Why do we Fear Death?

Why do we fear death? Maybe it’s because it is the Great Unknown. I’ve found that it’s only by inching toward it that we get a little comfortable with the idea that it is everyone’s ultimate destination.

The call came at 10:15 on a Sunday morning. It was Lana, the hospice nurse, calling to let me know that 70-year-old Bessie was actively dying in our in-patient hospice care facility.

“She has no family,” Lana said to me. “We’re starting a Volunteer Vigil for her. Can you come sit with her for a while today?”

I had registered to participate in a three-hour workshop later that afternoon. I sat still for a while and asked my heart what I should do, as I usually did when faced with a decision. From the unequivocal “yes” resonating from my sacred center, I knew exactly what I needed to do.

A half-hour later, I walked into Bessie’s room.

“We just gave her a bath,” said Lana. “Her breathing pattern is becoming erratic. Here’s the button you need to push if you notice anything unusual or alarming.” Lana slipped out of the room.

Bessie lay on her side, her salt-and-pepper hair neatly combed. Her facial skin was still firm at seventy years old. But the figure in the thin blue cotton gown was breathing in an arrythmic manner, an indicator that the end was nearing.

I took Bessie’s hand in mine. Dry, papery, but still warm with life blood pulsing through it. I told her she was loved and cared for. I whispered to her about God and the angels, the love and light that awaited her on the other side. I reminded her that she was only going home, a place that was familiar, but forgotten. A home she’d recognize the instant she stepped into the realm.

Over the next couple of hours, I continued to talk to Bessie. I read prayers. I sang all the songs I knew. I held and stroked her hand.

Her breathing altered. She’d drag in one long breath. Then, silence for about eight seconds. She’d draw in her next breath. As she lay there completely unresponsive, I witnessed how hard her body was working to release her spirit. Death, just like birth, is hard work.

To me, everything about this experience felt sacred. The blessing was truly mine in being called to assist Bessie’s soul transition from one world to another.

As human beings, we have a tendency to label and package our experiences as “pleasurable” or “painful.” Death clearly falls in the latter category, so we do everything we can to avoid it. The more we fear death, the farther we try to run from it.  And yet, all that is born must die. That includes you and me.

What would it take for us to inch one step closer to what we must inevitably face?

Ask questions. Talk to a hospice volunteer, nurse or chaplain. Visit someone in a nursing home.

No one should have to die alone.

I wrote “Understanding Death: 10 Ways to Inner Peace for the Grieving” to explore the top 10 questions we ask when we lose a loved one. Buy a copy and start a conversation. It’s the most important conversation you’ll ever have.


  1. Audrey Pellicano on April 3, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Beautiful Uma. You are an angel!

    • umagirish on April 3, 2013 at 3:36 am

      We’re all angels for each other…and if we live from that place of connection and service, the world would be such a kind place 🙂

  2. Casey B on April 3, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Wow. I am in awe of what you do, and the fact that you chose the ultimate kindness for Bessie, when you had other things you needed to do.

    Thank you for sharing this experience,


    • umagirish on April 5, 2013 at 10:20 am

      Thank you, Casey. I receive your kind words with deep affection and gratitude.

  3. tersiaburger on April 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Uma have you read Journey of Souls? You are an angel of mercy and your blog have helped me immensely in my journey of grief. Thank you from every level!

  4. umagirish on April 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Tersia, that means so much to me. I support you in your journey of grief. I will look for the book you recommend.

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