Death - How To Prepare For It

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 21/6/2020

Death is a subject that society tends to avoid but it is inevitable and the simple truth is being/nonbeing goes hand in hand.

Death will come sooner or later at any age and it will be better that we accept it and be accustomed to it and discussed about it even with children.

Accidental deaths cause the most stress to family members as they are unexpected and it is difficult to accept and the period of grievance is much longer.

People in old age with chronic disease or terminal illness have time to prepare themselves with the thought.

People at end of life often review their life, their achievements or no achievements, their relationship, their good or bad actions in their life. There could be satisfaction if good deeds were done or regrets and guilt of their past action. Attachments are difficult to let go such as attachments to children, partner, grand children or attachment to material things such as money, propertiesā€¦

We can see in dementia patients, they are often attached to belongings and sometimes hiding them and blaming the carer to steal from them. Some severe dementia patients do not recognise the close relatives who care for them but can recognise a relative who come to visit them from afar.

Dr Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist, who studies the end of life of terminally ill patients, had some observations:

-         People can have narrative dream of their life

-         They often see dead visitors coming to see them such as parents, siblingsā€¦ some carers and mainly children can see them

-         People who have many attachments often go through a difficult dead process and experience spiritual anxiety

-         Guilt is the most difficult thing to give up

-         People who did many good deeds in their life, find it easier to give up as they are often not self-centered.

-         Some dementia or coma patients may have a period of lucidity and can recognize their relatives

-         A person with no attachment described that he gave up his body to join joyfully and willingly with the universal consciousness.

The carers or relatives sometimes reported seeing light in the room that went out of the door or light faded with death.  Sometimes they reported shapes or smoke living the body..

Therefore we can have some ideas about how to prepare for a peaceful death in the future.

-         Attachments are the source of unhappiness in life and at end of life such as attachments to our family members, partner, children.. or attachment to possessions, material things.. We have to understand and accept that everything is impermanent and to let go of things easily.

-         Try to practice to reduce anger, greed, guilt, inflated ego, paranoia.. in life so the mind can be peaceful.

-         To practice living at the present, do not follow thoughts of past and future to avoid depression and anxiety

-         Doing good deeds and having compassion to other beings and not being selfish and self-centred

-         Accept death as a part of life

-         When aware that death is imminent, just let go of everything and focus on following the breath and be happy for the mind to merge with the Universe.


Relatives should help the dying person to go peaceful by reminding the person to be aware of the breath if possible and not to show too much pain and anguish to help the person to let go of the attachment.