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Afterlife Angst

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If you're frightened of dying and you're holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. If you've made your peace, then the devils are really angels freeing you from the Earth.

Death of a loved one is a very serious reason for Angst. People often cannot accept this fact and move on... but, what about the dead people themselves?

In fiction, it sometimes turns out they have angst issues as well. One of the more common reasons for such a reaction is Mortality Phobia: being in the afterlife means that they have faced their worst fears. This occurs most commonly when the characters think they're still alive: once they realize the truth, it can be a shock to them to realize that their life on Earth is gone. Some of them may even be in denial about it, living in illusionary worlds which resemble their old life; this usually results in plot twists when said illusions break down. Afterlife angst can be stronger if the afterlife is boring, the character in question ends up in Hell, or there isn't any afterlife at all. If the angst is that bad, it could lead to Ghost Amnesia. This can also lead to a Hell of a Heaven.

Contrast Unfinished Business, where the angst stems from something that still needs to be done on Earth, and Died Happily Ever After. Can happen if the dead character finds out a significant truth after their death, realising that they Died in Ignorance.

Since this is a death trope, there will be unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Inverted. During the final battle, Sanemi is gravely wounded and finds himself in the afterlife. Seeing his mother in hell, separated from their family, he tries to follow her so she won't be alone, only for his father to stop him as it isn't Sanemi's time to die. The Hashira then can only scream helplessly as he is thrown back into the world of the living.
  • YuYu Hakusho kills off its protagonist, Yusuke, in the first chapter/episode and then shows him at first not realizing he's dead and then attending his own funeral before accepting that he's willing to die—only for him to be offered a chance at resurrection.

  • Lighting Candles: In this Rise of the Guardians/Big Hero 6 crossover, Tadashi, like Jack Frost, becomes a magical spirit after his canon death. He slowly realizes not only that he died, but that he is invisible to those who don't believe in him - including his younger brother and friends. This causes him a lot more angst than it did for Jack since he still remembers his living loved ones and watches them grieve him (not helped by the fact that he got fire powers, triggering memories of the fire that killed him).
  • Lydia suffers from some of this in The Bug Princess, when a magic ritual causes her to end up dead and in the Neitherworld. This isn't so bad by itself - she's with friends and she's safe, relatively speaking - but she's worried about her parents and also about Beetlejuice, who is stuck in the Outerworld as a mortal human. (It Makes Sense in Context.) Fortunately, he finds the loophole they need.
  • In Resonance Days, not only is learning that you're dead and will never see your friends and family again traumatic, but most of the dead also have to deal with the revelation that the Magical Girl system they dedicated their lives to was a complete sham, and there's an element of dysmorphia in realizing that your "body" is basically just a thin shell around your soul simulating the functions of a living body. Attempting suicide or serious self-harm is pretty much an expectation within the first few days of arrival, with worse cases struggling with their situation for months, years, or even never getting over it. Not that it will work, since you can't die a second time. Witches tend to deal with it better, since they don't remember their living lives and thus don't have any trauma or memories of people they miss.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Book of Life: Zigzagged with Manolo. He is initially perfectly fine with being dead, as he chose to join his love, Maria, in the Land of the Remembered. Then he discovers Maria didn't actually die and the whole thing was a set-up, and goes on a quest with his family to get back to the Land of the Living.
  • Coco: While averted by most of the Land of the Dead, Hector regrets dying before he could make it back to his wife and daughter, especially since, due to the manner he left them and his wife's resulting bitterness, he cannot visit the living on Dia de los Muertos and is slowly being forgotten (which, in the Land of the Dead, means disappearing from existence). This gets even worse when he discovers that his death wasn't an accident, as he'd thought, but a murder by someone he thought was a friend. It's resolved when Miguel helps Hector's daughter remember him and pass that memory on to others, ensuring that Hector is remembered long enough to reunite with Coco after her death.
  • Emily, the titular Corpse Bride, becomes depressed when she learns that her unwitting groom Victor never intended to marry her and already had a living fiancée, Victoria. The song "Tears to Shed" is about how she feels inferior to Victoria due to being deceased and laments that Victor couldn't love her back because of that.
    "Perhaps he does belong with her... Little Miss Living, with her rosy cheeks and beating heart."
  • A certain short film shows an FPS protagonist who wakes up in Purgatory, with a "Welcome To..." film playing on a television. Several times, he shoots himself in the head to try to escape. On his last try, he shoots the TV first — and his gun clicks empty when he tries to off himself.
  • Rise of the Guardians: While Jack doesn't initially remember dying and gets some cool powers out of his death, he also can't be seen by the living until a child believes in him. As a result, he spends 300 years wandering alone before the events of the film and has a lot of angst over being invisible to children while the other Guardians are beloved.
  • Soul: This is how Joe makes it into the Great Before. Refusing to accept the fact that he's dead, he attempts to escape, only to accidentally wind up in the Great Before. He then spends a decent amount of the film time trying to get back to his body from said area. Luckily, it turned out to only be a Near-Death Experience for him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Adam and Barbara in Beetlejuice experience quite a lot of this after they figure out they are dead. They panic when they notice they can't feel pain or be seen in mirrors, though they calm down a little when they realize they will be able to stay in their house together forever. Then a living family moves in who want to change everything about the house...
  • This is a major theme in Ghost (1990). After main character Sam Wheat is killed in a mugging, he has the opportunity to move on to the next world, but can't bring himself to leave his beloved girlfriend Molly. Later, Sam meets another spirit on the subway (known only as "The Subway Ghost") who also chose to remain on Earth—but his anger and self-loathing have left him a miserable monster incapable of finding peace. At the end of the film, Sam ensures Molly's safety, comes to terms with his death, and finally passes into Heaven.
  • In The Haunted Mansion (2003), Master Gracey's distress and sorrow over the suicide of his fiancée Elizabeth create a curse on the titular mansion, binding 999 souls to it—they can't move on until he does, and they're all miserable for it. When the Evers family—including Sarah, who's a dead ringer for Elizabeth—shows up, Gracey thinks that she's been reincarnated to finally join him at the altar, which will lift the spell. It's eventually revealed that Ramsley the butler is the true source of the curse: he murdered Elizabeth, who was Black and impoverished, because he felt that Gracey was abandoning his heritage (and betraying his race) by marrying her. When Ramsley is defeated, the real Elizabeth manifests, thanks the Evers family for revealing the truth, and reunites with Gracey, which breaks the spell and allows all of the ghosts to finally ascend to Heaven.
  • In Jacob's Ladder, a Vietnam war veteran is pursued by monsters and demonic entities. Eventually it is revealed that he never made it out of Vietnam, and the monsters symbolize his fear of death and unwillingness to accept that he has died.
  • In Just Like Heaven, David's new apartment is being haunted by the woman who used to live there, who only he can see. After a number of pop-up visits, where she accuses David of trespassing in her apartment, David manages to confront her and try to get her to realize she is dead so she can move on. Despite not remembering her name or what she does during the day, she denies that she's dead... until she looks down and sees she is standing in the middle of her dining room table. Subverted when it later turns out Elizabeth was only in a coma, so she was right not to assume she was dead.
  • In The Others (2001), it turns out that all the main characters (Grace Stewart, her children, and three servants) were Dead All Along; it was difficult for the Stewarts to accept this, but once they did, it allowed them to overcome their family issues. Despite this, one of the servants (the girl called Lydia) went mute as a result of this difficulty when she realized that she was dead.
  • Passengers (2008) is about a grief counselor helping a group of passengers who survived a plane crash. At the end, it turns out that they didn't really survive, and all of them (including the grief counselor, who was also on the plane) are in the afterlife. Once they accept it, they can move on.
  • The Sixth Sense: Malcolm Crowe examines himself, finally notices his forgotten gunshot wound, and slumps against the wall, visibly shaken by the conclusion he's drawn from this and other clues. He didn't survive getting shot in the gut at the beginning of the movie after all. He's been a ghost the whole time he was talking to Cole Sear.

  • Beloved: If Beloved truly is Sethe's daughter who she killed as a baby, her sadness and anger about her fate is this; she feels horrible about being separated from her mother and trapped in a horrible Mind Screw afterlife.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted for the most part, as the narration explains that since the dead people very quickly realize by looking down at their own body, there's a sense of relief that "the other cosmic shoe had dropped". That, and without a brain and glands, they don't really have the emotions to feel anything, and most fade away to... somewhere.
    • At the end of Small Gods, Vorbis is revealed to have spent nearly a hundred years in "the desert", a place where some souls are seen to go for Judgement (according to Death) because he was afraid to go on.
      • In Going Postal a Golem ends up in "the desert". When 'he' asks Death if there were any more orders (with the golems being a fantasy version of Asimov's robots), and receives a "No" for an answer, he then decides to stay for a while instead of moving on, since it was finally a chance to rest.
  • The Divine Comedy: The souls of the dead who are about to be taken by Charon across the River Acheron into hell experience this as soon as they find out where they're going—and up until the moment they find out, they're actually glad to be there! In fact, Virgil tells Dante that the shock is an intentional part of their torment, qualifying this as an Invoked Trope!
  • In Elsewhere by William Peter Blatty, the protagonists arrive at a supposedly haunted house on an island to investigate the haunting. At the end, they discover that they all died in a shipwreck on their way to the island, and that they were the ghosts who haunted the house. This comes as a really heartbreaking revelation to them, and they understand that they've been on the island for four years, unwilling to accept the truth (mostly due to Mortality Phobia) and reliving the same events over and over. However, eventually they accept it, finding peace and happiness.
  • In the last book of The Saga of Darren Shan, Darren dies to prevent his destiny of becoming the evil Lord of the Shadows, and goes to the Lake of Souls, a semi-purgatory, semi-staying-behind-as-a-ghost state where he can do nothing but go over his regrets. Which are... 1. "I wish I'd never become a vampire,"; 2. "I wish I'd been a better Vampire Prince, followed Kurda's example more and tried more for peace instead of going along with this war."; 3. "I wish I'd never become a vampire,"; 4. "I wish I'd gotten to stay human instead of ever becoming a vampire.";... you get the picture.
  • Elsewhere is about a fifteen-year-old girl, Liz, who dies after being hit by a car and gets sent to the afterlife, Elsewhere. In Elsewhere you can watch back on earth through binoculars, so for the first few months, Liz becomes obsessed with watching her family. She later realizes she can't spend the rest of her time there doing this and things start to improve after she gets a job and meets a guy named Owen(Who's physically 17 at the time Liz meets him) but after Owen's wife Emily dies herself and comes to Elsewhere it causes Owen and Liz's romantic relationship to fall apart. Liz hits her Despair Event Horizon and volunteers to go back to Earth, even though it would mean she lost all her memories of what she was before and was reincarnated. She regrets this at the last second and manages to swim back to Elsewhere, where she then continues to live a much happier afterlife having worked through her issues about her early death.
  • Warrior Cats: Flametail, in the afterlife of StarClan, is upset about dying, and particularly about how he got lured into the Dark Forest after his death and was nearly killed again and permanently. He takes this out on Jayfeather, the cat who failed to save him, and nearly lets Jayfeather die himself before having a change of heart.
  • Willa by Stephen King is about a number of passengers who are waiting for the next train to pick them up after an apparent train wreck. In fact, all of them are ghosts who died in the wreck; the main character David and his fiancée Willa both accept this, while all the others prefer to stay in denial.

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Horror Story: Murder House: Because the Murder House keeps the spirits of anyone who died on its grounds Barred from the Afterlife, there's quite a bit of this. In particular, Violet attempts to kill herself by overdose but appears to survive the attempt, with Tate forcing her to throw up the drugs. Episodes later, Violet finds while trying to run from Tate that she keeps ending up back in the house. To explain, Tate shows Violet her rotting body, hidden in a crawl space - while she threw up some of the drugs, she had taken too many for it to help. This caused Violet to break down crying.
  • Ghosts (UK): We get to see Julian's reaction to his death during flashbacks in the episode "A Lot to Take In" and it's not pretty. Basically, he initially doesn't accept the fact that he's dead and attempts to leave the mansion at least a hundred times despite the fact that he can no longer leave. He eventually accepts it at the end of the flashbacks.
  • Ghost Whisperer: Because the show involves Melinda helping ghosts to cross over and resolve Unfinished Business, with some of them not realizing they are dead, grief from the ghosts about their deaths is fairly common.
    • In the Season 1 finale, Melinda discovers that a plane crash is about to occur through the ghosts of the already-dead crew. When her friend Andrea finds out the plane took off from where her brother was supposed to leave that day, Andrea rushes to see if he already made it home. After the plane crashes in town, Melinda tries to tell Andrea something and Andrea, dreading that it's news of her brother's ghost, refuses to hear it. Her brother finally shows up, alive... and walks straight past Andrea to hug Melinda. While her brother had taken a later flight, Andrea's car was in the path of the crash and she died. The shock was so great that, for a split second, Andrea wished she was alive in place of her brother.
    Andrea: (crying) This can't be happening. I'm falling in love with a poet. It's my brother's birthday.
  • In the first episode of The Good Place, our protagonist finds herself in a generic but comfortable waiting room, complete with a reassuring banner that everything is fine. She then has an interview with "Michael", who reveals she has died and gone to "the good place." She takes a few moments to adjust to this information.
  • Played With in The Haunting of Bly Manor. The ghosts technically aren't in an afterlife; they are merely trapped at Bly until they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence at the end. However, being dead is portrayed as so lonely and despairing that Peter tricks Rebecca into committing suicide so they can be Together in Death. Peter and Rebecca then plan to possess Flora and Miles so they can be alive again.
  • The last season of Lost has a parallel "flash sideways" storyline, in which the plane crash never happened, and the characters are living their normal everyday lives. At the end, it is revealed that the "flash sideways" world is actually the afterlife, and the characters all went there after their deaths. Most of them accept this quite easily, but Jack has a real psychological breakdown upon realization and has to be comforted by his father.
  • Lucifer (2016): Dan winds up in Hell after dying in Season 5. Lucifer tries to make things as nice as possible for him, even going so far as to order the demons not to torture him, but Dan still can't leave after being there for thousands of years. It turns out the issue is that he feels he wasn't a good enough father to his daughter Trixie, and that guilt is keeping him from moving on to Heaven.
  • The short-lived series Night Visions had a variation in the episode "If A Tree Falls..." Three college students get into a car accident and drown—but they discover that since no one witnessed their deaths, they're somehow still allowed to be alive (and immortal at that), so long as no one ever learns the truth by seeing their bodies. Two of them are fine with the arrangement, but the third has strong religious and moral convictions that cause him to crack. He returns to the scene of the accident with the intention of only releasing his own body to be found, which will allow him to pass into the next world. In a Cruel Twist Ending, though, he only manages to free his friends' corpses (which, upon being seen, cause the friends to fade into nothingness) before the car they all died in tumbles to the bottom of the lake with his own body still trapped inside, where it will never be found or recovered, leaving him permanently stuck on Earth with no chance of escape.
  • Red Dwarf: Played With. Rimmer is not a traditional ghost (he's more of a Virtual Ghost) but nonetheless, one of his many hang-ups is the fact that he is now, as he puts it, a "stiffie". One of his goals early on is to get himself another body and he's pleased when he is (somehow) brought back to life (briefly) in "Timeslides".
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Mortal Coil", Neelix is killed in an accident, but Seven is able to bring him back to life about 16 hours later with Borg technology. The problem for Neelix is, he expected to meet his dead family in the afterlife, but instead he experienced nothing. This nearly drives him to suicide.
  • Supernatural:
    • Many of the entities hunted by Sam and Dean are experiencing this, as ghosts are trapped in the veil between life and death and demons are former human souls tortured in Hell to the point they became demonic. In early Season 2, Dean himself becomes trapped in the veil and a grim reaper warns him that if he doesn't "move on" he will go mad like the angry spirits he hunts. He's revived, but only through his father's deal with a demon.
    • Between Seasons 3 and 4, Dean is killed by hellhounds and goes to Hell, where he is tortured for three decades, until he breaks and agrees to become a torturer.
    • In Season 7, Bobby dies but sticks around as a ghost in order to help Sam and Dean take down the Leviathans. Unfortunately, he starts to become an angry spirit so he asks Sam and Dean to help him move on. Later, we see him in Heaven.
    • In Season 5, Sam and Dean are killed by fellow hunters and find themselves in Heaven, where human souls relive their happiest memories. Dean relives moments with Sam and his mother, where he took care of them but then is horrified to realize Sam only relives moments where he escaped his family.
    • In Season 13, Castiel dies and is sent to The Empty, where angels and demons sleep for all eternity. However, thanks to Jack, Castiel wakes up in the void and enrages The Empty, which is a sentient being.

    Puppet Shows 

  • Beetlejuice:
    • The musical version of the film, on top of the Adam and Barbara plot, has the song "What I Know Now," which feature a number of denizens of the afterlife regretting how they recklessly lost or took their own lives, in order to get Lydia to not give up on her own.
    If I knew then
    What I know now
    I would've laughed and danced
    And lanced every sacred cow
    I thought I knew
    But I was wrong
    'Cause life is short
    But death is super long.
    • "What I Know Now" itself replaced a song from the Washington, DC tryouts titled "Everything is Kinda Meh", which had a deceased boy band called Boy Inferno dryly bringing up that they died in a plane crash and that the Netherworld is a rather uneventful afterlife.
    Cause everything is meh (Yo, yo, everything is meh)
    Fun of any kind is rare (There is no fun)
    No one's visited the sights of the Netherworld's delights
    No, not even on a dare (There are no delights)
    No one here is motivated, it's like we're heavily sedated
    Never die or never live, we're all out of fucks to give
    Everything is kinda meh (Everything is kinda meh)
    • Beetlejuice himself becomes progressively more and more frustrated with his situation as the story progresses, especially compared to previous adaptations. Unlike in the film, he directly sets in motion the events that lead to his green-card marriage with Lydia (which will revive him) after realizing that he'll only ever be truly happy if he's human and unrestricted by death.
  • Inverted in Jasper in Deadland - the corpses in Deadland are fine with the fact that they're dead, and openly celebrate having nothing to lose. The only people who seem really horrified with being dead are Jasper and Agnes, and even they admit their lives in the Living World were arguably worse than in Deadland.
  • Puffs the Play: Wayne Hopkins, like Harry Potter in the series this show parodies, ends up talking to "Headmaster" (the Dumbledore expy) after he dies in battle. Unlike Potter, Wayne's death is permanent and he didn't go willingly. While he feels his life and death was meaningless, snuffed out just as things were looking up, Headmaster assures Wayne that he was the hero in his own life and to the people who cared about him, who will make sure he is remembered.
    Wayne: What was even the point? I won't be remembered for anything. No one will know my name. I'm just some unnamed dead kid at a school battle...Potter's battle.

    Video Games 
  • In Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, Rei (aka Philei or Niko) suffers from this near the end of the story. It's not so much that she's scared of death, but she wonders what the purpose of her life was when it seemed to amount to nothing. She goes on to say that she had nothing (not her health, her hair, her friends, or her freedom), and even her mother abandoned her to die alone in the hospital. At that point, she wonders why she even existed at all. This is why she's a Big Eater, as it's a distraction from the reality that she's dead and doesn't need to eat.

    Web Comics 
  • Paranatural: PJ frequently sulks about having died and become a ghost, as he wants to be a hero, but believes it can't happen since heroes don't die before the story starts.

    Web Video 
  • Edgar Allan Poe's Murder Mystery Dinner Party: In the Epilogue, Annabel Lee expresses some angst over her new ghost status, which is quickly subverted by Lenore.
    Annabel: Do you ever get used to it? The idea of not being alive? That you'll just watch those you love die and remain forever in these dusty halls?
    Lenore: ... Supes dark, Anna Banana.

    Western Animation 
  • House of Mouse: In the short "How to Haunt a House", Goofy becomes a ghost (but only temporarily) and complains "I'm not ready to be dearly departed!".
  • In the South Park episode "Dead Celebrities", Ike begins seeing the ghosts of dead celebrities. It turns out it's because the celebrities have been in Purgatory for months since Michael Jackson refuses to believe he's dead. After Jackson's ghost possesses Ike, the boys are forced to help him move on by giving him what he wanted in life; having a childhood, being white, and being a girl. They accomplish this by enrolling him in a child beauty pageant. After Ike wins, Jackson is able to move on properly.