Episode 31: Facing Our Fear of Death
Updated: Jan 31
Death is something that we all, sooner or later, have to face - especially when we or a loved one are on an end of life journey. To some extent, we are all scared of death – whether it be the thought of our own death or the fear that someone we love might pass away. But how do we respond to this fear of the inevitable? Why are some of us more afraid than others? And what is it, exactly, that scares us about death?
In this episode, Mitch discusses the anxiety we have related to death and provides suggestions on how to address it.
"Most of us who fear death, fear not only the unknown, but we fear the known - the separation from what we know and are comfortable with. This reaction is way more common than you might think, even among those who are religious, and otherwise profess a strong faith in afterlife filled with heaven and love and joy, and light."
Welcome to another episode of Living With Hospice. I'm Mitch Ware, and it's my pleasure to be your host today. Come on in, grab some coffee or juice, pull up a chair and let's chat.
I want to remind you though, I'm not a doctor, I don't give medical advice. I'm not a nurse. I'm not a social worker. I do have a lot of experience with hospice care, death and dying. As I've been both a caregiver and a volunteer for hospice. For many years, I've seen hospice and end of life care from the patient's perspective, from the caregivers perspective. And of course, the hospice agencies perspective, I've pretty much seen it all, or nearly all in these experiences. So the information I share in this podcast is from my own experience with hospice and end of life journeys in general.
Let me ask you this. Are you afraid of dying? Seriously? Are you afraid of death? Most everyone. Some more than others. Why is that? Is it something that we're taught? Or is it something that grew organically in us as we grew up? What is this fear and why do I have it? The fear of death or mortality is a form of anxiety characterized by a fear of one's own death, or the process of dying. Some of us are afraid of death, but more afraid of the process of dying. Hence, this is commonly referred to as death anxiety.
Death has been one of the largest mysteries since the beginning of time. The fear of death is as old as mankind itself, the threat of death has been used to scare us and manipulate us into behaviors that well, we just otherwise wouldn't partake in. And of course, we've been bombarded by movies and books and all sorts of things. We often fear of what we don't understand, especially if it's been drilled into us from an authority figure somewhere in our life. And again, from the movies, the TV shows, the books, the stories, we've been told that, well, death is a bad thing and dying is a bad thing and it's to be avoided at all costs.
Let me tell you something. Nope. What's the old saying, nobody gets out of here alive? Well, unfortunately, that's true.
I recall when I was four years old, we lived only two houses down from this wonderful Elementary School. Every summer, the kids in our neighborhood would get up and after breakfast, go to the playground. And we'd play all morning until our moms came down and literally called for us to come home for lunch. I recall walking by the big double doors that were usually open in the summer and looking down that long, dark Hall inside. And looking back on it now it was the maintenance people in there, you know, doing summer chores, they strip the floors, those were linoleum floors. And, you know, they would strip the wax off, put new wax down, fix any broken doors or anything that needed to be repaired. That's what they did all summer long. But I remember walking by those big doors and looking down there, not really being able to see anything. And it was rather daunting for this little guy.
The following fall, it was my turn to start school. I was so excited to finally be able to be old enough to go to school. That first morning. I got up early. I had my breakfast. I went over to the school extra early. Those big old doors were open. And that long, dark hallway was looming.
I got scared. Actually. I got terrified. I ran home. And I hit in my bedroom. I recall my mom calling me by name say, "Mitch, where are you? We're going to be late for school. Come on to first day. Let's go." And I cried out. "I don't want to go mommy. It's dark. It's scary and I don't want to go. Please don't make me go. Please don't make me go." And she came into my room tried to assure me that was going to be okay. I wasn't buying any of that. So she literally picked me up about like a sack of potatoes threw me over his shoulder carried me kicking and screaming to the school.
I recall when we actually went through those big old dark doors and out of the bright summer sun and the hallway wasn't dark. And it smelled good in there. Someone was playing a piano or could hear it echoing down the hall. Some of the kids were singing. And I knew that song to it was the alphabet song, one of my favorites at the time.
So we proceeded to the kindergarten room down at the end of the hall, where there were all the other kids, my buddies were in there. There were plants in the windows and a real big aquarium with real fish in it swimming around another glass box with plants in this cool little painted little turtle muck around inside there. This room was amazing. And my mom let me down. And my teacher came over, and she was beautiful. And she was nice. And one of my buddies came over and asked me to come look at this snake, Mitch. It's really, it's really neat. Yep, there was a little garden snake and a little glass box filled in with grass plants and such. He goes, "Mitch, we get to feed it crickets and stuff. This is going to be neat." How cool was that? Well, truth be told, I never saw my mom leave. She knew I was in good hands with my new surroundings. And she slipped out and went home. And the teacher, Miss Miriam. Well, she was so nice. She played the ukulele insane with us. She smiled all the time. She made us feel welcome. We sat on our little rugs. And she told us stories.
Well, lunchtime came and my mom showed up at the door of my class. laughingly, she asked if I was coming home. In those days, you only went to kindergarten half days. And I was a morning kid. Soon after, my mom arrived, other kids from the neighborhood started arriving. They were the afternoon kids. And I asked my mom, if I could stay in kindergarten again this afternoon. Well, she laughed and assured me that it was time for me to come home. So off, we went, with a spring in our step and a smile as big as the sky on our faces.
And you know, friend, I see death like that.
On the outside limited perspective, death looks like that big old school did to me as a four year old with those big old doors in that long, dark, scary hallway. But then you pass through those doors, there is light, there are wonderful aromas, there's music, there's gorgeous flowers. And of course, there's Miss Miriam. Similarly, a place where we go in spirit form, which is our true form. And it's an amazing place, no sickness, no stress, the air is fresh and clean, and there is music. And I believe there's an eternal source of light in life in our God, the Creator of the universe.
But now, not everyone believes like I do. Some are not sure that God even exists or even that there is an afterlife. Some believe that we are reincarnated and returned to Earth in a different as a different person or a different form. Some believe that this life is all there is. And there's nothing after this. And I've heard people espouse each of those over these many years. Most of our patients that I've seen, believe in God and believe in heaven, and believe in an afterlife. But there have been a few that think that well, this is it. When I leave it's lights out. And that's all there is.
And I would often ask, so if there's nothing after this, then there is nothing to fear, right? And if there's if there is something, then we live on beyond this very short life? Our lives are very short inrespect to the timespan of all eternity. 82 years, 72 years, 75 years, whatever the average is, right now, depending if you're male or female, out of millions and trillions of years. That's pretty short. And in that respect, our life here is smaller than a, an itty bitty tiny baby ant on the face of the High Noon sun. Immeasurably small, unless we continue to come back as something else - over and over and over and over again. Again, one of life's biggest mysteries for most of us.
So how do we deal with fears of death and mortality? Well, there are several things you can do to work through your fears of death and mortality.
Start with making a list of your fears. Actually, write them down, give them to God, or the universe or whatever you believe in. Talk to your pastor or minister or spiritual counselor about them.
Some people, most people actually fill their lives with activities. So as not to think about their own impending death. They don't and won't talk about it. They won't let you talk about it. It's buried in the background. And it's not to be discussed at all. No excuses, no exceptions. Do you know somebody like that? I do. I get some of that when people ask how I spend my time. And I tell them, I work with hospice patients, and their responses almost immediately. Wow, whoa, okay. I couldn't do that. But thank you, you know, thanks. Thanks for doing that. That's awesome. The whole blocking out of death and dying is a good band aid approach, I guess for folks. But it doesn't solve the problem, guys, it, it just prolongs. The fears are still there, festering, and building and affecting everything in our life in stealing our joy. Let me say that in a shorter form, if you're afraid of death, you're afraid of your mortality. If you're afraid of dying, you're allowing these anxieties to steal your joy.
From where I sit, that is not a track I can suggest or recommend to anyone. Although many so called experts do they really do they say bury it, don't think about it. Instead, I suggest look at death as part of life. It's like going from that senior high graduation to adulthood, only better. There's no bills, there's no taxes, no sickness, no politics, a death is natural progression for us. Everyone is born, and every one of us good, bad, tall, short, small, big, redheaded, dark haired, blonde, it makes no difference. All of us are going to walk through those those big doors.
There are literally 1000s of writers that have shared their own remunerations and musings on the subject of death or mortality. And these writers run the gamut from religious leaders, to philosophers, to mystics, to mathematicians, all have built a magnificent library on the subject of the afterlife. Their works may not tell you with certainty what happens after you die. But they may help you tackle the equally important question of why are we here in how we should look at things and prepare for the next life.
Most of us who fear death, fear not only the unknown, but we fear the known, which is the fear of separation from our families and our friends. People who suffer from this fear often experience things like upset stomachs and a racing heartbeat, or, or just the mention of death, and they just start having anxiety attack. And sadly, this reaction is way more common than you might think, even among those who are religious, and otherwise profess a strong faith in afterlife filled with heaven and love and joy, and light.
And the root of that fear is the fear of the unknown, or the fear of separation from what we know and are comfortable with, you know, phobias like this can lead to a person feeling isolated, and avoiding contact with friends and families for extended periods of time. This is why many people just don't want to come and say goodbye to a loved one who is on an end of life journey. I know people who refuse to go to funerals, even if their own families, their own mothers or fathers, or even, they won't even make a quick appearance at a visitation event. Because they're afraid of thinking about death and dying, and their own mortality. That fear has a fancy name to it's called Necrophobia. Necrophobia refers to a very intense, often irrational fear people exhibit when confronted with dead things, such as remains of a deceased person, or maybe even an animal or an object we typically associate with death such as a casket or a coffin, a cemetery, a funeral home going, no anyone with this phobia? I'll bet you do. Sadly, it too is very common.
Other ways to deal with our fear of death and dying would be to talk to somebody about them. Reach out to your hospice counselor or chaplain, or there are special doulas or guides, counselors, if you will, who are trained and experienced in death and dying. And in hospice, we call those terms - transition
we can talk to them about our fears of death, anytime 24 seven, they'll take your call If you google fear of death counselor and you'll see a ton of options there, lots and lots of help there if you need it. And if you do that, make sure to read all of the reviews on a particular counselor that you select.Just like anything else in life, some are better than others. There are some excellent counselors out there, and I know a few. But like in everything these days, you just have to be careful.
And finally, check this out. Harboring some fear of death and dying, can be beneficial. It was in my life. You know, it motivates us to improve our health, you know, to behave in a safer way. Keep it under, you know, under 80 miles an hour on the expressway, to exercise to eat better, to just basically just stop all the negative behaviors like smoking and drinking too much. And eating the wrong things. By the way, you know, a knife and fork has killed more people in history of mankind than any of the other tools put together. And it's because of cholesterol and heart disease. And these are bad. These are bad habits in the fear of death, if you have a heart attack or a stroke, all of a sudden, what's that saying? You have a come to Jesus meeting with your family and the doctors. So the fear of death can be a beneficial thing in a situation like that. What we were before we were born, and what happens to us after we die, still remains a mystery.
So we revert to our religions. Some of us go to science for answers. And some of us have cultural influences to help us discern what we should think and feel. For example, do you know anyone that has had a near death experience? I know several people. One is a relative, she was clinically gone for over 15 minutes, almost 20 minutes. And she said she experienced this warm, comfortable, loving, joyous experience, she heard voices that she recognized voices of family members and friends that had passed on. she recalls that she was not afraid. And in fact, just the opposite. She was ready to stay. And then a voice told her there was another time. And she woke up in a triage room in a hospital. Do you know anybody with a story like that? I'll bet you do. There's lots of stories like that. And it is an interesting, they all have several things in common. These people experience peace, joy, love light, they smell wonderful things. They see wonderful things, things from this life, even like the smell of flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass, or maybe even grandma's homemade bread, just coming out of the oven. They hear familiar voices, some even see the faces or images of family. And some even have a family member come to them. And rather than welcoming, welcoming them in say, it's not your time. These experiences have been reported in every corner of the world for centuries, as long as we've been recording these things.
So why do we still fear death? What is to fear about death? It's the unknown. Is it a void? Or is it an afterlife in spirit realm that is filled with all things good? Or do we fear the separation from a familiar life with our families and friends?
Let me leave you with this little thought. Most of us will never be able to predict the hour of our death. yet. It comes for all of us. Like everything else in life, we can fear it. We can hide from it, we can block it out. We can just not think about or even let others remind us about it.
Or we can deal with it. We can discover what it is that we're afraid of and then deal with that fear. We have tons of resources at our beck and call to help us flesh out that which is scary or uncomfortable to us.
Then we can focus on living. Let me say that again. After we've done with these fears, then we can focus on living this time here short, we need to make the best of it. Focus on living, whether you're young, healthy or old, and on your deathbed, it makes no difference. Without the fear of death, you can start focusing on things in life that means something to you and to others, the things that we love the things that fill our hearts with joy, and purpose.
And then when death comes, well, we won't need mom to walk us through those big wooden doors into that dark hallway. We can walk proudly through those doors into that hallway and see the light, the love the music, and the joy.
I hope this helps you. If you have a fear of death or dying and you want more information, please drop us a line. You can reach us at www. Livingwithhospice.info. We'd love to hear your comments. We would also love to answer any questions that you have. And we might even include those in a future episode. So for Living With Hospice, my name is Mitch Ware. Have a blessed day.