Dying and Depressed About It? Do These Things To Feel Better

Sometimes dying people feel depressed. It’s not at all unusual to feel a deep sadness at the end of life. Usually, the feeling comes and goes. There’s much truth in the axiom, “I have good days and bad days.”

If you’re dealing with a lengthy depression, perhaps seeing a licensed mental health counselor would allow you to process what’s happening. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me for connections to therapists in Chicago.

Sometimes people feel depressed about dying before they even get sick.

Remember, at every stage of life, we aren’t merely prisoners of our feelings. They require our help to grow, and our involvement is also required to make them more manageable. At my death awareness workshops, I often talk about how concrete actions can change feelings.

I use this example:

Every morning I wake up feeling no urge to exercise. I’d rather stay in bed and go back to sleep. But I push myself to get up, get out of bed, and go for a run. Or a bike ride. Or a yoga class. Afterward, I feel really great about it.

That’s just one way an action changes a feeling.

How Might Actions Help Us Feel Better About Dying?

We can do lots of things to feel better about death. Actions have the power to transform angst over dying, and depression about impermanence, into acceptance, peace, and joy. You just have to want the change.

Like anything worthwhile, this takes work.

Not every action is appropriate for every person. Here are some ways I support clients to reduce sadness at the end of life. What works for you?

Tell Your Life Story

Start at the beginning of your life and take as long as you like. Make an audio or video recording. You may prefer to write it down as a book, website, blog entry, etc.

Sounds daunting? Hire someone to do the writing for you.

I’ve written many life stories and the experience leaves my clients feeling wonderful. Even if they talk about things they regret, it feels cathartic. Most of the time, they leave these sessions smiling.

“You’ve done some stuff!” I tell them.

Studies back this up, showing that life reviews improve the quality of life among participants. It’s also been shown to raise oxytocin levels, the hormone responsible for feelings of well-being, love, and empathy.

Write an Ethical Will

An ethical will is a document you write for loved ones. Typically, it communicates your ethical values to the next generation. Taking a moment to think through important philosophies, experiences, and life lessons increases your feelings of self-worth and acceptance.

Like most of the items on this list, an ethical will is the best kind of gift. It benefits the giver and the receivers. Everyone wins.

Compose Legacy Letters

You may not live to see the children you love grow into adults, and that pain can be overwhelming. What about milestone events, like graduations, weddings, or when they have children of their own?

Write legacy letters. These personalized messages convey your thoughts and words of wisdom when you won’t be there in person. It also boosts resilience and feelings of gratitude.


If you’re dying and feeling depressed, go through your precious belongings and donate them to people you love. This includes jewelry, books, precious metals, albums, quilts, and works of art. Give it all away. If you have a lot of items and run out of loved ones, consider consignment shops. Many charities take donated items and sell them to raise money.

Host a garage or yard sale and donate the money from those sales to a charity that means something to you. Mention those same charities in your obituary and ask for donations from loved ones in lieu of flowers. This provides them with another way to honor you.

Also consider becoming an organ, tissue, or whole-body donor. It’s a distinctly human need to make meaning out of something sad. Donating in any way means focusing on others. This releases feel-good neurochemicals and provides us with a sense of purpose.

Legacy Projects

Go through mementos to create memory boxes or scrapbooks for loved ones. Fill them with old photos, concert tickets, and currency from countries you’ve visited. Place them into frames and arrange for them to be distributed at your funeral or memorial service.

Are you a good cook? Do you make special dishes for family events? Or something that everyone looks forward to on Thanksgiving? If your most popular recipes are stored in your head, put them in writing and create a recipe book. I’ve helped clients create such books and their families are left with a lasting gift.

Legacy projects, like letters or life stories, increase good moods through “positive reminiscing.”

Savor Memories

Spending time looking through old photos and videos, and talking about happy times, boosts feelings of happiness and gratitude.

In fact, studies show that those who intentionally recall and savor fun memories experience greater joy. This can be done in a group or individually. Those who actively engage in reliving happy experiences routinely report higher levels of satisfaction than those who do not.

Personal Care

Who doesn’t feel better after a manicure or pedicure? The same can be said about any self-care routine, and that is especially true for someone with a terminal diagnosis. It’s a mood booster!

Many hair stylists, waxing professionals, energy healers, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, and massage therapists make house calls. As a doula, part of my job includes finding people who do this work.

When we look our best, we often feel our best.

Religious or Spiritual Observations

Religious or spiritual rituals stand the test of time. As humans, we feel a need to connect with the “all” – something sacred or bigger than us. Consider the rituals that your own faith tradition might offer to fill you with relief and inspiration for this challenging part of life.

This can include meditation, rosaries, prayers, hymns, or mantras. My clients sometimes want to celebrate religious holidays earlier so they can enjoy them one last time before they die. This helps people feel better by increasing comfort and security.

Bucket List Items

Are there certain adventures you want to do before you die? I’m not just talking about bucket list items like jumping out of airplanes. I had a client who wanted to see New Orleans before her death. That’s doable!

What about a family reunion or a granddaughter’s wedding? You’d be surprised what loved ones or a doula can make happen that brings a sense of accomplishment along with acceptance and closure.


This doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve had clients who simply want to gather with loved ones and watch their favorite movie. Filling the house with smells of popcorn and lots of laughs.

Creating a playlist of songs, binge-watching classic television shows, forming a book discussion group, hosting one last poetry reading, or eating delicious food can bring dopamine and with it, sustained happiness to all the participants.

Living Funerals

A living funeral is similar to any other kind of funeral service, except that with a living funeral, the person who is being remembered is still alive.

That’s right! If you host a living funeral for yourself, you get to hear those precious words one final time. It’s also an opportunity to tell your loved ones how you really feel about them. I’ve had clients say to me, “I’m paying for one hell of a party, so I’d like to participate.” Amen!

Make Every Moment Count

Enjoying something slowly and completely is a way to take simple pleasures at the end of someone’s life and elevate them to something more. Eat a piece of chocolate or sip a martini every evening. Schedule a weekly call with your best friend where he reads a chapter from your favorite book.

Watch the sunrise or sunset. Hold hands with loved ones. Keep the windows open if you want to breathe fresh air. Put your bed in a room where you can see the garden or people walking by on the street. Listen to the birds.

Make every moment count by doing what you want as often as you can.

Dying and depression don’t have to go hand-in-hand. Of course, there will be tears. Set aside 10 minutes each morning to feel sad, cry, yell, or scream. You’re certainly entitled. Even people who’ve reached old age might not be ready to go (are we ever ready?) and feel like they want more time.

When you’re ready to dry your tears and feel better, give some of these actions a try.

Contact me at Anitya Doula Services for support.

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