Transforming Death Denial into Curiosity, Self-Discovery and Wonderment

MicheBeach Death DenialI made a lot of mistakes when my parents were dying. Obvious signs of their aging were overlooked, communication broke down, I often failed to show up and when I did, I quickly ran away. I felt confused, indecisive and overwhelmed and when they were gone, full of remorse and regret.

The experience was intense and mind-blowing. It put me on a quest to understand death. I interviewed a lot of people, those deeply in the thick of it with enough consciousness to share their experiences. I made three documentaries about dying and in the process I discovered that at the core of all my suffering was denial of death.

Death Denial, also called death aversion or taboo, is a hardening against and resistance to anything suggesting end-of-life, including aging, illness, disability and decline. 

All of Western Culture, unfortunately, suffers from death denial. Huge amounts of time, energy and resources are expended in concealing, denying, delaying and fighting the inevitable result of life.

This denial has sad consequences for the individual, whether dying or caring for the dying. It can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, mistakes, conflict, missed opportunities and regrets, because everyone is so busy stepping away from the obvious.

It is stunning to realize how long my family was in active denial of our father’s advancing dementia. It spared us years of emotional discomfort at the time, but extracted a hefty price from our mother, who survived our father by barely six months. The emotional accounts were then balanced through our regrets.

It does not have to be this way. Accompanying a loved-one through the final years of life can be an amazing opportunity for personal growth and healing. It is a time to express love, deepen intimacy, repay debts, complete old business and most awesome of all, bare witness to the mystery and magic of life and death.

CA Mom and gson Death DenialWhen death is acknowledged, embraced, accepted and explored, everything concerning end-of-life gets easier.

Death consciousness encourages action, saying what you feel, and asking the feelings of others, because it comes with the knowledge that there may not be second chance. Death gives a time limit for showing up.

To get there, death denial must be addressed. It does not evaporate overnight. It is firmly grounded in cultural convention and deeply embedded in personal experience. It takes focus and practice to identify the sources and release their grip.

A great place to start is to:

Be Curious!

Whenever there is discomfort, dis-ease, or irritation around end-of-life issues, be curious. Notice, explore, ask questions:

  • Dad has stopped making his wooden bowls. Am I trying to reengage his interest for his sake or mine?
  • Am I avoiding talking about financial issue because I am sensitive to my parents’ need for privacy and independence or because I can’t bear the thought of their dependency?
  • Why have I still not filled out my own advanced healthcare directive?
  • How do I feel in reading this post in this very moment?

This exercise is one of inquiry and awareness, not judgment. Notice the feelings, try and identify the stories underneath. Try out a different story and see how that feels.

Caring for someone who is ill or declining provides the perfect opportunity for unearthing death denial.

Go easy. Change takes time. Have compassion for yourself and those in your care.

Death does not have to be the scary boogieman we’ve been lead to believe in. Dying is the next great passage of life. It is as wondrous and mysterious as birth. It is normal, natural and can be as easy as stepping off a bus when released from the grip of fear. Cultivating death consciousness not only improves the experiences of death and dying, it informs and enhances the way we live.



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