Fear of Dying

In our LLD work we encounter fear as one of the most powerful immobilisers inhibiting conversation and action.

by Helena Dolny

In our LLD work we encounter fear as one of the most powerful immobilisers inhibiting conversation and action. There’s someone we know whose spouse was VERY ill with COVID-19 – but they could not bring themselves to complete the Power of Attorney document. They acknowledge the irrationality of their fear that signing the document would have emboldened death to enter their home and snatch life away.

The importance of having conversations

At LoveLegacyDignity our emphasis has consistently been on the importance of having conversations. Conversations about our relationships. Conversations about forgiveness. Conversations about our aspirations for the next years. Conversations about how we envisage our dying days – if we are graced with such – and even to make a video to share with family and close friends about our specific wishes.

But I don’t recall that at LoveLegacyDignity we’ve ever written about or hosted a discussion about fear – and yet fear of dying is up there as one of the common universal fears alongside fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of spiders and so on.

When I considered the fear of public speaking, I thought but this is a skill that you can learn and practice – the “Fake It Until You Make It” such is the messaging that comes through the self-help books. And fear of spiders and heights? – there’s therapy for that.

Surely death is different? I mean, it will be very few of us who get a sneak peek at death (Near Death Experiences referred to as NDEs). We don’t get a chance for real practice – although some doula- and end-of-life rite of passage guide schools will require you to envisage your own death and rehearse it as part of your training.

So what if we are sitting with a fear of death – what specifically might that fear be? The process of dying? That we don’t for sure know what’s next? That we’re fearful of what will happen to our loved ones and dependants after we’ve gone? Or the fear mentioned above that completing death related administrative affairs will somehow invite death in?

What, indeed, are the fears you hold when you think of death and dying? We’d be grateful if you’d drop us a line.

Confronting Fears

One of the self-help maxims (a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct) is that one of the best ways to begin to confront a fear is to name it out loud.

A second recommendation is to sit with your fear and acknowledge the feelings it engenders and then write about them. James Pennebaker, American sociologist is acknowledged to have researched and birthed the therapeutic concept of Expressive Writing – how writing about our feelings (not the facts or description of venue – but your inner world) supported people and they became more self-aware and insightful about the issues they were confronting. He co-authored together with Joshua M Smyth the best seller “Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain.”

Pennebaker suggest that when we have something that is bothering us that we take 15-20 minutes a day for 3-4 consecutive days for a reflective process that yields benefit.