Ten years ago on December 19th, I lost a gallon of blood due to sever internal bleeding as a result of an ectopic pregnancy. I didn’t think I was going to make it to see my husband and children again.

When children grow old enough to develop a sense of self and time, they begin to understand the inevitable truth about human mortality. Writer and philosopher Stephen Cave explores our obsession with immorality. “We each live in the shadow of a personal apocalypse: the knowledge that — someday, somehow — we will die. It’s a terrifying thought, and so we look for a way out.”

Take two groups of agnostics who are similar in all relevant aspects. One group was asked to think about being dead and the other being lonely. Afterwards they were questioned about their religious beliefs again. The results showed that when the fear of death was inserted in people’s mind, they were twice as likely to turn to God. 400 other empirical studies support the same conclusion that fear of death biases human behavior.

Throughout cultures and time, people have told different stories as a way to manage this very real fear, and Cave summarized the thousands of versions into the following four stories:

1. The Elixir story. Almost every known culture has legends of a magic pill or potion that can ward off aging and disease. Alchemists in both East and West, for example, believed they could brew an elixir of life. We still believe this story today and tell it in the vocabulary of science. We set our hope on stem cells, genetic engineering and nanotechnology to offer a cure to death.

2. The resurrection story. The most influential story of resurrection can of course be found in the Gospels. But the story of Jesus was by no means the first legend of a god-figure who died and rose again, so defeating death for himself and the rest of us. The ancient Egyptian god Osiris, for example, did the same as the first mummy.

Whereas some hope the gods will resurrect them to live again, others hope that scientists will do it. A process known as cryonics is to deep freeze the body with the hope that when science and technology advance enough, the body can be repaired, revived and resurrected.

3. The Soul Story. The majority of people on earth believe that they have one, and this belief plays a central role in most religions. Advocates of this story believe that they’ll leave the body behind and live on as a soul. Again the story is getting reinvested for the digital age. People like Raymond Kerzwell boldly predict that someday in the foreseeable future (Kerzweil predicted it to be 2045) we’ll be able transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots and live inside them as software, forever, virtually.

4. The Legacy Story. The Legacy Story is about living on through the echo you leave in the world: your work, your genes or your contribution to a much greater whole.

On that dreadful night then years ago, as I was lying on the hospital bed fighting for life, I don’t remember being afraid of dying. I just wanted to excruciating pain to stop, one way or another. Maybe in addition to fear of death, we are scared of the pain we may have to endure before our lives come to an end. For that, it isn’t farfetched to set our hope on science to invent more targeted chemo treatment or more effective painkillers to improve the quality of life for the terminally ill.

As I am getting older, there seem to be more deaths around me or maybe I am just paying more attention to such events. I have witnessed or heard about people with or without faith passing away, many in their prime ages. Journalist and author Amanda Bennett told the story of losing her beloved husband to kidney cancer. In spite of the doctors’ prediction that her husband only had a few months left, he persevered seven more years. According to Amanda, those were the most exhilarating seven years of their lives. She thought she could keep him alive. They had hope till the very end. And because of that, they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye because they were unprepared for his death.

I personally know this couple Mark and Ping. Mark was diagnosed with cancer when Ping was pregnant with their second child. Mark passed away 11 months later. During the last two months of his life, Mark drove his wife, their 2-year-old son and infant baby girl around the country to find a new place they could call home without him. After I heard the story from Ping, I admired Mark’s incredible love and determination to care for his family till his last breath, as well as courage to come to terms with his imminent death.

Steve Jobs, when faced with the ultimate challenge of his life, resolved to ask himself this question everyday, “How would I live today if it were the last day of my life?” To him, the reality of death should only help people to avoid the trap of thinking they’ve got something to lose by pursuing their dreams.

If life is like going to a party, like all parties, no matter how wonderful it is, it won’t last forever. When the end comes, it’s our turn to leave. By refusing to get out, we overstay our welcome. The right thing to do is exit gracefully.

Coming to terms with morality isn’t easy. But we can tell a new story about death if we understand that the fear of death is deeply embedded in human nature. It’s irrational and causes the biggest bias in human behavior. Being aware of our mortality on the other hand makes us humble and enables us to appreciate the time we have, love our family and friends more, and pursue our dreams with passion.

If life is a book, the characters, plots and sceneries depicted aren’t bound by the binding of the book. It’s up to us to make and tell the stories of our lives.