• Death And Dying

8 Popular Essays About Death, Grief & the Afterlife

Updated 05/4/2022

Published 07/19/2021

Joe Oliveto, BA in English

Joe Oliveto, BA in English

Contributing writer

Discover some of the most widely read and most meaningful articles about death, from dealing with grief to near-death experiences.

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Death is a strange topic for many reasons, one of which is the simple fact that different people can have vastly different opinions about discussing it.

Jump ahead to these sections: 

Essays or articles about the death of a loved one, essays or articles about dealing with grief, essays or articles about the afterlife or near-death experiences.

Some fear death so greatly they don’t want to talk about it at all. However, because death is a universal human experience, there are also those who believe firmly in addressing it directly. This may be more common now than ever before due to the rise of the death positive movement and mindset.

You might believe there’s something to be gained from talking and learning about death. If so, reading essays about death, grief, and even near-death experiences can potentially help you begin addressing your own death anxiety. This list of essays and articles is a good place to start. The essays here cover losing a loved one, dealing with grief, near-death experiences, and even what someone goes through when they know they’re dying.

Losing a close loved one is never an easy experience. However, these essays on the topic can help someone find some meaning or peace in their grief.

1. ‘I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago’ by Rachel Ward

Rachel Ward’s essay about coping with the death of her husband isn’t like many essays about death. It’s very informal, packed with sarcastic humor, and uses an FAQ format. However, it earns a spot on this list due to the powerful way it describes the process of slowly finding joy in life again after losing a close loved one.

Ward’s experience is also interesting because in the years after her husband’s death, many new people came into her life unaware that she was a widow. Thus, she often had to tell these new people a story that’s painful but unavoidable. This is a common aspect of losing a loved one that not many discussions address.

2. ‘Everything I know about a good death I learned from my cat’ by Elizabeth Lopatto

Not all great essays about death need to be about human deaths! In this essay, author Elizabeth Lopatto explains how watching her beloved cat slowly die of leukemia and coordinating with her vet throughout the process helped her better understand what a “good death” looks like.

For instance, she explains how her vet provided a degree of treatment but never gave her false hope (for instance, by claiming her cat was going to beat her illness). They also worked together to make sure her cat was as comfortable as possible during the last stages of her life instead of prolonging her suffering with unnecessary treatments.

Lopatto compares this to the experiences of many people near death. Sometimes they struggle with knowing how to accept death because well-meaning doctors have given them the impression that more treatments may prolong or even save their lives, when the likelihood of them being effective is slimmer than patients may realize.

Instead, Lopatto argues that it’s important for loved ones and doctors to have honest and open conversations about death when someone’s passing is likely near. This can make it easier to prioritize their final wishes instead of filling their last days with hospital visits, uncomfortable treatments, and limited opportunities to enjoy themselves.

3. ‘The terrorist inside my husband’s brain’ by Susan Schneider Williams

This article, which Susan Schneider Williams wrote after the death of her husband Robin Willians, covers many of the topics that numerous essays about the death of a loved one cover, such as coping with life when you no longer have support from someone who offered so much of it. 

However, it discusses living with someone coping with a difficult illness that you don’t fully understand, as well. The article also explains that the best way to honor loved ones who pass away after a long struggle is to work towards better understanding the illnesses that affected them. 

4. ‘Before I Go’ by Paul Kalanithi

“Before I Go” is a unique essay in that it’s about the death of a loved one, written by the dying loved one. Its author, Paul Kalanithi, writes about how a terminal cancer diagnosis has changed the meaning of time for him.

Kalanithi describes believing he will die when his daughter is so young that she will likely never have any memories of him. As such, each new day brings mixed feelings. On the one hand, each day gives him a new opportunity to see his daughter grow, which brings him joy. On the other hand, he must struggle with knowing that every new day brings him closer to the day when he’ll have to leave her life.

Coping with grief can be immensely challenging. That said, as the stories in these essays illustrate, it is possible to manage grief in a positive and optimistic way.

5. Untitled by Sheryl Sandberg

This piece by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s current CEO, isn’t a traditional essay or article. It’s actually a long Facebook post. However, many find it’s one of the best essays about death and grief anyone has published in recent years.

She posted it on the last day of sheloshim for her husband, a period of 30 days involving intense mourning in Judaism. In the post, Sandberg describes in very honest terms how much she learned from those 30 days of mourning, admitting that she sometimes still experiences hopelessness, but has resolved to move forward in life productively and with dignity.

She explains how she wanted her life to be “Option A,” the one she had planned with her husband. However, because that’s no longer an option, she’s decided the best way to honor her husband’s memory is to do her absolute best with “Option B.”

This metaphor actually became the title of her next book. Option B , which Sandberg co-authored with Adam Grant, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is already one of the most beloved books about death , grief, and being resilient in the face of major life changes. It may strongly appeal to anyone who also appreciates essays about death as well.

6. ‘My Own Life’ by Oliver Sacks

Grief doesn’t merely involve grieving those we’ve lost. It can take the form of the grief someone feels when they know they’re going to die.

Renowned physician and author Oliver Sacks learned he had terminal cancer in 2015. In this essay, he openly admits that he fears his death. However, he also describes how knowing he is going to die soon provides a sense of clarity about what matters most. Instead of wallowing in his grief and fear, he writes about planning to make the very most of the limited time he still has.

Belief in (or at least hope for) an afterlife has been common throughout humanity for decades. Additionally, some people who have been clinically dead report actually having gone to the afterlife and experiencing it themselves.

Whether you want the comfort that comes from learning that the afterlife may indeed exist, or you simply find the topic of near-death experiences interesting, these are a couple of short articles worth checking out.

7. ‘My Experience in a Coma’ by Eben Alexander

“My Experience in a Coma” is a shortened version of the narrative Dr. Eben Alexander shared in his book, Proof of Heaven . Alexander’s near-death experience is unique, as he’s a medical doctor who believes that his experience is (as the name of his book suggests) proof that an afterlife exists. He explains how at the time he had this experience, he was clinically braindead, and therefore should not have been able to consciously experience anything.

Alexander describes the afterlife in much the same way many others who’ve had near-death experiences describe it. He describes starting out in an “unresponsive realm” before a spinning white light that brought with it a musical melody transported him to a valley of abundant plant life, crystal pools, and angelic choirs. He states he continued to move from one realm to another, each realm higher than the last, before reaching the realm where the infinite love of God (which he says is not the “god” of any particular religion) overwhelmed him.

8. “One Man's Tale of Dying—And Then Waking Up” by Paul Perry

The author of this essay recounts what he considers to be one of the strongest near-death experience stories he’s heard out of the many he’s researched and written about over the years. The story involves Dr. Rajiv Parti, who claims his near-death experience changed his views on life dramatically.

Parti was highly materialistic before his near-death experience. During it, he claims to have been given a new perspective, realizing that life is about more than what his wealth can purchase. He returned from the experience with a permanently changed outlook.

This is common among those who claim to have had near-death experiences. Often, these experiences leave them kinder, more understanding, more spiritual, and less materialistic.

This short article is a basic introduction to Parti’s story. He describes it himself in greater detail in the book Dying to Wake Up , which he co-wrote with Paul Perry, the author of the article.

Essays About Death: Discussing a Difficult Topic

It’s completely natural and understandable to have reservations about discussing death. However, because death is unavoidable, talking about it and reading essays and books about death instead of avoiding the topic altogether is something that benefits many people. Sometimes, the only way to cope with something frightening is to address it.

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5 moving, beautiful essays about death and dying

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essays about family death

It is never easy to contemplate the end-of-life, whether its own our experience or that of a loved one.

This has made a recent swath of beautiful essays a surprise. In different publications over the past few weeks,  I've stumbled upon writers who were  contemplating final days. These are, no doubt, hard stories to read. I had to take breaks as I read about Paul Kalanithi's experience facing metastatic lung cancer while parenting a toddler, and was devastated as I followed Liz Lopatto's contemplations on how to give her ailing cat the best death possible. But I also learned so much from reading these essays, too, about what it means to have a good death versus a difficult end from those forced to grapple with the issue. These are four stories that have stood out to me recently, alongside one essay from a few years ago that sticks with me today.

My Own Life | Oliver Sacks

sacksquote

As recently as last month, popular author and neurologist Oliver Sacks was in great health, even swimming a mile every day. Then, everything changed: the 81-year-old was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. In a beautiful op-ed , published in late February in the New York Times, he describes his state of mind and how he'll face his final moments. What I liked about this essay is how Sacks describes how his world view shifts as he sees his time on earth getting shorter, and how he thinks about the value of his time.

Before I go | Paul Kalanithi

kalanithi quote

Kalanthi began noticing symptoms — "weight loss, fevers, night sweats, unremitting back pain, cough" — during his sixth year of residency as a neurologist at Stanford. A CT scan revealed metastatic lung cancer. Kalanthi writes about his daughter, Cady and how he "probably won't live long enough for her to have a memory of me." Much of his essay focuses on an interesting discussion of time, how it's become a double-edged sword. Each day, he sees his daughter grow older, a joy. But every day is also one that brings him closer to his likely death from cancer.

As I lay dying | Laurie Becklund

becklund quote

Becklund's essay was published posthumonously after her death on February 8 of this year. One of the unique issues she grapples with is how to discuss her terminal diagnosis with others and the challenge of not becoming defined by a disease. "Who would ever sign another book contract with a dying woman?" she writes. "Or remember Laurie Becklund, valedictorian, Fulbright scholar, former Times staff writer who exposed the Salvadoran death squads and helped The Times win a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1992 L.A. riots? More important, and more honest, who would ever again look at me just as Laurie?"

Everything I know about a good death I learned from my cat | Liz Lopatto

lopattoquote

Dorothy Parker was Lopatto's cat, a stray adopted from a local vet. And Dorothy Parker, known mostly as Dottie, died peacefully when she passed away earlier this month. Lopatto's essay is, in part, about what she learned about end-of-life care for humans from her cat. But perhaps more than that, it's also about the limitations of how much her experience caring for a pet can transfer to caring for another person.

Yes, Lopatto's essay is about a cat rather than a human being. No, it does not make it any easier to read. She describes in searing detail about the experience of caring for another being at the end of life. "Dottie used to weigh almost 20 pounds; she now weighs six," Lopatto writes. "My vet is right about Dottie being close to death, that it’s probably a matter of weeks rather than months."

Letting Go | Atul Gawande

gawandequote

"Letting Go" is a beautiful, difficult true story of death. You know from the very first sentence — "Sara Thomas Monopoli was pregnant with her first child when her doctors learned that she was going to die" — that it is going to be tragic. This story has long been one of my favorite pieces of health care journalism because it grapples so starkly with the difficult realities of end-of-life care.

In the story, Monopoli is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, a surprise for a non-smoking young woman. It's a devastating death sentence: doctors know that lung cancer that advanced is terminal. Gawande knew this too — Monpoli was his patient. But actually discussing this fact with a young patient with a newborn baby seemed impossible.

"Having any sort of discussion where you begin to say, 'look you probably only have a few months to live. How do we make the best of that time without giving up on the options that you have?' That was a conversation I wasn't ready to have," Gawande recounts of the case in a new Frontline documentary .

What's tragic about Monopoli's case was, of course, her death at an early age, in her 30s. But the tragedy that Gawande hones in on — the type of tragedy we talk about much less — is how terribly Monopoli's last days played out.

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May 3, 2023

Contemplating Mortality: Powerful Essays on Death and Inspiring Perspectives

The prospect of death may be unsettling, but it also holds a deep fascination for many of us. If you're curious to explore the many facets of mortality, from the scientific to the spiritual, our article is the perfect place to start. With expert guidance and a wealth of inspiration, we'll help you write an essay that engages and enlightens readers on one of life's most enduring mysteries!

Death is a universal human experience that we all must face at some point in our lives. While it can be difficult to contemplate mortality, reflecting on death and loss can offer inspiring perspectives on the nature of life and the importance of living in the present moment. In this collection of powerful essays about death, we explore profound writings that delve into the human experience of coping with death, grief, acceptance, and philosophical reflections on mortality.

Through these essays, readers can gain insight into different perspectives on death and how we can cope with it. From personal accounts of loss to philosophical reflections on the meaning of life, these essays offer a diverse range of perspectives that will inspire and challenge readers to contemplate their mortality.

The Inevitable: Coping with Mortality and Grief

Mortality is a reality that we all have to face, and it is something that we cannot avoid. While we may all wish to live forever, the truth is that we will all eventually pass away. In this article, we will explore different aspects of coping with mortality and grief, including understanding the grieving process, dealing with the fear of death, finding meaning in life, and seeking support.

Understanding the Grieving Process

Grief is a natural and normal response to loss. It is a process that we all go through when we lose someone or something important to us. The grieving process can be different for each person and can take different amounts of time. Some common stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and that it is a personal process.

Denial is often the first stage of grief. It is a natural response to shock and disbelief. During this stage, we may refuse to believe that our loved one has passed away or that we are facing our mortality.

Anger is a common stage of grief. It can manifest as feelings of frustration, resentment, and even rage. It is important to allow yourself to feel angry and to express your emotions healthily.

Bargaining is often the stage of grief where we try to make deals with a higher power or the universe in an attempt to avoid our grief or loss. We may make promises or ask for help in exchange for something else.

Depression is a natural response to loss. It is important to allow yourself to feel sad and to seek support from others.

Acceptance is often the final stage of grief. It is when we come to terms with our loss and begin to move forward with our lives.

Dealing with the Fear of Death

The fear of death is a natural response to the realization of our mortality. It is important to acknowledge and accept our fear of death but also to not let it control our lives. Here are some ways to deal with the fear of death:

Accepting Mortality

Accepting our mortality is an important step in dealing with the fear of death. We must understand that death is a natural part of life and that it is something that we cannot avoid.

Finding Meaning in Life

Finding meaning in life can help us cope with the fear of death. It is important to pursue activities and goals that are meaningful and fulfilling to us.

Seeking Support

Seeking support from friends, family, or a therapist can help us cope with the fear of death. Talking about our fears and feelings can help us process them and move forward.

Finding meaning in life is important in coping with mortality and grief. It can help us find purpose and fulfillment, even in difficult times. Here are some ways to find meaning in life:

Pursuing Passions

Pursuing our passions and interests can help us find meaning and purpose in life. It is important to do things that we enjoy and that give us a sense of accomplishment.

Helping Others

Helping others can give us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It can also help us feel connected to others and make a positive impact on the world.

Making Connections

Making connections with others is important in finding meaning in life. It is important to build relationships and connections with people who share our values and interests.

Seeking support is crucial when coping with mortality and grief. Here are some ways to seek support:

Talking to Friends and Family

Talking to friends and family members can provide us with a sense of comfort and support. It is important to express our feelings and emotions to those we trust.

Joining a Support Group

Joining a support group can help us connect with others who are going through similar experiences. It can provide us with a safe space to share our feelings and find support.

Seeking Professional Help

Seeking help from a therapist or counselor can help cope with grief and mortality. A mental health professional can provide us with the tools and support we need to process our emotions and move forward.

Coping with mortality and grief is a natural part of life. It is important to understand that grief is a personal process that may take time to work through. Finding meaning in life, dealing with the fear of death, and seeking support are all important ways to cope with mortality and grief. Remember to take care of yourself, allow yourself to feel your emotions, and seek support when needed.

The Ethics of Death: A Philosophical Exploration

Death is an inevitable part of life, and it is something that we will all experience at some point. It is a topic that has fascinated philosophers for centuries, and it continues to be debated to this day. In this article, we will explore the ethics of death from a philosophical perspective, considering questions such as what it means to die, the morality of assisted suicide, and the meaning of life in the face of death.

Death is a topic that elicits a wide range of emotions, from fear and sadness to acceptance and peace. Philosophers have long been interested in exploring the ethical implications of death, and in this article, we will delve into some of the most pressing questions in this field.

What does it mean to die?

The concept of death is a complex one, and there are many different ways to approach it from a philosophical perspective. One question that arises is what it means to die. Is death simply the cessation of bodily functions, or is there something more to it than that? Many philosophers argue that death represents the end of consciousness and the self, which raises questions about the nature of the soul and the afterlife.

The morality of assisted suicide

Assisted suicide is a controversial topic, and it raises several ethical concerns. On the one hand, some argue that individuals have the right to end their own lives if they are suffering from a terminal illness or unbearable pain. On the other hand, others argue that assisting someone in taking their own life is morally wrong and violates the sanctity of life. We will explore these arguments and consider the ethical implications of assisted suicide.

The meaning of life in the face of death

The inevitability of death raises important questions about the meaning of life. If our time on earth is finite, what is the purpose of our existence? Is there a higher meaning to life, or is it simply a product of biological processes? Many philosophers have grappled with these questions, and we will explore some of the most influential theories in this field.

The role of death in shaping our lives

While death is often seen as a negative force, it can also have a positive impact on our lives. The knowledge that our time on earth is limited can motivate us to live life to the fullest and to prioritize the things that truly matter. We will explore the role of death in shaping our values, goals, and priorities, and consider how we can use this knowledge to live more fulfilling lives.

The ethics of mourning

The process of mourning is an important part of the human experience, and it raises several ethical questions. How should we respond to the death of others, and what is our ethical responsibility to those who are grieving? We will explore these questions and consider how we can support those who are mourning while also respecting their autonomy and individual experiences.

The ethics of immortality

The idea of immortality has long been a fascination for humanity, but it raises important ethical questions. If we were able to live forever, what would be the implications for our sense of self, our relationships with others, and our moral responsibilities? We will explore the ethical implications of immortality and consider how it might challenge our understanding of what it means to be human.

The ethics of death in different cultural contexts

Death is a universal human experience, but how it is understood and experienced varies across different cultures. We will explore how different cultures approach death, mourning, and the afterlife, and consider the ethical implications of these differences.

Death is a complex and multifaceted topic, and it raises important questions about the nature of life, morality, and human experience. By exploring the ethics of death from a philosophical perspective, we can gain a deeper understanding of these questions and how they shape our lives.

The Ripple Effect of Loss: How Death Impacts Relationships

Losing a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences one can go through in life. It is a universal experience that touches people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. The grief that follows the death of someone close can be overwhelming and can take a significant toll on an individual's mental and physical health. However, it is not only the individual who experiences the grief but also the people around them. In this article, we will discuss the ripple effect of loss and how death impacts relationships.

Understanding Grief and Loss

Grief is the natural response to loss, and it can manifest in many different ways. The process of grieving is unique to each individual and can be affected by many factors, such as culture, religion, and personal beliefs. Grief can be intense and can impact all areas of life, including relationships, work, and physical health.

The Impact of Loss on Relationships

Death can impact relationships in many ways, and the effects can be long-lasting. Below are some of how loss can affect relationships:

1. Changes in Roles and Responsibilities

When someone dies, the roles and responsibilities within a family or social circle can shift dramatically. For example, a spouse who has lost their partner may have to take on responsibilities they never had before, such as managing finances or taking care of children. This can be a difficult adjustment, and it can put a strain on the relationship.

2. Changes in Communication

Grief can make it challenging to communicate with others effectively. Some people may withdraw and isolate themselves, while others may become angry and lash out. It is essential to understand that everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. However, these changes in communication can impact relationships, and it may take time to adjust to new ways of interacting with others.

3. Changes in Emotional Connection

When someone dies, the emotional connection between individuals can change. For example, a parent who has lost a child may find it challenging to connect with other parents who still have their children. This can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection, and it can strain relationships.

4. Changes in Social Support

Social support is critical when dealing with grief and loss. However, it is not uncommon for people to feel unsupported during this time. Friends and family may not know what to say or do, or they may simply be too overwhelmed with their grief to offer support. This lack of social support can impact relationships and make it challenging to cope with grief.

Coping with Loss and Its Impact on Relationships

Coping with grief and loss is a long and difficult process, but it is possible to find ways to manage the impact on relationships. Below are some strategies that can help:

1. Communication

Effective communication is essential when dealing with grief and loss. It is essential to talk about how you feel and what you need from others. This can help to reduce misunderstandings and make it easier to navigate changes in relationships.

2. Seek Support

It is important to seek support from friends, family, or a professional if you are struggling to cope with grief and loss. Having someone to talk to can help to alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a safe space to process emotions.

3. Self-Care

Self-care is critical when dealing with grief and loss. It is essential to take care of your physical and emotional well-being. This can include things like exercise, eating well, and engaging in activities that you enjoy.

4. Allow for Flexibility

It is essential to allow for flexibility in relationships when dealing with grief and loss. People may not be able to provide the same level of support they once did or may need more support than they did before. Being open to changes in roles and responsibilities can help to reduce strain on relationships.

5. Find Meaning

Finding meaning in the loss can be a powerful way to cope with grief and loss. This can involve creating a memorial, participating in a support group, or volunteering for a cause that is meaningful to you.

The impact of loss is not limited to the individual who experiences it but extends to those around them as well. Relationships can be greatly impacted by the death of a loved one, and it is important to be aware of the changes that may occur. Coping with loss and its impact on relationships involves effective communication, seeking support, self-care, flexibility, and finding meaning.

What Lies Beyond Reflections on the Mystery of Death

Death is an inevitable part of life, and yet it remains one of the greatest mysteries that we face as humans. What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? These are questions that have puzzled us for centuries, and they continue to do so today. In this article, we will explore the various perspectives on death and what lies beyond.

Understanding Death

Before we can delve into what lies beyond, we must first understand what death is. Death is defined as the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism. This can occur as a result of illness, injury, or simply old age. Death is a natural process that occurs to all living things, but it is also a process that is often accompanied by fear and uncertainty.

The Physical Process of Death

When a person dies, their body undergoes several physical changes. The heart stops beating, and the body begins to cool and stiffen. This is known as rigor mortis, and it typically sets in within 2-6 hours after death. The body also begins to break down, and this can lead to a release of gases that cause bloating and discoloration.

The Psychological Experience of Death

In addition to the physical changes that occur during and after death, there is also a psychological experience that accompanies it. Many people report feeling a sense of detachment from their physical body, as well as a sense of peace and calm. Others report seeing bright lights or visions of loved ones who have already passed on.

Perspectives on What Lies Beyond

There are many different perspectives on what lies beyond death. Some people believe in an afterlife, while others believe in reincarnation or simply that death is the end of consciousness. Let's explore some of these perspectives in more detail.

One of the most common beliefs about what lies beyond death is the idea of an afterlife. This can take many forms, depending on one's religious or spiritual beliefs. For example, many Christians believe in heaven and hell, where people go after they die depending on their actions during life. Muslims believe in paradise and hellfire, while Hindus believe in reincarnation.

Reincarnation

Reincarnation is the belief that after we die, our consciousness is reborn into a new body. This can be based on karma, meaning that the quality of one's past actions will determine the quality of their next life. Some people believe that we can choose the circumstances of our next life based on our desires and attachments in this life.

End of Consciousness

The idea that death is simply the end of consciousness is a common belief among atheists and materialists. This view holds that the brain is responsible for creating consciousness, and when the brain dies, consciousness ceases to exist. While this view may be comforting to some, others find it unsettling.

Death is a complex and mysterious phenomenon that continues to fascinate us. While we may never fully understand what lies beyond death, it's important to remember that everyone has their own beliefs and perspectives on the matter. Whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, or simply the end of consciousness, it's important to find ways to cope with the loss of a loved one and to find peace with your mortality.

Final Words

In conclusion, these powerful essays on death offer inspiring perspectives and deep insights into the human experience of coping with mortality, grief, and loss. From personal accounts to philosophical reflections, these essays provide a diverse range of perspectives that encourage readers to contemplate their mortality and the meaning of life.

By reading and reflecting on these essays, readers can gain a better understanding of how death shapes our lives and relationships, and how we can learn to accept and cope with this inevitable part of the human experience.

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What is bereavement?

Understanding the grief of losing a loved one, grieving your loss, seek support, celebrate your loved one’s life, take care of yourself, when the pain of bereavement doesn’t ease up, what is complicated grief, finding professional help, bereavement: grieving the loss of a loved one.

Few things compare to the pain of losing someone you love. While there’s no way to avoid intense feelings of grief, there are healthier ways to come to terms with your loss.

essays about family death

Bereavement is the grief and mourning experience following the death of someone important to you. While it’s an inevitable part of life—something that virtually all of us go through at some point—losing someone you love can be one of the most painful experiences you’ll ever have to endure.

Whether it’s a close friend, spouse, partner, parent, child, or other relative, the death of a loved one can feel overwhelming. You may experience waves of intense and very difficult emotions, ranging from profound sadness, emptiness, and despair to shock, numbness, guilt, or regret. You might rage at the circumstances of your loved one’s death—your anger focused on yourself, doctors, other loved ones, or God. You may even find it difficult to accept the person is really gone, or struggle to see how you can ever recover and move on from your loss.

Bereavement isn’t limited to emotional responses, either. Grief at the death of a loved one can also trigger physical reactions, including weight and appetite changes, difficulty sleeping, aches and pains, and an impaired immune system leading to illness and other health problems.

The level of support you have around you, your personality, and your own levels of health and well-being can all play a role in how grief impacts you following bereavement. But no matter how much pain you’re in right now, it’s important to know that there are healthy ways to cope with the anguish and come to terms with your grief. While life may never be quite the same again, in time you can ease your sorrow, start to look to the future with hope and optimism, and eventually move forward with your life.

Grieving the loss of a pet

Bereavement isn’t restricted to the death of a person. For many of us, our pets are also close companions or family members. So, when a pet dies, you can experience similar feelings of grief, pain, and loss. As with grieving for human loved ones, healing from the loss of an animal companion takes time, but there are ways to cope with your grief.

Read: Coping with Losing a Pet .

The intensity of your feelings often depends on the circumstances of your loved one’s death, how much time you spent anticipating their loss, your relationship to them, and your previous experiences of bereavement. Of course, just as no two relationships are the same, no two losses are ever the same, either.

In short, the more significant the person was in your life and the more feelings you had for them—regardless of their relationship to you—the greater the impact their loss is likely to have.

Losing a spouse or partner

In addition to the emotional impact of grief, when you lose a spouse or romantic partner, you often have to deal with the stress of practical considerations such as funeral arrangements and financial issues , too. You may also have to explain your spouse’s death to your children and find a way to comfort them while simultaneously dealing with your own heartache.

Losing a romantic partner also means grieving the loss of your daily lifestyle, the loss of a shared history, and the loss of a future planned together. You may feel alone, despairing, and worried about the future. You could even feel guilty about somehow having failed to protect your partner, or angry at your loved one for leaving you.

Losing a parent

For younger children, losing a mother or father can be one of the most traumatic things that can happen in childhood. The death of the person you relied on, the person who loved you unconditionally, can shake your foundations and leave a huge, frightening void in your world. It’s also common for young children to blame themselves for a parent’s death, prolonging the pain of grief.

Even as an adult child, losing a parent can be extremely distressing. It’s easy to feel lost and for all those old childhood insecurities to suddenly return. You may gain some solace if your parent had a long and fulfilling life, but their death can also cause you to consider your own mortality. If you’ve lost both parents, you’re suddenly part of the older generation, a generation without parents, and you’re left to grieve your youth as well. And if your relationship with your parent wasn’t an easy one, their death can leave you wrestling with a host of conflicting emotions.

Losing a child

The loss of a child is always devastating. You’re not just losing the person they were, you’re also losing the years of promise, hopes, and dreams that lay ahead. The grief can be more intense, the bereavement process harder to navigate, and the trauma more acute .

As a parent, you feel responsible for your child’s health and safety, so the sense of guilt can often be overwhelming. Whether you lost your child in a miscarriage, as an infant, or after they’d grown up and left home, losing a child carries an additional weight of injustice. It feels unnatural for a parent to outlive their child, making it that much harder to find meaning and come to terms with their death.

Losing a child can also put a huge strain your relationship with your spouse or partner and make parenting any surviving children emotionally challenging.

Losing a friend

Close friendships bring joy, understanding, and companionship into our lives. In fact, they’re vital to our health and well-being, so it’s no wonder we can feel their loss so gravely.

When a close friend dies, though, it’s easy to feel marginalized, the closeness of your relationship not given the same significance as a family member or romantic partner. This can lead to what’s called disenfranchised grief , where your loss is devalued or you feel judged or stigmatized for feeling the loss so deeply.

Losing someone to suicide

The shock following a suicide can seem overwhelming. As well as mourning the loss of your loved one, you may also be struggling to come to terms with the nature of their death and the stigma that suicide can still carry.

While you may always be left with some unanswered questions about your loved one’s suicide, there are ways to resolve your grief and even gain some level of acceptance. Read: Suicide Grief.

Whatever your relationship to the person who died, it’s important to remember that we all grieve in different ways. There’s no single way to react. When you lose someone important in your life, it’s okay to feel how you feel. Some people express their pain by crying, others never shed a tear—but that doesn’t mean they feel the loss any less.

Don’t judge yourself, think that you should be behaving in a different way, or try to impose a timetable on your grief. Grieving someone’s death takes time. For some people, that time is measured in weeks or months, for others it’s in years.

Allow yourself to feel . The bereavement and mourning process can trigger many intense and unexpected emotions. But the pain of your grief won’t go away faster if you ignore it. In fact, trying to do so may only make things worse in the long run. To eventually find a way to come to terms with your loss, you’ll need to actively face the pain. As bereavement counselor and writer Earl Grollman put it, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

Grief doesn’t always move through stages . You may have read about the different “stages of grief” —usually denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, many people find that grief following the death of a loved one isn’t nearly that predictable. For some, grief can come in waves or feel more like an emotional rollercoaster. For others, it can move through some stages but not others. Don’t think that you should be feeling a certain way at a certain time.

[Read: Coping with Grief and Loss]

Prepare for painful reminders . Some days the pain of your bereavement may seem more manageable than others. Then a reminder such as a photo, a piece of music, or a simple memory can trigger a wave of painful emotions again. While you can’t plan ahead for such reminders, you can be prepared for an upcoming holiday, anniversary, or birthday that may reignite your grief. Talk to other friends and family ahead of time and agree on the best ways to mark such occasions.

Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting your loved one . Finding a way to continue forward with your life doesn’t mean your pain will end or your loved one will be forgotten. Most of us carry our losses with us throughout life; they become part of who we are. The pain should gradually become easier to bear, but the memories and the love you had for the person will always remain.

Speak to a Licensed Therapist

BetterHelp is an online therapy service that matches you to licensed, accredited therapists who can help with depression, anxiety, relationships, and more. Take the assessment and get matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours.

When you lose someone you love, it’s normal to want to cut yourself off from others and retreat into your shell. But this is no time to be alone. Even when you don’t feel able to talk about your loss, simply being around other people who care about you can provide comfort and help ease the burden of bereavement.

Reaching out to those who care about you can also be an important first step on the road to healing. While some friends and relatives may be uncomfortable with your grief, plenty of others will be eager to lend support. Talking about your thoughts and feelings won’t make you a burden. Rather, it can help you make sense of your loved one’s death and find ways to honor their memory.

Lean on friends and family . Even those closest to you can struggle to know how to help during a time of bereavement, so don’t hesitate to tell others what you need—whether it’s helping with funeral arrangements or just being around to talk. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can lean on for support at this difficult time, look to widen your social network and build new friendships .

Focus on those who are “good listeners” . When you’re grieving the loss of a close friend or family member, the most important thing is to feel heard by those you confide in. But the raw emotion of your grief can make some people very uncomfortable. That discomfort can cause them to avoid you, say thoughtless or hurtful things, or lose patience when you talk about your loss. Don’t use their actions as a reason to isolate, though. Turn to those who are better able to listen and provide comfort.

Join a bereavement support group . Even when you have support from those closest to you, family and friends may not always know the best ways to help. Sharing your grief with others who have experienced similar losses can help you feel less alone in your pain. By listening to others share their stories, you can also gain valuable coping tips. To find a support group in your area, contact nearby hospitals, funeral homes, or counseling centers, or call a bereavement hotline listed below.

Talk to a bereavement counselor . If you’re struggling to accept your loss or your grief feels overwhelming, try talking to a bereavement or grief therapist —in-person or via video conferencing online. Confiding in a professional can help you work through emotions that may be too difficult to share with family or friends, deal with any unresolved issues from your loved one’s death, and find healthier ways to adapt to life following your loss.

[Read: Online Therapy: Is it Right for You?]

Draw comfort from your religion . If you’re religious, the specific mourning rituals of your faith can provide comfort and draw you together with others to share your grief. Attending religious services, reading spiritual texts, praying, meditating, or talking to a clergy member can also offer great comfort and help you derive meaning from your loved one's death.

Using social media for grief support

Memorial pages on Facebook and other social media sites have become popular ways to inform a wide audience of a loved one’s passing and to find support. As well as allowing you to impart practical information, such as funeral plans, these pages allow friends and loved ones to post their own tributes or condolences. Reading such messages can often provide comfort for those grieving the loss.

Of course, posting sensitive content on social media has its risks. Memorial pages are often open to anyone. This may encourage people who hardly knew the deceased to post well-meaning but inappropriate comments or advice. Worse, memorial pages can also attract Internet trolls. There have been many well-publicized cases of strangers posting cruel or abusive messages on memorial pages.

[Read: Social Media and Mental Health]

To gain some protection on Facebook, for example, you can opt to create a closed group rather than a public page. This means people have to be approved by a group member before they can access the memorial. It’s also important to remember that while social media can be a useful tool for reaching out to others, it can’t replace the face-to-face support you need at this time.

Rituals such as a funeral or memorial service can fulfill important functions, allowing you to acknowledge and reflect on the person’s passing, remember their life, and say goodbye. In the period after a funeral, however, your grief can often become even more intense. Often, other people may appear to have moved on, while you’re left struggling to make sense of your “new normal”.

Remembering your loved one doesn’t have to end with the funeral, though. Finding ways of celebrating the person you loved can help maintain their memory and provide comfort as you move through the grieving process.

Keep a journal or write a letter to your loved one . Saying the things you never got to say to your loved one in life can provide an important emotional release and help you make sense of what you’re feeling.

Create a memorial . Building a memorial to your loved one, creating a website or blog, or compiling a photo album or scrapbook to highlight the love you shared can help promote healing. Planting flowers or a tree in your loved one’s memory can be particularly rewarding, allowing you to watch something grow and flourish as you tend to it.

Build a legacy . Starting a campaign or fundraiser in your loved one’s name, volunteering for a cause that was important to them, or donating to a charity they supported, for example, can help you find meaning in their loss. It can also add a sense of purpose as you move forward with your own life.

Continue to do things you used to do together . Perhaps you used to go to sports events with your loved one, listen to music, or take long walks together? There’s comfort in routine, so when it’s not too painful, continuing to do these things can be a way to mark your loved one’s life.

Remember your loved one in simple ways . Even simple acts such as lighting a candle, visiting a favorite place, or marking an important date can help the healing process.

When you’re grieving the death of a loved one, it’s easy to neglect your own health and welfare. But the stress, trauma, and intense emotions you’re dealing with at the moment can impact your immune system, affect your diet and sleep, and take a heavy toll on your overall mental and physical health.

Neglecting your well-being may even prolong the grieving process and make you more susceptible to depression or complicated grief. You’ll also find it harder to provide comfort to children or other vulnerable family members who are also grieving. However, there are simple steps you can take to nurture your health at this time.

Manage stress . It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing at the moment, but exercising is a powerful antidote to stress—and can help you sleep better at night. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are also effective ways to ease anguish and worry.

Spend time in nature . Immersing yourself in nature and spending time in green spaces can be a calming, soothing experience when you’re grieving. Try gardening, hiking, or walking in a park or woodland.

Pursue interests that enrich your life . Hobbies, sports, and other interests that add meaning and purpose to your life can bring a comforting routine back to your life following the upheaval of bereavement. They can also help connect you with others and nurture your spirit.

Eat and sleep well . Eating a healthy diet and getting enough rest at night can have a huge impact on your ability to cope with grief. If you’re struggling to sleep at this difficult time, there are supplements and sleep aids that may be able to help—just try not to rely on them for too long.

Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope . While it’s tempting to use substances to help numb your grief and self-medicate your pain, in the long run excessive alcohol and drug use will only hamper your ability to grieve. Try using HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit as a healthier way to manage your emotions.

You may never truly get over the death of someone you love. But as time passes, it’s normal for difficult emotions such as sadness or anger to gradually ease as you begin to accept your loss and move forward with your life.

However, if you aren’t feeling better over time, or your pain is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief has developed into a more serious problem, such as complicated grief or major depression.

Grief vs. depression

Distinguishing between grief and depression isn’t always easy as they share many symptoms, but there are ways to tell the difference:

  • Grief can be a roller coaster. It involves a wide variety of emotions and a mix of good and bad days. Even when you’re in the middle of the grieving process, you will still have moments of pleasure or happiness.
  • With depression , on the other hand, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

[Read: Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs]

Other symptoms that suggest depression, not just grief, include:

  • Intense, pervasive sense of guilt.
  • Thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with dying.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
  • Slow speech and body movements.
  • Inability to function at home, work, or school.
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there.

While the sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, it shouldn’t remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief or persistent complex bereavement disorder .

Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.

Symptoms of complicated grief include:

  • Intense longing and yearning for your deceased loved one.
  • Intrusive thoughts or images of the person.
  • Denial of the death or sense of disbelief.
  • Imagining that your loved one is alive.
  • Searching for the deceased in familiar places.
  • Avoiding things that remind you of your loved one.
  • Extreme anger or bitterness over your loss.
  • Feeling that life is empty or meaningless.

Complicated grief and trauma

If your loved one’s death was sudden, violent, or otherwise extremely stressful or disturbing, complicated grief can manifest as psychological trauma or PTSD.

Being traumatized from the loss of a loved one can leave you feeling helpless and struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. But with the right guidance, you can make healing changes and move on with your life.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of complicated grief, trauma, or clinical depression, talk to a mental health professional right away. Left untreated, these conditions can lead to significant emotional damage, life-threatening health problems, and even suicide. But treatment can help you get better.

[Read: Finding a Therapist Who can Help You Heal]

Contact a bereavement counselor or therapist if you:

  • Feel like life isn’t worth living.
  • Wish you had died with your loved one.
  • Blame yourself for the loss or for failing to prevent it.
  • Feel numb and disconnected for more than a few weeks.
  • Are having difficulty trusting others since your loss.
  • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities.

Crisis Call Center  at 775-784-8090

Cruse Bereavement Care  at 0808 808 1677

GriefLine  at (03) 9935 7400

Other support

Find a GriefShare group meeting near you  – Worldwide directory of support groups for people grieving the death of a family member or friend. (GriefShare)

Find Support  – Directory of programs and support groups in the U.S. for children experiencing grief and loss. (National Alliance for Grieving Children)

Chapter Locator  for finding help for grieving the loss of a child in the U.S. and  International Support  for finding help in other countries. (The Compassionate Friends)

If you're feeling suicidal…

Seek help immediately. Please read  Suicide Help , talk to someone you trust, or call a suicide helpline:

  • In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255.
  • In the UK, call 08457 90 90 90.
  • In Australia, call 13 11 14.
  • Or visit  IASP  to find a helpline in your country.

More Information

  • Grief and Loss - A guide to preparing for and mourning the death of a loved one. (Harvard Medical School Special Health Report)
  • Death and Grief - Article for teens on how to cope with grief and loss. (TeensHealth)
  • Grief: Coping with Reminders after a Loss - Tips for coping with the grief that can resurface even years after you’ve lost a loved one. (Mayo Clinic)
  • Life after Loss: Dealing with Grief - Guide to coping with grief and loss. (University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center)
  • Bereavement - Symptoms, causes, and treatment. (Psychology Today)
  • Bereavement and Grief - Mourning the loss of a loved one. (Mental Health America)
  • Understanding Grief - Articles to help you cope with the grieving process. (Cruse Bereavement Care)
  • Depressive Disorders. (2013). In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . American Psychiatric Association. Link
  • Zisook, S., & Shear, K. (2009). Grief and bereavement: What psychiatrists need to know. World Psychiatry, 8 (2), 67–74. Link
  • Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Stroebe, W. (2007). Health outcomes of bereavement. The Lancet, 370 (9603), 1960–1973. Link
  • Simon, N. M., Wall, M. M., Keshaviah, A., Dryman, M. T., LeBlanc, N. J., & Shear, M. K. (2011). Informing the symptom profile of complicated grief. Depression and Anxiety, 28 (2), 118–126. Link
  • Simon, N. M. (2013). Treating Complicated Grief. JAMA, 310 (4), 416–423. Link
  • Corr, C. A. (1999). Enhancing the Concept of Disenfranchised Grief. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 38 (1), 1–20. Link
  • Johansson, A. K., & Grimby, A. (2012). Anticipatory grief among close relatives of patients in hospice and palliative wards. The American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care, 29 (2), 134–138. Link

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College Essay: Lessons from the loss of a loved one

Lucy Kuo

Her death caused me to recognize that my purpose lies in pursuing medicine.

As the only members of our extended family outside of Taiwan, my nuclear family and I took the annual trip from Minnesota back to our homeland that renewed my fading early childhood memories of bustling Taipei.

Jetlag compelled me to wake up at the crack of dawn, which luckily coincided with my grandmother’s daily trek up the luscious mountains right down the block. She was invariably eager to bring my brother and I along. Although my grandma was agile for her age, our youthful bodies bounded steps ahead on hills.

As years passed, I never thought the next time I’d see my grandmother would be on her deathbed.

The summer before I began ninth grade, we learned that my grandmother had undergone a spinal surgery to offset the rapid deterioration of her legs. What had been a risky procedure to begin with did little to help her prognosis.

My brother and I followed my parents on their next flight to Taiwan while she went under the knife for a second time.

The trip up the hospital elevator ticked by in silence, everyone avoiding eye contact. A blast of cold air whipped my face as the doors opened to the intensive care unit. Snapping on latex gloves, face masks and hospital gowns, we anxiously waited in the hall to enter her room, only two allowed in at once.

The first time I walked in, the shrill beeping of heavy equipment filled my ears, and thick trails of IVs sprawled on the floor. The rugged stench of rubber from my gloves clung in the air and my stomach churned to the ceaseless beeps. My heart crashed at the sight of my grandmother, immobile in a gray bed. Her lively spirit lied paralyzed, indistinguishable with jaundice and blackened fingers. I idled in shock the five minutes I was with her, conscientiously meeting her eyes, incapable of digesting the severity this situation had reached.

I left my grandma in a daze as a doctor somberly welcomed us into a room. There I learned that the initial surgery left her with a grazed spine and a pierced stomach, leaving the rest of the organs in her torso to collapse and wither. Her blood had turned toxic.

The doctor spouted more medical vocabulary. Hesitating, he paused. “I’m afraid there is no chance of recovery,” he apologized. His statement hung in the air as he continued, and eventually his words dissolved into white noise.

During my following visits, I stumbled over the right words to express to her. Her pain-enduring eyes masked with perseverance recurred through my mind hours after leaving the hospital. I still yearned for a miracle to occur in the two weeks leading up to her passing.

Because Taiwan is a moderately accelerated nation, I struggled to comprehend that the one-out-of-a-million failed victim of this risky operation was someone important to me, my 71-yearold grandmother.

After the visit, under the dimming sky, I descended the mountain without my grandma. I realized how much one loss affected multiple people. The buzz of cicadas dwindled as I neared the house. The streetlight gradually flickered out. I could only picture her last breath in the lonely hospital room, fading out to the slowing beep of her heartbeat. At that moment, I yearned for the chance to recompense my grandma in any way.

My grandmother was a sole person, but she acquired dreams and goals throughout her lifetime. Until then I never understood how small changes created big differences—like how every life matters on this Earth. Her death caused me to recognize that my purpose lies in pursuing medicine.

Even today, our knowledge of human health is not enough to save everyone. My impact may not be big, but I want to contribute to the gradual advancement of critical medical care. My aspiration is to help as many people as possible experience life’s potential.

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Narrative About Death of Family Member's Passing

Table of contents, introduction, a family united by love, the unforeseen goodbye, embracing grief, celebrating life, a bond beyond death.

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How To Cope With A Death In The Family

While death is a natural part of life, losing someone you love or watching someone die can produce complicated, hard-to-process emotions that are unlike what you might watch in a movie. It can be challenging to know how to grieve healthily or move forward in life after a family member passes away. 

If you've experienced loss, it can be hard to imagine a fate worse than what you are feeling. If you are wondering how to cope with bereavement, there are a few ways to move forward and find guidance in your grieving process. You're not alone, and acceptance and healing can be possible.

It’s important to understand that complicated grief takes time to move through and friends and family members will handle the difficult time in their own unique ways.

Addressing A Death In The Family

Grieving the loss of a loved one can be painful, often causing individuals to adopt maladaptive behaviors or experience unwanted emotions in response. 

Some people have difficulty accepting death, distracting themselves with work, declining to discuss the deceased relative, or otherwise preoccupying themselves. Other people repress their emotions or find potentially unhealthy ways to express or manage them, such as through substance use or risky behavior. However, difficulty processing your feelings regarding the passing of a relative can prompt emotional, mental, and  physical health concerns .

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the  SAMHSA National Helpline  at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Coping With A Family Death By Understanding The Five Stages Of Grief 

Individuals who experience the death of a loved one, whether they witness their dying words or hear about it from afar, may go through the five stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Often, each person can experience the preceding stages at their own pace. You may also experience these stages out of order, skip some altogether, or cycle through certain stages multiple times before reaching the acceptance stage. While you may never "get over" the loss of a family member or other loved ones, acceptance can help you manage your grief and emotions. 

Note that the  "five stages of grief" model by Kubler-Ross  is a theory and not a proven psychological fact. Some grieving individuals might find this model helpful as they pass through grief, while others may not relate to it, find it incomplete, or feel it is not factual. Take the information that resonates with you, and note that there are other theories about grief to explore and learn about. Reaching out to a grief center in your area may connect you with local resources and options. 

Often experienced as the initial stage of grief, denial is a common defense mechanism. After a passing, an individual may know logically that their relative has passed, but denying the death can help them avoid confronting potentially complex emotions. Denial can be problematic when it prevents an individual from expressing their emotions and acknowledging the reality of the situation or if it lasts long-term. For people in the denial phase, seeing evidence of their loved one’s passing, such as the death certificate, can be particularly challenging. However, this symptom can be addressed with therapy, support groups, and grief-processing activities. 

Anger after losing a relative can come in many forms and may be directed toward various individuals, or at finding justice or some sort of revenge for your loved one’s passing. An individual may become angry at medical staff, other family, friends, or relative who passed. 

Although anger is often a natural part of dealing with a death in the family, constructively managing this emotion can be valuable to your mental health. Anger can be problematic when it prompts unhealthy behaviors. If you're struggling to cope with angry feelings, consider exercising, spending time in nature, practicing self-care, or engaging in relaxing activities. A grief center in your area may also offer outlets for anger expression and emotional control. 

In many cases, bargaining takes the form of a truce or plea with a higher power, other people, or oneself. Bargaining is often a way of trying to take a measure of control over the situation. People may go through "what ifs" during the bargaining stage, asking themselves, for example, "What if I'd been there?" 

If you're struggling to process this stage of grief, consider reframing these unwanted thoughts. Using the above example, instead of asking, "What if I'd been there?" you can remind yourself that you did not cause this occurrence to happen. Talking to a therapist can help you reach this point if you struggle to believe it.

Losing a relative, especially if the person was the “rock” of the family, can prompt a feeling of emptiness, sadness, and physical pain. While symptoms of  depression  could signal the presence of a depressive disorder, it may not always be the case. Even if symptoms do not meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis, they can be challenging to experience. When experiencing sadness after grief, it can be beneficial for individuals to have social support, such as family who can bring food, take care of household chores, and offer emotional support.  

Talking with others who can empathize is often helpful, although some people find it best to be alone and work through their feelings at their own pace. While taking time for oneself is fine, withdrawing from other people for an extended period can exacerbate symptoms of depression. If you're experiencing depression, consider contacting a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can help you navigate the symptoms of depression and provide you with a healthy outlet for your feelings.

Acceptance is often considered the final stage of grief, which may occur when one comes to terms with the loss. Many people mistake acceptance for the completion of the grieving process. However, accepting the death of a loved one does not mean you won't experience other symptoms or concerns afterward. Even if you move on with your life, you may continue to experience complex emotions. Although these feelings can be challenging to experience, they can also remind you how important your loved one was to you.

Moving On After The Loss Of A Loved One

People have differing ideas of what it means to move on with life after they've lost a relative. For some, it means being able to continue daily activities or job duties. For others, moving on involves focusing on self-care, reaching out to friends and other family, or speaking with a therapist. 

Additionally, a support group can be a healthy outlet and a way to gain perspective from people who have experienced a similar loss, whether the person who died was close to you, or an acquaintance. You may be able to find support groups for bereaved families in your area or online. For further guidance and care, consider pursuing therapy. Seeking the support of a mental health professional can be a constructive and healthy way for people to work through grief and move on with their lives. A therapist can provide you with insights into your situation that you hadn't considered and advice on coping mechanisms. 

Counseling Options 

Know that you have options if you consider reaching out to a therapist for support when a loved one dies. For example, an increasing amount of research suggests that online therapy can offer support to those experiencing grief or trauma after the death of a loved one. 

In one comprehensive review in  Frontiers in Psychiatry , cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for bereavement was examined. Researchers found significant positive effects for symptoms of grief, which were sustained over the long term. The study noted that online therapy allows participants to circumvent common barriers to mental health care by providing more flexibility than in-person treatment. 

Online therapy can be a helpful treatment method when confronting difficult-to-process emotions related to losing a family or a similar concern. Online therapy can be more discreet if you are not ready to discuss grief or tell your story in person. Through a platform like  BetterHelp , you can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home without going to an office or discussing your treatment with anyone but your therapist.

How do you talk about death in the family? Why is it important to discuss death and dying with your family? How do people talk about death?

Why is it important to discuss death why is it important to embrace death do people like to talk about death should i think about death every day what is death in your own words.

How can death impact your life? Who said the purpose of life is death? What is the power of life or death? Is it rude to ask when someone died? Is death the greatest fear in life? How death makes us stronger? Does death make you appreciate life more?

What Qualities Contribute To A Happy Family?

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A Death Overcome

Favorite Quote: "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars"

I remember that dreadful day like it happened yesterday. The whole day seemed off in the first place, my close family members crowded around me in my room. The more my family members surrounded me, the more claustrophobic I felt. There were tears rolling down their cheeks like a waterfall. I already knew a swarm of bad news was coming my way. I just hoped that it wasn’t the news I was thinking of. I pray to God it’s not that dreadful news.     

“Your mom went to sleep,” my grandfather blurted out followed by the sobs of my family members including him.

It didn’t click at first, why were they telling me that she went to sleep? Sleep… sleep? She’s gone? Every tear cascaded down my flushed cheeks. I already knew this must have been the news, but it was so shocking to actually hear she’s gone. We all knew that she was going to leave this desolated planet soon; she’s been so sick, always in the hospital. My family tried to prepare me and my sister for this day to come, but we all know that’s it’s highly impossible to prepare children to lose their mother, the woman that carried them for 9 month and loved them for many more.     

We knew it was going to happen soon, a lady from the Hospice Center came to the house and told us about her illness. I didn’t want to believe her, I didn’t believe her. That’s my mom, I would never believe my mom would die at such an early age. More tears flowed down my face as I thought about that day; I wish I would have believed her and spent much more time with my mother instead of running away from the problem at hand.

My grandmother got rid of my heart broken family members and picked out my clothes for me; she knew I did not feel like picking out any at the moment. Everyone was silent as they walked out of my chilly room, giving me enough time to get dressed before they came back to check up on me. We walked out in unison to the cars to see my momma one last time.     

As we pulled up to the Hospice Center, goosebumps appeared all over my body, I never imagined I would have to say goodbye to my mom this early. I’m only 15, just 15. The lady at the front desk didn’t ask questions, she just led us to her room, already knowing who we came to see. Every step I took, my heart beat sped up. Anticipation swelled up in my body ready to explode. We sat outside of my mother’s door for a good two minutes before the lady from the front desk slowly opened the door.     

There she lay in her bed. The bed was raised slightly to preserve her body for us to be able to see her body for the last time. My knees started to weaken as everyone strolled into her room. I stood from afar, observing what used to be my mother. I watched my grandmother struggle to get her eyes close, but the rigor mortis had set in already. Their nurses were so kind to fold her hands. She looked like she was at peace, she was at peace. I could already feel the tears flowing down my face as I walked in and placed my warm hand on her chilled empty body. Her face seemed like she was at finally at ease. Her eyes slightly open and mouth hanging down like she normally slept. She had on her favorite blue gown, I could already sense she was happy because of that blue gown. Her nails were perfectly done, like she always had them. She would always have her nails done in case she meets a “hot doctor”. All memories of her started flooding back into my head. Every movie, every trip to Disney and Sea World. Even when my family found out how sick she was. My body aches for her to still be here, but she’s with the Lord now. She needed to be with Him. He’s the only one that can heal her, even if that means taking her away from everyone that loves and cares about her.     

Everyone prayed over her as I held my sister, who was shedding buckets of tears. I knew this is just as hard for her. We both cried over our mother, who we know is still in our hearts. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad she’s not in pain anymore. She was hurting so much while on Earth and we couldn’t stop her pain, only God could.     

It is difficult to deal with the loss of a parent. It’s worse when you have to go through it at a young age, but eventually we come to deal with it. I still have my moments where I miss the sound of her voice. I’ll start to cry about not having my mom around when a lot of people; have their moms, but I can’t keep wishing for her to come back. She’s happier and healthier than ever. There was nothing we could do here on Earth.

Even if you prepare for someone’s death, you’re never really prepared for it, God will take people at any moment. You just have to know that life is not promised and continue to love on that person who’s dying until their very last day and every day after that. It hurts to know they’re gone, but overtime you will get over the pain and be able to celebrate the good times you and that loved one had.      

The death of my mom changed my whole perspective on life and death. I weep for the people who die, but praise the people who God let walk on this Earth. After losing my mom, I respect and love everyone how I want to be loved and respected because you never know what pain they have going on in their lives. It was a struggle to get to this point, but I’m glad God gave me the strength to overcome this dreadful experience and helped me find the lesson within it.

I was inspired to write this piece for everyone who has gone through pain like this. It's hard to cope with the death of a parent or guardian, it's even harder to find the lesson behind that gruesome event. I hope people will understand that you shouldn't take you family for granted because you never know when something will take them away forever. Love and appreciate the people who take care of you.

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essays about family death

Become a Writer Today

Essays About Death: Top 5 Examples and 9 Essay Prompts

Death includes mixed emotions and endless possibilities. If you are writing essays about death, see our examples and prompts in this article.

Over 50 million people die yearly from different causes worldwide. It’s a fact we must face when the time comes. Although the subject has plenty of dire connotations, many are still fascinated by death, enough so that literary pieces about it never cease. Every author has a reason why they want to talk about death. Most use it to put their grievances on paper to help them heal from losing a loved one. Some find writing and reading about death moving, transformative, or cathartic.

To help you write a compelling essay about death, we prepared five examples to spark your imagination:

1. Essay on Death Penalty by Aliva Manjari

2. coping with death essay by writer cameron, 3. long essay on death by prasanna, 4. because i could not stop for death argumentative essay by writer annie, 5. an unforgettable experience in my life by anonymous on gradesfixer.com, 1. life after death, 2. death rituals and ceremonies, 3. smoking: just for fun or a shortcut to the grave, 4. the end is near, 5. how do people grieve, 6. mental disorders and death, 7. are you afraid of death, 8. death and incurable diseases, 9. if i can pick how i die.

“The death penalty is no doubt unconstitutional if imposed arbitrarily, capriciously, unreasonably, discriminatorily, freakishly or wantonly, but if it is administered rationally, objectively and judiciously, it will enhance people’s confidence in criminal justice system.”

Manjari’s essay considers the death penalty as against the modern process of treating lawbreakers, where offenders have the chance to reform or defend themselves. Although the author is against the death penalty, she explains it’s not the right time to abolish it. Doing so will jeopardize social security. The essay also incorporates other relevant information, such as the countries that still have the death penalty and how they are gradually revising and looking for alternatives.

You might also be interested in our list of the best war books .

“How a person copes with grief is affected by the person’s cultural and religious background, coping skills, mental history, support systems, and the person’s social and financial status.”

Cameron defines coping and grief through sharing his personal experience. He remembers how their family and close friends went through various stages of coping when his Aunt Ann died during heart surgery. Later in his story, he mentions Ann’s last note, which she wrote before her surgery, in case something terrible happens. This note brought their family together again through shared tears and laughter. You can also check out these articles about cancer .

“Luckily or tragically, we are completely sentenced to death. But there is an interesting thing; we don’t have the knowledge of how the inevitable will strike to have a conversation.”

Prasanna states the obvious – all people die, but no one knows when. She also discusses the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Research also shows that when people die, the brain either shows a flashback of life or sees a ray of light.

Even if someone can predict the day of their death, it won’t change how the people who love them will react. Some will cry or be numb, but in the end, everyone will have to accept the inevitable. The essay ends with the philosophical belief that the soul never dies and is reborn in a new identity and body. You can also check out these elegy examples .

“People have busy lives, and don’t think of their own death, however, the speaker admits that she was willing to put aside her distractions and go with death. She seemed to find it pretty charming.”

The author focuses on how Emily Dickinson ’s “ Because I Could Not Stop for Death ” describes death. In the poem, the author portrays death as a gentle, handsome, and neat man who picks up a woman with a carriage to take her to the grave. The essay expounds on how Dickinson uses personification and imagery to illustrate death.

“The death of a loved one is one of the hardest things an individual can bring themselves to talk about; however, I will never forget that day in the chapter of my life, as while one story continued another’s ended.”

The essay delve’s into the author’s recollection of their grandmother’s passing. They recount the things engrained in their mind from that day –  their sister’s loud cries, the pounding and sinking of their heart, and the first time they saw their father cry. 

Looking for more? Check out these essays about losing a loved one .

9 Easy Writing Prompts on Essays About Death

Are you still struggling to choose a topic for your essay? Here are prompts you can use for your paper:

Your imagination is the limit when you pick this prompt for your essay. Because no one can confirm what happens to people after death, you can create an essay describing what kind of world exists after death. For instance, you can imagine yourself as a ghost that lingers on the Earth for a bit. Then, you can go to whichever place you desire and visit anyone you wish to say proper goodbyes to first before crossing to the afterlife.

Essays about death: Death rituals and ceremonies

Every country, religion, and culture has ways of honoring the dead. Choose a tribe, religion, or place, and discuss their death rituals and traditions regarding wakes and funerals. Include the reasons behind these activities. Conclude your essay with an opinion on these rituals and ceremonies but don’t forget to be respectful of everyone’s beliefs. 

Smoking is still one of the most prevalent bad habits since tobacco’s creation in 1531 . Discuss your thoughts on individuals who believe there’s nothing wrong with this habit and inadvertently pass secondhand smoke to others. Include how to avoid chain-smokers and if we should let people kill themselves through excessive smoking. Add statistics and research to support your claims.

Collate people’s comments when they find out their death is near. Do this through interviews, and let your respondents list down what they’ll do first after hearing the simulated news. Then, add their reactions to your essay.

There is no proper way of grieving. People grieve in their way. Briefly discuss death and grieving at the start of your essay. Then, narrate a personal experience you’ve had with grieving to make your essay more relatable. Or you can compare how different people grieve. To give you an idea, you can mention that your father’s way of grieving is drowning himself in work while your mom openly cries and talk about her memories of the loved one who just passed away. 

Explain how people suffering from mental illnesses view death. Then, measure it against how ordinary people see the end. Include research showing death rates caused by mental illnesses to prove your point. To make organizing information about the topic more manageable, you can also focus on one mental illness and relate it to death.

Check out our guide on  how to write essays about depression .

Sometimes, seriously ill people say they are no longer afraid of death. For others, losing a loved one is even more terrifying than death itself. Share what you think of death and include factors that affected your perception of it.

People with incurable diseases are often ready to face death. For this prompt, write about individuals who faced their terminal illnesses head-on and didn’t let it define how they lived their lives. You can also review literary pieces that show these brave souls’ struggle and triumph. A great series to watch is “ My Last Days .”

You might also be interested in these epitaph examples .

No one knows how they’ll leave this world, but if you have the chance to choose how you part with your loved ones, what will it be? Probe into this imagined situation. For example, you can write: “I want to die at an old age, surrounded by family and friends who love me. I hope it’ll be a peaceful death after I’ve done everything I wanted in life.”

To make your essay more intriguing, put unexpected events in it. Check out these plot twist ideas .

essays about family death

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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Blog > Common App , Essay Advice > Should You Write Your College Essay About Losing a Loved One?

Should You Write Your College Essay About Losing a Loved One?

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Losing a loved one, especially in high school, can upend how you view the world.

It’s only natural that you’d want to write your Common Application personal statement about it.

Writing about death is always difficult, and it is especially difficult in a college application essay. It can take twice the time and effort to craft a personal statement about so emotional a topic.

Since it’s a more challenging topic, you should be sure that writing about the death of a loved one is the right choice for you.

While some advice may say otherwise, writing about traumatic experiences does not increase your chances of admission, so don’t feel forced to write about the death of a loved one just because you think that’s what admissions offices want to see.

You should write about your loss if it’s the topic that will allow you to tell your most authentic story.

So before you begin writing, consider a few critical questions to determine whether (and how) you should write your college essay about losing a loved one.

Questions to ask yourself before writing your college essay about death

As much as admissions officers are humans who care about your wellbeing, they also have criteria with which they must evaluate your personal statement. While they will empathize with your grief, at the end of the day, your essay still needs to hold its own against thousands of others.

Sometimes essays about death can do just that, poignantly and with heart. But other times, students aren’t ready. And that’s okay too.

Ask yourself the following questions and think honestly about your answers.

1. Are you really ready to think, write, and revise critically?

Grief can muddle your ideas into incomprehensible gray blobs. Your heightened sensitivity may also make the critical revision process exhausting.

But your college essay still has to shine with clarity and coherence .

It’s important that you ask yourself if you’re ready to do the detailed writing and editing that is required of personal statements.

2. Can you find a respectful balance that allows you to center yourself?

Students most frequently make the mistake of writing essays that center the person who has passed rather than themselves.

While a tribute to your loved one is a beautiful thing, your college essay has a major job to do. It needs to tell admissions officers about you.

For whatever reason, if you can’t bring the focus to yourself, you might consider writing about another topic.

3. Will you be able to process before and while writing? And if it’s not that hard to process, should you consider a different topic?

Writing is a powerful way to process tragedy. The very act can help you heal and find new direction. But the process can be intimate, and you may not want to share the information with strangers.

Your college essay also requires you to go beyond reflection to craft a thoughtful and organized essay.

So be sure that you’ve reached a point in your journey where you feel comfortable working through and writing about difficult emotions.

Alternatively, some students write about losing people who they weren’t close to and whose deaths didn’t significantly impact them. They do this solely because they think that writing about trauma helps you get into college, but it doesn’t. If you find that writing about your loss does not actually have a profound effect on your emotions, then there is likely a different essay topic awaiting you.

4. What should you do if you’ve decided you’re not ready to write your college essay about losing a loved one but still want the admissions committee to know?

You could consider how your story fits into any supplemental essays you’re writing. Or you can use the Common Application “Additional Information” section. Feel free to include whatever context you are comfortable sharing. This section can be a simple explanation and does not need to follow a specific format.

How you can write a college essay about losing a loved one

If you’ve decided that writing your college essay about losing a loved one is the right choice for you, then we have a few tips.

1. Determine what this topic should reveal about you to the admissions committee.

Begin your writing process by asking yourself what you want the admissions committee to learn about you from this story of loss.

2. Pinpoint specific examples, details, memories, or vignettes.

Root your narrative in specifics rather than generalities about you and your loved one to show, not tell your admissions officers why they were important to you.

3. End on a note of hope, resilience, or forward movement.

The reality is that even with a sad topic, you want your admissions officers to leave your essay thinking about you in a positive way so that they can picture you being an active member of their campus. Your personal statement should therefore conclude on some kind of hopeful or resilient note.

Be gracious about your limits. Write about your loss only if you feel ready and if you truly believe that it’s the story you need to tell admissions committees.

If you do choose to write your college essay about losing a loved one, then you should start early and leave plenty of extra time for writing and revision. What you’ve been through is surely difficult, so be gentle on yourself as you write and revise.

You can find more about writing your personal statement on our How to Write a College Essay post.

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The Twin Drives of Love and Death

Atlantic writers have long meditated on these two fates of all living things.

An orange heart with an arrow through it

This is an edition of Time-Travel Thursdays, a journey through The Atlantic ’s archives to contextualize the present and surface delightful treasures. Sign up here.

When I think of death, I think of love. I am convinced that I’m not alone in this. The dying seem driven to meditate on love , and love suffuses the scene of an ideal death: lying in bed surrounded by family, reassured by the promise of enduring affection.

Unsurprisingly, The Atlantic has featured numerous writings on love and death over its lifetime. Only three years after the magazine’s founding, Louisa May Alcott published a short story in which a wife’s suicide attempt catalyzes her husband’s transformation from a self-absorbed recluse to a sincere and adoring lover. The near-death occasion serves as a sort of warning of mortality, putting the story’s narrator in mind of the centrality of love.

In 1882, the magazine featured “ Love and Death ,” a poem by Charlotte Fiske Bates, who imagines the torment and the comfort of love after loss:

But now, warm lips to greet me in an hour Dismissed the wish for hers, long turned to dust; The past surrendered to the present’s power, And I, to-day, grudged not the grave its trust. Instead of that, the thought flashed like a bolt, Shocking my sense of faith and love sincere, — Nay, like a crime from which I would revolt, — “ The day has come you would not have her here.” I had been sure, with grief at awful height, That other love could never, never be ; Both law and gospel giving ample right, I start to-day at time’s strange alchemy.

Bates’s imagined widower is stunned—and discomfited, and compelled—by the reawakening of love in the aftermath of grief. But perhaps death doesn’t cancel love at all. More than a decade after the magazine ran Bates’s poem, Sir Edward Strachey, an English author with a penchant for Christian theology, published a long dialogue on love and marriage . Between lines from Coleridge and Shakespeare, Strachey’s speakers conclude that the end of a life is no occasion for the extinguishing of love:

To sleep together at the foot of the hill which the old loving hearts had climbed together long years before is a pleasant thought, yet surely pleasant only to those who look to share the fast-coming joy of a waking from that sleep to be shared together in that better land.

Some works are more suspicious of the idea of love as a comfort despite the fact of mortality. Raoul de Roussy de Sales, a particularly pessimistic Frenchman, took American women to task for their misconceptions about love in 1938. The American woman, he wrote, “seldom accepts the idea that maladjustments and misunderstandings are not only normal but bearable once you have made up your mind that, whatever may be the ultimate aim of our earthly existence, perfect happiness through love or any other form of expression is not part of the programme.” The triumphalist view of love propagated by movies and music didn’t have the strength to structure a human life, in his characteristically bleak imagination .

Sales isn’t the magazine’s only skeptic of love’s power to heal and revive. In Joyce Carol Oates’s 1971 short story “ Normal Love ,” a woman obsesses over a grisly murder and her husband’s waning love as she enters her 40s. “There must have been confusion at the end, madness, not love or hate,” Oates wrote, reflecting on the frenzied brutality of murder and the spiraling bewilderment of the narrator’s own putatively ordinary life.

But love need not sow perfection to serve as comfort in the face of death. In a psychoanalytic meditation on love triangles published in 1988, the sexuality researcher Ethel S. Person considered love’s capacity to motivate passions—even destructive ones—after death. “The mutual jealousy and hatred of lover and spouse can survive even the death of the beloved,” she wrote. “For example, a betrayed wife may forbid the appearance of her husband’s mistress at his funeral.” Love and its vagaries can outlast death, and—sometimes—ease the pain of loss:

Some lovers do manage affectionate relationships with their rivals, and treasure ongoing relationships with them. While some wives use the occasion of a spouse’s death to exact revenge on a rival, others initiate closer ties with the mistress. Together they share memories of their lost love.

A proper Freudian, Person must have understood eros and thanatos: love and death, twin drives with twin destinies, the fate of all living things. It isn’t clear which triumphs in the end. But I would place my bets on love.

Experience With Death in Personal Life Essay

Introduction, nervousness and prolonged sadness, prolonged sadness, pain of loss.

Death as a phenomenon inevitably leaves an imprint on a person’s mental and physical state. Unfortunately, experiencing the death of a loved one is even more complicated than an abstract death. One always wants to prolong time with someone one has lost, but it is impossible, which is why death is such a challenging event. Death is hard for everyone, especially when it affects their family. Facing death is an ordeal because it leads to nervousness, prolonged sadness, and pain of loss.

First, facing death is an ordeal because there is nervousness after a loss. It leads to an altered perception of reality, in which one is exposed to dangers in the form of illness or a car accident. The nervousness is kept at a high level, preventing one from functioning and adequately perceiving difficulties and obstacles. I believe it relates to the fear of death, which develops and strengthens after experiencing a loss. The person needs to come to terms with death but is worried that something terrible will happen to him or other loved ones. The fear of being alone further likely increases our nervousness, which is why it becomes so hard for us after the loss of someone.

Second, facing death is an ordeal because after a loss person gets prolonged sadness. It is a normal feeling after death because we long for the person who has died. Our sadness is an attempt to cope with anxiety and negative expressive emotions. I think it is essential for us to have time to grieve and be sad because losing a dear person is challenging, regardless of the conditions. Even prerequisites (for example, illness) will not diminish sadness after death because we are deprived of some good stuff. Prolonged sadness is a time for reflection and remembrance of good moments together.

Third, facing death is an ordeal because we feel the pain of loss. I faced the death of a loved one not too long ago, so the memories are still fresh and evoke unpleasant memories. In 2009, my grandmother had breast cancer: a horrible disease that can nevertheless go into remission. Nevertheless, the cancer came back, and the disease began to progress-the horrible disease affected the family. Cancer took over the bones and the eye, followed by the discovery of stomach cancer. It was scary because the disease was progressing, and my grandmother needed chemotherapy every two weeks. We were all afraid for her and tried to spend time together, but we still lost her. In July 2020, we went on a trip to Eufaula: it was hard, but we supported each other. We lost her in September 2020, which is a bad time for everyone. The death affected us, and it took us a long time to recover, but we had to cope with the misfortune. Memories of the loss were gradually replaced only by good moments with Grandma, but the death was still hard on us.

Nervousness, prolonged sadness, and pain of loss are reasons why death is an ordeal. The experience of facing death occurred a couple of years ago when my grandmother died. The debilitating illness and difficult treatment undermined our mental stability, but we still tried to support each other. The death left an imprint on me because I lost a loved one. I believe the most valuable thing about this experience is recognizing the transience of time and trying to create as many good moments as possible with loved ones.

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IvyPanda. (2023, August 2). Experience With Death in Personal Life. https://ivypanda.com/essays/experience-with-death-in-personal-life/

"Experience With Death in Personal Life." IvyPanda , 2 Aug. 2023, ivypanda.com/essays/experience-with-death-in-personal-life/.

IvyPanda . (2023) 'Experience With Death in Personal Life'. 2 August.

IvyPanda . 2023. "Experience With Death in Personal Life." August 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/experience-with-death-in-personal-life/.

1. IvyPanda . "Experience With Death in Personal Life." August 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/experience-with-death-in-personal-life/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Experience With Death in Personal Life." August 2, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/experience-with-death-in-personal-life/.

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Narrative Essay About Death of Family Member

It’s safe to say that not everyone’s memory is perfect. We all forget things, like someone’s birthday or what our password for our phone is. Very normal, everyday stuff. In my life, I have experienced lots of forgetfulness. One of the biggest things in my life that seems to have been forgotten is my aunt.

My aunt, Stacy, was possibly one of the most wonderful people I knew (at least when I was a young child). She was smart, goofy, driven, and extremely kind. She had a sparkling personality and loved to wear bright colors and lots of sequins and glitter, so it was as if she was really wearing her heart on her sleeve. Though she was estranged from her given family due to reasons unknown, she devoted her life to having a strong family connection. She affected everyone around her. She looked up to my grandmother as a mother-figure since she didn’t have a great relationship with her biological mom. She had two sons, my cousins Jacob and Max, who she gave so much of her attention and love to. She and my mom would act like sisters everytime they were with each other, even though they sometimes didn’t see each other for months at a time because she lived in Florida while my parents lived in Vermont.

After I was born, Stacy and my mom’s bond got even stronger. Stacy had her two sons, but she always wanted a little girl, so once I was born she was able to live a life with a niece who she treated as a daughter. She and my mom would always go out shopping together, and she would constantly talk to my mom about how “gifted” she thought I was. She scheduled many visits so that we would all get together; sometimes in Florida, sometimes in Vermont.

It was about nine years ago when we first found out that she was diagnosed with a type of cancer called Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. My grandmother was visiting us in Vermont when we got a call that she was diagnosed. Around Christmas-time that same year, we went down to Florida to visit her and the rest of my family who lived there. She had just started Chemotherapy, and I remember being really confused when I walked in and she had no hair. It was weird seeing this strong woman I had known since I was born suddenly be so weak and yet so happy. We were visiting at that time to talk about her getting treatment in Dallas, Texas, but I didn’t know that until very recently. The following March, she officially began treatment in Dallas. The treatment was experimental, so no one knew if it was going to help her at all. In her case, the treatment didn’t help at all. By mid-April, the cancer had spread around her body, eventually making it to her brain. The doctors said that there was no treatment that would help her get better from this point, and that they would have to admit her to hospice. My mom rushed down to Florida as they transferred her to hospice, and she passed away just two days later.

After Stacy passed away, my uncle, Bennett, seemed to move on very quickly. He met his current wife, Katie, a few months after Stacy died, in July, and they were engaged after around four months, in November. They were then married the following August. The whole process seemed very sudden and fast to me, and still does to this day. It felt as though he never gave himself a chance to grieve before he moved on to someone new, and it still feels that way, at least to me. It felt as though he was pretending that over 15 years of his life never happened.

It has now been about seven and a half years since Stacy passed away. These days, my uncle and his new wife are tied up with raising three young girls. My uncle doesn’t pay much attention anymore to the needs of his two sons. One of his sons, Max, has Autism, and as soon as Stacy died, it seemed like he pushed Max away. Max started being raised by my grandparents for a while and is now in a career program where he isn't living in the best conditions. However, most of what I know of this scenario is coming from my grandmother, who likes to exaggerate what is happening, so maybe parts of this story aren’t entirely true. His other son, Jacob, acted as a nanny to his young siblings for many year and wouldn’t put his needs first. I’ve always wondered why Jacob let my uncle push him around so much since it’s really not Jacob’s job to be raising my young cousins. However, he did just start going to college for nursing this year, so I’m hoping that that will help him feel like he can make his own decisions.

One of the biggest factors of how things have been run in the Gordon family is my new aunt, Katie. She is a very strong-willed woman who doesn’t really like to let others make important choices. She convinced my uncle to have a child, who ended up being my cousin, Mira. They then adopted two more young girls, one from the Congo (Ellie) and one from China (Haley). My parents and I found it odd when they decided to adopt since it didn’t seem like they were in a place in their lives where they could raise more kids. Perhaps my uncle wanted to have daughters to somehow fulfill Stacy’s wish to raise little girls. Maybe that’s the last glimpse left of Stacy in my uncle’s life. I kind of hope that that’s the case. I’d like to imagine that he didn’t push her out of his mind completely, even if it’s not true.

I’ve always wondered why my uncle moved on so quickly. Maybe it’s because that was the only way to forget the traumatic experiences he went through in the last few months of Stacy’s life. Maybe his way of coping with his feelings is to push them away and forget about them. The latter seems to me as the reason for his actions, but of course I could never be one hundred percent sure of that. I hope that one day I can crack the case as to why everyone’s personalities and normal actions changed so much since Stacy’s death. I miss how close every part of the family was. I liked how often we would do visits, and how I felt like Max and Jacob were my older brothers. I know that those kinds of changes do come with ageing, but I do feel like some of this wasn’t caused by growing up.

I am definitely not the most religious person. I don’t go to my temple’s services every Saturday, and I don’t partake in Shabbat dinners on Friday nights. Regardless of this, sometimes I imagine some type of heaven for those who have passed to go to. As she’s up there in that hypothetical heaven, I wonder what my aunt might think when she looks down on Earth and sees the way things are now being run in the Gordon household. Is she proud? Is she discouraged? Is she ashamed? Maybe she feels forgotten. From the way I perceive my family’s actions, everyone in the Gordon household seems to pretend she never existed. No one, especially not my wonderful, kind, and brave aunt, deserves to be treated that way after death. No one deserves to disappear from people’s lives in an instant.

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Articles & Advice > College Admission > Blog

How to Approach Tragedy and Loss in Your College Essay

You may feel compelled to write about a difficult subject for your college essay. Here are some tips to write about hard topics with respect and impact.

by Keaghan Turner, PhD Partner, Turner+Turner College Consulting

Last Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Originally Posted: Aug 5, 2019

Tragedy and loss are not easy subjects to broach in writing at all, let alone very public writing that someone else will read or hear spoken. Writing about tragedy and loss certainly won’t be for everyone, so make sure you give it some real thought before you try to dive in and put your jumbled, high-emotion thoughts to page. But if a difficult topic is the one that compels you to write a great admission essay, then it can be done—as long as it’s done the right way. Before we explore the key elements to writing about traumatic experiences the right way, here’s some perspective through a personal story of loss.

The struggles with writing about loss

One spring, there was a rash of suicide attempts at a local high school in my community. Two of them were successful; others were not. The first time I wrote about this loss was for a memorial service. This is the second time. It’ll never be “easy” to write about, just as what happened will never make sense to anyone who knew the victims. How can we use words for trauma and grief in order to make sense of what doesn’t make sense?

One student, in a mature spirit of activism, wrote an open letter to the school district office, which was posted and reposted all over social media until there was a school assembly featuring officials, professionals, and faith leaders open to the whole community. The Parent Teacher Organization gave out green ribbons to raise awareness about depression and other mental illnesses . Most immediately for the teens in my town, the words appeared via social media posts. That was how the students wrote about their loss in the weeks following the first (then six weeks later, the second) tragedy. Some students will write about it for their college essays, and they’ll need help. It’ll be important to them to do a good job, to honor the memories of their friends who passed away, to get it “right.”

To say the least, people had mixed feelings about these posts and reposts; about what should be discussed and how; and how to protect the grieving families from more suffering. It’s a small community, and these were shockingly sad events. The fact is, these tragedies have already fundamentally redefined the high school experience of the students in my town. The ripples might be subtle or pronounced, but they exist. Peers will mark time using these losses (midterms happened  before , prom happened  after ), and the experience will not be forgotten; it’s now part of their life stories.

Related:  Mental Health: What Is It and How You Can Find Help

How to tackle writing about tragedy the right way

Difficult topics can ( and should) be broached in admission essays because they are a part of life that can’t be ignored and often play a huge part in defining who we are as people. What I told those students about handling loss with their words is summed up below, and it also applies to writers tackling any kind of special need, medical condition, or family struggle in their college essay.

Be honest and straightforward

You don’t need to have been super close to a tragedy to be affected by it or to write about it effectively. But don’t pretend you were affected in a way you weren’t; you’ll come across as phony. If you’re moved to write about a painful event, there’s a genuine reason behind that impulse. That reason is good enough; figure out what it is. That being said, powerful life events require quick-hitting, direct sentences. Be like Hemingway, my professors used to say—keep your sentences short; they have more punch that way. You don’t need lots of flowery or figurative language to convey that your subject is a big deal—but at the same time, do make sure you’re showing, not telling, in your writing . Connecting emotionally is about expressing that time through actions and events, not just thoughts and feelings.

Find your message with the right words

Superfluous language gets in the way of gravity. Be ready to prune drafts until you feel you’ve found the right semantic fit for the intention behind your words. Your essay also needs a theme, a call, a purpose. The point isn’t simply to narrate a sad story in order to show the reader how sad it is (e.g., your essay’s message is not that teen suicide is tragic); rather, the point is to connect the sad story to the essay prompt you've chosen to address. The event itself essentially takes a backseat to the points you want to make about what it  means .

Be respectful

This is really the one ultimate rule, and if you do this, the other stuff can be worked out. In the context of the college essay, respect usually involves approaching your subject matter somewhat anonymously. Names aren’t necessary. If you’re engaging a serious, painful topic—and it involves others—be careful to write as circumspectly and thoughtfully as you can. When in doubt, ask someone whose judgment you trust (like a teacher or parent) to check it out for you.

Seek help for you or others

Is it easy to write about hard realities? Not at all—not in any context, not for anyone. But if you’re brave enough to try, you may find it to be transformative and therapeutic to articulate your experience as you process your grief and begin to heal. And the most important thing to remember is to take those emotions and experiences and use them to help others in the future before other tragedies strike. Writing about these situations can often shed light and inspire others to help people in need, which in the end is more crucial than anything else. If you have been affected by tragedy or are worried about a friend who is struggling, help is available. Contact the  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  800-273-8255 or a trusted adult.

For more advice on college essays, check out our Application Essay Clinic , or if you’re in need of mental health advice, check out the tag “mental health.”

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About Keaghan Turner, PhD

Keaghan Turner, PhD

Keaghan Turner, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Digital Writing and Humanistic Studies at Coastal Carolina University . She has taught writing and literature at small liberal arts colleges and state flagship universities for the past 20 years. As a managing partner of Turner+Turner College Consulting, LLC, Dr. Turner also counsels high school students on all aspects of their college admission portfolios, leads writing workshops, and generally tries to encourage students to believe in the power of their own writing voices. You can contact Dr. Turner on Instagram @consultingprofessors or by email at  [email protected]

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essays about family death

Death and money: How do you talk to your parents about the uncomfortable conversation?

How to talk about death and finances with aging parents

Welcome back to Uncomfortable Conversations About Money, a new series where we will tackle topics or situations around money that make you uneasy. We'll outline the problem and try to get you some usable solutions. 

Today's topic: How do you talk to your parents about death and finances – without seeming like you are money-hungry? 

Daughter wants to avoid repeat hardships after dad's death

The dilemma: Last year, Melisa Gotto’s father died. 

“We did talk about death and sort of what accounts he had and what his desires were for when he passed, but we didn't really get into the nitty-gritty of it,” said Gotto, of Green, Ohio. 

But Gotto said she – and her father, Dave, – were unprepared for all that came with tying up everything from funeral arrangements to his financial affairs. 

For instance, her dad had a burial plot in California but died in Nevada. She didn’t know it cost $10,000 and required special health department permission to transport a body over state lines. 

Gotto’s parents were divorced. Now, Gotto wants to avoid the headaches and heartache she dealt with after her dad’s death. She has begun talking to her 69-year-old mom, Kim Slingluff, about how Slingluff will afford to live the rest of her life – and how the two of them prepare for her mom's death. 

“It is a very uncomfortable conversation when you start talking about a taboo topic,'' said Gotto, CEO of Scandal Co-Active, a boutique public relations and marketing agency. "As a society, we don't really talk about death, but it's something that we all will experience. I think it's something we should all start talking about.”

Gotto’s dad had communicated verbally that she’d be the executor of his estate when he died. But he left no other instructions for her and her brother, such as his medical wishes or details of what exactly to do after his death. 

“He was pretty organized and had everything in a safe, but I didn’t know where that was,” she said. 

Gotto said her dad also didn’t have enough finances to cover his funeral expenses. And seven months after his death, she’s still trying to get the title for his car. 

Gotto says she doesn’t want to seem greedy discussing her mom’s finances or wishes after her death, but she doesn’t want to repeat what happened with her dad. 

She has begun telling friends with kids to “do them a huge favor. Get all of this settled before you get older because it's so important.” 

Gotto said she has been approaching the subject with her mom with compassion and empathy. Slingluff has been verbally telling her things, but Gotto knows she needs to get things in writing. 

Gotto’s advice to others: “Make a list of everything you want to ask them because you don't want to have to keep revisiting the conversation. 

“Try to have some patience and understanding. And then if they don't want to have those conversations, you have to respect that, too.” 

Don't leave grieving relatives with a mystery to solve

The expert advice: Talking about death and finances is an uncomfortable conversation and one that some of certified financial planner Jan G. Valecka’s clients are more willing to have than others. 

Some clients feel “they have to disclose everything: their bank accounts, how much ... they have, and that's where I think it becomes uncomfortable and they feel a little bit vulnerable,” said Valecka of Valecka Wealth Management in Dallas.  

“If I had to talk to somebody about estate planning, financial planning, legacy (planning), I would start from the benefit of your loved one. ‘Who would you want to take care of or help if all of a sudden something happened to you? ... And it doesn't have to be dollar signs, it just has to be more of what are your wishes,” said Valecka. 

Having that conversation and letting your loved one know where the important documents are can be so helpful after a death, she said. 

Valecka’s family had its own experience with this subject. Her husband, Bob, knew that he would be the executor of his uncle’s estate. However, his uncle did not want to discuss details of his death or his financial affairs. 

Bob Valecka’s uncle, Joseph Valecka, was found dead the day after Christmas in 2022, with his wife who has dementia next to him unaware that he had died. 

Bob and Jan Valecka had to quickly work to gain guardianship of the aunt and tend to the uncle’s estate.  

But they had no instructions. They couldn’t find a will or any estate documents. It turned out there had been a will and Power of Attorney and other documents drawn up. They didn’t find them until after they went to court for emergency guardianship of the aunt. 

The unanswered questions ranged from the significant to the mundane. Had he wanted to be buried or cremated? The uncle and aunt had a lake house. But the Valeckas had no key and didn’t know the security code to get into it, or how to turn on the wells, or if someone plowed the driveway. 

“It was a mystery to us,” she said. “It could have been so much easier with planning and an uncomfortable conversation." 

Gotto’s approach to talking to her mom with compassion is a good one, said Valecka. 

Some people are just uncomfortable talking about their death, she said. Some clients say it makes death too real.

Uncomfortable Conversations: How to handle grandparents who spoil kids with holiday gifts.

Approach your loved one with the idea that they are sharing their wishes and helping the people they love after their death, Valecka suggested. 

In that conversation, talk about getting a will, health directives and even user names and passwords for digital accounts, she said. Valecka didn’t know she would need a copy of the uncle and aunt's marriage license to get the aunt on the uncle's Social Security benefits. Valecka has now added that to her estate documents. 

Want to be featured in our next Uncomfortable Conversation?

Our next topic will be: Uncomfortable conversations around splitting the restaurant bill. Did you order a salad and water and friends ordered steaks and wine and they want to evenly split the bill?

Would you be willing to share your splitting-the-bill dilemma story?

Do you have an Uncomfortable Conversations about Money topic you'd like to suggest? Or would you be willing to be featured in a future story about your Uncomfortable Conversation? Email [email protected] with "Uncomfortable Conversations" in the subject line.

Betty Lin-Fisher is a consumer reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] or follow her on X, Facebook, or Instagram @blinfisher . Sign up for our free The Daily Money newsletter, which will include consumer news on Fridays, here.

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  9. College Essay: Lessons from the loss of a loved one

    September 2016 Lucy Kuo College Essay. The heat pressed against my skin on a humid June afternoon. Carrying change in one hand and bubble tea in the other, my grandmother and I strolled through downtown Taipei with the rest of our relatives, accompanied by dashing vehicles and lavish glass buildings. Her death caused me to recognize that my ...

  10. Narrative About Death of Family Member's Passing

    In this narrative essay, I share the poignant story of the death of a cherished family member, recounting the moments leading up to their passing, the emotions that washed over us, and the lasting impact their absence has had on our family.

  11. How To Deal With A Death In The Family

    Coping With A Family Death By Understanding The Five Stages Of Grief Individuals who experience the death of a loved one, whether they witness their dying words or hear about it from afar, may go through the five stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

  12. Personal Grief and Loss

    Introduction. The complicated nature of life explains why grieving is a necessary process. The loss of a beloved person can trigger numerous emotions such as guilt, anger, disbelief, and sadness. Coping with sudden death can result in a major challenge. It is agreeable that most of these reactions and emotional responses to loss are natural.

  13. Effects of Death on the Family

    To start, the emotional and physical effects of death on a family are many and varied. The potential negative effects of grief can be significant. ... Essay Writing Service ; Prices from $ 150.04. Approximate costs for: Undergraduate 2:2; 1000 words; 7 day delivery; Order an Essay.

  14. A Death Overcome

    I'm only 15, just 15. The lady at the front desk didn't ask questions, she just led us to her room, already knowing who we came to see. Every step I took, my heart beat sped up. Anticipation...

  15. Essays About Death: Top 5 Examples and 9 Essay Prompts

    1. Essay on Death Penalty by Aliva Manjari "The death penalty is no doubt unconstitutional if imposed arbitrarily, capriciously, unreasonably, discriminatorily, freakishly or wantonly, but if it is administered rationally, objectively and judiciously, it will enhance people's confidence in criminal justice system."

  16. Should You Write Your College Essay About Losing a Loved One?

    Writing about death is always difficult, and it is especially difficult in a college application essay. It can take twice the time and effort to craft a personal statement about so emotional a topic. Since it's a more challenging topic, you should be sure that writing about the death of a loved one is the right choice for you.

  17. How to Write a College Essay about Death

    When the death interfered with school: If a death interfered with your academic experience, it may make sense to write about this experience as part of your college application, BUT in the additional information section. When it can be a small part of a bigger story: If you are able to de-center the death in your essay, incorporating it into ...

  18. The Twin Drives of Love and Death

    The dying seem driven to meditate on love, and love suffuses the scene of an ideal death: lying in bed surrounded by family, reassured by the promise of enduring affection.

  19. Experience With Death in Personal Life Essay

    Nervousness and Prolonged Sadness. First, facing death is an ordeal because there is nervousness after a loss. It leads to an altered perception of reality, in which one is exposed to dangers in the form of illness or a car accident. The nervousness is kept at a high level, preventing one from functioning and adequately perceiving difficulties ...

  20. Death: A Personal Journey Through Loss Free Essay Example

    1602 The poignant exploration of death is a subject that permeates the very essence of human existence. In this reflective essay, we delve into the intricacies of the chapter titled "Crisis in Family," where the profound impact of death unfolds within the context of familial relationships.

  21. Narrative Essay About Death of Family Member

    Narrative Essay About Death of Family Member It's safe to say that not everyone's memory is perfect. We all forget things, like someone's birthday or what our password for our phone is. Very normal, everyday stuff. In my life, I have experienced lots of forgetfulness.

  22. How to Approach Tragedy and Loss in Your College Essay

    Bookmark Tragedy and loss are not easy subjects to broach in writing at all, let alone very public writing that someone else will read or hear spoken. Writing about tragedy and loss certainly won't be for everyone, so make sure you give it some real thought before you try to dive in and put your jumbled, high-emotion thoughts to page.

  23. A Death in the Family: Suggested Essay Topics

    Suggestions for essay topics to use when you're writing about A Death in the Family.

  24. How to talk about death and finances with aging parents: A guide

    The dilemma: Last year, Melisa Gotto's father died. "We did talk about death and sort of what accounts he had and what his desires were for when he passed, but we didn't really get into the ...

  25. A death in the family Essays

    2012 Words. 9 Pages. Open Document. James Agee's A Death in the Family is a posthumous novel based on the largely complete manuscript that the author left upon his death in 1955. Agee had been working on the novel for many years, and portions of the work had already appeared in The Partisan Review, The Cambridge Review, The New Yorker, and ...