Death: What Is It Good For? (2024)

Death: What Is It Good For? (1)

This week on the podcast Angela Kinsey & Rainn Wilson reunite years after The Office to explore some of life’s biggest questions. The two talk about the recent deaths in their lives and how grief can breed gratitude. They also discuss finding true happiness, the power of mindfulness, and achieving a balanced work-life. Angela shares her unique insights on gratitude's role in personal success and the secrets to maintaining long-lasting friendships. Rainn and Angela also look back on their time on The Office and ponder what Dwight and Angela might be up to today at Schrute Farms, Dunder Mifflin and beyond.

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Rainn’s Dispatch from India

Death: What Is It Good For? (2)

Death — what is it good for?

To gaze at a river made of time and water

And remember Time is another river.

To know we stray like a river

and our faces vanish like water.

To feel that waking is another dream

that dreams of not dreaming and that the death

we fear in our bones is the death

that every night we call a dream.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Art of Poetry”

Greetings from India! I may or may not be drafting these lines while pooping at a Tibetan Buddhist shrine in the north of this vast and glorious country. Why interrupt this amazing odyssey to write to you dear reader? Well given the powerful response to our Soul Boom podcast, it seemed like now is a good time to launch the official Soul Boom Substack and dive even deeper into life’s big mysteries.

In this week’s episode of the Soul Boom podcast, I was joined by my longtime friend and Office love interest Angela Kinsey. It’s wild that I’ve known Angela for 20 years and we’ve been a witness to so many big life events of one another.

Death: What Is It Good For? (3)

One thing I don’t think either of us planned was the extent to which we talked about death and the shared experience of losing loved ones. That opportunity to share our grief with each other—and now with you—was very special.

To be honest, death is something I have long thought about, but especially after my father passed it became a recurring theme in my consciousness. The strange thing is, even though it’s our inevitable end, even though you and me and everyone we know will one day die, we avoid the subject as though we were avoiding… well… death itself.

But like it or not, it’s coming, so we might as well make some sense of it. That's why I wrote a whole chapter on the subject in my book Soul Boom. While I’m not going to regurgitate everything in that chapter, this seems like a good opportunity to revisit some of those themes.

One of those themes? The transition from one stage of existence to the next. When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked “How should one look forward to death?” he answered: “How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and with expectation.”

We might ask how to cultivate that hope and expectation. Not any suicidal ideations mind you—that’s something to seek help for should those thoughts arise. What I’m asking is: How can we joyfully prepare for that trip, that is after all inevitable?

I think we find a clue in the Sioux saying: “Today is a good day to die.”

Hearing that phrase out of context might sound like something a brave but outnumbered warrior might cry out as he gallops off to perish in a blaze of glory. But I take it as something much quieter. Much humbler. As I understand it, this pithy phrase is meant to bring us back to the present day and moment we are living in. It’s a way to bring ourselves to account and ask: am I ready to die? Have I cleaned up my messes? Am I in gratitude for this one wild and precious life that I have been gifted?

Steve Jobs conveyed this stoic wisdom well:

“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

We are all dying of something, some sooner than others. Shakespeare, through the character of old Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, said, “Well, we were born to die.”

If we accept that indeed we are born to die, perhaps we can also think of death as another kind of birth.

There’s a metaphor about twins in the womb having a conversation. One says, “I can’t wait to get out of here! What adventures await!” The other disagrees, fearing the chaos outside. Isn’t this like our approach to life?

The Bahá'í teachings offer a spiritual metaphor that this world is like the womb of our mother. The fetus floats about obliviously, unaware that the limbs it's growing are for the realm beyond its current uterine world. Similarly, we are here to grow spiritually for whatever lies beyond this life.

This world is a time of spiritual gestation, the purpose of which is to nurture our spiritual essence—that is our spiritual virtues.

If the idea of “spiritual virtues” doesn’t quite land, then imagine a person you love, whether living or dead. What are the qualities they embody? What are those inner virtues that make them so special? Are they kind? Truthful? Generous? Faithful? Hardworking? Joyful? Those are spiritual virtues, friend. And when our bodies die and our soul lives on, those powers of the soul are all we’re taking with us.

Of course, even with this outlook, when our loved ones pass on, we will inevitably weep and be filled with grief. How could that not be the case? We loved them and now they are gone. Of course we miss them. Yet even our grief can offer a lesson, teaching us, as Angela points out in our pod, that everyone grieves differently, and that’s OK.

In August it will be the four year anniversary of my father’s passing. I miss him every day but know that we will meet again soon. And does that scare me? Maybe a little. But mostly, it’s a trip I look forward to.

Click here for a list of grief and bereavement support groups and resources.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the 988 Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.

Guest Essay: “Death and Rebirth” by Susie Pak

Death: What Is It Good For? (4)

It has been 13 years since my husband passed away, but the impact of it is still profound and immense.

His death shook my very existence. It felt as if everything that symbolized who I was had crumbled and died with him. And I had to be reborn.

The process was incredibly difficult and painful. However, I never blamed the situation or thought of it as misfortune.

Instead, there was this inexplicable belief that such a tremendous tragedy would ultimately lead to my greater growth.

Why is that? I still do not know.

When my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, there was a clamor around me that I needed to believe in God. Death was so frightening that I couldn't even bring myself to go near the hospital while he was receiving cancer treatment. Yet, in a desperate grasp for straws, neither my husband nor I felt the need for religion. However, oddly at the same time, I felt a deepening connection between myself and any spiritual entity of another real me in the universe.

I do not cry daily over my husband's death, but the indescribable void makes it hard to do anything but barely function throughout the day. Yet, as I view this situation as part of someone's greater plan, I increasingly see it as a hidden gift.

I feel like I have been reborn and am experiencing the pain of growth, which I have started to document through my paintings.

I consider each of my paintings a self-portrait, regardless of the title.

My paintings are still spontaneous and childlike in expression.

Yet, I see something indescribably spiritual in them, something that I wouldn’t have been able to express before facing death.

It feels like my essence and I are becoming closer, a unique gift I think I wouldn't have if I hadn't experienced death.

Even 13 years later, I sometimes wake from dreams of my husband and cry in the mornings. However, it is not bitter.

Five days ago, my father passed away.

The same process repeated itself. Over the years, my father suffered a lot, and I cried out of pity for him.

But strangely, this time my heart feels calm.

Without religion, I do not believe in an afterlife, but somehow, I imagine that my father still exists in some form, perhaps as cosmic dust in a small universe, or sometimes as a planet, a fish in the sea, a musical note, wandering from the desert where the Little Prince is, to his star.

Perhaps this thought, which I occasionally depict in my paintings, brings me peace?

Just the other day, we buried my father in our family’s burial plot here in Seoul, South Korea. Next to it, on my grandfather’s grave, there was a single purple wildflower blooming.

I felt grateful. Surely it was a sign: my grandfather welcoming his son home.

Susie Pak is a Korean-American artist residing in Echo Park, Los Angeles, represented by Agency Arts. Follow her art at @susiethatartist.


Death: What Is It Good For? (5)

If you're dealing with the heavy emotional toll of having a loved one nearing the end of their life, The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living by Ira Byock, M.D., is a must-read. This book dives deep into the heart of human connection and offers a transformative approach to healing and reconciliation.

Drawing on his decades of experience working with patients and their families in hospice and palliative care, Byock came to the conclusion that four simple phrases have the potential to bring healing and closure to relationships: "Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you." These words, Byock suggests, when offered at the right time and place, open a path to deepening connections and finding peace during life's most difficult of transitions.

Each one encapsulates essential aspects of emotional healing, compassion, gratitude, and love that are fundamental to our well-being and the quality of our connections with others.These aren't just words; they're powerful tools that can deepen connections and bring peace, even in the hardest times.

So, why are these phrases so important?

"Please forgive me" is about owning up to our mistakes and seeking healing. It's a humble and vulnerable act that opens the door to reconciliation.

"I forgive you" is equally powerful, letting go of resentment and emotional baggage to make room for compassion and healing.

"Thank you" is all about gratitude, acknowledging the kindness and support of others. Gratitude isn't just polite; it's a mindset that can boost happiness and strengthen relationships.

And "I love you"? Well, that's the ultimate affirmation of care and connection. Love is the cornerstone of meaningful relationships, and expressing it openly fosters trust, intimacy, and mutual respect.

Byock’s book draws together countless real-life stories that show the transformative power of these four phrases, especially in the context of end-of-life care and relationships. These stories are a powerful reminder of the healing and connection that can come from forgiveness, gratitude, and love, offering comfort and inspiration to those navigating their last days together.

While you may find yourself shedding some tears as you read it, the book is also very practical. Byrock isn’t just offering inspiring stories and grand ideas. He also offers concrete advice on how to use these four key phrases in conversations with a loved one nearing the end of their life. This actionable wisdom can help facilitate meaningful communication, reconciliation, and healing, allowing families to come together in love and support during this difficult time.

A compassionate and transformative read, The Four Things That Matter Most offers invaluable guidance for those facing the end of a loved one's life. Whether you're looking to deepen your connection, find closure, or navigate the emotional complexities of end-of-life care, this book offers timeless wisdom and practical tools to support you on this sensitive and sacred journey.

Death: What Is It Good For? (2024)


What is defined as a good death? ›

A good death is “one that is free from avoidable distress and suffering, for patients, family, and caregivers; in general accord with the patients' and families' wishes; and reasonably consistent with clinical, cultural, and ethical standards.”

What are the 12 principles of a good death? ›

Twelve principles
  • to know when death is coming, and to understand what can be expected.
  • to be able to retain control of what happens.
  • to be afforded dignity and privacy.
  • to have control over pain relief and other symptom control.
  • to have choice and control over where death occurs (at home or elsewhere)

Why is it good to think about death? ›

Thinking about death motivates us.

Would you feel desired to experience, accomplish, and connect? Knowing that there really is always tomorrow, we might not feel the same desire to "do it while [we're] young" or work toward a health or career goal. Knowing our time here is finite motivates us to truly live our lives.

What is a good and peaceful death? ›

'Peaceful' refers to the dying person having finished all business and made peace with others before his/her death and implies being at peace with his/her own death. It further refers to the manner of dying: not by violence, an accident or a fearsome disease, not by foul means and without much pain.

What is a good death in the Bible? ›

In the view of the ancient Israelites, as expressed in the Hebrew Bible, death is good or at least acceptable (1) after a long life, (2) when a person dies in peace, (3) when there is continuity in the relation with the ancestors and the heirs, and (4) when one will be buried in one's own land.

What are the 6 C's of a good death? ›

Weisman's definition of a good death included six criteria, formulated as six Cs: Care, Control, Composure, Communication, Continue and Closure (Weisman, 1974).

What are the 5 manners of death? ›

The classifications are natural, accident, suicide, homicide, undetermined, and pending. Only medical examiner's and coroners may use all of the manners of death. Other certifiers must use natural or refer the death to the medical examiner. The manner of death is determined by the medical examiner.

What are four guidelines for a good death? ›

Tasks of Dying

Charles Corr, PhD, proposedopens in a new tab or window that a good death is one in which four key tasks or needs have been fulfilled: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. Physical needs include absence of pain or discomfort, and I would argue provides opportunity for human touch.

What did death say to life? ›

Life asked Death 'Death, why do people love me but hate you?' Death responded 'Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.

What is a short powerful grief quote? ›

"Grief is itself a medicine." "Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." "The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief - But the pain of grief isonly a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love."

What is the best definition of death? ›

1. : the irreversible cessation of all vital functions especially as indicated by permanent stoppage of the heart, respiration, and brain activity : the end of life see brain death. 2. : the cause or occasion of loss of life. drinking was the death of him.

What does a dying person think about? ›

Visions and Hallucinations

The appearance of family members or loved ones who have died is common. These visions are considered normal. The dying may turn their focus to “another world” and talk to people or see things that others do not see. This can be unsettling, and loved ones may not know how to respond.

Why is death important to life? ›

Death informs us how to live properly. Death helps us realize the beauty in the mundane. We can learn to celebrate the small victories as often as we celebrate the big ones. Understanding Death's significance changes our perspective towards life.

What happens after death? ›

Your body stiffens, first, at your face and neck. The stiffening progresses to the trunk of your body and gradually radiates outward to your arms and legs and then your fingers and toes. Your body loosens again. A few days after death, your body's tissue breaks down, causing the stiff parts to relax again.

What are the indicators of a good death? ›

5 Ways to Know Your Loved One Had a “Good Death”
  • Able to Direct Their Final Days. A good death includes accepting that death is inevitable and determining for one's self how that will be experienced. ...
  • A Sense of Completion. ...
  • Being Free of Pain. ...
  • Maintaining their Dignity. ...
  • Support of Loved Ones.
Aug 19, 2020

What term means good death? ›

Euthanasia. This is translated literally as “good death” and refers to the act of painlessly, but deliberately, causing the death of another who is suffering from an incurable, painful disease or condition.

How is good death measured? ›

The following 10 domains were identified: (1) environmental comfort, (2) life completion, (3) dying in a favorite place, (4) maintaining hope and pleasure, (5) independence, (6) physical and psychological comfort, (7) good relationship with medical staff, (8) not being a burden to others, (9) good relationship with ...

What's the difference between a good death and a bad death? ›

In addition, a good death involves patients and families accepting death as the end of a 'journey', and the decision to 'let go'. In contrast, in a bad death the patient sees death as an opponent against which to 'struggle', 'battle' or 'fight' in order to 'keep going'.


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