This is where it begins and ends. With the primitive cultures, they saw death and rebirth in the seasons. For the cultures of the Agricultural age, it was all about the crops. The death of their plants produced the seeds, fruits and vegetables that sustained them for another season.
The Egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife. A Pharaoh would spend his life making tombs and monuments to please the gods and ensure his posterity. A thirty foot tall statue would certainly make future generations remember them, until a succeeding Pharaoh disagreed with his policies and struck his name from all the official records.
In the Mystery School traditions, this is a very present principle. It's not about what may happen in an afterlife, or what could happen to the food supply. It's about what happens through the course of anybody's life. When a young person takes their first steps into a career or higher education, much of what that person was comes to an end. Much of the personality remains, but it has to mature, and grow into a state that's appropriate to an adults life.
When I became a parent, I had to lose a lot of my selfishness. Nothing obnoxious, but I would spend my days eating donuts and watching Next Generation and playing a computer game. Maybe throwing a little writing or guitar playing into the day. Now, I do diapers and pony-tails and play “Gonna-Get-You!” (it's really simple. She runs until I grab her up, then she giggles. I'm sure our games will get more sophisticated with time.)
It's not about what's occurred in history, it's about what's happened in our own lives every few years. We have to end former versions of ourselves, and begin anew. Grasping this philosophy can make the “death” phases easier to bear, knowing that a job loss or empty nest (or just a deep funk that doesn't seem to have any real cause) is a necessary part of the cycle.