Learning to Deal with Death: 8 Strategies for Coping with Mortality
by Kristal Borjas November 02, 2020 5 min read
Death and mortality are nothing new to humanity; they are an expected part of life and something that every single one of us experiences. And yet, while we all experience it, we confront and cope with mortality in our own ways. For many, it simply presents new challenges and struggles, as there is no single, easy approach to facing the impending death of a loved one or confronting our own mortality.
At the same time, the need to confront mortality and face death has never been more prevalent than this year, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus has taken mortality from the back of our minds and forced us to confront the realities of uncertainty and fear as we face the unknown. With the uncertain nature of the virus and those whose lives it takes, the challenge becomes learning to understand and accept mortality so that we don’t feel forced to live in fear or death.
Regardless of whether it’s related to the coronavirus or not, here are 8 strategies to help you process and deal with mortality and death.
1. Don’t be afraid to rely on faith.
Faith can be one of the most powerful ways to help us deal with losing a loved one or with facing our own impending mortality, whether it is expected or not. Some people find that by relying on their religious leaders, they receive comfort and solace as well as strategies for accepting the reality of death.
Regardless of what denomination you might be, or how regularly you practice that religion, reaching out and relying on the religious community you belong to can have a significant impact.
2. If religion isn’t for you, perhaps spirituality can help.
The past few decades have seen a greater shift from strict religious associations as more individuals seek spirituality in their daily living. With this spirituality can come peace and comfort.
While it may focus less on answering the questions surrounding death and what comes after, it can be tremendously impactful in helping feel present and in the moment and allows for an ability to become closer with understanding our limited time on earth. Some suggest that along with this idea of spirituality, certain activities like gardening or yoga or meditation can help bring a strong sense of ease when contemplating or accepting mortality.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
If you yourself are ill, or a loved one is nearing the end of their time, refusing to talk about the elephant in the room can increase stress and anxiety. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and shut down emotionally. Having the opportunity to talk openly with your loved ones about passing not only eases your concerns but eases theirs as well.
It can be challenging, uncomfortable, and emotional, but finding ways to communicate fears and emotions is the best approach to diminishing those fears and managing those emotions.
4. Read literature about experiencing and coping with death and loss.
Sometimes it is far easier to read about things than to openly talk about them. It allows us to internally process what we’re reading. There are books about dealing with the loss of a beloved family member. There are books that discuss assuaging your own fears about dying. There are books to help you come to terms with a terminal diagnosis. The literature is expansive.
What’s also expansive is the approach- some are more humorous to make the topic easier to discuss while others might be more serious in nature. Read through reviews and summaries before selecting some that might help you. If you aren’t sure where to start, some of these lists might help: here are 50 books about death and 5 for reading through grief.
5. Focus on confronting and challenging your own mindset.
Learning to control our own emotions, embrace our fears, and shift our perspectives on life are no easy feat. With active awareness of our own thoughts and feelings we can learn to confront our own mindset. When you question and challenge the way you think, it makes it easier to change how you view life and death.
Remember that death is both universal and inevitable and use those to guide and question your thought process. When you pose fears or uncertainties in your mind, try to actively ask yourself why that fear exists, then challenge yourself to view it from another perspective. Forcing a new perspective helps you view things and experiences with a different mindset.
6. Try to view death in a positive manner
This runs somewhat in tune with the previous approach about changing your mindset. It stems more from remember and focusing on the positive aspects of death and dying. First and foremost, for many, death is not the end of life, but the start of a new one.
Whether it’s heaven, the afterlife, or rebirth (depending on your religious and spiritual affiliations) when we leave this life, it means we move on into another form of existence. For those who are sick and struggling, death means they are now free from pain and struggle. For our loved ones, death means they are not with us in person but are now always with us in spirit. It can be incredibly hard to find ways to view death in a positive light, but it can have quite the impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing.
7. Seek out counseling.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, your doctor will often set you up right away with counselors who can walk you through the process of accepting death. They can give support strategies, resources for outreach, and connect you with counselors who can help with coming to terms. If you lose a sudden one to death quickly and unexpectedly, the hospitals will also be able to set you up with grievance counselors who can help you manage and cope with loss. While you might feel inclined to refuse these types of services initially, try to remain in the right frame of mind to accept any and all help you can.
8. Focus on making the most out of the time you have, so you know you lived every moment to the fullest.
Two of the biggest struggles when it comes to facing death come from a fear of pain while dying and the fear of having regrets in life and not living to the fullest. To the first, it’s important to understand that a majority of deaths are experienced in a peaceful, calm, and pain free manner. When one passes in their sleep or in hospital, every measure is taken to ensure the most pain-free transitions is possible.
To the second, the most powerful way to eliminate this fear is to truly focus on living each day to the truest and fullest. It means telling our loved ones how much we love them. It means choosing to spend our time surrounding by those we care about. It means feeling gratitude for each day we are given. It means expressing thanks that we are given incredible experiences. When we have the opportunities to do the things we love, we take those opportunities. When you feel confident about how you spend your time, it makes it easier to accept the reality of death.
Facing the Fear of Mortality
While we often don’t want to confront the reality of facing our own death, the fear of dying can be far more damaging to our spirit, mentally and emotionally. Developing a healthy relationship with mortality is an important step towards eliminating the fears associated with dying, and embracing each day we are given on earth with those we love.
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