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Treating death as a part of life instead of an event outside it

Death is a transition to another life stage. Here is how to approach that transition with gratitude.

Photo of Chris Lee
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

This is an idea for both the dying and for the survivors (who will eventually become the dying).

Things are dangerous to the degree that we are unprepared to deal with them - riding a bike, driving a car, rock climbing, raising a family, facing death.

The key to dealing successfully with a thing is to prepare before you engage.

We need a framework of stories on death and dying that prepare us to deal constructively with what it means to die instead of avoiding death as if it were unnatural.  We need a way to see death as a normal part of the arc of life. We need a threshold rituals to mark the weight of the transition but to let it come and, more importantly, to let it go.

This idea consists of three parts:

  1. Capturing the continuity of your own life story
  2. Normalizing the experience of death
  3. Threshold ritual (beyond the burial)


A common theme around the challenge seems to be collecting stories and using those to make sense of one's life. Rather then collect the stories right around death or after the time of death, how about writing our own stories, one sentence at a time, over a life time? A "one sentence journal" (idea from Gretchen Rubin - The Happiness Project - here and here) is a compact way of seeing how your life has changed over the years. Looking back could mean picking a day and seeing the arc of your life over the years. From these journals one could extract the stories that seemed the most relevant or told the long story of one's life most effectively for others (friends, family or public) to see and use to normalize their own life and death experience.

Creating a system for easily capturing daily sentences and for easily lining them up by date or by content over the span of decades would help one see the continuity in one's life. 

e.g. In one's dying days, the system might pop up digest of the things you did on this day over your life so that you could more easily see the arc of your story over the years. From that arc, the addition of today would seem natural and small compared to all the days that have come before.


“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

It seems to me that we are surprised that others have the same experiences we do, especially when faced with the tribulations of life. Seeing the stories of others living a "normal" life, even as they age, even as they die is very powerful*.

Creating a system for sharing life stories, possibly categorized by life event, would help put the process of dying into context for both the dying and the friends and family of the dying. 

e.g. As the dying (or the living) experience the process of dying, they may choose to share their thoughts and tips for dealing with the experience. As others journal about their experience, the system might suggest links to others who have dealt with something similar. This way your own experience can be normalized through observation of the experience of others.

* Try watching the Up Series from 7 through 56 all in a row. You'll see the arc these ordinary peoples' lives take and understand what I mean.

Threshold Ritual

Funerals are for the living so that the natural grief of loss can be processed. Using the stories of the deceased (continuity) and the context of the others who have gone before (normalization), this sense of loss can be turned into a sense of gratitude. That sense of gratitude can be embodied in many ways: a story, a token, an urn, a dance, a song.

The same system which helps record one's days and link those to the stories of others, could also present a number of options for remembering and possibly link to services which facilitate those memorials.

e.g. A survivor may browse through the one-sentence journal of the deceased, guided by "likes" from others who have viewed it perhaps, and choose two quotes or events that resonate particularly strongly for him/her. The system would link to a service that offers ways to embody those quotes in something physical (e.g. as a brass coin) which the survivor can hold and return to on occasion as a reminder of their thanks for the person's life.

The process of using these tools over the years, hopefully, creates a more adaptive outlook on one's life and what death means in that life. That way, when the time comes, the sadness of loss is held in the context of a life well lived and with a sense of the greater human experience underlying it.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great to have you in this challenge Chris! Perhaps you might consider helping people better grasp how this idea could play out by describing some of the proposed activities you've outlined. Check out the user scenarios that Jim created in his idea: @maybeMaybe I Know Something About This 
Looking forward to learning more about this!

Photo of Aaron Wong

I actually see a lot of similarity between what you want to achieve and Jess Paik 's idea in Once Upon a Time . Storytelling can be a great way of personalizing, customizing, and designing new experiences, habits, and rituals. Perhaps you may also find Judith Henry 's post Planning Mom’s Funeral . . .With Barbra Streisand’s Help  a good source of additional inspiration.

Photo of Shane Zhao

Nice links Aaron!

Photo of Chris Lee

Thanks Aaron,

That is a great story in the planning story. It's exactly the kind of mindset that I hope one would be able to have. 

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