5 min read

How Memento Mori Can Help Us Rethink Death

Memento mori art has long been a part of human life. But what does this historic trend mean, and how can it help us in modern day? In this blog post, we explore how this concept can help us deal with not just our own mortality, but the sadness and despair of prolonged grief after the death of a family member or loved one.

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Can Memento Mori Help with Mental Health Around Death?

In a world where we've created endless fantasies of immortality, from classic mythology to tales of vampirism, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the reality that we will all one day die.

While thinking about our deaths can feel strange and unsettling, there's a lot we can gain from reflecting on our mortality and the phrase memento mori is one way to bring this into mind.

From dealing with major loss, to how we spend time on this planet- confronting death's inevitability is what this concept is all about. Reminding us that death is what gives life meaning, it helps to change how we talk about death, get through the process of complicated grief and deal with terminal illness. All whilst reminding us to enjoy the earthly pleasures of the present day, and remember that hard emotions- just like life- are temporary too.

What does memento mori mean?

The literal translation of the Latin phrase memento mori is “remember you must die.” The expression is thought to have originated in ancient Rome, where slaves followed generals on victory marches and quietly said the words to keep their commander's mortality in mind. The sentiment was said in hopes of humbling their leaders and stopping them from becoming consumed by pride.

Memento mori art

Memento mori is symbolised in art through depictions of death and time that show the fragility of life. These symbols often include:

  • skulls

  • hourglasses

  • fading candles

  • clocks

  • flowers plucked from the stem

What is the point of memento mori?

Memento mori encourages us to actively stop and think about death. While it might seem morbid, setting aside a moment to contemplate death can positively shape our lives.

The philosophy behind memento mori reminds us how important it is to appreciate what we have right now, and to not spend time fretting about the many factors and situations in life which don't matter. It can help give us a new perspective and encourage us to seize opportunities. Whilst it can feel overwhelming, the more we comfortably reflect on death, the more we can live life to the fullest.

By taking time to think about death every day, you might:

  • push yourself to take risks

  • place more value in your time and energy

  • recognise how much life and death are connected

  • open yourself up to difficult conversations

  • plan for the unexpected

  • appreciate the love and wonder in your life

  • find humour in the little obstacles along the way

  • enjoy the mystery life has to offer

Is memento mori religious?

Many faiths and cultures have connected the sentiment of memento mori and similar spiritual beliefs, to their own teachings about the afterlife. The practice has informed moral guides, spiritual traditions, and even the Old Testament- spanning across ancient Greece and Rome to early Christianity and Buddhism.

The reflective phrase has continued to influence philosophy, art and literature over the centuries outside of religious traditions. A bereaved person of these faiths is often comforted after significant loss with the spiritual beliefs around it- helping them to navigate intense grieving emotions, and suppress the anxiety of the 'unknown' around death.

Memento Mori and Mindfulness: The Connection Explained

In reminding us that we are unable to avoid death and live forever- memento mori is a reminder of our own mortality and the impermanence of life. Mindful, meditative practice follows a similar core belief. With the emphasis on intense focus on the present moment and feelings, this practice encourages us to seek presence in the present moment and let go of our fears and future worries.

Both practices share this process of recentering on the present moment of life, taking care to live to the fullest.

How the Memento Mori Concept Can Help You

By embracing Memento Mori and mindfulness, we can cultivate a deeper appreciation for the preciousness of life and make the most of every moment. Whether that's through seeking meaning in the transitory nature of our existence, or helping reduce stress and anxiety in the grieving process- memento mori can inspire a meditative practise which refocuses us on the life emphasis of death, rather than the anger, fear or emptiness of death itself.

For some, thinking about death can bring a sense of peace and meaning to life. Reminding us there is no right or wrong way to live, bus instead just a way which feels meaningful and purposeful to you.

Death & prolonged grief

For others, death's inevitability can help support us through grief, sadness and intense feelings after losing a loved one. In many cultures across the world, there is a sense that death is a continuation of life onto something else- and so memento mori reminds some to find a sense of meaning, and peace after the death of a loved one.

Safewill is here to help

We help simplify end-of-line planning, so you can focus on what really matters. Our services can assist you with planning a funeral, applying for probate, or getting started on writing your Will. In maintaining a person-centred approach to what we do, we're all about taking care with care on all things at the end of life.

Reach out today on1800 103 310 , or via live chat now, to see how we can help you, or your family, through the process of death, grief, Wills and funerals.

Last updated 15th July 2022
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Daniela Brinis-Norris
Writer and Editor
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