Thanatophobia: the profound fear of death

beyond-1087922__480In my childhood, when I was first faced with the reality of life and death, I remember thinking: “is mother nature having a laugh? How am I supposed to live life pretending nothing is going to happen? How can I now continue going with the flow and hoping for the best? How can I get over the anxiety of not knowing when it is going to happen and how?

Sometimes, my very conscious 8 years old daughter cries in the night because she doesn’t want to die and she is scared of dying. Recently she asked me:

_”Mummy, why do we die? It doesn’t make sense!”

In a way, this was one of the most difficult questions to answer to my own daughter, as it had to be answered appropriately to avoid any future scars, specially because currently she is having an existential crisis!

_ ” Imagine you had a chance to choose from two choices and the first one was: You are going to go on a journey in which anything can happen including, the journey its going to end at anytime! In this journey you are going to meet many people, some of them are going to stay with you until the end of the journey, some of them are just passing by. You are going to experience many experiences and feelings, pleasant and unpleasant, happy and sad, joyful and depressing, exciting and horrifying. You are going to learn a lot of things about this journey and about yourself, you can experience going to different places, in which paths you may choose or it may be chosen for you. You are going to make decisions, which will impact on this journey and also there will be instances when the journey will take its course, without your permission! However, the second choice is: You can choose to not go on to this journey, in this case you will let the journey passing by before your eyes, but this might cause you a lot of hurt”

_”What do you mean Mummy, let the journey passing by before my eyes?”

_” I mean you can just exist without living, that is when you stop yourself experiencing all the things I have just said earlier on”

_”You become like a flower with no feelings?”

_” Yes, you could say that or maybe a vegetable?”

_”Oh no mummy, I don’t want to be a vegetable! I think I can be Myself!”

_”So tell me, what of the two choices would you choose?”

_”I would choose to go on the journey mummy, I just hope the journey is going to be a very long journey! And I know what you mean mummy, now it makes sense!

Later on, I cried at the thought of my little girl thinking of these things at a such young age!

Let`s state what we all already know: life is uncertain! The only 100% certainty we have is: We are going to die! We don’t even know when and how and what happens next! We can choose to believe in life after death, heaven and hell, but in reality all what we really know is: we are mortals!

So what to do with this reality?

This is a reality I often find myself exploring in my consulting room, digging deeper into the fear of the unknown! One may find it hard to engage with life itself because of a fear of living, as at the end of life one must die! Otton Rank wrote years ago ” One may refuse the loan (of life) to avoid the payment of the debt (death)”. In this case, it is almost as if to be able to engage with life, one must need to learn to let it go, or in other words according to Rank, one must learn: life is a loan that is paid out with our own death! That is, to be able to fully engage with life, one needs to make piece with death!

_On another occasion I was asked one day: “how can you make peace with death?”

And without thinking I said: “I have forgiven Mother Nature for me having to die, but also I am grateful everyday I am still here! And the present – the here and now- it is all what I have to be able to make the best with what I have got! I know I need to be awake and aware, with regards to what is really important and what are my priorities! What if I was told I had a week, a month or a year to live? What are the conversations I wish I have had? What are the things I wish I had said? What are the places I wish I had gone? Who are the people I wish I had seen? What are my unfinished business I need to re-visit to die in peace?

It is written in Stoics (3rd century BC) “contemplate death if you would learn how to live, being become conscious and life becomes richer”. For example, this is it_ I don’t have time to waste!  I need to give my best shot and I will squeeze all the life out of life itself, so for when the time comes I will feel fulfilled, like being able to say and mean it: Yeah, I had a very good ride!

And to be honest, there is something curious about death, as in: I am going to find out what does really happen afterwards! Or the other possibility is : I am not even going to know I am dead!

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