Dying to Know: Answers to life’s most frequently asked questions about death (Part 1)

Living well includes a common-sense approach to death. It happens to us all, yet talking about our end-of-life plans or voicing our fear is considered taboo or morbid. 

We think Australia has a healthy way of introducing the difficult topics of death and dying. Australia celebrates a “D2K Day” every year (D2K– dying to know, get it?). Australians at all life stages are encouraged to talk to their loved ones about their final wishes and then create a plan. 

In that spirit, we’ve collected the most commonly asked questions about death and dying from our research and AnswerthePublic.com. Part 1 appears below; find the next six answers here

1. Why Do We Fear Discussing Death?

The most common reason that people dislike talking about death is that so much about it is unknown. Obviously, your heart and other organs shut down, and you stop breathing. But beyond that, death is a mystery. And because we don’t know the answer, we’re reluctant to ask the question. 

People avoid talking about death and dying for other reasons:

  • It makes us sad to think about not being here for our loved ones or our loved ones no longer being here with us.
  • We’re superstitious – knock on wood – that talking about death will hasten our demise.
  • It raises potential conflict about burial versus cremation, selecting a guardian for minor children, and other important end-of-life issues.
  • We don’t feel prepared, financially or otherwise, to provide for our children and others when we’re gone.
  • The idea of death reminds us of what we have yet to accomplish: a trip to Europe, finishing our college degree, or proposing to a sweetheart. 

2. What Is a Death Certificate and Why Do You Need One?

A death certificate is an official government-issued document that states the cause, location, and time of death. Other personal information includes marital status, occupation, and military service, if applicable. 

There are several reasons why you need a death certificate:


You must show proof of death to access pension and life insurance benefits, close bank accounts, or remarry, among other actions. 

Burial or Cremation

A funeral home or crematory cannot proceed without a valid death certificate. All ShareLife funeral homes give you the option of allowing us to fill out the death certificate on your behalf to help ensure proper registration with state and local authorities. 

Investigative Purposes

Law enforcement agencies may need to verify the cause of death on the certificate if there is suspicion of foul play.

Statistical Data

Public health officials, insurance companies, and other organizations use the information on death certificates to determine mortality tables. 

3. When Are Autopsies Performed?

An autopsy is a medical and surgical examination of someone who has died to determine the cause of death. Autopsies are performed when someone passes away due to unknown circumstances. They can provide evidence to the police through ballistics, toxicology reports, and other test results. 

Most local governments have a medical examiner or coroner who records deaths and orders autopsies if needed. 

4. What Do You Call the Scientific Study of Death?

Thanatology is the scientific discipline that examines death as a physical, ethical, spiritual, medical, sociological, and psychological issue. A thanatologist’s research and findings provide valuable insight to professionals ranging from coroners to grief counselors. 

5. Is There Such a Thing As Immortality? 

Human beings today live far longer than our ancestors. Life expectancy for a typical American man in 1920 was around 53 years old. Today, the average lifespan for an American male is around 78 years old. 

If humans are living longer, why can’t we live forever (in other words, be immortal)?

To live indefinitely, we would need to prevent our bodies from aging. And while medical advances have enabled us to live longer and often healthier than ever, our cells, tissues, and organs aren’t built for immortality. 

6. How Can You Live Longer?

No one gets out of life alive, but certain risk factors may lead to an early death:

  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise or physical activity
  • Unrelieved stress
  • Risky personal behavior (such as not wearing your seatbelt, excessive alcohol or drug use)

Maintaining good physical health can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other cognitive disorders. 


<<Part Two