Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow

You're Going to Die: Three Ways to Lessen Your Dread

Not everyone fears death equally. Facing your terror may help.

Posted Apr 14, 2019

Kenn Kiser/FreeImages
Source: Kenn Kiser/FreeImages

My father, who is about to turn 95, began to suffer painful arterial and vascular issues a couple of years ago. In addition, his efforts at denying the reality that death comes for us all stopped working for him when my mother died last year. And then he fell and broke a hip.

I read the new book Curing the Dread of Death: Theory, Research, and Practice (Australian Academic Press), knowing there was no realistic way I could share any of its insights with my father. For myself, however, with the recent deaths of my husband and my mother foreshadowing my own, there is still time to lessen my own death dread.

Here is some of what I found helpful. Perhaps something will strike a chord for you if you're up for the intellectual and emotional challenge.

Three Ways to Lessen Your Death Dread

  1. If you believe in a religion that offers immortality, half your fear ought to be gone. That's why religions were invented. If like me, you do not believe you are coming "back" in any form whatsoever, seek out like-minded people to validate your own views. Many of us focus on figuring out what is meaningful for us and try to create lives based largely on that.
  2. Consider "the small deaths of everyday living." Parents learn, often with some distress, that their babies have grown into something quite unlike their former selves. Look at their early photos. Where are those cuties now? (Living fairly happily as adults, one hopes.) The raising of children, and our own growing up, can help us develop a Zen life of detachment. "At the very least, paying attention these deaths [of former selves] should provide valuable exposure to the loss of self that may serve to normalize death." Not easy, but perhaps a goal worth working towards.
  3. Expose yourself to your particular fears around mortality. That is, if you tend to avoid funerals or blog posts that are about death, begin to explore precisely those experiences. Exposure tasks may include writing a story about your own future death, reading obituaries, and imagining in detail what you most fear. Read first-person accounts of others who have dealt with their own death. Personally, I have found that such challenging exposure tasks did indeed help me to pre-grieve the deaths of loved ones and, maybe a little, to begin to face my own end with less dread.

NOTE: Along the lines of #3, you might want to read another new book, Finishing Our Story: Preparing for the End of Life, by Gregory L. Eastwood, MD. It is succinct, practical, and insightful. Eastwood offers "relevant information, and sometimes my own perspective, about matters that are pertinent to preparing for the process of dying—how dying has changed and why that is important, what we mean by quality of life and how that relates to end-of-life decisions," and a lot more. Many more choices than you now realize will need to be made, and keeping yourself ignorant, at any stage of life, does neither you nor your loved ones a service. Give yourself control.

Further Reading:

Copyright (c) 2019 by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.