When was the last time you thought about death? It’s not the most pleasant topic to contemplate or discuss. But throughout life, all of us must face the inevitable death of every person we love.
It’s often easier to avoid the topic of death altogether. It’s scary to think about because death presents us with so many unknowns. What happens after we die? What could have been if a particular loved one were to stay alive? How will you cope with the emotional heartache of grieving a loved one?
No one has the answers. Death and grief are profound and vulnerable processes every person must experience— and it’s an intense one. Nobody can do the challenging work of grieving for you, nor is there a quick fix to expedite the pain.
But facing the fact of mortality can have a meaningful impact on the relationships we hold near and dear. Psychological studies have even shown that couples who discuss their mortality together tend to have more intimate bonds. Want to get more comfortable with the hard questions about dying? Here are some thoughts to consider.
The Paradoxical Relationship Between Love and Death
Dr. Jordana Jacobs, a clinical psychologist who studies love and death, explains why death is so complex. “We unconsciously suppress thoughts of mortality all the time. To acknowledge that we’re going to die creates an irresolvable existential paradox. We have a desire to survive and a knowing that we’re going to die. What are we supposed to do with that?”
Throughout human evolution, we’ve dealt with this paradox. Scientifically speaking, there’s no way to avoid death. Death is “a paradox to manage, not a problem to solve,” quotes Jacobs.
What does this mean? And how can death make love and relationships more meaningful? Here are a few “love and death” concepts to sit with.
“Death is so unfathomable, and yet it’s inevitable.” - Dr. Jordana Jacobs
Love and death connect us all.
Two things that every human can relate to are the experiences of love and death. No matter what lifestyle, religious belief, or cultural background someone holds, we can all relate to each other’s highest bliss of love and the lowest depths of losing love… to death.
Bereavement isn’t a new human struggle. For thousands of generations, people have been mourning the loss of family members and friends. Grief and death connect us to those who came before us, and to those who will live after us. The two concepts can also deeply connect us to the living individuals we love today.
Accepting death as reality deepens the experience of love.
Interestingly, it’s natural for some people to cling to loving relationships as a source of unending security. Relying on the idea that a family member, friend, or spouse will always be there for you eases the discomfort of imagining what life might be like once they’re gone. Whether you lose them through physical death or a metaphorical death like a separation, grief is required in any expired form of love.
In a Fempower Health interview, Dr. Jordana Jacobs said: “We want to believe that the people who are most important to us are going to be here forever, because we are terrified of losing them. But by assuming we’ll always ‘have’ them, we can develop a type of complacency or lack of gratitude.”
If you’ve ever known someone who suddenly lost a close friend or relative, they likely expressed a passionate piece of advice. “Hug your loved ones. You never know when it’ll be your last chance.”
This sentiment is so powerful because it is easy to take our closest relationships for granted. Daily life gets hectic; mundane routines take over. It’s impossible to live in the bliss of romance and admiration 24/7. Reminding yourself that you’ll one day lose your loved ones makes you appreciate the moment you have together right now.
Listen more from Dr. Jacobs here: The Relationship between Love and Death
Coming to terms with death can help us live life more fully.
Another paradox death brings is that when it’s accepted, it can push people to finally start living to the fullest. Because death is life’s only end guarantee, facing its reality can lead us to live more meaningfully than ever before.
When you realize everything you love will one day be gone, it makes the present moment precious. It creates a deeper appreciation for what simply “is” right now. It shifts your perspective onto what matters and fades the illusory importance of trying to turn things into how you’d like them to be.
“People are much more afraid of dying if they feel like they’re not already living fully. People who feel like they’re living fully are much less afraid of dying.” - Dr. Jordana Jacobs
Death teaches an important lesson: sometimes, we need to let go.
Devastation and loss of love can happen in many forms. From losing someone to terminal illness or suicide to ending a relationship in betrayal or by choice, the death of a love we once revered can occur when we least expect it.
Sometimes, death forces us to let go. This can take seasons of grief, resistance, and acceptance. Other times, we can choose to undergo the uncomfortable but necessary journey of letting go. This requires continual learning of how to accept the end of things that were once thriving with life.
Be it a person, a partnership, or a significant experience, all things cross the threshold of death. And if we try to cling to how someone or something once was, it might cause more misery than letting go.
How Can We Come to Terms with Death?
There’s no magical solution to confronting the mystery and pain that death brings. But confronting the truth— that every one of us will die— can open meaningful discussion and introduce emotions that death will one day amplify.
Although we can’t understand it, the best we can do to familiarize death in love is to willfully “lift the veil” one step at a time. That way, when a curtain closes and the love is only alive in memory, we can bravely go through the process with dignity and acceptance.
Interested in this topic? Books about death and dying:
Here are recommended books about death from clinical psychologist Jordana Jacobs. You can hear her Fempower Health interview with more references here.
The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
Breakup Bootcamp by Amy Chan
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield
If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl
Find the complete list of book recommendations on love, relationships, and women’s health: click here.