To fear death is to fear our own mortality; it is to see before us an end to the life that pulses within us. To fear death, must then surely be to love life so achingly much that we cannot bear to leave it behind, pulsing on without us?
In fact, you might find that a fear of death has little to do with life or death at all.
At the root of a fear of death, one might find in its place a more specific terror lurking;
perhaps it is a fear of the unknown, perhaps it is the anxiety of the circumstances surrounding death and whether or not there is suffering, perhaps it is the threat of some terrible looming punishment that awaits across the threshold for all the trespasses your weary soul has committed on Earth. Or maybe it is simply the fear of ceasing to exist.
To be curious about the unknown is human, and an appropriate level of concern surrounding that which is unknown to us has been crucial to our species’ survival. However, an acceptance of the inevitability of encountering the ‘unknown’ and thus a subsequent ability to deal with and process this idea, is vital to the development of a healthy psyche; a resilient spirit.
Of course, much of the anxiety surrounding death is inextricably linked to the way in which it occurs. We do not want to die painfully, struggle for breath, or suffer in our final moments of life. Some of us wish that we might live to old age and slip peacefully into the night, while others fear that the process of ageing will not only rob them of their dignity and quality of life, but ultimately make them hyper aware of their own mortality. Nobody wants to be in pain or struggle or suffer, especially in those last minutes… but we can do no more to prevent that physical or emotional suffering than we can to prevent it at any other time in our life. In the end, all we can do is live in the now – whatever that looks like for us – with a sense of gratitude and hope.
For those who fear some burning hell, the problem is more complex. For them, the fear of death is ultimately the desire to prolong life so that they might avoid what comes afterward – for they are certain there is an ‘afterward’. In many ways, they might fear the notion of immortality more than mortality. Much of the anxiety around death in religion can be salved by seeking guidance from within one’s own faith; finding a way to honour the religion you ascribe to without being paralysed by the fear of death.
And if you find yourself shaking with the thought that life will go on eternally without you, that it is you – a finite being within it – that will one day cease to exist, then you must shake instead with gratitude and presence; take the terror of knowing your days are limited, and use it to savour each moment to make it last its own little eternity.
After all, we will all die. Yet, how wonderful it is… that we all get to live.