How Do You Want to Die?

I think the question, “How do you want to die?” is exactly as sensible as “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While the latter gets asked and answered umpteen times throughout childhood and then, only half-jokingly, into adulthood, the former never gets addressed. Not everyone will get married, not everyone will have children, but everyone will die at some point; and yet, in general, people will invest a whole lot more time and effort into planning their hypothetical wedding and naming their hypothetical kids than they will in thinking about their ideal deathbed. Why?


The interviews ranged in length from about 5 minutes to about 45 minutes, but I conducted them more or less in the same way from person to person.

I went into the first interview:

  • having only formally prepared the one question (How do you want to die?) but expecting follow-up questions to emerge from the conversations.

  • carrying my own assumptions and beliefs about the importance of feeling a sense of control in affecting a good death.

From the first interview I developed a rubric of four questions which I asked in each subsequent interview:

  1. How do you want to die?

  2. What makes life worth living?

  3. Do you think you have any control over the circumstances of your dying?

  4. Which cause of death do you find hypothetically most tolerable?

From my conversations I made, among others, these observations:

  • Each of the above four questions will be interpreted in radically different ways unique to the person answering.

  • People either felt they had very limited control or none whatsoever in their death.

  • BUT, no one identified the idea of control as being connected with their fears.

  • Overall, I was pretty surprised by/not prepared for the responses my peers gave.

Technically speaking, I felt that I principally grew from this project as an editor. For years and years I’ve been hooked on documentary films and series, but hadn’t ever attempted to make my own documentary. It was amazing to find how the story and its sequence just revealed themselves throughout the editing process. At the risk of sounding very cheesy, it was the most I’ve ever felt as a maker to be the steward of the work rather than the master.

Thanks to the interviewees:

David Chan, Stephanie Cendeno, Akash Dhiman, Justine Esquivel, Arthur Four, Michael Milano, Jeremy Tramer, Adam Weissler, Lauren Williams, Nicci Yin

Materials Used:

  • Panasonic Lumix G

  • Adobe Premiere