We all know it: Sooner or later, each of us is going to die. In Buddhist traditions, meditating on death awareness is one of the oldest practices. Buddhist practitioners believe that by familiarizing ourselves with death, we are able to handle it better when our time comes and we ensure ourselves a good rebirth.

But here in the West, most of us don’t want to be confronted with the subject. Fear of death is at the core of countless other fears, phobias and disorders. We don’t like to think the seemingly unthinkable. Some of us are even convinced that mere thoughts of death will trigger the actual event. But as death is an essential element of life, ignoring it won’t make it go away. On the contrary, this often only causes the opposite to happen. Our fear of death slowly becomes a gigantic “elephant in the room”, possibly disguised as a different type of phobia or fear, or a general sense of unease.


“What most of us are afraid of is not death itself, but our idea of death. Shaping this idea with our own preferences and beliefs will enable us to give death its rightful place within our lives.”


So what happens when we do face our biggest fear? What happens when we confront ourselves with our own death? Here are some steps to help you figure out the answers for yourself.

Note: You might want to change the order of the steps below according to your personal preference. These steps are by no means meant as a set of rules, but rather as guidelines to help you navigate your own experiences, thoughts and emotions.

Step 1: Imagine your death

Contemplating death, whether because you are currently faced with the reality of dying, or because you want to get a better understanding of what it means to you, will give you a lot of new insights and emotions. Try opening yourself up to anything that arises. Find a calm spot to comfortably sit or lie down and let your thoughts wander off to explore your own mortality.

Imagine what your death will be like. Think of how you will die and try to see what this experience will be like for you. What will happen to your body and what will happen to your mind as you die? See if you have any beliefs about consciousness after death, or ideas about the afterlife. Then imagine your funeral. Think of how you would like to see this, if you want to be buried, cremated, or if you have other ideas.

Think of the world you leave behind, with everything and everyone you love in it, and how they will cope with losing you. Then imagine how everybody else is also going to die some day, just as you are. Regardless of age, religion, social status, wealth, and even health. Imagine how all the people who have ever lived on this earth have died, and how all the people who are yet to be born, will die. Think of how you will be part of this, and what this means to you.

Step 2: Allow yourself to grieve

Once you have fully imagined what it will be like to die, your emotions will automatically pick up on this. You might feel sad, angry, lonely, or scared. How do we process this inevitable loss of self? Of the world as we know it, with everything and everyone we know in it? We do this by grieving. Grief is the natural psychological, behavioral, social, and physical response that helps you recognize your loss and get ready for the longer period of mourning that follows.

According to the Kübler-Ross model, invented by a Swiss psychiatrist, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone goes through all of them, and you don’t necessarily need to in order to process your loss.

Allow your feelings to come and go as they do. Understand that not everyone experiences pain or sadness the same way, and therefore everyone mourns differently. What matters is that you do what feels good to you. Find support with your loved ones. Be kind to yourself. Allow for this process to last for however long it must.


Step 3: Accept your fate

After the process of grieving has unfolded on its own terms, you will notice you will at some point experience a certain sense of peace. The pain you went through will slowly subside and turn into a gentle sense of acceptance. You understand that whatever must happen will happen and have healed the hurt that the shock of death awareness has caused.

Step 4: Take care of practical matters

Once you are able to think about the reality of your own death, you will also be able to consider some of the practical matters attached to this. Here are some things you can do:

•  Write up a will.
•  Write up end of life instructions and appoint someone you trust to make decisions for you concerning your health care when you can no longer do this yourself.
•  Give clear instructions on how you envision your funeral.
•  Consider becoming an organ donor.

Step 5: Live through it

Now that you have looked death in the eye, you will still have some time before it will actually happen. Explore what has changed for you in this process, and how different you feel towards death now. Very likely, your outlook on life has shifted. You may find certain things to be more important now than you did before, like personal connections, friendships, simple moments that bring you joy. And on the other hand you may find that things that mattered a lot to you before, have lost their meaning. Assess this shift in your awareness and how this might influence your life.

Think of all the things you want to do, with the time you have ahead. Think of how you want to live your life and the goals you want to pursue. Think of all the things that make you truly happy.

Step 6: Transcend your fear

Once you feel you have gone through a period of grieving and notice your emotions are more calm, or you even feel a sense of elevation and a renewed sense of happiness, it’s a sign you have transcended your fear of death. However, we tend to move through cycles of experience. All of the emotions that the realization you will die have caused, can resurface at any time as you move on with your life. Allow for this to happen when it does. Do not feel defeated, but accept that it’s all part of your own personal journey.

Fully overcoming the fear of death might happen in several cycles. But no matter how fast we proceed, we transform our fear with each step we take towards awareness.

What most of us are afraid of is not death itself, but our idea of death. Shaping these ideas with our own preferences and beliefs, will enable us to give death its rightful place within our lives. As Buddhist teacher Larry Rosenberg has said, “Learning how to die is also learning how to live.”

What if everyone mourns their own death, and thereby overcomes their fear of death while alive, and lives freely from then on? Death awareness deserves to be integrated into our lives, into our habits, and into our way of thinking.


  1. Mia Medina July 24, 2017 at 20:38

    You have helped me more than I could have hoped for. I will be sure to reference this article to anyone who may be in need of it. Thank you.

    1. User Avatar acourseindying July 25, 2017 at 10:11

      Thank you for letting me know this Mia. Big love to you.

  2. M. Wyatt February 7, 2018 at 17:57

    This has been really interesting. I am an architecture student trying to create a ‘moritorium’ or “a place to confront death”. I have been poking around the internet to find people’s perspectives on the topic of death, and found this really intriguing. Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts on the subject.

    If you are interested, I would love to open a discussion with you about what my project could look like in the end.

    1. Erin April 2, 2018 at 21:39

      Hello M. Wyatt,
      I’m interested in your idea of a moratorium.
      I have a chronic, life-shortening illness. Many of my friends and peers have died at young ages from it. At the age of 39, my time of departure is becoming more imminent(likely within two years), though possibly altered by lung transplantation.
      So, I am exploring and would like to hear what you are considering.

      If interested in sharing, is there a ‘location’/forum/webpage we could connect on?

      Be well,

      1. Sarah April 29, 2019 at 22:28

        Hi Erin,
        I also have a life shortening illness to do with my lungs. I have emphysema diagnosed in October 2017, I was given 1-3 years to live. My 2 worries are the actual death from this disease and leaving my 4 amazing beautiful children. I think my 2 boys will be fine, well as fine as they can be I guess but my 2 girls are just not ready to live without a mum. They are 26 and 20. They haven’t had their father in their lives and now he is too unwell himself to come into their lives. We have a very small family i.e. Aunts, grandparents and never been close to them so my girls will be alone. Both have quite severe mental health issues and I worry about them every single minute I’m alive. Can I be so rude to ask if you have children/family that you are worried to leave behind? And if so, how do you cope? I’m also scared out my mind with the actual process of dying from this disease. I watched my nan die from this and in all honesty it was probably the most horrific act of suffering I’ve ever witnessed and definitely the biggest fear I’ve had throughout my whole life suffocating to death/drowning. I actually have a severe chest infection today and was unable to breathe this morning upon weakening which completely freaked me out.
        Any advice would be grately appriecated

      2. Carolynne June 10, 2019 at 18:44

        U must think nt the end but the beginning. Pray to our lord thank him for your life love and for giving

  3. Kyle Langston July 4, 2018 at 02:17

    Yo, great article. Lately this very subject has been on my mind. Can one mourn their own death? Well turns out you can. But alas, whilst I was reading this, I couldn’t help but ponder, is this religion specific? I am a proud Jewish man myself and this seems more geared toward Buddhists. So my question is, can I, being a Jewish boi, mourn my own death without losing my religion?

  4. Tyquan Ellis-Samfield July 4, 2018 at 02:24

    Yo, ya boi Tyquan is looking for some help. Lately the subject of mourning my death has been in my mind lately. But if I’m honest, death in general. I’m really scared to die so I can here looking for help. I was wondering, do I have to be a certain religion in order to do this? Please help ya boi out.

  5. mary williams March 15, 2019 at 11:08

    I have recently been made aware that my life will be shortened due to heart/lung disease. Numbness was my first fog to walk through, then anger. My anger was not directed at anything or anyone. It was just an emotion. Not a “why me”, more a “I am not ready for this, not yet”, type emotion/feeling. Now, confusion, what to do next, finish my “sensible” to do list, but not wanting to. I notice avoidance, avoiding people I love and adore the most. Why? I imagine for many reasons, just have loved to much if there is such a creature. Don’t want to hurt anyone. Well, that’s where I am at, at this time. Who knows.

    1. User Avatar acourseindying March 16, 2019 at 13:33

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Mary. I would say, do not be afraid of hurting others. Emotional pain is always a side effect of anything real we experience, but it also shows us the depths & intensity of our love.