Growing Our Human Potential

On Death, Part 1: We Are All Going to Die, So Let’s Learn About It

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If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character… Would you slow down? Or speed up?

Chuck Palahniuk

I absolutely love this quote. It does suggest that the concept of reincarnation, which I can accept. It relates to a talk I have on Welcome To Earth – An Orientation to Life where I share a fun way of considering how we come to this amazing and crazy experience called our life. And along with this experience comes our departure, which I have no desire to sugar coat it other than calling it what it is, death. What I have come to grips with is that in this life, I am the character known as Michael who spent a life of understanding pain and suffering as a stimulus to personal growth, self-discovery and enlightenment. I was fortunate to have backpacked and volunteered across the globe in an effort to understand what life is all about. But it was not until I confronted my mortality, the fact that I would die, that I discovered the most meaning about life itself. This is my hope for these posts and podcasts, to help acquaint you with death.

Welcome to a series on death. Talk about an opening that would send most people out the door! I probably would have more interest in a discussion about murder or getting a root canal. So why talk about death? Let me share a personal example to launch this conversation.

My beloved pet dog of 12 years had cancer and was in a great deal of pain. I knew within that I needed to have him “put to sleep” (interesting term to avoid the reality that I was putting him to death). It was the humane thing to do. But I fought this every hour holding out that maybe a miracle would occur. My daughter reminded me that he was suffering and I mustered up the courage to carry out the task. Within minutes at the vet, he was dead. I was momentarily relieved, but the waves of grief and loss had me to my knees many times. I had lost my buddy.

I would imagine that upon reading or hearing this, many stopped reading or listening. For others, you may have been in tears yourself, recalling a similar situation where you lost a loved one or pet. Others may have felt the fear associated with the very word death. Why is this? Death is something we will all experience multiple times in our life with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Death is also something we are guaranteed to experience ourselves, which could be at any time following our next breath. So why avoid talking about something that is inevitable?

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

Steve Jobs –

The answer relates to the fact that for most of us, we only have beliefs about death, which are just that a belief, not a truth or knowing (I say most of us, since there are those who have come to know death – which will be covered in a future post). And because death has such finality to it, we have come to fear what it actually means and is. We fear death! And this is a primordial fear that tops the list of fears (following the fear of talking in public, which I always found interesting). It is a fear that brings with it alarm, dread, fright, panic, terror, and trepidation.

I felt this with the death of my pet, even though I had studied and researched death and dying. What was different for me is that I reminded myself of everything I had learned to help deal with the grief and loss. There is nothing I contend that is as powerful as losing a loved one. It raises havoc with our thoughts as we grapple with what death means and the fact that we will not see this person or pet again. However, because I sought greater understanding of death, the grief and loss gave way to the beliefs that I had developed as a result of my experiences related to death and actively learning about death by confronting it. These helped to form the strongest beliefs I have in life, my core beliefs.

A bit about my background related to death and dying. I was 16 when my mother died from cancer. It was devastating for me, as it would be for any younger person experiencing death for the first time. Like most, I learned how to avoid conversations about our mortality, while suppressing my own thoughts about the fact that Mom was dead. Instead a fear of death grew deep within my psyche resulting in many fears related to life. It was years later that I was confronting my personal issues that stemmed largely from the abusive and traumatic childhood I had experienced. My self-esteem and confidence grew helping me to become a productive member of society in contrast to my brother who had committed suicide due to the pain and suffering from the past. I had a need to understand what death was all about.

As I grew, my quest began to focus on learning more about life, and yes, the meaning of life. My growth at this point turned towards a spiritual quest which led me the trade my career for a backpack as I volunteered across the globe and domestically. The volunteer opportunities mostly had one thing in common, death. It was not by design to have this focus, but what I was drawn to. I was a volunteer counselor at a children’s international oncology camp, an emergency medical technician for a local volunteer ambulance, which led to numerous volunteer opportunities abroad in medical related roles. And the pinnacle of these volunteer opportunities as it related to death was as a hospice care worker. I had observed death and dying in many ways.

It did not stop there. A dear friend had a near-death experience which was not only life-changing for him, but for me and the countless others who had met and listened to his story. From this I read many personal accounts of death, along with books including my favorite authors on this topic, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Viktor Frankl. With an open mind, a willingness to let-go of so much of the dogma I was taught to belief, and the courage to face my ultimate fear, I had educated myself about death. This combined with the numerous experiences I personally had would forever change my view and understanding of death. I would be saddened and grieve death with great sorrow, but I had a “knowing” now about what death is that has helped me tremendously in life and in so many ways. The value of this is best summed up by the following quote from Viktor Frankl.

If we were immortal, we could legitimately postpone every action forever. It would be of no consequence whether or not we did a thing now . . . .But in the face of death as absolute finis to our future and boundary to our possibilities, we are under the imperative of utilizing our lifetimes to the utmost, not letting the singular opportunities . . . pass by unused.

And so has been the quest to make the most out of my life. I had every right to be a victim based on my past, but instead, my mother’s and brother’s death were blessings in disguise, since they became a catalyst in my thirties to turn my life around, and now to have the honor to be a guide and inspiration for others to do the same.

This series will begin with my own experiences and education related to death integrating in many stories that became more and more data points to help me form a new understanding of death. It was essential that it be this way for me, since like most, it was easy to write-off single accounts. But as the data became an overwhelmingly body of evidence, I was able to credibly form new beliefs. What is great is that there is a ton of information available today, from a huge variety of sources, for those interested in learning more.

The key to staying with these conversations is to have an open mind and a willingness to consider what is shared. I am no guru, just a human being that has chosen a path of personal growth, self-discovery and enlightenment in this life.

If you hung in there to this point, I say thank you, since I know that this topic is for those who are at some level ready to make this journey to overcome their fear of death. Until next session, enjoy your life today. Identify what you are grateful for and do not forget the basics (e.g. health, sunshine, air to breathe, etc. ). There is truly so much we can be thankful for and should remind ourselves daily. Watch how your attitude and perceptions begin to change!

Here is one of my favorite quotes that I use to remind me of how I want to live my life. A nice way to conclude this post and podcast…

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature, instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I’ve got held up for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

About Me

Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (

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