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Are you afraid of dying?

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About Us - Dr Colin Dicks

Dr. Colin Dicks

MBChB, FRANZCR, MBA, MSc Palliative Medicine.
April 22, 2022

I am often surprised by those who say they are not afraid of dying. It is easy to assume that they have no idea what they are talking about or that they may simply be lying, but there is more to the story than that.

Fear is our response to a real or an imagined threat. If there is no threat, we have no reason to fear. If death and dying are not realistic expectations, then in fairness it is reasonable to say, “I do not fear death”. But what happens when death looks in your direction and dying is a realistic expectation?

The one option is to look away and pretend that death will never happen. This is a great coping mechanism, but it does not work forever because, if your health is changing and death is approaching, it becomes more and more difficult to ignore death- even if you close your eyes. At some stage you will peek, and at that point any confession about not being afraid of dying will be a lie.

I say this with confidence because even if you don’t fear the physical or the emotional or the spiritual aspects of dying, I know that we all fear the unknown. Even if we are certain that we know what happens when we die, we can never be 100% sure, until that moment of truth. And this is a good reason to be afraid. What if everything we believe about death and dying is wrong?

On the other hand, there are those who are terrified about dying. What if you are afraid of dying and this fear is so great that it is unbearable, and you cannot even think about dying? Well, the same the same question applies, “What if everything you believe about death and dying is wrong?”

To address the fear of dying it is important to be specific about the fear rather than to have a general fear about dying. Once you can put your finger on that thing that bothers you the most, you are more than halfway to winning. So, what is it that makes you fear dying?

Is it the physical pain associated with dying?

Is it the emotional loss?

Is it having to say goodbye forever?

Is it the spiritual uncertainty around dying?

Once you identify the real issue, it is easy to find a way around it. Physical pain can be managed in dying, so there is no need to fear it. The emotional loss associated with dying is only temporary. Having to say goodbye forever is not necessarily true. When it comes to dying there is enough evidence to support spirituality and the possibility that we do not end when our physical bodies stop working. We retain our identity and consciousness after this life in the afterlife.

It may all seem too good to be true, and it may be, but you have to face the facts. Have you done your homework when it comes to dying? Being ignorant is not an excuse. To understand the journey at the end of life, we recommend “Death, dying and donuts” by Colin Dicks. You don’t have to agree with it, but it will get you started on your own journey of discovery about what happens when you die and after you die.

Being knowledgeable about dying will not necessarily make you less afraid or more courageous when it comes to dying, but it will give you a chance to be prepared for what lies ahead. It won’t diminish the suffering you may feel in dying but it will allow you to understand the suffering and have a strategy to manage the distress if it happens. Knowing about dying won’t make death go away, but it will allow you to recognise death and be ready to meet with death on your terms.

For many, the best strategy remains closing your eyes and hoping for the best and if that works for you, go for it. No one has ever failed dying; we all ultimately succeed. You don’t need to be knowledgeable about dying to die.

Perhaps the best way to think about dying is to think about childbirth. If a girl is pregnant, it is going to happen whether she knows anything about it or not. Most women are informed, they do their best to be ready for the day in the distant future when the baby will arrive. They see their obstetricians early and have an excitement about the new life on its way. At some time in the future, there will be a storm and after the travail of birth a new life will enter the world.

In dying the same applies, it happens with or without our permission. Can we ever be excited about it? No!  But if it is going to happen, and it will, can we allow ourselves to consider the possibility of their being life after death? If there is, then death does lose its sting.

Personally, I am afraid of dying. Being knowledgeable about dying has not necessarily made me less anxious, but it has made me more secure in knowing what to expect and how to navigate the many changes occurring at the end of life. I know that death will come and go and in it all I will be fine. I am afraid of the storm, but I have been in storms before, and I know they will pass.

If you are afraid of dying and it is killing you, why not get in touch at admin@dyingtounderstand.com and lets us see if we can help you navigate to a safer place.

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