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Dealing With My Very Real Fear Of Death

I’ve feared dying since I was age nine.

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illustration of woman reaching for broken fragments, fear of death
Wenjia Tang
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When I was 9, I was crippled with a deep fear of death: Who am I going to hang out with in heaven? What does heaven feel like? What does God look like? The thought of soft, fluffy clouds comforted me, but being body-less? Well, that scared the you-know-what out of me.

When I shared my fears with my mom, she (naturally) responded with a little white lie, “You don’t have to worry about dying right now, I promise. When the time comes for you to die, you won’t be scared. God won’t take you before you are ready.” When my own kids went through their fear-of-dying phases, I repeated my mom’s lie, and yup, it worked just as it had on me.

But now I know better. I am 45, and I don’t know how I got here so damn fast. I thought life would move more slowly and that death would always feel far, far away, at least until I was “ready” for it. Sometimes, it feels like death is all around me — parents of friends are dying, friends are getting cancer and even young friends are dying unexpectedly.

I am now keenly aware of two things: Death doesn’t wait until a person is ready, and it’s possible I may never be ready or unafraid. I don’t want to die. Not now and not in 45 years. I guess this means I really love my life, which is a good thing, but at some point, I have to come to terms with this fear. I reached out to Amanda Frudakis-Ruckel, LCSW, for some advice. Here’s what she advised.

Acknowledge and normalize your feelings.

“Death anxiety is a common human experience, and it's okay to feel a certain level of fear or uncertainty,” says Frudakis-Ruckel. Accept your fear of death and understand that it is simply a part of this thing called life. She points out that “the awareness of our own mortality sets us apart from other living beings, and pondering the finite nature of life is a part of our consciousness.” Sure, it’s scary, but this mystery has a greater purpose. “It prompts us to value and protect our lives, take necessary precautions and appreciate the preciousness of time.”

Engage your curiosity.

There is no shortage of literature about death and dying, so go ahead and explore. “Understanding it can help demystify some fears,” says Frudakis-Ruckel. Look for books or podcasts that delve into different spiritual and philosophical beliefs about life and death. Read stories of those who have had near-death experiences and deepen your own spiritual beliefs through literature, conversation and movies. If you don’t know where to start, try reading Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

Be present.

Try focusing on the here and now. Tune in to your senses and surroundings. Experiment with tapping and breathing exercises, both of which can help calm your body and mind. Grab a pen and paper and write what you see, feel, smell and hear. Get up, as they say — move a muscle and change a thought — and walk around the block, dance in your kitchen or hit the nearest yoga studio. And always be honest with yourself about your fears. If death anxiety is interfering with your daily activities, sleep or relationships, Frudakis-Ruckel suggests seeking professional help, “Mental health professionals can offer specialized guidance, coping strategies and therapies to help you manage death anxiety effectively.”

Embrace life.

You only get one life, so live it to the fullest — even when you fear death in the distance. “Counterbalance your fear of death by embracing life fully,” adds Frudakis-Ruckel. “Engage in activities that bring you joy, purpose and fulfillment. Pursue hobbies, spend time with loved ones and nurture your mental and physical well-being.” Commit to living your purpose and walking with authenticity in all you do. Embrace life and your fear of death, too. Making friends with the latter (one’s fear of death) can allow us to do the former (embrace life) more fully.

Do any of you have the same fear? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Health