Identity, Self, & Relationships

What Does Death Mean to You?

mourning candle

For millennia, people have been talking about what happens after death. Lots of ideas have been proposed, and I’ve sometimes wondered if a desire to find meaning in death is one of the reasons religion has been so popular over time and across cultures.

It seems like, to make a very broad generalization, people are uncomfortable with the idea of human life being temporary, and there is a common desire for death to mean something other than the end of life.

Religions offer potential answers, whether that’s heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, or something else (Wikipedia has an article on the afterlife that covers the ideas of various religions). Some people go to mediums to try to connect with people who are no longer alive. Some people go to mediums and also believe in a religion that tells them such a thing doesn’t exist. But humans aren’t the only lives we don’t want death to end; there’s also the rainbow bridge where we can supposedly meet our pets again. Regardless of the belief system, that desire for there to be something more than just this life seems extremely common.

I was raised in an atheist home where death was treated as the end of life, with no afterlife involved. I can see how there would be some level of comfort in believing in life after death, but it’s not an idea that I personally ever had much of a yearning for. I’m okay with death being the end of life, and I don’t feel a need for it to have some greater meaning beyond that. I know there’s bits that science hasn’t hammered down, like when exactly consciousness ends (or even what consciousness is, for that matter). I think those things are probably knowable at some point, but I’m okay with them being unknown for now. I’m also okay with my death being no different from the death of a guinea pig or any other animal.

Death doesn’t scare me. I don’t want a painful death, but I’m okay with the idea that my life will end at some point. I would prefer that to be sooner rather than later, really; there’s longevity in my genes that I have no interest in. I’m not worried about what will happen, because I have no reason to expect that anything will happen at all. I have no interest in eternal life; I’ve always found the idea of life having a beginning and an end to be more appealing. Impermanence is good; eternity sounds tedious.

I don’t seek greater meaning to other people’s deaths, either. I don’t think in terms of whether or not it was someone’s time, because that concept has never really made sense to me. Sometimes shit just happens, and while I can see that there might sometimes be an appeal to believing that things happen for a reason, that also creates a lot of murky territory.

I’ve always tended to be pretty “out of sight, out of mind” in my thinking. Aside from the permanence aspect, someone being dead and not-here isn’t all that different for me than being alive and not-here. This is probably pretty weird for someone in their 40s, but I’ve never been to a funeral before. Funerals weren’t a big thing in my family. Some people didn’t want a funeral at all. With others, my parents were very practical, as in why should I miss school or travel to go to a funeral? The person’s dead already, so it’s not doing them any good.

I find it interesting how many different conceptions of an afterlife that there are. Regardless of what really happens after death, if anything, there are a whole lot of people who are wrong, because not all of these ideas are mutually compatible.

Since I originally wrote this post, I watched a documentary about Evangelical Christians being pro-Israel because they think that once the Jewish people have full control of Israel, Armageddon will happen, which they want. I hadn’t heard that before. Out of curiosity, I decided to read the Book of Revelation. That’s one idea for what will happen. I suspect that if John of Patmos, or whoever it was that wrote it, had those visions in this day and age, he would be considered quite psychotic, regardless of what the source of the visions might or might not be.

So, those are some of my thoughts on death and what it does or doesn’t mean. What does death mean to you?

65 thoughts on “What Does Death Mean to You?”

  1. I think the only thing that Christianity does is give me hope when I need it. Now, to what I’m getting hope for, depends on me, and I’m typically doubting all of the above, so… this cycle of hope is actually rather hopeLESS for me. Welcome to my F’d up world! :/

  2. First, I’ve somehow known for ages that the reason evangelicals support Israel is due to that rapture thing. Nevertheless, we take support where we can, lol! (“We” meaning Jews, since there is still so much antisemitism.)

    Second, my beliefs on death mirror yours. I’m not sure what my parents thought about the supernatural, but we didn’t speak of such things as real. No heaven or hell came into our convos in any kind of serious way, so I didn’t grow up fearful of that stuff.

    Third, I do sometimes fear death, and not just the pain and indignity of some icky illness first, but that vast eternal nothing. I’ve never liked huge open spaces…

          1. Yeah, I was reading Wikipedia on the lead up up to the Holocaust as I was taught next to nothing about it. I knew there was eugenics before “the final solution” but I knew next to nothing. So I went looking. Didn’t know about those deemed “incurable”, the physically disabled etc. And… the ‘Christian’ teachings I was initially raised on (before the widespread move to support zionism) were all about how the Jews (the pharisees) killed Jesus so they should pay and other horrible antisemitism.

            Then yeah in the 2000s or so in my parents’ church, it shifted to how the pharisees, Judy’s etc were also all part of God’s plan = support of zionism to bring about the rapture.

            And… I don’t have good words to explain but the support of Zionism by Evangelicals isn’t really support of Jews? Like a chess piece rather than people.

            It’s “let’s usher in the supernatural abandonment of most of humanity to the devil and they’ll all eventually suffer eternal conscious torture”. Sure in their minds, Jews are God’s chosen people (so will be raptured with them), which beats yet another holocaust, but who knows when another Evangelical “revival” happens which reverses that back into antisemitism? :/

  3. You grew up in an atheist home and I grew up in a home where interacting with those who have crossed over (died) was an accepted thing. It’s a genetic ability – my mother had it to a very advanced degree and she didn’t like that aspect of her “psychic” abilities and she tried to block it. I have it and my great-grandmother had it. I don’t know if my grandmother had the ability. This is all on the maternal side. So – death? Just another adventure.

      1. For the most part it’s been a hoot. Some of my interactions have been with people I knew and some with people I didn’t know – they seek me out I don’t seek them. They just show up. If I practiced more – because like any talent or ability practice makes you better – I could probably be more productive with this.

  4. I have really conflicting ideals about death. On the one hand, it’s inevitable, and no amount of worrying will change that. More so, it makes sense that every thing (including lives) comes to an end at some point. Not to mention that an eternal life does seem kind of tedious like you mentioned. At the same time, the not knowing aspect really freaks me out. And there is a part of me that would like to think that I would have the chance to reconnect with those who are no longer here in this life. It’s a whole hot mess in my head when it comes to this topic. Great post Ashley!

  5. I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife either. I don’t want some psychic afterlife, I want my life. But, unlike the Timex watch from that old commercial, we don’t “keep on ticking.” I’m trying to come to terms with that, with not being here one day. Trying…

  6. I am an atheist. But its not something I advertise unless religion is really pushed down my face, which my mum one time did and so I said to her if you start heavily pushing it again, then I will shove my atheist religion down yours. I heard no more after that.

    Mum is a Christian and believes in God.

    Mum Christened me as a baby and when I got to the age of where you tick those boxes on the form, I stopped ticking Christian and just ticked white British box. Religion none if there’s a box for that, if form slightly different. So that one time caused an argument before the above happened, which I said you Christened me as a baby. You didn’t leave it until I was old enough to choose my own religion.

    I have hate for religion because to me religion can be the cause of issues in the world too. But also, when mum took ill when I was 11, I blamed religion on that because she stopped taking her medication for her mental health the day after she went to the front of the stage to be healed.
    I was there observing that to keep an eye on mum. I wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

    I used to go to church prior to all this, but not because I believed in God, because I didn’t. I just liked singing and the atmosphere. But that soon changed.

    My dad didn’t believe in God and if my mum tried God with him, which I witnessed once for a very short time… well he was soon very angry.

    As in death. I don’t believe in anything after. Like you, I think it ends and thats it. I don’t think there is anything else.

      1. Yes. It really changed me.

        The only religion that does interest me is the Quakers. There’s seems so simple.
        I read a book some years ago, that was offered to me. I read with hesitation and not willingly.
        I can’t remember now the title of the book and author. But the author that written it, written it after spending time with them. I was very interested and felt more my level.
        I didn’t finish the book because I didn’t want to hold on it too long with me only having it lent to me. But I wish I had read it all.

        1. I think it important to respond to any light. Sounds like you’ve had some dark experiences with religion. Quakers are simple, yet I think have some quirky beliefs.

          I’m drawn to simplicity in Christ. He gave his life (on a cross), to give his life. To you and me. I walk every step with him, through dark and light. He is my light.

  7. I also don’t think that anything happens after death, and that’s fine with me. It encourages me to make the most of the time I do have. I guess believing there’s something after death helps grieving loved ones, but that’s not necessary for me. I don’t really see death as a sad thing, just another, inevitable part of life.

  8. Hmmmm… I think I’m still trying to figure this one out. And while I am spiritual, I more view it as a guide for getting through life rather than what comes after death. As for the next part, well, I try to keep an open mind and that’s about all I can do!

  9. Our life has suffering, more than we can handle comfortably. So the idea of death as end of suffering has appeal. Of course, there’ll be no more anything realistically. We have tried hard to live a full life—loving people, visiting places. So we think death will be okay for us.

    Religions offer ideas and stories that seem very far-fetched to us. We do not believe in heaven or hell. These we see as human constructs.

    The brain might not like dying and so will play interesting tricks on us as we expire under certain circumstances. Sounds pretty trippy.

    We could see our energy being recycled in some sort of physics necessity, but it probably wouldn’t be us. When we’re gone, we won’t know it since we’ll be gone.

    We don’t currently have FOMO, but that seemed to be an issue for mom. She didn’t want to leave everyone.

    We could see that being a thing if we’re close to our family. As it is, we’re tired. We want a different world that isn’t coming soon. We will try to help shape it by trying to be nonviolent and nonjudgmental as we are able. To see everyone as someone with the same needs but different strategies. We like it very much, but the lack of a community in real life limits our enthusiasm and hope.

  10. This has been on the forefront of my mind lately since the cancer diagnosis. My mother is a hard core spiritualist, my dad was an atheist. I don’t know what I think. I’m not scared of dying, spent too much time suicidal to get cold feet now. I am sad that I won’t get to see grandkids or know all the children as adults. I have alters that are very spiritual & think they’re psychic. I tend to err towards atheism and think those alters are more likely psychotic lol.
    I guess I’ll find out fairly soon really, if it’s at all possible I’ll bring a purple rose into your life in an unexpected way to let you know 😉

      1. Mostly confusion. Internal communication isn’t really good enough for debates. I read stuff the others write and think WTF, and they probably feel the same way. Would be nice if we could properly talk about it, maybe there could be some sort of compromise rather than bleed through feelings and annoyance.

  11. Interesting read.

    To be frank I never think of ‘death’ since it’s a known fact that death is inevitable. I feel there is no meaning in dissecting it.

    Hindus believe in rebirth because of unavoidable Karmic influence.

    I love Woody Allen’s quote…

    “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
    Woody Allen

    Thank youAshley for this thought provoking article.

  12. I was raised in a Christian environment (yes, Mormons are
    Christians) and have certain ideas about what happens ‘next’. How true or untrue they are, I have no idea. Nobody has come back to tell us a danged thing, now have they? I suppose if there is nothing else, that’s why. If there is, there’s probably a rule about interfering in this level of existence. I do not judge anyone based on their belief or lack of belief in such things. For me personally, if it were ever proven scientifically or factually that one or the other was true, that would be either comforting (if there is) and devastating if there’s not. If there’s not anything else, why am I staying ‘here’ when most of the time it’s so uncomfortable and I’m not happy? No point in my way of thinking. Belief gives me something to hope for, and a comfort that there is something else and it’s better than this reality.

  13. I think you have a healthy mental view of death. In one sense we’re already dead so what’s to lose? “You will surely die” said God in Genesis 2.17.

    It seems we’re already dead to any knowledge or belief in him. So, I credit him for any positive thoughts towards him. If there’s a ray of light, he’s behind it.

    In Genesis 1 God said, “Let there be light.” In John 1, ‘the Word became flesh,’ and is ‘the life and light of men.’ That attracts me.

    I’m attracted to Jesus Christ because he claims to be God, ‘come in the flesh.’ As senseless as the cross of God seems, I’m drawn.

  14. I’m afraid of death although I’ve been an atheist for a number of years. Don’t think I’ll go to hell, but I get existential panic attacks at the end of my consciousness. I hope to do a psilocybin session or two, I read a blog about someone making peace with their death from terminal cancer.

  15. I try very hard to try not to worry about what happens when we die. I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety, all of which has been centered in some way around the fear of dying, and in January that anxiety brought me quite close to realizing those fears. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this…how I almost manifested my fear into being. I can’t tell you that I no longer fear death, but what I have gained is a much greater appreciation for life. This helps me stay rooted more firmly in the present and helps to bring me back from anticipating the future, which is where my fear exists. And for that, I am thankful. ❤️

  16. Death is a weird one to me. I spent so long wanting it, I think I’m at peace with it sort of, I think it will be a long deserved rest. Also I work with a lot of palliative care patients and weirdly I feel a sense of honour being with someone at the end of their lives. It doesn’t have to be a scary experience xx

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