Chapter 5: Life, Death, and Loss

Of all of the elements, characteristics, and attributes of humans, our mortality is perhaps the most defining. The temporality of our existence drives a significant part of human culture and behavior. Much of religious thinking addresses questions about life after death. Communities organize communal rituals to celebrate the arrival of new individuals to their group and mourn the permanent departure of others, hallowing the space where their remains lay at rest. Entire industries are constructed around delaying the tell-tell signs of aging or proclaiming the secret of everlasting youth. But despite this, everyone who embarks on the journey of life knows the inevitability of their eventual death; it is an essential part of the human experience.

Cultures engage with this reality in various ways. For some, death is a natural pattern, a doorway in life that parallels the one passed through at birth. Others see death with fear or anxiety, a constant and living threat to their existence. Each individual, community, and culture must grapple with how to cope with this reality and the subsequent grief. Consider how you personally, your various communities, and your culture manage death and loss. In addition, consider how this affects your perception of life.

The struggle to cope with life, death, and loss occupies a significant place in the library of works that constitute the humanities. 

  • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  • Modern Death, Haider Warraich


  • The Fly, Katherine Mansfield
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  • Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert


Visual Art

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin"To Autumn" by John Keats"When I am dead, my dearest" by Christina Rossetti"To Be or Not to Be," Hamlet by William Shakespeare"Crossing the Bar" by Alfred Lord Tennyson"Death, be not proud" by John DonneKindertotenlieder, Gustav Mahler

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