For most of us, the thought of dying can be frightening.
Some people have to cover their eyes if they're watching someone die in a movie, while others get scared if they feel sick, look up their symptoms on WebMD and convince themselves they've got a terminal disease.
Basically, dying doesn't sound like much fun and most of us would prefer to delay it as long as possible (if we're still healthy and happy, that is).
Researchers found that death is often described as a peaceful, "unexpectedly positive" experience by those who are close to it, and that the concept or thought of death may actually be scarier than death itself.
"I think that when people imagine that dying is like, they see it as being very different from the life they know," study author Kurt Gray said. "But really, death is part of life. And maybe you don't need to fear it as much as you might."
For the study, the researchers looked for blogs by people who were terminally ill with cancer or had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). These diseases were chosen because patients generally maintain their mental functions even as their disease becomes more advanced. They found more than 2,600 posts from 25 patients.
Researchers then found 50 healthy people and asked them to imagine they had terminal cancer and to document their experience through a blog which they had to update regularly.
Lastly, the researchers had independent raters code each post — both real and fake — for its emotional tone, reports HealthDay.
Surprisingly, study authors found that blog posts written by patients who actually had a terminal disease were more positive than those who were imagining they were dying. In fact, as time went on, posts from those who were dying were more positive the closer the people were to death.
However, the study authors note that it's not clear whether the real blog posts are an accurate reflection of what most people experience as they near death.
"Of course, people who choose to blog may be different from those who don't," said James Maddux, a senior scholar at George Mason University's Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, adding that they may be more positive.
Death is part of life. And maybe you don't need to fear it as much as you might.
Gray notes that people will vary in how they feel as they approach death, and cites religion and "social connectedness" to family and friends as factors that play into these feelings.
"Some people, by nature, are more pessimistic and prone to depression," Maddux added. "That will affect how they face death, too."
Knowing that death is a part of life can be important when it comes time to letting go of a dying relative, notes the study authors.
"If you know that death is not as scary for the dying person as it is for you, then maybe you'll be more willing to let them go when it's time," says Maddux.
To read more about this study, as well as a second study that looked at the last words of death-row inmates, click here.
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