How to Use Death as a Catalyst for Personal Growth

Spoiler alert, you are going to die.
And that’s just one of lifes brutal truths.

For years at a time, we can easily forget that death is real and take life for granted. People like to think they have plenty of time, so they ignore the day to day reality of death. I was recently reminded of this fact.

These are some of the things I’ve learned about grieving in the process.

1. Embrace death as change.

Embrace change as an opportunity for growth.

2. Resist nihilistic thinking.

On the occasion that we’re forced to be reminded of death, we stare into the nothingness that comes with death, the ultimate heat death of the universe, our decomposing body in the ground, and we convince ourselfs there’s no point to it all.

No one has ever said, movies with endings are a waste of money. Every movie has an ending, and movies with the right ending leave us fulfilled and satisfied because we understood the purpose of the story. Your life is a story, make it a story worth telling.

3. Speak the truth, not just your truth.

When people experience death, often they’ll restrict themselves to saying strictly nice and superficial things about the deceased. Why? They fall into a people-pleasing mindset, and they don’t want to say anything that will upset anyone. Well, guess what? Death is upsetting.

When we’re alive, we get to imagine that we have all the time to fix our broken relationships, to write that unfinished book, to magically transform into having a more meaningful life all while deferring the work those goals require to some nonspecific time in the future. When someone dies, you have to look at their life in its entirety, their successes and their failures.

Use death to confront the truth and learn from it.
Don’t deprive yourself of learning from other peoples mistakes.
Don’t repeat words that you wish were true because it’s easier.

4. Don’t just give, sacrifice.

A gift is something you want the other person to have; a sacrifice is going without so that someone else can have more.

When someone dies everyone asks the family, “What can I do to help?” I can tell you no one knows how to answer that question. Don’t ask, do. Don’t give, sacrifice.

There are hundreds of things to do after someone dies, phone calls to make, bills to pay, viewing all these “little tasks” as a duty and responsibility is a sacrifice. Somebody has to do it, and it might as well be you.

This is the gift of grief, sacrifice for the people you love, and you’re rewarded with a more meaningful relationship coming out of it.

5. Stand firm.

Being there for your people is not just about money, flowers, food, or emotional check-ins. Life is mostly suffering and challenges, if you have to go through shit (and you will have to go through shit), you might as well do it from a place of strength so you can show other people that they can go through shit too. Everyone has their challenges, and you could be a model for how someone can handle this challenge.

6. If you have to fall, fall forward.

Grieving is inexplicably difficult, and the people closest to you will not know how to be there for you. Grieve doesn’t automatically transform your friends and family into mind readers.

Tell people how to be there for you. Be as specific as possible, “I need you to physically be in the same room with me and just sit there while I go through every one of these papers.” Or, “I need you to cook, while I sit here silently and stare at this wall.”

Those were just some of the things I needed, and no one hesitated to do them when I said what I needed honestly and clearly.

7. Tell people how to love you.

After my dad passed, I went through every piece of his paperwork (about three bathtubs worth) and found out that he kept every postcard, letter, Christmas card and email anyone ever sent him. He even printed out the emails to make handwritten notes on them. If I had any idea he was doing this; I would have sent him more Christmas cards. I would have written more letters. While you’re here, tell the people that love you what makes you feel loved.

8. Slaughter yourself.

Naturally, all of us build our identity around other people. You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, the people you love, and when you lose them part of you goes too. When you lose your dad, your wife, or your dog part of you is going to die.

But today is not about who you are; it’s about who you are becoming. The people we lose to death had a role in developing who you were, and their passing will play a role in who you become.

You are a person capable of radical change. Slaughter the identity that was built around the person you’ve lost, and become a stronger version of yourself now.

9. Live your life backward.

To know how to live is to know how to die. Think about life in its entirety, and make the conscious decision to live knowing that you are going to die. Plan your life knowing everything won’t go according to plan, but that you’ll handle every challenge along the way.

If you have to die, you might as well make living an art.

If you have a 10th tip let me know in the comments section below.