How do you cope with a fear of death?
Our elder looks to philosophers, theologians and William Shakespeare to provide some perspective.
Hi, I hope this isn’t too deep/dark of a topic to discuss here, but it’s something that’s been bothering me for two years now. I’m so afraid of dying. I’m 21 now, but I have a fear of dying young, or really just a fear of dying in general whether that’s now, or 80 years from now. The fear showed up after a kid from my school died when he was only 16. I know that therapy is probably what I need in this situation, but I guess what I’d like to know from you is if you’ve ever feared death and if yes how you cope with it, and if no then why don’t you fear it? I want to get over this anxiety so badly. Thank you for any kind words that you can provide.
Thank you for reaching out to us. I’ll try to offer some useful thoughts.
The questions you’ve raised have been discussed for, literally, thousands of years and will, likely, continue to be talked about by scientists, philosophers, and theologians as long as our species exists, so your questions have placed you in some pretty good company.
Yes, I have feared death. I’m of an age where many of my old friends have died and I have a number of health issues that make the odds of me still being around five or ten years from now pretty slim. It’s been a while though, since I actually feared death. It was when I was a wartime military flier. In the beginning, every time we took off on a mission it was with the sense that we might not make it back. I flew three to four times every week and the associated fear was making life very difficult. I finally came to the conclusion that there was no point in wasting time worrying about an event that might or might not happen and spoil whatever time I did have left. That conclusion actually made me appreciate every moment of life I had and enjoy those moments to the fullest. I could die tomorrow, next week, or in a year or two but that doesn’t prevent me from fully enjoying the taste of a good wine, the sunset on the mountains, or the love of friends and family – the possibility makes me enjoy them even more.
The stuff that most people worry about are things like pain, failure, embarrassment, sadness, loneliness, discomfort, and so on. I worry, a lot, about impending dental appointments because I know that, at best, they’re going to be uncomfortable and expensive, at worst, painful and very expensive. Death offers none of those experiences because it is – to the best of my understanding – not an experience but an absence of experience. There is nothing to fear about a non experience. If you were definitely not going to get a tooth pulled next week, it wouldn’t make any sense to worry today about getting a tooth pulled in a few days, would it?
In my (obviously inexperienced) opinion, death puts us into whatever state we were in prior to our conception and birth. Theologians have been arguing about that for centuries and have come up with a wide variety of scenarios that have given comfort to many. That’s something you could discuss with a minister of Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic or other faiths or, better still, with a few of them. They’ll each have their own perspective. You might find some answers there or come up with your own take on the subject. In terms of whether or not death is to be feared I think that William Shakespeare put it best: “Cowards die many times before their death. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” (Julius Caesar).
I hope I’ve given a useful perspective that will help you further explore a few of the millions of words that have been written on the subject. I’m very grateful for the chance you’ve given me to offer my own opinion, and that you’ve used the Elder Wisdom Circle for some help on such an enormously important question.
Article #: 475733