New Research Says We Shouldn’t Be So Afraid Of Death

“They know things are getting more serious.”

Image by Matt Singer/Wikimedia Commons.

I got my first writing job in college penning blog posts for a website about death — or rather, “embracing the end-of-life experience.” As a writer for an ambitious startup with the goal of eliminating the death taboo, I had the privilege of talking with countless people about losing loved ones, having near-death experiences, and caring for others on the verge of passing away. Before my first interview with someone who’d lost a parent, I was nervous that I’d become infected with their overwhelming grief or, worse, say the wrong thing and cause them to suffer more. That time and dozens thereafter, I found those who’d been bombarded by death had the easiest time appreciating life.

Most of our anxieties can be whittled down to a fear of death — from manic fixations with hot pilates to obsessively swiping for Tinder dates. But according to new research, it doesn’t have to be that way. For the study, published on June 1 in SAGE Journals, researchers compared the blog posts of terminally ill writers with passages by healthy participants who had the assignment of imagining they had mere months to live. They found those actually facing death used positive language more often than those with imaginary diagnoses.

Kurt Gray, who helped write the study, told The Guardian, “I imagine this is because they know things are getting more serious, and there’s some kind of acceptance and focusing on the positive because they know they don’t have a lot of time left.”

Anyone who’s suffered from a serious illness or watched a loved one wither away will likely find this unsurprising. With an approximate timeline, you have to make the most of what’s left. To be clear, it wasn’t that the terminally ill writers found their impending deaths to be wonderful news; rather, they learned to live in contentment more often than dread.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the idea of finding acceptance in the brief moments immediately preceding death. In 2014, New York EMT Matthew O’Reilly gave a TED Talk on this topic. As someone whose job involves walking patients through their dying moments — often unexpectedly — he did what anyone would do when asked, “Am I going to die?” As described in the lecture, at first, he lied, telling them they were going to be fine in the hopes of instilling calm in their final moments of life. Through trial and error, he realized telling the truth to be far more soothing for those who had no chance of survival.

Between this recent study and lived experiences, perhaps there’s a lesson for all of us in that, by treating ourselves to more kindness and honesty, we can make the most of our relatively brief lifespans.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading