There are themes in life that everyone goes through at one point or another. These universal themes, however, are experienced in different orders. As in In the Name of the Father, sometimes it takes the death of a loved one to bring meaning to one's life. In the case of The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, though, it is his own death that is dealt with.
Ivan lived a pleasant life, attending law school, being in the company of high society. He did some things that he questioned at first, for the acts made him feel a bit disgraceful. He saw that the same acts did not bother other men, and therefore put them out of his mind. He never questioned himself why these acts were distasteful, or why these men weren't hounded by their inner voices of shame. He went along in life not taking anything from it to learn and to prosper as a good person.
After graduating law school, he sowed "his wild oats", as Tolstoy puts it, among an aristocratic society. He moved up in rank and earned a raise in salary. This new power, although not taken advantage of, was accessible in Ilyitch's eyes, and hence the mere thought of corruption existed as a tool for possible future use. He married, not because of love, but because he felt it would be an asset to him. This lack of self value is an example of ignorance that produces a person with no meaning in life.
He had some children, and during his wife's pregnancy there were times that she grew irritable. Ivan couldn't deal with these times and instead of finding why she was in such a state he withdrew himself from his responsibility as a husband into his office life. He found...