The Fear of Death

by M-Gillies

Try not to spend all your time worrying about death while your life passes by.

When I die, I’m going to dance first in all the galaxies, I’m going to play and dance and sing.”
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Everyone does it.

Friends, family, neighbors and even the pet goldfish, especially the pet goldfish.

Surprisingly, it’s quite popular and has been for over a billion years, unless you’re a creationist, then it’s only been happening for roughly 6,000 years. But that doesn’t mean anything. This peculiar phenomenon doesn’t seem to be going out of style or losing momentum with its growing cult-following. In fact, it’s as popular as ever. Rich and famous, adult and the young, presidents, popes, martyrs and saints to be, they’ve done it, they’re doing it and despite their best efforts, everyone eventually ends up taking that inconvenient voyage to the grave after that promotion to death.

Death, such an ugly word for some. No one talks about their imminent death. Death is that taboo most people tuck it under the rug and pretend it isn’t there. Death is shunned. Death is a leper. Death is “he-who-shall-not-be-named”. Death, well it happens, whether we try to ignore it or not. One day, we all end up assuming room temperature; taking the dirt nap; fertilizing the lawn; and shuffling off this mortal coil

Unlike most things in life, death, that cumbersome and inconvenient phenomenon, isn’t picky, it doesn’t discriminate between who lives and who dies. There is no age cap and no death quota to meet per month, everyone dies. It’s that cessation of what once was, the last taboo, the universal goodbye, the big sleep. Though the subject of death makes for lousy pillow-talk, it comes up time and time again as the inescapable, unforeseeable and most foolproof certainty in life, yet, death, dying and the cessation of living is still a closeted subject to talk about. Much in the same vain that people don’t like talking about sex, death has forever been stamped with the blemish of being a topic no one should ever speak of.

But why is it that death, a phenomenon which has been occurring for years, is such a topic that the very notion of its mention makes people uncomfortable?

For many people, there is an unnecessary fear of death, sometimes a full-blown thanatophobia, and while we may be able to delay it, we cannot escape it.

“It is difficult to accept death in this society because it is unfamiliar,” Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote in her book Death: The Final Stage of Growth.

By unfamiliar, as a society, no one has really achieved dying and coming back to life to report on their experiences. Instead, we’ve been left with an enormous mystery of “what happens next and where does the soul go?” It’s an unanswered enigma which has petrified and perplexed many. So much so that Kubler-Ross spoke of how we’ve sheltered children from death and dying, thinking we are protecting them from harm, but in essence we’ve deprived them of the experience, of accepting it as a natural course in human life, further shrouding the subject in its legendary taboo.

“If we can learn to view death from a different perspective, to reintroduce it into our lives so that it comes not as a dreaded stranger, but as an expected companion to our life, then we can also learn to live our lives with meaning, with full appreciation of our finiteness,” Kubler-Ross wrote.

Even Epicurus expressed his philosophical opinions on the matter by saying, “Death, the most frightening of bad things, is nothing to us; since when we exist death is not present, and when death is present, then we do not exist.”

Yet, this common topic of speculation and frequent anxiety remains the focal point of apprehension.

“For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force,” Kubler-Ross said. “The highest values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.”

Death has always been attributed to the cessation of the connection between our mind and our body, and when our subtle consciousness finally leaves the body. It is also considered a time when the soul transcends to a higher level of existences; returns to a euphoric plain; or is recycled into a karmic being through reincarnation. However, despite being fully aware of the religious, spiritual and scientific aspects of dying, there are still many people who are unwilling and unaccepting of the notion of death.

With material possession, reputation, popularity and the pleasure of the senses dominating our sense of devotion, society has grown preoccupied with the concerns of this life, that when the time of death actually does occur, we’re taken by surprise and left completely unprepared.

While thanatophobia and the fear of death affects millions of people worldwide, there are suggestions for overcoming the fear of death which include:

1. Understanding that death is part of the cycle of life, people are born, they live, they age and they eventually die as more people are born. Everyone shares a common fear of the unknown, but it is important to remember that the only way to conquer our fears is by challenging them.

2. Some people may worry that they’ll be forgotten, but it’s important to remember that just because someone has died, doesn’t mean that the memories of that person will ever disappear. As people pass on, it doesn’t mean that they have disappear into oblivion, many people will remember the person they knew and will be able to share their memories with others who were close to that person.

3. As much as people fear death, it is important to talk to someone about the subject. This is a good way of communicating and expressing your anxieties. Many people can relate to the fear of death, and while the subject is often ignored, the fear can be heightened exponentially when it doesn’t have to be. Communication about a particular subject opens up the opportunity to learn more of the subject and determine the root of the anxiety.

4. Many times the axiom “live life to the fullest and cherish everyday like it’s your last” are used to express feelings toward death. These expressions give people a sense of drive and motivation to enjoy life. While we can indulge in the pleasures of everything life has to offer, it’s not helpful to pretend death doesn’t happen, but living our life to the fullest is better experienced from the understanding of knowing one’s own mortality.

5. The average lifespan in most developed countries is 75 years and many people are known to live longer. Accepting death as a rite of passage and a normal phenomenon in a person’s life is a way of coming to terms with fears and the realization that at some point everyone dies.

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth, and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had,” said Kubler-Ross.

Read more:

Fear of Death | Dealing with Fear

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