My Death Stories on Medium

Tom Nickel
11 min readSep 8, 2021

I prefer talking directly with people about death to writing about it. Many of the pieces here are drawn from live events in virtual reality organized for the purpose of discussing dying.

I believe that talking about death helps us get used to the idea, helps us accept it, and when we can look at it clearly — talking about death openly with others can help us appreciate it.

The Death of Death

The Death of Death

August 29, 2021

Death wasn’t always Death. We made it into the big deal it is today.

We can kill off Charon and the rest of them, except Thanatos, last God standing. The one Absolute Entity, in a world governed by probabilities, Thanatos is the only one holding the Queen of Spades.

Why’d You Call It Death Q&A

Why’d You Call It Death Q&A?

August 24, 2021

I said, I think we’re not quite getting Impermanence right, maybe not so much what it means as, like, when it becomes operative. I mean, it can’t be now, right? Because we’re here having this conversation. So when does Impermanence start? Sometime in our late 70s?

Dying Practice

Dying Practice

August 14, 2021

Dying is a fractal concept, happening at different scales all the time. Even sleep is a rehearsal — every transition is a rehearsal. Still we see the so-called End as a mystery, because how can we know? Even though dying is all we have ever known.

I don’t think practice makes perfect but I do think that practice with feedback that is internalized can reduce suffering. We can’t know, that’s true, but we can walk right into that.

Next Steps in Death

Next Steps in Death

April 18, 2021

Calling our event Death Q&A was just saying, ‘you can bring up Death stuff here.’

It’s a hybrid state — our physical bodies are not co-located, but out attention is. And not just in Time, like a Zoom call — but in Space. Our attention is in the same Time and Space as the other people there.

Does the Soul Learn?

Death Q&A: Does the Soul Learn?

November 11, 2020

Drumtree believes there is an all-encompassing Spirit. The soul connected to his body is part of the Spirit and inseparable from it. When his body dies, part of the spirit will no longer be connected to it. But the Spirit will come back in other physical forms again and again.

Teaching and Learning about Death

Teaching and Learning about Death

October 11, 2020

The loosely joined teaching and learning network I have described is loose for a reason. Every node is a commercial entity whose interests only partially overlap with mine. They will change in ways that serve them … They work right now and I assume impermanence.

Helping Others with Death

Helping Others with Death

September 29, 2020

Usually people don’t ask clear and obvious and important questions … Usually they talk about deaths they have experienced, because there is a large reservoir of sadness that is an unexpressed part of all of us. When it’s OK to talk about Death, some of it can come out.

Burners, Death, and VR

Burners, Death, and VR

September 3, 2020

Death has a higher profile than usual. It’s tough for some people to keep it tamped down. Maybe they need to talk about it. That’s what our event is for.

We call it Death Q & A and people just keep coming. Death leads us everywhere. It’s exhilarating.

Talking about After Life in VR

Talking about After Life in VR

August 14, 2020

Hiato raised his hand. He said, this is good. It’s good to feel OK about dying, that’s what think. There’s no Me to experience it as a bad thing. It just happens and it’s OK.

Glad you feel that way Hiato, said Ryan. It can take work to have that perspective.

I don’t know if I’ve worked, said Hiato I’ve just always felt this way. I think I’ll feel this way right at the time I die.

Death in the Family

Death in the Family

July 29, 2020

It makes me scared when my father doesn’t wear a mask, I mean he does sometimes, but not always, not a lot. I don’t know, it just makes me nervous, said Trish, her voice sounding young adult, maybe high school.

When Someone You Love Dies

When Someone You Love Dies

July 22, 2020

Especially when people are so busy protecting themselves or denying the need to protect themselves, no one even cares about one little death in a world where everything feels like it’s dying.

How is anything ever going to matter again when the one person who mattered more than anyone or anything is just gone.

Is Death Really Happening?

Is Death Really Happening?

July 14, 2020

The new proximity of Death has added uncertainty to every decision, to every action. Death used to exist in Time — when you get to about 80. Now it exists in Space — about six feet away.

The presence of Death is not available to our senses. It’s the data that makes an interpretation of many dead people empirical, but very little that is going on is empirical to us as individuals.

Death Blah, Blah, Blah

Death Blah, Blah, Blah

July 8, 2020

Under normal circumstances, most of us are good at keeping Death pretty much under wraps.

Occasionally it rears its head and freaks us out when someone we love dies before we think they’re supposed to, but it usually goes away.

These are not normal times and death is not going away because we say it will.

Death is Always in the Mix

Death is Always in the Mix

June 28, 2020

I had introduced the event, as I do every week, by saying this is a time and a place where it is OK to talk about Death. She said this is what she wanted to talk about. Usually people don’t like it when she brings it up even if she intends to be positive about it. She saw her chance with us and took it.

Then the question I’ll remember came from someone standing next to her. She said her niece is dying and her sister, her niece’s mother has closed herself off to it.

Death, Death, and More Death

Death, Death, and More Death

June 17, 2020

She said that her parents never said anything and she was really confused about death as a kid. Every time she felt something wrong with herself physically, she thought she might be dying.

She wanted to make sure her kids didn’t have to be confused like that.

Ryan, our co-host, has a young daughter and told how he points out to her things coming and going, living and dying, like flowers. Not making a special lesson out of it, just mixing it in with everything like the natural piece it is.

More Death Talk

More Death Talk

June 10, 2020

Death has assumed a higher than usual profile lately. It’s harder to ignore.

What do you do when there’s Death Stats everywhere you look? Makes it pretty obvious you’re a just Death Stat yourself, waiting to be counted.

The Death Anxiety rheostat has been turned up.

People react differently. Denial takes different forms. So does suffering. Acceptance isn’t always serene. Appreciation doesn’t mean you have to like it.

Death Q&A III

Death Q & A III

May 17, 2020

Mortality salience is aversive. Many people don’t like it. And when they feel something they don’t like, many people want to return to neutral or better with a palliative compensation for that bad thing. Boosting self-esteem by showing off for my fellow believers is a quick and easy hit.

Death Q&A II

Death Q & A II

May 6, 2020

Death is not a taboo topic any more but that doesn’t make it comfortable to talk about.

We only get comfortable by doing it. That’s why we’re having Death Q & A and why we’re going to keep having it, to make a specific time and space where people can talk about dying.

I actually don’t have answers to most questions, but I like talking about them and so does my co-host Ryan Astheimer.

Death Q&A

Death Q & A

April 29, 2020

I think place matters and I think a great place to talk about Death is a temple of some sort off in the mountains.

It’s not quite as easy as snapping your fingers, not yet anyway — but my son’s EvolVR program in AltspaceVR has a world like that all ready to go.

Leading Death Meditations

What I’m Learning from Leading Death Meditations in VR

October 11, 2019

I thought the only people crazy enough to try meditating in VR would be other long-time meditators like me who just wanted see what it’s like.

I was wrong.

I think around half the participants in the group meditations I’ve been leading in EvolVR on the AltspaceVR platform are first-timers or close to it. They weren’t seeking out meditation-in-VR. They were in VR looking for stuff to do. They’d heard about meditation and figured why not?

Physically Dying

Physically Dying

September 1, 2019

Dying isn’t anything like Living and we’re not busy at it or we’d by goners very quickly.

Dying isn’t an extreme version of Living. It’s a different physiological state.

Life is an ongoing balancing act on many fronts, falling out of optimal functioning, then addressing and restoring. It’s dynamic — events which promote illness happen all the time, and we meet them head on, consciously or not, with biochemistry and behavior.

The best we can realistically expect is some tilt toward the healthy side of the continuum, or maybe a stand-off between the powerful, increasing tendencies built into our systems and the constraining ones that hold them in check.


Good Death

Mortality Meditations: Good Death

August 25, 2019

Does ‘Good Death’ have to be an oxymoron?

It’s a crap shoot at best but at least you get to set your own standards. Which means putting in the time, figuring out what your standards are.

Edwin Shneidman, the first professor of Thanatology, came up with a way of looking at it that looks pretty good to me.

As an Academic, presumably he had a lot of time to think about it, which is the exact opposite of what most people do.

Saying Goodbye

Death Meditations: Saying Goodbye

August 19, 2019

Famous Last Words are preposterous. I seriously doubt, for example, that John Barrymore actually said,

“Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”

and then died. I don’t believe it.

Meditation: Near Death Experiences

Meditations on Mortality: NDEs

August 12, 2019

What does it mean that people have been declared Dead and then after some period of time they apparently become reanimated and in a very few cases remember sights and sounds from when they were supposedly gone forever?

I don’t know.

But I have asked many people and I have found that the phenomenon functions something like a Rorschach test for belief.

Death Meditations

Death Meditations

August 2, 2019

What if Meditation could be done with other people in Virtual Reality as part of a program to prepare for end of life? What if a group could come together regularly to use meditation to get better at dying?

My basic idea is simple. The prospect of dying creates anxiety because it is unknown. Death has been removed from life in every possible way. It is a stranger and strangers can feel threatening, if not terrifying.

This piece has had the most Readers in the Death category as of September, 2021.

Meditations on Mortality

Meditations on Mortality

July 8, 2019

Meditation isn’t a belief. It’s a behavior that gradually shapes us when we do it over and over. It’s shaped me, especially tamping down how I’d react almost like a reflex in certain situations.

That’s why I want to try using mortality as an object of meditation.

I’m not sure what’s Spiritual and what isn’t, but I know that our mortality matters to us every minute of every day whether we choose to pay attention to it or not.

Appreciating Species Extinction

Appreciating Species Extinction

October 11, 2018

I’d like to scale the proposition all the way up to humans as a whole. If it could be healthy for me to accept, and maybe even appreciate, my own mortality, how about for all the homo sapiens?

Is it healthy to accept and even appreciate the extinction of our species?

Appreciating extinction doesn’t mean feeling great about it — it means being fully aware of its value.

3,000–5,000 Days

3,000–5,000 Days

October 12, 2017

We can make a difference in our life duration, but our thoughts and behavior are just one factor in a larger equation.

As we age, the gap narrows between what will probably happen and what actually happens because there’s just not as much time. I’ve made it to 68 and all the things that possibly could have prevented that didn’t.

I feel like it’s reasonable at this point to project a probable remaining life span for myself that I can think of in days. My working number is 3,000–5,000.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos