don't believe in regarding death and dying and what feels uniquely right to you when it comes to accepting your own death.

Embracing Every Moment Lived

Confronting the inevitability of dying can help you better understand just how fleeting and precious every moment is. In moments where you feel frustrated or angry over something minor, try to remember that each little moment is something to be cherished and that eventually everyone is going to pass away. Doing so can help you mitigate the day-to-day irritants and brush them off more easily so you can enjoy the time you have left.

Senior couple sitting on bench looking at sunny autumn view

Each person is fulfilled in different ways, so think about what brings you joy or what makes you feel good and look for ways to incorporate those things into your daily life. If you live or have lived a satisfying life, moving towards death may feel less intimidating.

Facing the Fear of Dying

Many people fear death and dying. This is a natural response to the urge to want to live and survive. Many common questions about death and dying include:

It can take some time to reduce the anxiety that you may be experiencing about death and dying. If you are having intrusive thoughts about death and are having a hard time functioning in your typical day to day, or if your anxiety has significantly increased, it's a good idea to reach out to a counselor who can help you process your fears so you can more fully embrace the time you have.

Give Life to Your Mortality

Determining how to cope with mortality will look unique for every individual and it may take some time to figure out what works best for you. Accepting death doesn't mean being happy about it; it means preventing fears about death from taking up valuable space in your life.

How to Start Accepting Death and Mortality