Why Thinking About Death is Actually Good for You

It seems that most people generally fall into one of these two categories when it comes to thinking about death;

Human skeleton thinking on a grey background1. Total Avoidance: Death freaks you out, you don’t like how it makes you feel so you choose not to think about it (because that’s going to help). Some people cope with their fear of death by dieting, working out, and worrying about their body. Others are fearful of taking risks or doing potentially dangerous things, even basic sports. People can live their lives in bubbles from a fear of dying when they are arguably, in far more danger of never living.

2. Comfortable & Curious: As much as is possible, you’ve come to terms with the fact that you’ll die. Perhaps you’ve seen a parent die and instead of fear there is a certain sense of peace and acceptance you feel when death comes up and you aren’t afraid to talk to others about it or ask about their stories.

I’ve seen both people, they’re very easy to tell apart. When someone asks me where I work they tend to either respond with silence (afraid of death) or they share with me a story of someone close to them who isn’t doing well or who has died (facing a need to accept or already have accepted death).

There is something about seeing death in the day-to-day that I’ve been told puts you in danger of being jaded or insensitive but it hasn’t had that effect as of yet. I’ve found that it has helped me accept the frequency, and understand some level of the magnitude on which death occurs. It has also made me see with so much clarity the freedom of living in the light of knowing you will die vs. the paralysis that can come with living in constant fear of death.

Here are a few death-related things that might surprise you:

Thinking about death promotes healthy and pro-social behaviors at least according to this article. Just walking by a cemetery can cause you to think and create positive changes in your life – pretty cool right?

– There is an app for EVERYTHING and there is one that will tell you how much time you have left on this earth. iDie calculates your life expectancy from your birthdate and shows you how much time you’ve probably got left. In other words, it doesn’t allow you to forget that you’re dying and what’s the point in forgetting?

6c8f7260594568863c5a4fc0ccbabe85Thinking about death could make you funnier – this may sound crass but I’ve noticed that the deeper the pain the easier the laugh. Our mortuary is filled with some of the funniest people I know, these same people are also some of the most dedicated, compassionate and deeply sensitive people you could ever meet. It’s a matter of balance like all things, but when you work at a mortuary you are entitled to have a few laughs (in my opinion).

Thinking about death can make you value life more – this article talks about a study that found people who wrote about their own mortality or other death related topics reported lower levels of depression, increased self-esteem and higher motivation.

– Way more people talk about death than you think – this is my own conjecture but I’m fairly certain it’s true. In our love of people, of life, of moments we realize they don’t last forever and as we think about endings we think about death. People think it sounds macabre to say but if we were all just honest, we’d find we weren’t as alone in our thoughts and I think the world, would honestly, be a better place.

So that ought to sum it up; you should think about death more. Not much more perhaps, but give it your attention when you’ve got the time and energy to do so. Maybe even walk by that cemetery for some value-adding, life-changing vibes.

If you’re intrigued by this idea, I’ve got an interesting challenge for you. Have a go at writing your own obituary, see what you say about yourself, your life, your family – I think it will be a more positive experience then you think (at least I hope so).

Quotation-Candy-Chang-thinking-life-death-Meetville-Quotes-47555Death is a profound and thought-provoking subject that can, if given enough thought, change your life.

|| what do you think?

– Do you think about death?

– Is it uncomfortable or a welcome topic?

– Have you noticed any positive changes from thinking about it?

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I’m Molly and I write for the blog here at O’Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who’s deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try.
Work at O’Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.
I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

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  • Lori

    Molly,
    What an interesting post! I have noticed that once people know what I do for a living, I have suddenly become the “expert” in their eyes. I have certain friends that when we get together, the conversation gravitates towards death. They want me to take away the mystery that mortuaries have held for them.
    My mom will call and ask questions….”your aunt wants to know…..”
    I think even those who say “I don’t want to think about it” DO want and need to think about it. It is important to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations. It is so helpful as we prepare for the loss of loved ones and walk through the grief journey.
    Love,
    Lori

    • I agree with you Lori, I think most people, deep down perhaps, really do need to talk about death in some capacity. Whether it’s processing the death of a loved one or venting concerns about their own, there is tremendous power in speaking our thoughts and having someone hear them.
      In our culture, however, we are so terrified of not “fitting in” that taboo topics exist and, sadly, death is one of them. You talk about dying, ew, you’re weird. ; )

      Thank you for sharing!

      Molly

  • Carrie Bayer

    What a great perspective, Molly! This is one of my favorite blogs so far- thought provoking, light-hearted & diverse. I also get the 2 different reactions from people once they learn what I do. Me ex-husband & his family used to call me The Butcher because of their death phobia. I have lost friends because of their death phobia. But I am still hopeful that they are able to let go of their fear sooner than later, even though I will not ever see that transformation in them. The majority of people, however, are shocked at learning I’m a mortician. They say “But you’re a girl” or “You’re not creepy enough”. I explain that I’m breaking the mortician stereotype, one conversation at a time, one family at a time. We usually end up talking for a long time & in them I do see the transformation from fear to acceptance, even to comfort sometimes! Then there was a third type of reaction I once received… this guy thought it was all about the creep/gore/chemical factor & tried to take the conversation to a demented level. I got out of that discussion ASAP & left the room quickly! All in all, I find mostly positivity in my conversations & revelation of my profession. Changing the world! XOXOX Carrie

    • That’s so awesome Carrie! I’m convinced you find that positivity from others because of HOW you present yourself and what you do. You are so accessible, safe and open. You love to connect, share, teach and tell your story – your passion is one of the first things I noticed about you and it’s wonderful.

      It’s incredible how much death (in life) can separate us from others. People let it kill relationships and special bonds prematurely when, if they just learned to accept, they could live and live so much richer because of friends like you.

      Love your perspective, as always,

      Molly

  • Michael Thomas

    I guess its no secret now that I love toy have fun here. Especially when it comes to those mortuary “What the heck just happened?” moments. Thanks for writing about a subject that has been eating at me for a while, the fact that laughing about death should not be avoided, rather explored.

    • Michael Thomas

      And I swear I read the whole thing. That part was just the “Yes! Finally!” section for me hahaha

      • haha! I trust you and I’m so glad that that struck you as something so true. I know how fun it is to have a thought you’ve felt stated by someone else. I’m so glad there was some of that in this blog for you!

        Molly

  • Anne

    Molly,
    I wonder what makes the difference in people in that they either can or can’t deal with death and talk about death. It must stem from family influence and something that occurred early on in life.
    Losing my parents very early plus other relatives made dealing with and talking about death ok. Losing my husband, up close and personal, was a different story. I still am comfortable with the subject, but now it was far more painful.
    Now, when friends or family are dealing with cancer, I get a gut wrenching fear for them that I don’t want to convey, while they still have their hope. And let’s face it, lots of cancer does not end in death like happened to us.
    So yes, it is ok to be light-hearted when we can. If it is too close, it might not be appropriate unless the party concerned is light-hearted over it first. Just my two cents.
    Good blog. What was the article that inspired you? I missed that part.
    Love
    Anne

    • Anne, I don’t think there’s anything light-hearted about grief – at all. I just want to make it clear that this blog isn’t saying that thinking about grief or someone that died can make you more positive/humorous – it’s thinking about your own mortality that specifically triggers these deeper thoughts and perspectives that challenge our previous world-views. You’ve experienced a tremendous amount of death in your life, all of which I know has brought you into deeper compassion and understanding for others – death is a teacher to us all.

      You can see the articles I tagged in the orange, underlined links – I hope you have a chance to look at some of them and get a better feel for the focus.

      Molly

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Molly,
    Great, thought provoking blog and I believe right on the money. Let’s face it, it is the greatest mystery of all, for all mankind, death. The mighty fear of the unknown for so many, even people of faith.When we confront our fears, it is then, that our strength comes forward. As funeral directors we do get one of two reactions when we communicate what we do. People either turn and run, or gravitate to you and never leave your side.

    The most compassionate and caring people I know, also have the best sense of humor. When you can laugh at yourself and not take this life to seriously it allows you to be there for others and to give of yourself. Death should not be feared, everything alive in this world dies, but that does not mean that we do not grieve when someone close to us dies. The price of love is grief and in grief is pain and anguish. But, would we have rather never loved? Thanks for enlightening us, now it’s time to take that walk past the cemetery.

    • Oh Chuck, that’s so well put. I recently saw a quote that said, “Don’t take life too seriously, you won’t get out of it alive” – isn’t that great? I know I grew up with the perspective that the mortuary was a place full of funny people who had to do sad/difficult things but who also knew how to really, truly enjoy life. I think that is an incredible testimony to the true heart-healthiness of our team. There is always an appropriate place and time but when we CAN laugh, we should always try to.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Hi Molly,
    Maybe it’s because of my mid-western upbringing, but I think I have always leaned toward the “comfortable and curious” side. I love your quote that says, “Thinking about death clarifies your life.” That one sentence is so thought-provoking it could be a Death Cafe session all to itself.

    It is so interesting to me, since I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary, to see how casual conversations and dinner topics with friends and family have shifted to often include talk about death. I think people close to me feel safe talking about death because of my job here.

    Thank you for the very interesting blog – I think I will bring it up in conversation at my next dinner party!

    Becky

    • Becky,
      Thank you so much! I’m so glad you found this interesting and thought-provoking. It’s fascinating that you’ve noticed a change in conversation around you because of your job-switch – what a testimony to the power of people wanting someone safe and trustworthy to talk about death with. You are a gift to them and I hope you always feel that way.

      Thank you so much for sharing how your life and interactions with others have changed and all because of a mortuary : )

      Molly

  • Jeff Turner

    Molly,

    For us, thinking about death is occupationally unavoidable. I believe that fact helped me when I was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. I recall my first week long chemotherapy session in the hospital and as I was staring at the ceiling I wondered how many people that I had cared for and prepared for their funeral might have stared at the very same ceiling I was now mindlessly gazing at. It seemed ironically funny at the time. I was 29 and hadn’t really planned on dying that young but I learned that I was not immune like I was kind of hoping to be.

    Ecclesiastes 7, verses 2 through 4 says:

    2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
    After all, everyone dies—
    so the living should take this to heart.
    3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
    4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

    Contemplating our mortality in a balanced way can lend a greater understanding and appreciation of the significant moments life holds even in our daily routines. Just as sickness makes us long for health, the reality of death can increase our thirst for life and therefore lead to a more satisfying drink of it everyday.

    Jeff

  • Jeff Turner

    Molly,

    For us, thinking about death is occupationally unavoidable. I believe that fact helped me when I was diagnosed with cancer in 1988. I recall my first week long chemotherapy session in the hospital and as I was staring at the ceiling I wondered how many people that I had cared for and prepared for their funeral might have stared at the very same ceiling I was now mindlessly gazing at, it brought an unexpected smile to my face. I know that others had been here before me and that some went home and some came into my care. It seemed ironically funny at the time and was a teaching moment for me. I was 29 and hadn’t really planned on dying that young but I learned that I was not immune like I was kind of hoping to be.

    Ecclesiastes 7, verses 2 through 4 says:

    2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
    After all, everyone dies—
    so the living should take this to heart.
    3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
    4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

    Contemplating our mortality in a balanced way can lend a greater understanding and appreciation of the significant moments life holds even in our daily routines. Just as sickness makes us long for health, the reality of death can increase our thirst for life and therefore lead to a more satisfying drink of it everyday.

    Jeff

    • Pops,
      When are you going to write a blog for me?! Oh my gosh … that moment is incredible. I can’t get over the perspective and epiphany of that moment, lying there on you back, realizing you’re as helpless as they were and what a fleeting thing life can be.

      I was just sharing with a friend about working here and I found myself saying, “feeling pain like this is a privilege.” I truly believe it is. I love the perspective that the Bible shares in support of this way of thinking.

      Thank you SO much for sharing this!

      Molly

  • Shasta Cola

    Molly,
    Working here, I think about death every day. Much more than I did before I worked here, even in mortuary school. I think that seeing it every day and dealing with so many people experiencing it definitely helps me and my acceptance of death. When I was younger death always seemed to happen to only a few people, usually people I didn’t know well, so it seemed like it didn’t touch everyone. Working here makes it really obvious that everyone goes through these things, it’s a part of life, and it makes living so much more of a gift. It is definitely a welcome topic to me because it is a reminder to respect all people and not to take anything for granted.

    • Shasta,
      You are so young for so much wisdom! It does seem, in our youth (if we are lucky I suppose) that dying only happens in other people’s families. At whatever age when that belief becomes the myth that it really is, we are awakened to a painful reality. There are few things that unite ALL people but death is something we can all look to as a shared experience. How incredible? And yes, how worthy then are all people of our respect?
      Love your perspective, thank you for sharing it!

      Molly

  • Mark

    Molly…..Obviously I think about death everyday here at O’Connor Mortuary….but I think about it in a positive way and I think about trying to live today as though it were my last, because there is no promise of tomorrow…when my head hits the pillow at night, I don’t want to have any regrets that I wasted today….but that I tried to make a difference in someone’s life….Mark

    • That’s so wonderful, Mark. I love your goal to not live through a wasted day – the events that matter don’t have to be earth-shattering, but I think you can rest well each night knowing the difference you are making for people at work on a daily basis.
      What peace there is in knowing you helped someone – I love it.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Molly

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Molly,

    Death. I have to say, even though I am a Mortician, I am somewhat afraid of the word. I guess it’s because I have a wild imagination. When I drive home, I sometimes think, what if that where me. What am I going to do when my mother or father passes? And when it is a child… Ohhh Boy! Sounds selfish, but I think about what I am going to do when my loved one passes and it’s scary. I feel for the families we serve who have to bury their loved one. The pain they must be feeling and the emptiness that will never be filled. I have not always been this way. Actually, only been since I have become a mother. My sense of mortality birghtened and sure enough, I realized I wasn’t super woman anymore. Or were my loved ones.

    On the bright side, knowing that life can be swept from right underneath your feet, I live a wonderful life and am thankful everyday for what I have. Not a day goes by that I don’t say I love to my family!

    Thank you for your post. It was enlightening.

    Joanna

    • Joanna, the power of children is incredible. I know just with my new nephew I’ve seen a beauty in birth that shocked me and my world of death.

      I don’t think it’s selfish or bad at all to think about our loved ones dying – as you said, it helps you remember to tell them that you love them – I think it can even help our relationships as we tend to not hold on to the pettier things when the realization of “what if … ” is always with us.

      I so appreciate your thoughts, really wonderful.

      Thank you!

      Molly

  • Amy

    Molly,
    Even though we are surrounded by death daily I never think about my own death. I feel I am so focused on others that I forget to think of myself. I am very curious about what it will be like. I am excited about it for sure. My faith helps bring comfort and solace. I know that is is going to happen I just don’t know when.
    Thanks for making me actually think about it. Quite an interesting thing for sure.
    Amy

    • Amy,
      There is so much to be said for a hope that goes beyond the grave – I don’t know how families cope with a loss or how people think about dying when there is no hope of a life after. It certainly does help with the fear factor but it still warrants our thought and time.
      I hope, if/when you begin thinking about it, it is an overall positive experience. I know that you are still very focused on your father’s death and that is completely understandable. We don’t have time to think about our own when we are trying to understand someone else’s.

      Thank you for sharing, Amy!

      Molly

  • Neil

    Molly –

    We live in the land of the dying and the dead. Crazy to think not many people don’t understand this is a temporary gig, no gets out of here alive. I try and live my life to the fullest knowing that soon this will be over before I know it. Having Jesse Joe in my life has made me think about living a more balanced life. The balancing between, work, family, fun, working out, spending time with friends and alone time is fun to keep it all in balance. When I start to stress out over stuff, I try and take a step back and realize that nothing is really worth the energy of stressing out about. I like your thought provoking blog this week, thank you for helping me realize I am half dead already, yet fully alive still! 🙂

    • Neil,
      You’re so right on. I know that this last week I held a baby in my arms in the evening when in the morning I had listened to the tragic story of a senior suicide. The journey of life was a full-circle reality for me that day and you see so clearly how the choices we make define how we live and how we die.

      Thank you for sharing your growth and how Jesse has challenged and helped you to live in a way that is truly better for you.

      Molly

  • Mitch

    Hi Molly,
    I didn’t think about death very often until I started working in this industry. I’m interested in the families, survivors and how the death impacts their lives, what kind of life lessons have been passed on. I like what Jeff has quoted from Ecc 7:2-4. Please keep bringing up subjects that intrigue.

    • Mitch,
      I love what Jeff wrote, too. Your interest in the legacy is an interesting one – I’m sure you work services where there is joy, a productive life, and lives changed for the better – and then I’m sure there are other services where the purpose is less clear, or, the families we help who have no services – what was the legacy there?

      I will strive to keep you intrigued – thanks so much for what you do!

      Molly

  • Erin Fodor

    I do often think about death. Tomorrow is never promised to anyone, and
    that tends to be how I live my life. I’ve lost quite a few people extremely close in my life, and that is all the proof I need. The topic of death is no longer a debilitating fear; we all know death is inevitable. I know that can seem a little strange and cold, but being able to see that, I believe makes me right for this job. I take great pride in being able to start a family down their journey of grief, as a service director here at O’Connor Mortuary.
    Another great post Molly!

    Erin

    • It only sounds “weird” because it is so incredibly difficult to get to your place of peace and I think most people want to think “it’s not normal” because they don’t want to go through it. But none of us are immune from death, I know we all tend toward the mindset of “it won’t be me,” but that’s just the thing, with death it someday definitely WILL be you.

      Your heart and mind are in such a strong and helpful place for others, you truly are turning your own loss and tragedy into a ministry and comfort for so many.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Molly

  • Joe Lavoie

    Molly , I am very much a realist and I do understand that one day I will die so for me the best thing is to be as prepared as you can be , to think about it is healthy thoughts to avoid the thoughts to me are unhealthy. I appreciate the time I do have and live life to the best each day because as each day that is added to my life is a blessing . For every family I do help I make sure that we honor them and help tell their stories of their loved one to others and I trust my family to one day tell my story to many at my own service , where I hope will be more laughter than silence or sadness. Thanks again for allowing me the opportunity to think about what is important in life and to add to my story. Sincerely Joe Lavoie

    • Joe,
      This is on your plate constantly with your job and additionally with the health challenges of your dear parents. It must be exhausting to be in the midst of such heavy and emotionally challenging situations. You see with clarity the beauty of each day – and let me tell you Joe, it shows. You are someone I am always happy to see and somebody who, even though life gets serious and difficult, you are still ready to feel joy and express love and compassion.

      I so admire your spirit,

      Molly

  • Lauren

    Molly!
    I love that this article is light-hearted but still has a great message!
    Great articles that you linked and I especially loved the line, “It has also made me see with so much clarity the freedom of living in the light of knowing you will die vs. the paralysis that can come with living in constant fear of death.” iDie is too funny, even some of the comments about the app had some interesting insights. I think that it’s healthy to think about your mortality and it’s great when life changing decisions come from it. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Lauren, thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed the articles & the unique insights they offer. I know you are seeing people on a daily basis who are in one of the two camps and I’m confident you see which is more at peace and able to in turn, freely grieve vs. live in continual denial.

      Thank you so much for reading, exploring & enjoying the blog!

      Molly

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Molly,

    Something struck me in this blog. I am fearful of taking risks. Skydiving, rock climbing, flying. I avoid these activities and I’ve always attributed it to a fear of heights, but I believe now that I am afraid of dying. I need to really think about this more, because I know where I’m going, maybe I’m just afraid of going now.
    I’ll get back to you. I’m faced with death every day, but am only afraid of it in any kind of “me not in control” activity.

    wow! Thanks Molls!!
    kari

    • So interesting Kari! Thank you for sharing your insight. It’s amazing how much we think we know about ourselves and how sometimes our claims of self are just a shadow of something so much more substantial. I’m excited that you’ll be thinking about this more and I hope it leads to some positive self-discovery and challenge. I know I’m afraid of those things – I’m not the thrill-seeking type, and yeah, I really don’t want THAT to be the way I go … I’m not sure if there is anything “wrong” with that on it’s own, but when we explore the idea of how “in control” we are at any given time it does challenge us to live more openly.

      I hope you have time to ponder this on your vacation!

      Molly

  • Fitz

    Hey Molly,
    I prefer to think of the topic as the end of living. It helps me to remind myself to live life to it’s fullest. No one gets outta here alive, right? So make the most of it.
    While I don’t always practice what I preach, I do admire those people in my life who live their life that way. Great thought provoking topic. Thanks!
    Fitz

    • Thank you Fitz!
      I don’t know if ANYONE ever lives the way all the slogans caution us to, but I think that’s ok, too. I know I spend some time each day doing something mindless – it’s almost an equivalent to sleep for my mind – I need it and it helps me function later. I’m usually NOT changing a life in that moment but it’s not wasted either.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      Molly

  • Rosemary

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Molly!
    I would not put myself in the total avoidance group and prefer to think that I am more comfortable and curious. After all, we do think and talk about death every day here. It’s what we do. And yet, I know I am not even close to being ready to write my own obituary any time soon. This topic is going to need a lot more thought and consideration.

    • Rosemary,
      That is a perfectly honest answer – I know without a doubt that you (and all of us here) are contemplating death in one day more than some people will contemplate it in a year. We are in constant exposure.

      The idea of writing an obituary is interesting but I don’t think it says anything bad about you if you don’t feel like writing your own : ) You put so many together on a daily basis that I imagine for you in particular it would be a VERY surreal experience!

      Thank you for sharing, Rosemary!

      Molly

  • Christopher Iverson

    Molly,
    I think about death mostly before and when I travel. My adult daughters laugh when I keep them updated with my health care directives and wills, but as women that grew up with their funeral director father, they understand. They and I are comfortable talking about death. As I tell them, they can always drop me over the rails at the end of the San Clemente pier!

    • It’s a hazard of the job – we think about the logistics, we are trained to and know how all of the “behind-the-scenes” works. It’s getting into the cerebral way of thinking about death that is the challenge – I think it’s difficult for everyone to do but we do happen upon it far more frequently with the constant “what if that was me?” questions. They are so important to ask.

      Traveling definitely brings up those fears and thoughts … glad you’ve cared for your daughters the way you have!

      Molly

  • So well said, Elsa. I think about it pretty constantly as well and I find that it usually brings a perspective to situations that is far more helpful to me than if the thoughts weren’t a part of my life. Reality is just that – a real, actual, undeniable force and we are so much better off to do our best to understand, accept and live within it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Molly

  • Shayna, thank you so much! I’m so with you about the families that come through our doors – I want everyone to come here because I have a peace in knowing they will get the best and that is truly, above all things, what I want for them. I think you are so perfect for your position – being sensitive and not “jaded” or uncaring is vital to doing your job with heart and truth.

    Thank you for sharing, Shayna!

    Molly

  • Mark

    Molly….You are correct that most people have a hard time talking much less planning their funeral service….As for me…I already have mine planned out….the songs, the Bible verses, etc…..I hope my children, grandchildren and friends will gather together and laugh and celebrate…..I hope my grandchildren will say Pops was great…he let me jump on the bed, watch ESPN, and eat ice cream for breakfast….Mark