Emotions and Spirituality
How do I let go of my anxiety about death and about the meaning of life?

Most of us struggle with the fact that life ends in death. When a family member dies or when we think about our own death, the mystery of death touches us personally. We may feel anxious about the way death cuts us off from people we love and care about. We may be frustrated or disappointed by how little solid evidence there is about what people experience after death. We may wonder what is the point of life if it ends in death.

Thoughts about what happens to us after death may bring up questions about the universe we live in. Is our universe friendly or not? Does human life have purpose and meaning? If we are religious, we may wonder whether God is loving or punishing, or what is God’s purpose for our lives.

Our answers to such questions affect how we feel about death. Some people find comfort in religious answers about the afterlife; many religions provide pictures or maps of life after death, and often describe rewards and punishments for the way people lived on earth. Other people may feel abandoned by God, or feel religions do not provide the answers or comfort they are seeking during this challenging time.

Some people believe that our mortality helps to make life meaningful – that if we lived forever we would not recognize what a gift life is, or feel an urgency to find our own way to live meaningfully. Some say that death does not destroy the meaning of our lives – that what we create in our living and dying continues to influence the world after we are gone. However, other people’s ideas about how death relates to the meaning and purpose of life will not necessarily satisfy us. Each of us must explore for ourselves questions about the meaning of our lives in light of death.

If we believe that the universe is friendly or that God cares about us, we may trust that even in death we will be cared for well, or will remain part of nature's web of life. If we believe that life has meaning, we may be able to accept death as part of life; that is, if we have tried to live with a sense of purpose, we hope that the meaning of our lives will not be wiped out by death. If we feel disconnected from the universe’s web of life, or experience God as demanding, harsh, or distant, we may have more difficulty facing death with trust, acceptance, and hope.

Perhaps you can discuss death and the meaning of life with a trusted friend. Such a conversation may be difficult to begin, but it may give you new ways of looking at things. If you have found comfort or strength in a religious tradition, you may want to talk with a religious leader from your faith community about your questions and anxiety. Another option is to talk to a professional counsellor, social worker or hospice volunteer.

Anxiety about death can rob us of our joy of living, but it does not need to be so. We must trust that if we live with an open heart and mind we will find pieces to the puzzle that help us to make sense out of life and death. This willingness to face our mortality requires courage and thoughtful reflection. Questions about what happens after death and how death relates to meaning in life will likely be lifelong. They are challenging, but also valuable. They can help you to see death as a meaningful part of life.

These articles offers ways of reflecting on meaning and purpose in the face of death:

These books also may provide help and guidance: