I took a seminar on death - a whole semester of talking about that subject. Actually, it was quite interesting and educational, and I'm very glad I took that course. Of course, my lack of knowledge regarding the Bible was a problem at times, since we read several excerpts from that text.
What sorts of points would I like to make here regarding death? Mostly trivial and obvious statements, but ones that we at times forget.
Death is - really - only something we can use when talking about people, (other) animals, and plants. Death is something at happens to things that are alive. In all other uses of the term, death is a metaphor and/or analogy.
We like, for example, to apply the term death to such concepts as culture, nation, dreams, etc.
Death cannot be represented. We can represent dying, and the dead. But that moment - is it a moment? - when a being passes from life to death, that is, the moment of death, and hence death itself, is something outside the realm of representation. You die only once, and you don't come back to talk about it.
The skeleton is not a representation of death; it is often a representation of a dead body, and often a symbol of death, and/or an image used to foreshadow impending death, but it is not a representation of that moment.
Lessing and Herder both wrote on the topic of how the "ancients" (Die Alten) represented death; both pointed out that it was not the skeleton that was used for this purpose. Lessing argued that the little figure of the genius (German term taken from the Latin, not common usage of "super intelligent" and such, but the cupid-like figure) was used, and that two such figures, one Sleep and one Death, were the means of representation. By way of analogy, death is like sleep, only you do not awaken from it; hence death is "eternal sleep" - and the brother of Sleep was Death, or so says Lessing. Herder successfully countered Lessings argument, not so much as to negate Lessing's work completely, but to clarify, historically contextualize, and refine.
Death as we see it as a moment, a transitional point, is not "the reality", of course - once you "die", it can take all the cells in your body quite of bit of time to completely stop "living". Then again, the individual is a fiction anyway.
It interests me the ways in which death can be used. For example, look at all the people who are willing to die for a cause - to die for a nation, for example. When it comes to dying for a nation, the problem is, of course, that the nation is a construct. Notice that in various memorials to dead soldiers, we usually deal with the unknown soldier - not a specific, well-identified individual. Only by being unknown can this figure transcend his/her (usually his) individuality an in some way signify the nation's sacrifice.
Then there is the question of how death is seen. Is it a process? A journey? A single event? Do you go to death, or does it come for you. I'll give a few quick points for thought.
The Reaper figure comes and literally harvests you - hence the figure of the Reaper, coming to reap what has been sewn. He is a harvester.
We also have the Angel of Death - such an angel brings word - angels are often messagers. They bring tidings (good and bad) from "the powers that be". When the Angel of Death comes, you go along - you are not harvested, but your time is up, nonetheless.
However, we have many representations of death as a journey. One dies, and then is set upon a barge, a boat, and sent down the river, symbolizing the trip down the River Styx, for example.
Along with this journey metaphor, when a Rom (Gypsy - Rom is used primarily to refer to Eastern European Gypsies) dies, on ritual is to burn his/her belongings and house - thus breaking the dead's ties with this world and allowing them to continue on their proper journey (if such ties are not broken, as is shown in folklore, the dead can return as the undead, such as in the form of a vampire).