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28 Apr 2023

Dying to grow


It may seem counter intuitive but the last moments of life can still produce positive outcomes legacy.

In a work called the Social History of Dying health sociologist Professor Allan Kelleher says ours is a death denying society.  In his view death is inevitable and it behooves us to face the question of how to deal with our demise.  In fact, coming to terms with our own finiteness can help us discover life's true meaning.

An individual who is not facing an immediate death has more time to adjust to the idea. In fact, dying can be a time of increased personal growth. The life review, or process of reminiscing, can help people examine the significance of their lives.  There is an opportunity to prepare for death by making changes and finishing uncompleted tasks.

Many dying individuals report that they are finally able to sort out who and what is the most important to them and can enjoy to the fullest what time remains. Many also report that dying is a time of religious awakening and transcendence.

Hospice NZ Clinical Advisor Professor Rod MacLeod believes that the last stage of human growth is mortality. 

In this context his focus is primarily on older people and then those in mid-life preparing for death.  

“All stages of life,” he says, “provides opportunity for growth and discovery, especially if we meet life challenges with an open heart and mind. Elders, despite losses and physical declines in later life frequently report feeling content, research shows they have lower rates of psychopathology than the general population. Older people often see themselves as resilient because of adversity and their ongoing skill, in negotiating and overcoming challenges and losses over time.”


“Well engaged mortality strengthens growth. The knowledge of negotiating the personal concept of mortality, that is our life as we know it is finite. This can challenge us; it can bring to the surface questions such as:

  • Have we made a difference?
  • Are we leaving a legacy?
  • Are we surrounded by love or are we alone?
  • Do we need to find reconciliation because of difficulty?

It is his belief that those of us who work with people near the end of their life, need to develop our fluency to open opportunities for these conversations, and to be ready to have the conversations that are difficult.”

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Date Published: April 2023

To be reviewed: April 2026