Three Ways Death Can Invigorate Life

Rabbit&MonsterBeast - Three Ways Death Can Invigorate LifeDeath has a bad public image. In hospitals, it’s the enemy to be fought and resisted. On TV, death is either quick and quickly forgotten in cop shows; scary, ooookeee spooky in horror shows; or tragic and depressing in dramas.

 Death needs a new PR campaign!

We need new stories about death if we are going to get past our death denial and create a more productive relationship with aging and dying.

 Below are a few stories that illustrate three ways death can actually invigorate life:
 1. Death Gives Courage

The first person I interviewed for my Secrets of Life and Death film series, Cheryl Jones, told me that after losing her partner, she lost her fear of life. Her words made me think of Janis Joplin song, Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Gradually, I discovered that she meant much more than that.

When my parents died, I really got that we all die. There was no longer this comfortable safety buffer — my parents — between death and me. I was next in line, so to speak. This realization was a kick in the butt to get on with life, to do what I had always wanted to do. In a sense, I lost my fear, or set it aside, because fear was irrelevant.

Time was of the essence and there was no time to waste!

It enabled me to go out and make my documentaries even though I hadn’t the slightest idea how I would do it. It gave me the courage to leap into the unknown.

After a serious motorbike accident, Tom Shadyac, a successful Hollywood movie producer, went from making comedy blockbusters like Ace Ventura, Liar Liar and the Nutty Professor to I Am, a documentary about life and the human spirit. He said the close encounter with death did not change him. He was already on a spiritual path long before that. It did, however, knock him from head to heart and gave him the courage to speak publicly about the things that were really important to him.

 That’s what a close encounter with death can do — give us the courage to be ourselves.

 2. Death Brings Us Back to Life

Significant losses can feel life-deflating. When a person loses a partner, life can stretch out like one long empty wasteland. A woman, we’ll call Iris, was like that after her husband died. She spent much of her time in that netherworld between the cherished past and the unimaginable future.

About 8 months into her loss, Iris went to see a friend in the hospital who was dying. This friend, far too young to die, was wired up to a bunch of machines and barely breathing. The vision was horrifying and shocked Iris out of her grief. In that moment she realized that she did not want to die, she did not want to join her husband, she wanted to live. After that she let go of her attachment to her former life and committed to creating a future she could live with.

My mother-in-law, Barb, had a similar experience. Reeling from a number of losses — a close friend, her cat of 19 years, and an ankle injury — she showed up for a family rafting adventure looking faded and worn.

The trip down the Snake River on the eastern boarder of Oregon took several days and involved doing lots of rapids in large inflated rafts. There were hikes up canyons to see petroglyphs and diving off a huge rock into the river. Barb gamely sampled all of it, yet there was a part of her that was not completely present.

On the last day she accompanied the group on a hike to Suicide Point, high up on a bluff 300 feet above the river. Suddenly without warning, she literally popped off the trail, head first. The slope beside the trail was steep but not sheer. Sheer was another 30 feet down. A small shrub stopped her descent. She tried to move and skidding down another 6 feet. The trail guide and my husband bounded down the slope to assist her. Indignant with embarrassment, she pushed away their offered hands and scrambled back to the trail on her own steam. We released our collectively held breaths.

It was close. TOO CLOSE!! In our minds, we had all seen her tumble over the edge and down into the river. She must have seen it too, because she was completely changed after that—totally back in her body and totally back into life.

A close brush with death can be a powerful wake up call to take a closer look at what’s going on inside.

If life is our choice, we had better get on with it because it can easily be taken away.

 3. Death Reminds Us of What’s Important

The five top regrets reported by the dying, according to hospice nurse, Bonnie Ware, are:

  • Not having the courage to live a life true to yourself
  • Working too hard
  • Not having the courage to express feelings
  • Not staying in touch with friends
  • Not allowing more happiness

I have met a number of people who have arrived at similar conclusions about life through their encounter with cancer. Cancer is death’s calling card. The card says death is coming, maybe soon, maybe later.

One Japanese man got over his cultural reticence and learned to say “I love you” to his wife when she got cancer. Love became more important than propriety. A women discovered how much people truly valued and loved her. Her terminal diagnosis loosened their tongues. Perhaps because she was so opened and able to receive its gift, her cancer withdrew. Another man, angry most of his life, learned not to waste one more precious moment on anger when cancer reminded him that he had an expiration date.

 One does not need to wait until death knocks to learn its important life lessons.

We can learn from our own stories and the stories of others. What are your stories of death? What have you learned through death about life? Ask other people their death stories. The stories don’t always have to have a life lesson. Sometimes they can just be amazing or full of heart.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

Speak Your Mind