Scared Of My Pending Death
Scared Of My Pending Death
Dear Tacit,

I am an older person, and likely do not have many years left on this earth.  Lately, I have been thinking a lot about death and it is scaring me.  How can I stop these feelings?

Signed:  Scared of My Pending Death

Dear Scared Of My Pending Death,

The concept of our own mortality, when it becomes real to us for any reason (aging, serious illness, near-death experiences, etc), can often cause a spike in our anxiety and depression.  Our impending demise is something we tend to have little control over. We sometimes feel helpless and tiny as death looms closer.

As we get closer to death, the fears can often get more pronounced.  There are a number of reasons for this – most of which centre around the losses we experience as part of the dying process.  These can include:

Loss of Control: over our life and circumstances, and especially our inability to control the timing and nature of our death.

Uncertainty about the Afterlife:  we start thinking more deeply about our beliefs relating to what might happen after death.  The “not knowing” (for sure) can be quite unsettling.

Health Concerns: declining health, increased susceptibility to illnesses and the thought of suffering a prolonged, painful death can be significant sources of anxiety.

Loss of Independence: becoming dependent on others or losing the ability to engage in meaningful activities can contribute to feelings of helplessness.

Loss of Loved Ones: as others around us pass away, our firsthand experience with death can intensify the fear of what we imagine that we will soon be experiencing.

Unfinished Business: unresolved personal conflicts, unexpressed feelings, or incomplete goals or aspirations can lead to feelings of depression/grief (over wasted time) or anxiety/pressure (to finish important things before time runs out).

Existential Concerns: make us question the significance or purpose of our existence (and the assessment of whether we feel fulfilled with the life we have had).

Social Isolation: retirement, physical limitations, or the loss of friends and family can magnify the feeling of living and dying alone.

Attachment to Life: with all its experiences, relationships, and memories, the idea of losing our identity/connections can become distressing.

Not everyone will be anxious or depressed as they consider the impending final stages of life.  For some, acceptance and peace may come naturally. But if you are struggling, you will need support, understanding, and open communication with the people closest to you, to help address these fears and promote a sense of comfort and serenity. Here are some places to start:

Discuss your end-of-life wishes and plans with your loved ones. Make sure you have your wants/needs clearly laid out in the legal documents that protect your interests (Personal Directives, etc).  Do some research and know your options for ensuring that your hospice care will be pain-free and provided with whatever dignity that is important to you.

Have regular conversations with the people you may need to lean on as some of your independence lessens.  Develop a support team for your needs.  The more backup helpers you have, the less you will feel you imposing too much on just one person.  Find out what kind of help those on your team are best able to offer – some might not have the time to do certain tasks for you, but they would be able to help financially so someone else could.

Stick to your “normal” routines for as long as you can.  Do not just “stop” if you cannot do things to the same degree or intensity that you once did.  Adjust and modify as needed.  As long as you are still participating in activities that bring you some pleasure and fulfillment, you will feel better.

Talk to the people you are leaving behind.  Make sure you have said the things you want them to hear.  And discuss openly the worries you have about what happens when you are no longer there for them.  As you talk about the future, you can all plan together for how your loved ones will be taken care of, so everyone feels reassured that they will be okay without you.

Stay focused on the “now” and the time you are still enjoying life.  Make the most of every minute that you have left.  Make the living moments matter.  Now is the time to surround yourself with experiences and relationships.  Connect MORE with the people you love – and with strangers.  Be sure you do not pull away and isolate yourself.  Volunteer to help others.  Try a new activity.  Send more emails and letters and texts.  Take more pictures.

Talk to a spiritual advisor about whatever you think comes next.  Allow yourself to explore the possibilities, based on your own belief system.  Don’t try to avoid the unknowns of what happens after you die – it is quite normal for these thoughts to take centre stage.

And perhaps most importantly, take the time to focus on your value in this life.  Think about and discuss how you will be remembered.  We all need to feel we fulfilled our purpose in this world – and that something of what we shared will be taken forward to the next generation (that our legacy will live on somehow).  This is what gives us a sense of peace and contentment – knowing we were successful in doing something that mattered (in any way). And knowing we will still be connected to the people we love the most.

Take care!

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