• Death, the great common denominator, understandably instills fear in many – but what if we could think about it differently?

  • Lianna Champ is a funeral director; here she shares what she has learnt about death and dying

  • If you experience death anxiety or are struggling with your own or a loved one's situation, find a therapist here

I'm a funeral director, with 40+ years in the funeral care business. In this time, I've become passionate about improving our relationship with death. Here are 13 things I've learned about death, and how it can help you: 

1) It’s not contagious 

Unless of course you die from an infectious disease. Many people I meet feel uncomfortable talking about death in case it tempts fate. Talking about the weather doesn’t make it rain and it’s the same with death. The more we talk about it the less anxious about it we become.

2) We need to talk about it

And not just as adults but with our children too, with honesty, to take away the mystery. People like to change the subject and talk about anything but. Why? We prepare for everything else and this is our final moment, surely that should demand our fullest attention? 

3) We need to plan for it 

Thinking about how we would like to be remembered and the type of funeral we want can be a great help to those we leave behind and also gives us a sense of continuity after our death, knowing that the things we wanted will be carried out.

4) It’s not unusual 

It’s going to happen to each and every one of us, yet we are very good at living as if it never will!

5) Thinking about your own death can make you a nicer person 

There is an old proverb ‘Dwell as one about to depart.’ If we consider that we may die at any time, it can focus us on the footprint that we would like to leave behind. Most of us want to leave a kind footprint and this can really make us think about being kind and doing the right thing, apologising and forgiving as the need arises. Creating a rich tapestry for others to remember us by.

6) Death teaches us the value of life 

Losing someone we love can give our own lives a deeper meaning as the realisation that ‘This is it’ and it really is not a rehearsal can push us to do the things we would love to do by the time we come to the end of our life.

7) Sacred rituals at the time of death can be healing 

Rituals are a major part of our lives and we have rituals for many things. Some of us may call these rituals traditions. They both have the same effect. We are all familiar with the lighting of candles on a birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday. Gathering the family together at the time of death for prayer or meditation can be powerful. When we gather in community and hold someone in the light, we invite a healing power. We can invite the power of love and grace, the power of forgiveness and hope, the power of inner strength and peace, that no-one is left alone with their grief, that we can reach out to each other and help comfort one another at this time.

We enter an extraordinary time when we experience a death, we enter a space and time that are out of the ordinary. Whilst we are in this extraordinary time, we have a heightened sense of what is precious, what is true. We have an awareness of what is important in our lives and we have the opportunity to reconnect with the people around us.

8) Death often makes us think of things we should have said and done 

Sometimes, especially if we lose someone suddenly and unexpectedly, there may be things we wished we could have done differently or things we should have said, or even things we wish we had not said or done. This awareness can help us to really consider the relationships in our lives and can teach us the importance of always being honest with our feelings in the present moment, as we experience them.

On your deathbed, it’s not the things you do you regret, it’s the things you didn’t do. Don’t waste your time, it’s later than you think.

9) Death can cause rifts in families 

Some people actually focus more on the contents of the will rather than saying their farewells in a respectful way.  Yet it can also heal family rifts - it can make families realise how trivial the things that divide us really are and the things we may have missed as a family.  It puts the trivia in its place - just thinking about your own death or the death of someone significant in your life, can really put life into perspective.

10) Death can happen at any time 

We can’t always control how or when we die and even though we can appear healthy, we exercise and eat well, we can still be struck down at any time. My experience tells me 100% of non-smokers will die. Be prepared for the unexpected.

The thought of it can make you push your boundaries – actually thinking that you are going to die can make you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’ It can help us to live the life and do the things we dream of.

11) Death affects people in different ways 

This is often based on our own experiences which stem from our learnings in childhood. Also, the relationship we shared with the person who has died and where we are in our own lives can shape how we grieve. It is what it is, and we shouldn’t try and control it.  Children often cope better than adults after a death - because the adults don’t always know what to say or do, this can confuse children who would otherwise accept their own natural reactions to a death and don’t have any expectation or preconceived ideas.

Not everyone wants a funeral – some people want a quiet exit, without fuss or ceremony. Take David Bowie as an example of one of the first to select direct cremation.

Different communities have different rituals – people find what works for them. Sometimes these rituals have been handed down over many generations, sometimes they are created at the time to reflect the personality of the person who is dying or who has died. Rituals can provide a framework to hold onto.

12) Not every death is convenient 

The days of everyone ‘downing tools’ when a family member has died seems to be a disappearing thing, and funerals sometimes have to be arranged around hair appointments and dental commitments.

13) It can be a release  

Sometimes due to religious, cultural or personal reasons, the death of someone can be a release from any threads of negativity in the relationship and give a sense of freedom. If someone has suffered physically and/or mentally, this can also bring a sense of release.

In summary…

Life is a multitude of experiences that we encounter along the way. There isn’t just one destination – there are lots of experiences to be had and there are times when we arrive somewhere we want to stay but something comes along and changes it. Life isn’t predictable and nor should it be, keeping our eye on our mortality can really spur us on to better things.

Lianna Champ is the author of How to Grieve Like A Champ

Further reading

Overcoming grief through meditation and self-compassion

Cultural differences in death and dying

Should we welcome death in our lives?

Why we need to talk more about grief

How silence supports us in times of grief