Overcoming our Fears of Death
23 April 2021
Death is the great equalizer of all living entities. It's the one commonality between all life forms and a force of nature that no one can escape, no matter how hard they try. The puzzle of our mortality is one of the few things that bond us together as human beings. Since death is an experience that we all will face, we must also meet the concept of death during our lives. When it comes to facing death, we can do this in two ways. First, we all face death when our time to die comes. Secondly, we can all meet the concept of death through intentional contemplation of the idea. This contemplation usually comes about when we lose a loved one. Regardless of how we face death, we are bound to face death at some point in life, and when we do, there is another common occurrence that we deal with as humans. Many of us have a fear when it comes to the concept of death. This post will delve into the fears we may hold around death and hopefully help us all work through some of those fears (or at least understand them better).
There are two ways of categorizing the fears that humans hold regarding death. The first of these two is people's fear of the physical act of death occurring. The second of these two is the fear of what comes after death, or as we commonly refer to it, the afterlife. The best way for us to face our fears of death is to examine each of these fear categories on their terms. Dividing our fears of death into these categories isn't to say that people only hold one fear category and not the other. Many people have a fear of both. Regardless of which you may fear, understanding and addressing each type of fear can help us overcome any fears of death.
The first of these two categories are our fear of physically dealing with death. For simplicity's sake, we can label this a fear of dying. When we contemplate what we are afraid of when we think about our fear of dying, it usually boils down to a fear of the pain that may come with the act of dying. Since we are all creatures who manifest our existence within a physical form or a body, we all understand the physical sensation of pain. While all humans vary in their tolerance for pain, no human is exempt from having physical pains occur to them of some sort or another. Since dying is the ultimate unknown in the sense that we do not know how or when we will die, we can spend lots of time speculating and fearing the pains that our physical body may endure completing the process of death.
The unknowns don't stop there, which brings us to the second category of fear revolving around death; a fear of the afterlife and what may await us after death. Why do we fear the potential afterlife? Just like our fear of physically dying, we hold a fear of what awaits us in the afterlife because of the unknowns. As we move into the afterlife experience, answers to the most profound questions of humanity come about. Questions like is there a God, is there a heaven, is there a hell, do we get reincarnated, or is it just complete nothingness after we die? We expect to receive the answers to these questions through the experience of dying and moving into the afterlife. Since the results that await us in the afterlife are the ultimate unknown, our fear of death is equal to the amount of uncertainty we feel about the afterlife.
Uncertainty is the key to understanding our fears of death. We must accept and embrace the fact that it is unknown and that we will always have a hint of uncertainty about what awaits us after death up until the exact moment we are experiencing it. Those humans who state they are not afraid of death have convinced themselves of what comes next. Whether it is a religious or secularist viewpoint, these people are quenching their fear of death with faith. That faith can be in a god, in science, or anything else. So, you may be asking what I can do to feel better about death? By no means am I encouraging you to have faith in a specific belief that tries to create certainty around death (to the same extent, I am not discouraging you from doing this either, if it works for you and it helps, use it). I want to encourage a specific type of certainty that can allow you to respect death for what it is.
There is only one thing that is certain when it comes to death, that we will die. All living creatures and all things that exist end at some point (even stars meet their maker), and this is the one thing I encourage certainty around. Since death is a certainty for each of us, we must recognize that and embrace it. Rather than worry about how we might die or the potential outcomes of the afterlife, we should worry about what we do while we have the life we are experiencing. Concerned your death may be painful, do your best to live a healthy life within the level of security you feel is appropriate. Concerned about what may be awaiting you in the afterlife, live a moral life that makes you proud. Rather than fearing death, spend your time worrying about the life not lived because that is what is certain to happen if you spend it fearing death.