What exactly is a ‘good death’ anyway?

Caren Martineau
May 8 · 4 min read

How Bevival turned a provocative conversation into a personal aspiration

Let’s face it, while we believe Death Literacy is one of the most potent tools for living life to the fullest, most people said they’d rather die (metaphorically) than talk about death.

Perhaps that’s why the term “good death” is gaining popularity. The medical community defines a good death as one that’s “free from avoidable distress and suffering for patient, family and caregivers, in general accord with the patient’s and family’s wishes, and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural and ethical standards.

That sounds fine, but we wanted to hear what individuals had to say, so we interviewed dozens of them. We wondered, do people think of a “good death” as an oxymoron or an aspiration? Not surprisingly, more than 7 of 10 respondents said a good death was defined by a lack of pain. While some wanted to go out “without knowing what hit me,” two-thirds wanted fair warning, so to speak, in order to have enough time to connect, make peace and bring closure to life. Reading through dozens of submissions was quite revealing, even for someone who spends everyday talking about death. The responses were written with such tender vulnerability and aspiration, it brought to mind the Disney song: “A dream is a wish your heart makes.

The universal truth is death literacy is relevant for anyone who is too busy living life to be encumbered by the fear of death. We all need to think about matters in the end and then share that thought with our loved ones. Here are twelve —

  1. Inevitable Embrace Amy, 27, writer, NY

I define the idea of a good death as one that is met with some understanding that it is happening. I find it so sad that people can come to the end of their lives and still deny that death is inevitable. I hope I don’t die that way. Many cultural forces support this kind of denial though.

2. Being Prepared Billie, 58, operations director, NY

I always thought that I’d want a “she didn’t even know what hit her” kind of death — something fast, like an accident — but now I think I’d rather be prepared; not to linger but to have time to accept the end of my life and have people I love by my side. And of course, a good death would be to leave all my financials and paperwork, etc., in order!

3. Non-Medicalized Joshua, 71, caterer, CO

A good death would be my transitioning into the unknown, without a bunch of doctors trying to keep me going, poking, prodding, scanning, and so on.

4. Good Ratings Mike, 44, TV writer, CA

I imagine I’ll be less concerned with the actual manner of passing, and more with the overall satisfaction of the life preceding it. Did I seize every day to the fullest, make a positive mark on the world? Did I take good care of my teeth?

5. Act Natural Claire, 62, Documentarian, MA

A good death would be in natural surroundings, watching the promising light of dawn or the accepting light of twilight with my family present. Or maybe I would either jump off a cliff to fulfill a flying dream or swim out to sea to overcome a fear of sharks. Accomplishing something like that in the act of death would be cool — though I am probably not that courageous.

6. Ultimate Party Jason, 67, restaurateur, NC

A good death would be to drop dead at the end of the most incredible, boozy, loud music and laughter party. That would be an amazing and humane end.

7. Quality vs. Quantity Elizabeth, 55, visual artist, OH

When a friend’s mother — who’d been ill for many years — died, it was such a relief. Hearing what she went through, there’s no way that was a good death. I know I do not want a long death. My mother jokes about wanting to be pushed off to sea on an iceberg. Maybe that’s a possibility.

8. Spiritual Path Isabelle, 39, childcare provider, NY

To me, a good death would be one where my conscience is clear, I know I have done good work and shown love to my fellow humans, one where my faith is strong and I know I’m on my way to heaven.

9. Fearless Factor Ginny, 56, journalist/author, IL

I guess I’d say a good death would be in old age, surrounded by loved ones and, here’s the important part, feeling no fear — being able to accept what was happening and go with it, without struggle.

10. Family Protector John, 79, retired actor, CT

A good death is an end-of-life scenario that doesn’t stress out my family, lets them say goodbye as I leave this realm without burdening them. I know I don’t have control over that though and that scares me more than dying itself.

11. Feeling Love Cortney, 45, talent agent, CA

The one component of a good death that’s vital would be getting to tell the people you love how much they mean to you before you go.

12. Mindful Death Diane, 89, retired, MD

To be aware of what I’ve achieved and to be able to appreciate the last, minute details of daily life with absolute clarity — the feeling of a friend’s hand in mine, a cup of Earl Grey tea. Simple pleasures, and away I go.

To learn how you can become death literate, visit us at Bevival. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much wisdom is there for the taking, long before the end!


Creating end of life narratives, long before the end

Caren Martineau

Written by

bevival.com founder is on a mission to help change our relationship with mortality, long before the end. #DoDeathDifferently #DeathLiteracy #EndOfLife



Creating end of life narratives, long before the end

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