Fear of Death

I didn’t use to fear death, but I find that now I do, a bit. So what is it about death that scares us so.

I asked some friends in my Applied Humanism discussion group on LinkedIn to discuss the fear of death (see https://www.linkedin.com/grp/home?gid=4085072). Here are some of their comments.

What scares you the most about death?

From Nirmal: “No one ever experiences DEATH..it’s only the fear of permanent disconnect from loved ones...that brings paranoia.”

From Suellen: “Dying without having fully lived. "Having fully lived", of course, is individually defined. For me it means having flaked out on opportunities for dumb reasons - e.g. laziness.”

From Steve: “I fear dying to the extent that I'm not fond of pain, and dying is sometimes painful. ... But I think immortality is overrated. How much fun could it be if you have to schlep a century-plus-old body around?”

From Josh: “Other people's. The closer to me emotionally, the scarier. ... I don't want others to die and so I’ll try not to die. Particularly not to die stupidly, unnecessarily, by not going to a doctor or taking a silly risk.”

My own fear of death

Fear of death for me has a couple of dimensions. My own death isn’t very frightening to me. I figure I won’t know I’ve died so it doesn’t really matter. But in recent years, having almost died from a gangrenous gallbladder, I can say what upset me most was the thought that I would not get to see my son grow up and I worried about how he and my husband would cope without me.

The other side of my fear of death has to do with the death of others. On the one hand, I know I will be able to cope. I’ve lost people I’ve loved and cared about several times in my life. I’m not a newbie to grief. But I still don’t want to lose anyone and not see them again.

My dad died recently and we had him cremated. And I found myself really upset about that. Not because I have any problem with cremation, but because I realized, once his body is gone, he’s REALLY not coming back.  That’s it. Once his body is gone, he’s not just dead, he’s really and truly dead and not coming back.  It’s heartbreaking when you realize the finality of death.

Humanism and how it helps us cope with the fear of death.

Obviously I’m a Humanist and I don’t believe in magic or supernaturalism so my response to my dad’s cremation surprised me. Did I really think he was going to magically resurrect and suddenly not be dead? Intellectually? No. But I apparently was still in a bit of denial about the reality of his death and was holding onto some hope there.  That’s normal and to be expected.

For me, a humanistic approach to death is a realistic one. The sooner I come to terms with the finality of the loss, the sooner I can grieve and get through the pain that is grief.

What scares me isn’t the grief. That I can handle. It’s the anticipatory fear – will I be able to cope without this person in my life. A person I’ve relied on to help me and to guide me and support me.

Coping through Music

The day I came to terms with my dad’s cremation I watched the movie “Into the Woods.” I’m a huge Sondheim fan and my dad loved this show too. The end of the movie had me bawling.  There are two songs that go back to back. You are Not Alone – about kids who lose their parents and then the you are not alone where the dead wife as a ghost supports her surviving husband, telling him – sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods. But you are not alone.

The message is really powerful and really consistent with what I experienced after my dad died. Other people have been through this and the only thing that makes it bearable is being there for each other.

Here are the segments – enjoy and have a good cry.

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