‘I’m not afraid to die……I just don’t want to be there when it happens..’
Woody Allen’s straightforward quote describes the ambivalence that surrounds the subject. We are afraid of death…but is this necessary? Does it have to be so powerfully debilitating.
Known more formally as thanatophobia, like most fears it is based on a reasonable desire to avoid the source of the fear–namely death. It is understandable that we should fear death, particularly because we believe that it will bring the end of what we know and offer the potential for the unknown. It will clearly bring change–but exactly what kind is uncertain. Uncertainty brings fear because it brings lack of control, chaos and this is clearly frightening.
One consequence of the fear of death is the fear of dying itself. The process brings concerns–will we or our loved-ones suffer? And what comes next? Will there be survival of consciousness, or oblivion. And, under certain circumstances, it may be difficult to choose which option is preferred!
For those who suffer from physical or psychological pain, oblivion might seem the ultimate good. For others, the vast majority, the desire to continue in some conscious state seems preferable.
Another aspect of the fear of death is the fear of aging. Aging makes death seem closer, less easily denied or suppressed. And the consequence of this fear is to ‘warehouse’ the aged. Our society does not venerate the elderly–on the contrary, they ship them off to nursing homes, away from the public’s perspective, point of view.
We worship youth, which leads to the obsession with youth culture and their often mindless endeavors. Maintaining physical fitness, even cosmetic surgery, is not necessarily a ‘negative’ undertaking. When it becomes obsessional, however, all-consuming, and leads us to ignore and deny the reality of aging and the problems of the aged–then we are deluding ourselves, our vulnerable elderly and our own future. .
The denial of death often leads us to disregard our own preparation for death–from lack of wills, advance directives, lack of insurance.
We fail to discuss end-of-life issues and palliative care. We push for medical testing, procedures, drugs for our dying relatives in a vain, irrational hope that they will improve and regain that which can never be.
We need to seek the help of those who are wise in the ways of compassionate death when it is appropriate. Hospice is often the path of love for those who are in the process of dying.
In our desire to keep them ‘alive’ we actually produce meaningless suffering for our loved-ones. Why must they die in a hospital, an ICU, with ivs, catheters, on a respirator, with a feeding tube?
We need to face death as the natural outcome of life. We need to honor the process that is as inevitable as the night which follows day. We need to put our own fears aside, our anguish over the loss of a loved-one, and make decisions that are in their best interest. For those whose brains, minds and bodies are irretrievably spent, death can be a blessing.
We must never let our fear of death deprive those we love of the dignity to die in peace.
More to come on death……