The Irony of Death as Part of Life

The Angel of Death is coming for everyone ever born into this world.  It is inevitable.  Death cannot be coaxed or tricked or reasoned.  She comes for poor and rich alike, good and evil, great and small, man and woman, elder or child.  Whether its peaceful or violent, tragic or calm, death comes.  Some fear her, others welcome her.  In the end, as certain as birth is also as certain as death.

The Angel of Death can be seen as bad and good, sadness and joy and ending or new beginnings


While many may see this event as the end, it should be instead as seen as part of the process of existence itself.  Death is not the end of life but part of life.  It as important to live the death process as important as to live the birth process.  Many take away from this event, for it is indeed terrible and frightening but beyond this physical and sometimes seemingly dark moment, is a transition and an important part of life itself.  Whether religious, spiritual or atheist, death is a cycle plays an equal role to birth.  One can see it as balancing life, or giving back to the cosmos, or transitioning to the next life.  Whether one ceases to exist, or continues to exist, death gives back to the world that permitted one’s existence.  Whether one’s composition is reformed for the cosmos, or one’s immortal soul and life energy transcends another plane, whether theist or atheist, one sees a sacred balance taking place.

This part of life must be honored, it must be respected.  The individual and those who love and are loved, need to treat the process and event as a sacred event.  Whether tears, tales of the good times, or preparation for the next, it is a time to share all emotion.  It is a time not to hide from, or try to avoid, but one to embrace, no matter the sadness or pain.   Death should be met with dignity, on its terms.  Death should be made to be as comfortable and painless as possible, but death should not be hated or cursed, but accepted as an event as real as birth.   Many who do not understand these views, will hasten death before it should come for fear of suffering or depair, while others will cling to life too long through any artificial means.   It is natural to fight for life, but it is equally natural to accept reality and find comfort during the process.  The imbalance between hanging on too long and giving up too soon through the process takes prudence and a true understanding of the death event and what it means.

While it is more difficult to celebrate death as one celebrates birth because of pain and loss, it can still be celebrated in a different way.  It can be celebrated as a completion of life. It can be a celebration of the life lived and depending upon one’s views, a new life experienced.  An awakening from the cocoon of temporal life and awakening as a new creature into the next.

Many view death and life from multiple prisms.  No one prism is more valid than the others and in many cases, the different views can conflict.

One’s spiritual, emotional and intellectual views on death give a better picture of the event for ourselves. The irony of fear and peace, joy and sadness, and known and unknown are all part of the feelings with death


The first view of death definitely is shaped from a spiritual arena of thought.   Those of religious backgrounds have many different ceremonies surrounding death.  From the multiple Hindu rituals aiding the soul into the after life to monotheistic views of judgement and entrance into hopefully Heaven.  Many of these religious and spiritual views can grant the dying or the families of the dying a sense of hope.  While there are multiple tears, hope and faith promise the suffering and the sufferer that they will once again see each other in some form.  This can lead one to many conclusions.

It can help individuals see death in a different light.  Death is only a physical terminal date but it is not permanent, but only temporary and transitional to another life.  In Christianity, through death, Jesus Christ conquered death and promised Resurrection to all who die after Him.  This same promise is issues to those within Judaism and Islam.  The promise that Jehovah or Allah will awaken the bodies of the dead.  Death hence is not final.

Nor in the Eastern faiths.  Death brings about a transition where the soul may again re-emerge on this plane of existence, or finally reconnect with the ultimate reality.

Hence within the spiritual prism of the idea of death, death has no final statement, but only a temporary stamp that leads to transition.  While those who are not spiritual face a different reality, one more without this type of hope, there can still be a aura of awe.  One can find the imprint of the lost loved one in memories that live on through others.  The importance of legacy and values handed down and being kept alive are important for these individuals, even more so than those of spiritual beliefs.  While there is no chance or thought of reunion, there still exists the faint whisper of the one who once was in others or in values.  There is also the oneness of knowing that the circle of life that takes, also gives back, and through the cycle of life and death, all share a material role to play.

The second view that affects one’s view of death is one’s intellectual self.  While faith or belief plays a large role in shaping death and her essence, the intellect nonetheless relies upon the senses to understand life itself.  This empirical reality is based in science itself.  Hence, while one may possess a strong faith, the intellect still fears what it cannot grasp.  It still wonders and can doubt.  So while one may at one particular point, express relief that one’s loved one has passed on, there still exists a small existential nudge of fear and doubt.  There is indeed hope, but the fear still can exist.  The intellect can only adhere to what the senses show it.  The sight of the corpse, the sounds of the funeral and the cold reality of no more presence of the loved on Earth is a true reality.  These intellectual realities cannot be dismissed by faith alone but are real and true experiences that cause intense suffering.  The intellect acknowledges the harshness and separation of death.

The final view of death affects one’s emotional self.  The intense sadness of separation of the loved one cannot at times be comforted by faith.  While the intellect acknowledges the mark of death and the consequences of it, the heart mourns it and experiences it.  It sees death as unfair, unjust and a weapon to take one’s love away.  The emotional heart fears death, it seeks to avoid it and it wishes it would never happen.  These are all natural feelings connected to survival.  One tries to exist as long as one can. It is evolutionary to do so.  The evolutionary urge to exist in this plane and the anxiety and intense sadness of separation from those one loves, drives one away from the mere thought of death.

So from this, one can can see a balancing act of views about death. None are truly wrong.  Spiritually, intellectually and emotionally, all play an equal truth in understanding death.  They balance the full story and allow certain parts to mourn, fear and have hope.  They are sometimes experiences at different times.  When one is experiencing the immediate experience of death, emotional tears and thoughts dominate.  Later, when calmed, more spiritual ideals may return.  Then in the coldness of grief, sometimes, fears and intellectual thoughts can emerge.  They should all be analyzed and allowed to ferment within the soul.  Ultimately, they help shape one’s entire and whole view on death.  They complement each other.  They show hope, but also permit sorrow and even doubt.  They allow natural anxieties about death to manifest that need addressed.

Together, they can allow oneself to mourn but also to have a healing trajectory and also a better reverence for death.  They help one to experience death as part of life and to entertain all the emotions that are associated with it.  The balance of these differing sensing of what death is permit a more complete view of the event, with each one playing an important role in the process.  Hence ironically, death is feared but not feared, sad but joyous, and known but unknown.

Helping others properly face death with all the uncertainties is an important part of living itself. Please also review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Program


Please also review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Program.  The program looks at the needs of the dying as well as the needs of the mourning.  It tries to help ministry and healthcare professionals into better understanding the nature of death and helping others transition through this important part of life.  The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals looking for a certification in Pastoral Thanatology.


Additional Resources

“What Is Thanatology? :A thanatologist studies various aspects of death and dying”. Chris Raymond.  June 7th, 2020. Verywellhealth.  Access here

“What Happens When You Die”., Cleveland Clinic. Access here

“Facing Death without Religion: Secular sources like science work well for meaning making”. Christel Manning. 2019. Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Access here

“Death in Different Religions”.  October 8th, 2019. Endwithcare. Access here

“A systematic review of religious beliefs about major end-of-life issues in the five major world religions”. RAJSHEKHAR CHAKRABORTY, M.D, etc, al. Palliat Support Care. 2017 Oct; 15(5): 609–622. National Library of Medicine. Access here


Grief Counseling Certification Article on Death and Dying

They say the only certain things in this life are death and taxes.  Death is a guarantee at the moment of birth and becomes ironically part of living itself.  It plays a key role in our life span in this temporal world.  Yet, it is the most feared and avoided topic despite its central importance to our life itself.  Thanatology attempts to understand the nature of death and dying itself and attempts to explain the science and philosophy of death.  Grief Counseling tries to help us adjust to the process of dying or the death of another.  Together, they can help an individual better discuss, deal and cope with this very natural life event.

Traditionally, death has many characteristics.   Lack of respiration, lack of pulse and heartbeat, zero response to stimuli, lowered body temperature, stiffness of the body and bodily bloating are all signs of death.  The Harvard Criteria lists death as something that leaves the individual unresponsive to stimuli, no movement or breathing and no reflexes.  Furthermore it notes that there is no longer any circulation of blood to the brain and a flat EEG exists.

What constitutes a state of death? Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification


Death hence has it characteristics and permanence once a certain time period of such lack of activity exists.  While the fear of not being dead and buried may have existed long ago, today’s science clearly delineates the boundaries of alive and dead.   Death though is more than a physical event, but is also for many a spiritual event.  It is an event that leads to a new birth in spiritual beliefs and is more than just merely the end of physical activity.  While spirituality and death may not have empirical evidence to support it, the belief itself is wide held throughout humanity.  It can also be said, while it cannot be empirically proven, life after death, it is also said it cannot be disproven.

The dying process leads to death and is more than a physical journey but also a spiritual and emotional one for the dying as well as their loved ones.  The biggest question to ask is when does dying begin?  Philosophically one can say, dying begins the day we are born, but health studies require a more definitive definition that denotes a direct and acute movement towards death itself.  While one may be dying, sometimes, one may not even know the event is occurring.  This is why recognition of the facts is essential to officially declare one is dying.  The facts need to be communicated and realized for the psychological, emotional and spiritual elements to enter into the equation.  When nothing else can be done to prevent the acute event, one officially realizes they are dying and will die due to a particular thing.

The expression and communication of dying to another is something that healthcare professionals have recently been hoping to improve in regards to delivery of the news.  In the past, the dreaded news has been expressed coldly and sometimes abruptly.   As an event of failure to the medical world, the person was left to process the information without guidance or compassion.  Today, those in Pastoral Thanatology, look to help the dying die with dignity but also understanding and compassion.  Hospice prepares the dying for the ultimate end, looking to reduce pain and prepare one emotionally and spiritually for death.

Physicians and healthcare providers though can better communicate death to their patients.  Sharing smaller facts and gauging responses are key, as well, and not overwhelming the dying and their family at first.  Explanations and time to educate are key, despite the discomfort of such bad news.  Allowing pauses and questions and time to process is key, but also respecting denial.  Being there and giving the time is key. Another important element is not to stretch the truth, but to be completely honest, but in that honesty, again, find the time to listen and not mechanically leave the scene after such heartbreaking news.  Many healthcare professionals are not trained in explaining death and are only trained in the mechanics of what is occurring physically, while dismissing the emotional and mental aspects of death.

Once one is faced with dying and accepts the outcome, certain questions become obvious to the dying.  Certain trajectories manifest to the dying that map out their final days.  The biggest are certainty and time.  How long does one have and what to expect in the final months, days or hours.  Some trajectories are quick, others linger, and others occur unexpectedly.  These aspects can greatly change how one prepares for death.

Death comes for all. How we prepare depends on multiple factors. Please also review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Program


Obviously each trajectory has their benefits and disadvantages.  Preparation in death can allow one to put all business aside, but leaves one to the mental long anguish of knowing the end is coming.  Quick deaths can reduce this anxiety but leave one with very little time to prepare financially, spiritually and emotionally.

The long mental process of accepting death was best laid out by Elisabeth Kubler Ross.  Kubler Ross worked with the dying and found they responded in a five stages to death.  Namely, denial, anger, sadness, bargaining and acceptance.  Each phase while not always ordered, showed the emotional response of most people to the news of death itself.  The news can be so terrifying that one may react in a variety of ways trying to control what one cannot control.  The ultimate end is acceptance because death is guaranteed for all.

Charles Corr also pointed out the reaction to the news of death.  At the epicenter is the physical reality of dying, followed by the psychological reaction, followed by the social reactions and finally the spiritual reactions.  As the wave of the news spreads, the dying story encompasses all aspects of the person’s existence.

Buddhist stages of death are more spiritual.  They see various stages of loss of sensation, to visions, to nothingness itself.  In Christianity, death is seen as the result of sin.  It is a punishment and the severing of soul and body, but it is temporary, and the body one day is restored to the soul.   It is important to understand the spirituality of the individual who is dying and to help them fulfill any incomplete spiritual exercises before death.  This gives comfort to the dying.

How death eventually takes the person is something very intimate and seen by family and healthcare workers.  While it can be painful, it is sometimes very peaceful, as the body surrenders to death.   While many may never have it, it is everyone’s hope to experience a happy and peaceful death surrounded by love.  This is the most anyone can ask for as this dreaded but important part of our life occurs.  One needs to be prepared and think about this event.  It should not be disregarded as morbid, but seen as an important part of life.  The thought of dying well is something we should all smile towards when that day comes.

If you would like to learn more about Grief Counseling and Pastoral Thanatology, then please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification and Pastoral Thanatology Certification.  The programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking four year certifications in these disciplines.

Please also review

“Death, Dying and Human Society”by David Kastenbaum

“On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler Ross

Pastoral Thanatology Certification Article on the Dying and Hope

Dying is part of life.  Dying is not a failure but a pivotal part of human experience.  No-one truly knows what is like to die but individuals can learn how to face it.  Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler wrote extensively on death and the needs of the dying.  They discussed vital aspects in how to counsel and listen to the dying.

One of the biggest things they emphasized was to treat the dying as if they are still alive.  To many times, the dying are seen merely as an old shell of what they once were.  The dying are defined by their disease, not who they were.  The term my “dying grandfather” is applied instead of my “grandfather who is dying”.  Dying is not the essential quality of the person.  The essence of the person remains.

Treating the dying as living human beings is the first key in Pastoral Thanatology


When listening to the needs of the dying, one needs to see the full humanness of the person.  They need to see the light within the person’s eyes, not the disease, the machines keeping the person alive, or the crippled body.  The person still exists.

It is essential to treat the dying with dignity and respect.  They deserve to be spoken to about their condition.  They deserve to be involved in the decisions, if conscious.  They deserve to be recognized.  This is family should not shun the conversation of death, or hide their conversations outside the hospital room.  The dying need to be treated as living.

The dignity of the dying is critical to maintain as a living person.   They need to be listened to, spoken to, and not treated as if they already dead.  Hope should never be denied.  Hope is a key element.  While some may remained to the reality of approaching death, hope can continue to fuel the dying.  Since they are alive, hope is still always alive.  To die with hope is not a bad thing.

Dreams of a cure, or a miracle are not bad things.  Too many times, doctors and healthcare professionals see death as defeat and not part of life.  Once the disease progresses to a certain point, they no longer view the person as alive.  They sometimes dismiss hope because of their own defeat.  Death, however, is not defeat.  Death is natural and is as part of life as birth.  Hope for life even during terminal illness does not mean one is in denial of his or her condition but that one is alive and ready to face any challenge, even to the very last breath.   This is the essence of the human spirit and the true meaning of being alive.

Never deny hope to the dying. Hope and dignity are essential to the dying process. Miracles may or may not happen, but noone should be denied hope. Please also review our Pastoral Thanatology Certification


One cannot label the dying as dead but treat them as alive.  One must see in the dying, the face of a man or woman in her prime, not defined by old age or disease.  Whether one believes in miracles or does not, whether one is spiritual or not, one cannot dismiss hope if they work with the dying.   Hope is a powerful thing.  Whether it prolongs life or does not, it definitely does not hurt the person.  If the hope is well rounded in reason but yet optimistic, one can live while they are yet dying.

One cannot dismiss the final time of death as wasteful or useless.  There is always a reason.  More time to learn, or teach others.   Family may come closer, or learn new things during the dying process.  Maybe the dying wishes to see one last person.

It is important to grant hope but also to discuss death, to let the dying know they are still a complete person.  They can accept death with dignity as well as fight for every breath, or they may succumb to death with the love of others surrounding them.   Only if the person is given the dignity they deserve while dying is there a true possibility for a happy death.

Dignity and hope are key elements of living the fullness of death.  It may seem contradictory to say living the process of death but that is what it truly is.  When we view the dying as already dead, there is no true process, no true experience of this ultimate event.  Death is part of life and hope and dignity are essential elements of “living” a “healthy” death.

I recommend reading the classics of Kubler Ross, as well as David Kessler’s works on the matter.  Their insight, experience and analysis of death are essential to anyone working in the field of hospice, pastoral thanatology or grief counseling.

If you would like to learn more about death and dying, or would like to become certified in Pastoral Thanatology, then please review AIHCP’s Pastoral Thanatology Certification and see if it matches your academic and professional goals.