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Quotations about Death and Bereavement

Updated on July 3, 2016
Colleen Swan profile image

A lover of the written word Colleen has a Master's degree in English literature and enjoys finding unique and poignant quotes

Gravestones

Source

Introduction

Some years ago, I lost a fiancée due to diabetes. At age 31, with a good education, I viewed myself as a rational thinker, geared more towards intellect than emotion. Still, after this loss, I found thoughts and feelings to be divided, almost into two separate spheres.

Anguish morphed into anger

A few days after having learned of his death, I found myself crying out, “Come back, come back!” While aware this could not happen, a hope must have remained that my cries, if sincere and fervent enough, might somehow revive him.

Further furies

During the weeks thereafter, when hearing an elderly man on radio, or viewing one on TV, I felt rage. How dare this elderly man be so strong, when someone dear to me, half his age, had been taken by illness?

In addition, apprised of advances in the treatment of diabetes or potential long-term cures, I felt deep frustration. Had this progress come about only a few months before, my friend might have staved off death for an indefinite period.

Acceptance of anger

Rather than condemn myself for what I knew to be unjust feelings, I simply dealt with them for what they were-part of the release of my grief. Studies of death and bereavement have shown anger to be one vital stage of mourning. It may apply to a sufferer of a terminal illness, or one caught in the wolf-like grip of a recent bereavement.

I knew myself far too well to believe I would ever wish to deprive any living creature on earth of one second of life. Hence, my mind stood back and allowed those emotions to linger until, in time, they eased into a more tranquil acceptance. My future would not be as I had hoped; still, my life would continue. Source: Ann Dorset

Johnny Carson: American television comedian: October 23rd 1925 to January 23rd 2005
Johnny Carson: American television comedian: October 23rd 1925 to January 23rd 2005 | Source

Dying alone: Johnny Carson

As renowned talk show host Johnny Carson grew old, his increasing surliness drove away many of those who had once been close to him. Hence, he died in a hospital with no-one of significance to him at his bedside. In his memoir, Johnny Carson, his long-time attorney and comrade, Henry Bushkin, though among those who had become estranged, wrote of his sense of bereavement:

Mostly what I felt was sadness. I thought it was terrible that he died alone, without the company of anyone who really cared. Separated from his wife, his two surviving sons incapable of providing any sort of comfort, and so many of his friends dismissed, alienated or turned away. …. In the end, it is true we each must die alone, but the love and friendship we share with one another show that we do not live alone-and of all men, Johnny did not live alone. He lived with millions, among whom were a small very fortunate group who really did care about him.

Church comforts the lonely: those who have lost, those who grieve. It is the weekly ritual that never changes, never goes away. You can go to mass anywhere around the world, North Dakota, Poland, Ireland, and the only difference would be the language. ... No matter what swirls around you, you cannot become lost.

— Rachael Hanel

The cruel taking of a child: Jamie Bulger: born 16th March 1990 murdered 12th February 1993

In his soul-wrenching memoir, My James, Jamie Bulger’s father recounts his and his wife’s initial mourning after the murder of their small son, denoted as “baby James” by the media:

We didn't leave the house and stayed in locked, silent grief for most of the time. … I can remember grabbing his pillow, his toys or his clothes and holding them close to my face because I could still smell James on them. It was an intense period of grieving that no words can properly describe. … I didn't know a human being could hurt so much, and, when I look back, I have no idea how we survived it.

A mom and dad say “goodbye” to their daughter

Singer Amy Winehouse died prematurely due to substance abuse. In his memoir, Amy Winehouse, My Daughter, Mitch Winehouse recounts:

“We were shown into a room and saw Amy behind a window. She looked very, very peaceful, as if she was just asleep, which in a way made it a lot harder. She looked lovely. … We put our hands to the glass partition and spoke to her. We told her that Mummy and Daddy were with her and that we would always love her.”

Even the best of friends cannot attend each other’s funeral.

If you don’t go to other men’s funerals they won’t go to yours.

Pain lays not its touch upon a corpse. Aeschylus

Approach your grave without fear

Sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him; and lies down to pleasant dreams. William Cullen Bryant

The marble keeps merely a cold and sad memory of a man who would else be forgotten. No man who needs a monument ever ought to have one. Nathaniel Hawthorne

Why, do you not know, then, that the origin of all human evils, and of baseness, and cowardice, is not death, but rather the fear of death? Epictetus

There is no doubt that sorrow brings one down in the world. The aristocratic privilege of silence belongs, you soon find out, to only the happy state or, at least, to the state when pain keeps with bounds. Elizabeth Bowen

Grieve not; though the journey of life be bitter, and the end unseen, there is no road which does not lead to an end. Hafiz

Of wills and inheritance.

I've often had to notice that a man will sometimes do the most foolish thing or the meanest thing in his whole life after he's dead.

— Edward Noyes Westcott

Funerals and dignity

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and the cremains to a memorial park. All this is supposed to maintain the dignity of the deceased. Or is it the dignity of the undertakers? Joseph Wood Krutch

It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men all live in a city without walls. Epicurus

Spare me the whispering crowded room, and the friends who come and gape and go; the ceremonious air of gloom which make a funeral a hideous show. Matthew Arnold

Science says; we must live, and seek the means of prolonging, increasing, facilitating and amplifying life, of making it tolerable and acceptable; wisdom says, we must die, and seeks how to make us die well. Miguel De Unamuno

It hath often been said, that it is not death, but dying which is terrible. Henry Fielding

Quote by Tacitus
Quote by Tacitus | Source

Grief and remembrance

After seventy years the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one did not notice in former years. There begins to be something personal about it. Oliver Wendell Holmes

Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance which transfigures the wretched. Victor Hugo

To die is to go into the collective unconsciousness, to lose oneself in order to be transformed into form, pure form. Hermann Hesse

There is something pleasurable in calm remembrance of a past sorrow. Cicero

Man is the only animal that contemplates death, and also the only animal that shows any sign of doubt about its finality. William Ernest Hocking

In the depth of the anxiety of having to die is the anxiety of being eternally forgotten. Paul Tillich

Our birth is nothing but our death begun. Edward Young

Grief is not in the nature of things, but in opinion. Cicero

All men think all men mortal but themselves. Edward Young

It is as natural to die as it is to be born. Francis Bacon

There comes a time when there is no tomorrow

Let mourning stop when one’s grief is fully expressed. Confucius

Let him who believes in immortality enjoy his happiness in silence; he has no reason to give himself airs about it. Goethe

There is in this world in which everything wears out, everything perishes, one thing that crumbles into dust, that destroys itself still more completely, leaving behind still fewer traces of itself than beauty; namely grief. Marcel Proust

Death has but one terror; that it has no tomorrow. Eric Hoffer

A belief in hell and the knowledge that every ambition is doomed to frustration at the hands of a skeleton have never prevented the majority of human beings of behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor, and survival a thing beyond the bounds of possibility. Aldous Huxley

Quote by T.S. Eliot
Quote by T.S. Eliot | Source

Memories pass on to generations

Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone, his own burden, and his own way. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad. Christina Rossetti

You may complete as many generations as you please during your life; none the less will that everlasting death await you. Lucretius

The mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal; and this is only to be attained by generation, for the new is always left in the place of the old. Plato

According to a chronicler of customs of the Indonesian Fayu tribe: The length of mourning is related to the age of the deceased. The older the dead person was, the longer they were mourned. When a tribe elder died, the mourning could last for weeks. The bones that remained were hung up in huts, as we might hang photographs. Often I would visit someone’s hut and be proudly introduced to the skulls with the words, “This is my uncle; this is my grandfather, and over there is my sister.”

To weep excessively for the dead is to affront the living. Thomas Fuller

It is sweet to mingle tears with tears; grief’s, where they wound in solitude. Seneca

One must mourn not the death of men, but their birth. Montesquieu

A time of sadness and a time for blessings

One should die proudly when it is no longer to live proudly. Nietzsche

Strange, is it not? That the myriads that before us passed the door of darkness through; not one returns to tell us of the road; which to discover we must travel too. Omar Khayyam

Alack our life, so beautiful to see, with how much ease life loosest in a day; what many years with pain and toil amassed. Petrarch

The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at the last a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end forever. Pascal

In heaven above and earth below, they best can serve true gladness who meet most feelingly the calls of sadness. William Wordsworth

Nobody knows in fact what death is, nor whether to man it is not perchance the greatest of all blessings; yet do people fear it as if they surely knew it to be the worst of evils. Socrates

The difference between a coffin and a casket and how they are made

Weeping cannot heal the sorrow

The first pressure of sorrow crushes out from our hearts the best wine; afterwards the constant weight of it brings forth bitterness, the taste and stain from the lees of the vat. Longfellow

Long life, and short, are by death made all one; for there is no long, nor short, to things that are no more. Montaigne

Grief even in a child hates the light and shrinks from human eyes. Thomas De Quincey

The whole motley confusion of acts, omissions, regrets and hopes which is the life of each one of us finds in death, not meaning or explanation, but an end. Octavio Paz

Winter is come and gone, but grief returns with the revolving year. Shelley

If it were possible to heal sorrow by weeping and to raise the dead with tears, gold were less prized than grief. Sophocles

What man is there that does not laboriously, though all unconsciously, himself fashion the sorrow that is to be the pivot of his life. Maurice Maeterlinck

Newfoundland regiment graves

Military Graves
Military Graves | Source

Millions of graves are attributed to the futility of war

For what are the triumphs of war, planned by ambition, executed by violence, and consummated by devastation? The means are the sacrifice of many, the end the gloated aggrandizement of the few. Charles Caleb Colton

The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual human beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own. Aldous Huxley

Dust to Dust: bible extracts

  • Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
  • We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.
  • Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die.
  • We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
  • It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

The following headings contain selected quotes attributed to famous authors, playwrights, and poets who are deceased.

Samuel Johnson: English author: 18th September 1709 to 13th December 1784

It matters not how a man dies but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.

While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates.

Thomas Mann: German writer: 6th June 1875 to 12th August 1955

One ought to go to a funeral instead of to church when one feels the need to be uplifted. People have on good black clothes, and they take off their hats and look at the coffin, and behave serious and reverent, and nobody dares make a bad joke.

What we call mourning for our dead is perhaps not so much grief at not being able to call them back as it is grief at not being able to want to do so.

Emily Dickinson: American poet: December 10th 1830 to May 15th 1886

Death is a supple suitor that wins at last. It is a stealthy wooing, conducted first by pallid innuendoes and dim approach, but brave at last with bugles.

I measure every grief I meet with narrow probing eyes. I wonder if it weighs like mine, or has an easier size.

Washington Irving: American author: April 3rd 1783 to November 28th 1859

To occupy an inch of dusty shelf and to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age by some drowsy churchman or casual straggler, and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance. Such is the amount of boasted immortality.

The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced.

Jean Giraudoux: French novelist: 29th October 1882 to 31st January 1944

Death is the next step after the pension. It is perpetual retirement without pay.

A man has only one way of being immortal on this earth; he has to forget he is mortal.

I’m not afraid of death. It’s the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life.

Jean Anouilh: French dramatist: 23rd June 1910 to 3rd October 1987

Death has to be waiting at the end of the ride before you truly see the earth, and feel your heart, and love the world.

Man dies when he wants, as he wants, of what he chooses.

Sir Thomas Browne: English author: 19th October 1605 to 19th October 1682

Though it is in the power of the weakest arm to take away life, it is not in the strongest to deprive us of death.

We all labor against our own cure, for death is the cure of all diseases.

Saint Exupery: French author: 29th June 1900 to 31st July 1944

He, who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present, than the living man.

Death is a thing of grandeur. It brings instantly into being a whole new network of relations between you and the ideas, the desires, the habits of the man now dead. It is a rearrangement of the world.

Man imagines that it is death that he fears, but what he fears is the unforeseen, the explosion. What man fears is himself, not death.

Sorrow is one of the vibrations that prove the fact of living.

William Hazlitt: English author: 10th April 1778 to 18th September 1830

Our repugnance to death increases in proportion to our consciousness of having lived in vain.

There was a time when we were not; this gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be?

Erich Fromm: German psychologist: March 23rd 1900 to March 18th 1980

Death is never sweet, not even if it is suffered for the highest ideal.

To die is poignantly bitter, but the idea of having to die without having lived is unbearable.

Samuel Butler: English author: December 1835 to 18th June 1902

To die is to leave off dying and do the same once for all.

To die completely, a person must not only forget, but be forgotten, and he who is not forgotten is not dead.

Lord Byron: English poet: 22nd January 1788 to 19th April 1824

What is this death? A quiet of the heart; the whole of that of which we are a part.

Death so called is a thing which makes men weep; and yet a third of life is passed in sleep.

Albert Camus: French author and philosopher: 7th November 1913 to 4th January 1960

Do you know why we are more fair and just toward the dead? We are not obliged to them; we can take our time, fit in the paying of respects between a cocktail party and an affectionate mistress.

Men are convinced of your arguments, your sincerity, and the seriousness of your efforts only by your death.

What is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: American essayist and poet: May 25th 1803 to April 27th 1882

Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we had our day.

The chief mourner does not always attend the funeral.

Ugo Betti: Italian author and playwright: February 4th 1892 to June 9th 1953

Nature is honest, we aren't; we embalm our dead.

Every tiny part of us cries out against the idea of dying, and hopes to live forever.

Your teeth chatter from the cold. Faint shadows that you are, how wrong it was to go the trouble of giving you separate names. Your dying breath barely tarnishes the air, and yet you imagine it as your spirit returning unto god who gave it.

Quote by La Fontaine
Quote by La Fontaine | Source

The forgotten child of a foster parent

Bereavement can take any number of forms. Indeed, the wrench of loss involves, to a greater or lesser degree, the elements. Cathy Glass acknowledges this in her memoir, Damaged: the Heartbreaking Memoir of a Forgotten Child. When asked to take on a new child shortly after having parted from a previous one, this long-time foster parent recounts her conflicting feelings:

I usually took a break of a couple weeks between placements, to refresh myself physically and mentally, and give everyone time to regroup. I also need to recover from the sadness of saying good-bye to someone I’d become close to.

Even when a child leaves on a high note, having made excellent progress, and perhaps returning to parents who are now able to provide a loving, caring environment, there is still a period where I mourn their going. It’s a mini bereavement, and something I've never got used to, even though in a week or two, I would be revved up and ready to start again.

Am I still the mother of my lost child?

Susan Markowitz, in her book, “My Stolen Son: the Nick Markowitz Story recounts her anguish following the murder of her fifteen-year-old son:

After the funeral, I kept changing outfits because I couldn't get comfortable. I didn't know who I was anymore. I was a childless mother. Is a mother who has lost her only child still a mother? …

A few days later, I woke to bright lights and strange voices.

“How many did you take?” The nurses and doctors were bothering me. They wanted to know about the pills. I told them to go away but they didn't, and neither did I. Please just let me sleep; please just let me die.

They didn't let me.”

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Lastly, from the unknown

  • Do not rejoice over anyone’s death; remember that we all must die.
  • Hardest of deaths to a mortal, is the death he sees ahead.
  • Death always comes too early or too late.
  • He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.
  • Death cancels everything but truth.
  • Death eats up all things, both the young lamb and the old sheep.
  • Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.

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    • Colleen Swan profile image
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      Colleen Swan 3 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you DDE. I was dubious about picking such an unhappy subject.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Quotations about Loss and Bereavement is an incredible hub the presentation is to perfection and this is tough to get into.

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 3 years ago from County Durham

      Thank you MsDora and Gilbert for looking in. I agree it is a subject we tend to avoid, but inevitably must. Yes live life as though it will never happen.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      In our past, there are loved ones that stepped out of our lives too soon. In the case of dramatist and poets, their inspirational ideas are preserved in a literary form that we can learn from and enjoy. Death is a sad theme we have to write about now and then. But I imagine I should live my life as if I never will die. It will make the journey of living much easier. The casket building video was very interesting, Colleen.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Death is a subject we must all deal with. The stories and the quotes you share help us pause long enough to relate them to our own lives. Thank you.