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The Duel Between Death Acceptance and Death Denial

making sense of life & death Jul 20, 2021

There was a time when I thought that death acceptance was the opposite of death denial. I also thought that there were two signs of death denial: fear of death and dying, and strong attachments to life and living. My thinking was that if I didn’t have fear and anxiety about death, and I could sever my strong attachments in life, I would live peacefully with the full acceptance of death. 

But now I see it differently.

This focus on the interplay between death acceptance and death denial was the subject of an assignment I did in the first week of my BeYond Yonder Virtual School of Death Midwifery in Canada(1) course in 2016. I concluded that as long as I’m “attached” to nurturing my still-dependent daughter, and attached to living a meaningful and accomplished life, I’m not ready to die and therefore not accepting death. So therefore, I’m in death denial. 

Death denial is a valuable aspect of death acceptance.

And at the time, I didn’t quite understand the feedback I got from my instructor, Cassandra Yonder. She pointed out that death denial is a valuable and crucial component of death acceptance. Death acceptance, she noted, involves an awareness of one’s own full spectrum of responses about death, including denial, fear, and anger as well as beauty, joy, wonderment and more.

Huh? I remember reading those words at the time and feeling perplexed. I revisited these notes recently and spent some time thinking about the meaning of the word “deny.” To deny is to refuse to admit the truth and existence of something or to refuse to accept or to admit something. 

I realized that I was confusing death acceptance with feeling ready to die. Similarly, I was equating death denial with the concept of not feeling ready. My new clarity is that I can yearn to nurture my child for many more years, and aspire to accomplish certain goals that I have yet to achieve, without being in death denial.

Awareness is the key to death acceptance.

I’m an experiential learner. It’s only after crafting, facilitating and witnessing others engaging in the inquiry-based exercises of Willow Workshops™ that I now get it. To accept death is to contemplate it, struggle with it, get angry with it, weep, feel joy, and see its mystery and beauty. Every component of a Willow Workshop™ is designed to not only cross some things off your list, but also to create the opportunity for these truths to reveal themselves.  

Awareness is everything. 

With all my love,

Reena (+ Michelle)


(1) The program’s name was changed to the Virtual School of Community Deathcaring in Canada, and is not currently operating.

What about you?

In what ways are you in death denial?

In what ways do you accept death?