Facing Death
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Facing Death

Eventually, we all will have to face death. This article discusses how most people deal with this final phase in a human life.

The Final Phase

The final phase in a human life is facing death, however depressing it sounds. Luckily, life expectancy has been on the rise due to well-developed medical services. Most people pass away in a hospital or institution, where arrangements can be made to make it as comfortable as possible for both the person facing death and his or her relatives.

We only begin understanding what death means around age 6 or 7 (unless confronted with it personally). Younger children generally believe death is a reversible state. They think that through prayer, magic or wishing, the deceased person can be brought back. The conviction that death is far away is sustained throughout adolescence and early adulthood, when people indicate that they believe to have lower chance of premature death than others (which is known as unrealistic optimism). At middle age, the perspective of people changes. Death seem to be ‘closing in’, and people begin to think about the time that is left. At this age, people are generally also confronted with death in their personal lives (parents, family, …).

Making a Review

When the end is approaching, many people consider their lives in their entirety, pondering their past. This helps them to integrate their experiences and increases their self-value, which, in turn, promotes personal integrity. Research has shown that sharing such a ‘life review’ with others can be experienced as beneficial and helps counter possible feelings of depression.

Five Stages

When confronted with death, or facing it, there are usually five stages that can be discerned:

  • Denial: simply denying what is apparent. People in this phase tend to think that an error was made, or that it is not as bad as others say.
  • Rebellion: the ‘why me’ feeling. In this stage, people experience a strong feeling of injustice. After all, they did nothing to deserve this.
  • Negotiating: trying to cheat death. People in this stage tend to think that if they change their lives, or take their medicines, they can buy themselves some extra time.
  • Depression: the dawning knowledge of the inevitable weighs people down.
  • Acceptance: accepting the inevitable. In this stage, people begin to think about their goodbyes, what to say and who to say it to.

Research, however, has shown that these five stages do not always manifest in the same order. They can alternate several times. Furthermore, rebellion, negotiation and depression tend to be expressed by people facing a premature death, whereas increasing age leads to a decreased fear of death and easier acceptance.


  • Barrett, H.C. & Behne, T. (2005). Children’s understanding of death as the cessation of agency: a test using sleep versus death. Cognition. 96(2), pp. 93 – 108.
  • Bohlmeijer, E.; Smit, F. & Cuijpers, P. (2003). Effects of reminiscence and life review on late-life depression: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 18(12), pp. 1088 – 1094.
  • Kübler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. (2005). On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York: Scribner.
  • Lehto, R.H. & Stein, K.F. (2009).Death Anxiety: An Analysis of an Evolving Concept. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice. 23(1), pp. 23 – 41.

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Comments (3)

Thoughtful article...no votes left...stumbled.

Excellent article and everyone needs to know more facts about death.Thanks for sharing........I am out of votes but I will come back with my vote

Back with my vote.thanks